Following is a listing of executive and legislative action for the week of March 25. Members of the General Assembly are scheduled to return to session April 8.
In an effort to take greater advantage of the cheap natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, two recently introduced bills would encourage the expansion of services from natural gas suppliers.
Senate Bill 738 would require every natural gas distribution utility operating in Pennsylvania to submit a three-year plan to the Public Utility Commission outlining the utility’s plans for extension and expansion projects. The first such plan would be due by January 1, 2014, with additional plans required every two years thereafter. The PUC would have the option to reject, revise or order the utility to submit a revised plan for adequacy and completeness and do periodic reviews.
SB 738 would also create a system providing for expedited extension or expansion projects if an economic development agency or a large number of residential, commercial or industrial entities want to seek to obtain natural gas services.
SB 739, meanwhile, would amend the Alternative Energy Investment Act to provide for $15 million in grants to schools, hospitals and small businesses to obtain access to natural gas services. The funding will come from existing, under-utilized programs. Grants made under SB 739 may provide up to half of the cost of a project.
J. William Lincoln has resigned as Pennsylvania Turnpike commissioner, a position he held for eight years. Lincoln is a former state senator.
In a statement, Lincoln said he was no longer able to perform his duties "given the additional personal stress over the events of the past two weeks and my already difficult battle with maintaining my health."
Two weeks ago, Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced the indictment of eight people either working for the Turnpike Commission or for a turnpike vendor as part of a “pay-to-play” scandal. One of those indicted was a former Senate colleague of Lincoln’s, Robert Mellow of Lackawanna County, who is already serving time in federal prison on corruption charges.
In 2012, the state’s casinos raised $272 million for the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development Fund, according to figures released by the state Gaming Control Board. The 2004 gaming law was enacted to support the failing horse racing industry in Pennsylvania.
The fund is aimed at enhancing purses, assisting breeding operations and providing health and pension benefits for horsemen.
"Revenue from legalized slot machine gaming in Pennsylvania is helping to fulfill the legislative objectives by enhancing horse racing and breeding programs, preserving thousands of jobs and providing a positive impact on the state’s agricultural economy," said Gaming Control Board Chairman William H. Ryan Jr. in a statement. "This report underlines specific areas where the impact is tangible and shows that the horse racing industry continues to benefit from the revenue that casinos generate here in Pennsylvania."
In addition to revenue generated for the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development Fund, the board reports that racetrack casino operators invested more than $7 million in 2012 and approximately $46 million since the casinos opened in 2006 to improve the stable and backside areas of their racetracks.
The number of days in which live racing took place and the total numbers of races held in Pennsylvania both increased by approximately 1 percent in 2012 compared to the same period in 2011.
Total dollars wagered on Pennsylvania races in 2012, referred to as the live racing handle, were 12 percent higher in 2012 compared to the same time period in 2011. The live racing handle in 2012 was the highest to date since casino gaming was implemented in 2006.
The state House of Representatives Children and Youth Committee has approved legislation, HB 429, that would expand protections from employment discrimination to any person who makes a good-faith report of suspected child abuse. Currently, mandated reporters of child abuse are protected, but the sponsor of the bill, state Representative Kathy Watson, R-Bucks, said the measure would extend this employment protection to permissive reporters as well.
“Anyone who makes a good-faith effort to report suspected child abuse should not face repercussions from their employer,” Watson said. “In some cases, individuals are fearful of reporting such cases for this very reason. This measure will help prevent that from happening.”