Following is a listing of legislative action for the week of September 9. Members of the General Assembly are set to return to session September 23.
A package of bills seeking to restrict the involvement of local governments in risky deals was the subject of a Senate Local Government Committee hearing into state oversight of municipal finance.
The session, which especially focused on deals involving interest-rate management agreements, or swaps, was a follow-up to last fall’s hearings over Harrisburg’s fiscal crisis, which resulted from debt related to a municipal incinerator.
“It’s a strong bipartisan effort we have going,” said a spokesperson for state Senator John Blake, D-Lackawanna, a sponsor of one of the bills. “We expect movement on these very quickly.”
One bill, SB 902, would allow the state Ethics Commission to investigate alleged ethical violations by people involved in municipal financial transactions. The Ethics Commission currently has no authority to investigate possible violations on the local government level.
Another bill in the package, SB 293, would ban swaps.
A Senate analysis of the legislation said that Act 23 of 2003 amended the Local Government Unit Debt Act to permit local governments, including counties, cities, boroughs, townships and school districts, to enter into interest-rate management agreements, commonly known as “swaps” or “derivatives.”
In addition, the Senate said, the Municipality Authorities Act has been interpreted to permit municipal authorities to enter into swaps.
School districts and local governments statewide have been tied up in more than $17 billion in swap deals since the law passed.
The sponsor of legislation banning sales of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, to minors, said an announcement from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control concerning the products demands quick action in the General Assembly.
State Senator Tim Solobay, D-Allegheny, said the CDC report shows that the use of e-cigarettes has doubled in one year among students in grades 6 through 12.
The report also said 160,000 teens who never smoked cigarettes used electronic cigarettes in 2012. The cigarettes contain no tobacco but deliver nicotine through a vapor that’s inhaled.
“The fear is that they will more readily move onto tobacco cigarettes if they start with the e-cigarettes,” Solobay said. “We should ban their sales to minors just like we do all cigarettes.”
He added that 29 other states have already banned the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, in some cases at the insistence of the manufacturers.
“I introduced the bill because it was the manufacturers who brought it to my attention,” he said. “I give them a lot of credit for that.”
The legislation, SB 1055, awaits action in the Senate Judiciary Committee.