Following is a listing of executive and legislative action for the week of May 19. Members of the General Assembly are set to return to session June 2.
• State Rep. Ron Miller, R-York, introduced HB 2264, which would increase a fee paid annually by nuclear plants that under a 2007 law is used to protect the safety of those living near the plants. The fee would go from $550,000 to $650,000.
• HB 2265, introduced by state Rep. Jaret Gibbons, D-Beaver, would establish a waste coal energy and reclamation tax credit to encourage more electric generators to use waste coal. Gibbons said it would help bring some stability to a volatile industry, ensure the future viability of the industry and provide much-needed supplemental assistance in Pennsylvania’s efforts to clean up and reclaim abandoned mines, damaged lands and waterways.
• State Rep. Joseph Hackett, R-Delaware, introduced HB 2266, which would give municipalities subject to Act 101 recycling programs the power to charge residents a fee. Hackett said the bill would reverse a recent Commonwealth Court decision, City of Reading v. Iezzi. The court held that because neither Act 101 nor the Solid Waste Management Act expressly grants municipalities the power to charge a fee for their recycling programs, these fees are invalid.
• State Rep. Dan Miller, R-Allegheny, introduced HB 2267, known as the Health Care Facilities Act, which would direct the state Department of Health to establish a mental health bed registry in Pennsylvania.
Under the bill, the Department of Health would be required to establish a Web-based mental health bed registry that would be accessible to employees of mental health care facilities across the state. The mental health bed registry would assist employees in locating available care for any individual in need of an inpatient examination and treatment.
The registry would include the following information: contact information for each mental health facility that includes a description of the facility; the number of beds available at each mental health facility; the level of security provided at each mental health facility; the type of patient who may be admitted into each mental health facility; and any other information that may be necessary to allow an employee to identify an individual who may receive voluntary or involuntary inpatient examination and treatment under Article II or III of Act 143, known as the Mental Health Procedures Act.
• State Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Fayette, introduced HB 2271, which would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to prohibit employers, employment agencies and labor organizations from discriminating against workers based on marital or familial status.
Table Game Revenue
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board announced that revenue from the play of table games at Pennsylvania casinos during April was up 1 percent over revenue generated last year.
April’s gross table games revenue generated by 12 casinos was $62.2 million, or $632,456 higher than in April 2013. With an average of 1,106 tables in operation statewide on a daily basis, tax revenue produced this April was $8.9 million.
The Public Utility Commission’s proposed regulations establishing additional guidelines for the retail electricity industry went before the Independent Regulatory Review Commission on May 22 for the first step in the review process.
Meanwhile, legislation in the state House of Representatives that likewise would establish new guidelines for the retail electricity market appears stalled over a provision that caps rates on variable contracts.
Both the bill, HB 2104, and the PUC-proposed regulations stem from some Pennsylvania customers with variable-rate contracts seeing their bills skyrocket over the harsh winter.
State Rep. Bob Godshall, R-Montgomery, the bill’s sponsor, said that without rate caps in the legislation or in the regulatory scheme, little will change.
“The only way to truly handle the problem is through a cap on rates,” Godshall said. “Without them, we’ll be going back to the same problem all over again.”
A spokesperson for the PUC said it believes it has no authority to place a cap on rates.
“We believe capping rates is purely a legislative matter,” said PUC press secretary Jennifer Kocher.
One of the provisions in the proposed PUC regulations would reduce the time it takes customers to change electricity suppliers.
“It’s a huge needle-mover, because we want customers to be able to be portable and be able to get into new products and not be trapped in what we call the 16- to 40-day billing cycle,” PUC Chairman Robert F. Powelson said in a statement. “At the end of the day, this is about helping consumers that are actively out there on the market shopping by giving them greater portability, greater notification of the products that they’re being served by suppliers.”
Kocher said another proposed change would provide electric-shopping customers with greater, uniform detail in electric supplier disclosure statements and more timely information on contract renewal and change in terms notices.
If the regulations gain IRRC approval, they would go before the standing consumer affairs committees in the House and Senate.
— John L. Kennedy, for the Law Weekly
Steel workers, management and top elected officials rallied in Pittsburgh last week to stop what they say is foreign dumping of seamless tubes, or oil country tubular goods (OCTG), used in the gas and oil industry. A U.S. Steel spokesman said the practice is similar to one used by China in 2008.
“We actually won that fight [with China], but by the time it was over we already lost the jobs at home,” said Chris Masciantonio, general manager for government affairs at U.S. Steel and co-chair of the Pennsylvania Steel Alliance. “If we lose this one, it could become the model for cheating in the future.”
In July 2013, U.S. Steel and other American steel producers petitioned the Commerce Department to investigate dumping by nine countries. In February, the department imposed high duties on India, and small levies on other nations, which are mostly smaller producers.
But the industry said the biggest offender, South Korea, skirted any penalties, with the department saying that it lacked the evidence to take action. The investigation continues and a decision is expected in early July.
The Alliance for American Manufacturing said that overall imports from the nine countries in question more than doubled from 850,000 tons in 2010 to 1.8 million tons in 2012, a 113 percent increase, with South Korea accounting for half that amount. In that time period, domestic industry operating margins dropped from 13.6 percent to 9.8 percent, with foreign imports often sold at hundreds of dollars per ton less than domestic OCTG products.
A spokesman for the United Steelworkers said that one positive to take from the latest trade fight is that it has put the workers and management on common ground.
“Dumping weakens our position in contract negotiations because it weakens the industry,” said United Steelworkers spokesman Tony Montana. “We are fully behind management on this.”
The market for OCTG has expanded rapidly with the onset of drilling in the Marcellus Shale and other newly accessible gas and oil plays.
— J.L.K. •