Pennsylvania State Capitol. Photo credit: Zack Frank/Shutterstock.com

MEDICAL​ ​MARIJUANA

Gov. Tom Wolf on Jan. 4 announced the approval of Pennsylvania’s first medical marijuana dispensary. After receiving a green light from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Keystone Canna Remedies in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is set to begin providing cannabis to patients as soon as medical marijuana is available from approved growers.

Keystone Canna is owned by GuadCo LLC of Brooklyn, New York, which received a permit from the Wolf administration in June to operate in northeast Pennsylvania, including the Lehigh Valley.

“This is tremendous news for patients and the people who care for them,” Wolf said in a statement. “We are one step closer to providing medical marijuana to patients with serious medical conditions who desperately need this medication. Once the growing process is completed and the dispensary receives medication, patients with medical marijuana identification cards will be able to purchase medication at Keystone Canna Remedies.” Keystone Canna Remedies will be able to sell medical marijuana to Pennsylvanians with medical marijuana identification cards once grower/processors begin distribution. The first medical marijuana products are expected to become available in four months, a Wolf administration press release said.

HEALTH​ ​CARE

Wolf on Jan. 3 joined state Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre, to announce $4 million in funding to support the construction of a new health sciences building on the campus of Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology (CPI) in Bellefonte.

The new building is expected to enable the school to provide health care training for 150 additional adult students, helping to meet the need for more health care workers in central Pennsylvania, according to a statement from the Wolf administration.

“With this support, CPI will build a state-of-the-art educational facility to prepare students for good jobs providing the health care this community needs,” Wolf said in the statement.

Funds from the state Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program support the $16.1 million cost for CPI to build a 46,000-square-foot health science building. When complete, the press release said, the three-story building will include space for classrooms and labs, as well as a private partnership with a local health care provider on the ground floor to further expand local health care access.

“The expanded facility will allow CPI to meet the demand for highly-qualified health care professionals in our local community,” Corman said, stressing that the state investment will help meet local demand for high-quality education close to home.

Construction is set to begin later this year and is expected to be complete by the fall of 2020. The new building, which will create 30 full-time jobs, the press release said.

WELFARE​ ​REFORM

Republicans in the state House of Representatives unveiled a sweeping package of measures aimed at reshaping Pennsylvania public welfare programs.

On Jan. 2, Reps. Aaron Kaufer, R-Luzerne, and Mike Tobash, R-Schuylkill, at a Capitol press conference detailed three bills that would cut costs while providing greater employment opportunities.

“Citizens are demanding greater accountability for how their tax dollars are being spent,” Kaufer said. “Welfare expenditures have become one of the most expensive items in the state budget. The major challenge is to separate those who are truly needy and eligible for state assistance from those who are not and are taking advantage of taxpayers.”

Kaufer said he planned to sponsor a bill to establish a pilot program that encourages companies to hire individuals receiving welfare. It would allow Pennsylvanians to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits while earning wages for 20 hours of work. The welfare-to-work bill would accompany two proposals already introduced in the House:

• HB 1659, sponsored by Tobash, would prohibit the state Department of Human Services from waiving work requirements under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

• HB 1788, sponsored by state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, would eliminate extended TANF benefits beyond five years, and would establish a cumulative 48-month lifetime limit.

Tobash stressed the need for cost-cutting in the wake of 2017’s bruising budget process, which saw months of delay in funding a spending plan approved by the General Assembly.

“After the budget experience my House colleagues and I just went through, I believe we need to work on bringing cost-saving measures to the forefront of our legislative priority list,” Tobash said.

TAX​ ​CREDITS

A bill that would prohibit the sale of state tax credits was referred on Jan. 2 to the House Finance Committee for consideration.

HB 1999, which was introduced in November by state Rep. Jason Ortitay, R-Allegheny, would disallow state tax credit recipients from selling their state tax credits.

“While tax credit programs are intended to stimulate the economy by encouraging businesses to locate or expand in Pennsylvania, some programs have veered from their intended purposes,” Ortitay said in a statement on the House Republican caucus website.

“There are tax credit programs where upward of 99 percent of the credits are sold and not used by the original recipient. It appears that these credits are being used simply as a funding mechanism, which distorts the state’s tax climate and ultimately hurts the economy. My legislation would help to refocus these programs back to their intended uses.” •