IN THIS ISSUE
County Priority Spotlight
House Moves Bills on Election Reform
Local Governments Urge Additional Federal Relief
Senate Approves Sheriff's Fee Bill
House Elects New Leaders
Supreme Court Rules on Disaster Resolution
IFO Issues Future Impact Fee Projections
COUNTY PRIORITY SPOTLIGHT
While the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and statewide emergency response continues to impact Pennsylvania counties, CCAP has maintained focus on counties' legislative priorities as well as policy issues related to COVID-19. Although the legislative session during the spring and early summer of 2020 has looked much different from ever before, CCAP continues to seek its place at the various decision-making tables and to insert the voice of counties at every opportunity.
The recent enactment of a temporary five-month budget and distribution of $625 million in federal CARES Funds through a county relief fund block grant relief are additional reminders of the unprecedented nature of 2020 and the uncertainty of the months ahead. The $26 billion spending plan provides mostly level funding from FY 2019-2020 for the first few months of the next fiscal year; however, it remains to be seen in the fall, after more is known about the state's revenue collections in FY 2020-2021, how the remaining seven months of the budget will be handled. There are no guarantees and fighting for increased in mental health funding, adult probation funding, county property tax reform, rural broadband and EMS solutions will continue to be critical.
An update on counties' progress on these priorities has been posted at www.pacounties.org, accessible by selecting Priorities under the Government Relations tab.
HOUSE MOVES BILLS ON ELECTION REFORM On June 24, the House State Government Committee advanced several election reform proposals, including HB 2626, a comprehensive bill introduced by Rep. Dan Moul (R-Adams) addressing several issues that were observed in the June 2 primary.
In particular, the bill seeks to move the deadline for applications for absentee and mail-in ballots from the current deadline of seven days back to 15 days before an election, and would allow voters to return completed absentee and mail-in ballots to their precincts on election day. Further, all changes to a voter's party of registration would be required to be made no less than 30 days before an election, while keeping the current 15-day voter registration deadline otherwise, and require creation of a tracking system that would assign all ballots a scannable barcode to ensure multiple ballots are not cast by the same elector. An amendment adopted by the committee would also allow the pre-canvassing period to begin up to 21 days prior to an election, while the underlying bill would require counties to conduct the pre-canvass at the county courthouse or the offices of the county board of election.
In addition, the committee also reported HB 2407, Rep. Garth Everett's (R-Lycoming) legislation to allow more flexibility on how notices are printed on absentee and mail-in ballots, and HB 2613, Rep. Russ Diamond's (R-Lebanon) bill that would mandate monthly cross-checking of the SURE system with local death records to ensure deceased individuals are removed from the system.
During the committee meeting, Chairman Everett remarked that these bills are a first step addressing election reforms in advance of the November general election. He also encouraged legislators to work with CCAP and counties on developing recommendations for future amendments to HB 2626 as it advances through the legislative process. CCAP has urged that any changes to the way elections are conducted be done with significant county input, and that they be completed in a timely fashion so they can be successfully implemented by the fall.
Further complicating the outlook of election reforms needed for November is a lawsuit filed on June 29 by President Trump's re-election campaign, along with four members of Pennsylvania's congressional delegation and the Republican National Committee in federal court against Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar and all 67 county boards of elections. The plaintiffs assert that several processes of Pennsylvania's implementation of the primary election on June 2 violated the federal and state constitutions as they relate to the process of collecting and counting mail-in ballots and allowing poll watchers to be present when the envelopes containing mail-in ballots are cast, opened, counted and recorded. A motion for a speedy declaratory judgment hearing and expedited discovery has also been filed by the plaintiffs.
LOCAL GOVERNMENTS URGE ADDITIONAL FEDERAL RELIEF
On June 29, the National Association of Counties (NACo) joined with six additional national organizations representing state and local governments to send a joint letter to congressional leadership outlining the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on local governments and advocating for additional federal support. The letter requests "more robust and direct stimulus" relief for state and local governments to rebuild the economy and maintain essential services in health care, emergency operations, public safety and more. CCAP, along with more than 170 local municipal associations, trade associations, major corporations and others, joined in signing the letter. A copy can be found atwww.naco.org.
SENATE APPROVES SHERIFF'S FEE BILL
The Senate has unanimously approved SB 1193 (Sen. Patrick Browne, R-Lehigh) to increase the fees that fund reimbursements to counties for required sheriff and deputy sheriff training.
Currently, the PA Sheriff and Deputy Sheriff Education and Training Board Act is funded through a surcharge on all legal papers served by sheriffs' offices, which has not been increased since 2000. As requirements for training have expanded, revenues have not kept pace. Training costs and reimbursements have exceeded revenues for years, and tough budgeting decisions have been made including reduction and cancellation of trainings and suspension of spending reimbursements for deputy sheriff training to counties. The increase in SB 1193 to this fee is a meaningful step toward helping counties cover the cost of mandated programs.
The bill now goes to the House for consideration.
HOUSE ELECTS NEW LEADERS
The resignation in June of Rep. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), who served as the Speaker of the House, has caused several changes to the House leadership. On June 29, House members elected Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster), who had previously served as the Majority Leader, as their new Speaker. With Rep. Cutler's shift to the Speaker position, majority whip Rep. Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre) was elected as the new Majority Leader. Former Clarion County Commissioner Rep. Donna Oberlander, who had chaired the Republican Policy Committee, was selected to be the new majority whip, with the committee chair position filled by Rep. Martin Causer (R-McKean).
In the last weeks of June, the General Assembly advanced several key pieces of legislation of importance to counties:
HB 1564 (Rep. Joe Emrick, R-Northampton) - Signed into law as Act 46 of 2020, the language extends the deadline for members of county boards of assessment appeals to complete required training from June 30 until six months after the state's emergency declaration is lifted. Act 46 also includes an extension for notices and appeals in Delaware County's court-ordered countywide assessment to help mitigate impacts related to the pandemic.
HB 2418 (Rep. Tim O'Neal, R-Washington) - The bill, signed into law as Act 37 of 2020, includes language to reauthorize the State Geospatial Coordinating Board, a joint advisory board tasked to improve coordination and efficiency of GIS policies and data collection, until 2024.
SB 1118 (Rep. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana) - Allows for an electric co-op to provide broadband services or construct, operate and maintain broadband facilities through an existing easement owned, held or used by the electric cooperative corporation. The bill was reported unanimously by the Senate Communications and Technology Committee on June 22.
SUPREME COURT RULES ON DISASTER RESOLUTION
On June 9, both the state Senate and the state House of Representatives approved HR 836, a concurrent resolution seeking to terminate the state's Proclamation of Disaster Emergency, which Gov. Wolf originally signed on March 6 in response to COVID-19, and subsequently signed a 90-day extension on June 3. However, the legislature and the administration disagreed on whether that resolution must be delivered to the Governor and therefore whether the resolution is or is not effective without the Governor's signature.
The state Supreme Court ruled on July 1 that the governor has the right to veto any concurrent resolution adopted by the legislature to terminate an emergency declaration, and without the legislature presenting the resolution to the governor, the resolution is null and void and so the emergency declaration stands.
IFO ISSUES FUTURE IMPACT FEE PROJECTIONS