If the First Month of the Year is Any Indication, 2018 Could Turn Pennsylvania Politics Upside Down

The history of Pennsylvania politics is full of colorful characters and maneuverings and intrigues that would make the poor little bill in the famous Schoolhouse Rock episode about the legislative process blush.  But 2018 could top the Commonwealth’s rather remarkable political past.  The headline this month is a ruling from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court invalidating Pennsylvania’s Congressional District boundaries and a further announcement of new Congressional District boundaries drawn by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, a ruling the United States Supreme Court has thus far refused to overturn.  Meanwhile, there is a special election in the 18th Congressional District taking place on March 13 and five of Pennsylvania’s current 17 incumbent members of the US House will not run for re-election in 2018.  We have key elections for Governor and U.S. Senate taking place.  In the General Assembly, we have at least six (and counting) Republican Committee Chairs having announced their retirement at the end of this session.  And we know tomorrow’s headlines will bring new developments.

In the midst of all this political upheaval there are many issue priorities that AARP is working on as the General Assembly begins the second (more productive) half of its 2017-18 legislative session.

State Legislative Priorities

Nurse Practitioner Full Practice Authority Legislation

Status – AARP supported legislation (Senate Bill 25) passed by the State Senate in March 2017 – that bill and a House companion bill (House Bill 100) are pending in the State House Professional Licensure Committee.  These bills would allow nurse practitioners to practice to their full practice authority without direct supervision from a physician after a three-year trial period.

Update – The House Professional Licensure Committee held an informational hearing on collaborative agreements between physicians and nurse practitioners on January 24 at which the PA Nurse Practitioners Association and PA Medical Society answered questions from members of the Committee.  The Committee tentatively agreed to hold a Committee hearing on the full bill in the near future.   The opposition of the PA Medical Society to the legislation is the main obstacle to the bill moving through the House at this time.

Telemedicine

Status – AARP supports legislation improving insurance coverage of telemedicine services that has been introduced in the State House (HB 1648) and Senate (SB 780).

Update – The Senate Insurance Committee cancelled a planned meeting to move the bill from Committee in late December because of a dispute regarding insurance coverage of telemedicine procedures involving eye care.  The issue was resolved and amended bill was approved by the Senate Insurance Committee on January 30.

Retirement Security

Status – State Treasurer Joe Torsella’s task force on retirement security held its fourth hearing on the issue on February 14.  AARP’s national expert on retirement security Sarah Mysiewicz-Gill is an appointee to the task force which is investigating ways that individuals without workplace access to retirement security plans can more easily save for their retirement.

Update – A bi-partisan group of legislators, including leadership of both political parties and AARP Pennsylvania, held a media event on February 8 to announce the launch of my www.retirementpa.com. The new site is designed to help residents prepare for retirement and improve their retirement security.

Utilities

Status – Rumors continue to circulate about an eventual proposal to provide financial assistance to owners of nuclear power plants, as well as possible assistance to coal-fired power plants, in order to prevent possible closures.  Pennsylvania’s most infamous nuclear power plant, Three Mile Island, is already slated to close in 2019 unless action is taken.

In addition, First Energy has announced its intention to submit a proposal to the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission to impose an additional charge on customers who do not switch to an alternate electricity supplier and continue to use default electric service from First Energy, with the first hearing on this proposal scheduled for early March.

Update – With New Jersey failing to pass legislation to provide additional payments to operators of nuclear power plants and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission refusing to allow subsidies for nuclear and coal operators, the future of Pennsylvania action to provide state assistance to nuclear and coal plant operators is uncertain as 2018 begins. AARP Pennsylvania opposes state subsidies that would result in higher utility costs for consumers.  In addition, AARP PA will vigorously oppose any attempt by First Energy to impose a charge on consumers who use default electric service.

Other State Advocacy Activity of Interest

Governor Wolf’s Administration and the Chair of the House Aging and Older Adult Services Committee, Tim Hennessey, have indicated their intention to introduce legislation to update the Older Adult Protective Services Act sometime this spring.  The key updates would involve new initiatives on financial exploitation and updated provisions for prohibitions on employment in care facilities because of prior criminal convictions.  AARP PA is part of a working group discussing the provisions of the legislation and is being advised by SASI colleagues.

AARP PA continues its participation on the Governor’s Long-Term Care Council, which is currently considering recommendations to strengthen the direct care workforce.

Governor Tom Wolf presented his 2018-19 State Budget address on February 6.  Budget hearings in the General Assembly began on February 20.  Among a number of priorities, the Governor called for increased efforts to allow Pennsylvanians in need of long-term services and supports to remain at home and in their communities. 

Congressional Special Election

A special election for the vacant 18th Congressional District seat in Southwestern Pennsylvania will be held on March 13.  Candidates are State Representative Rick Saccone (R) and former assistant US Attorney for Western PA Conor Lamb (D).  Although the seat was held for the past 14 years by former Republican Representative Tim Murphy, the district does have a Democratic registration edge, but district voters overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump for President in 2016.  AARP PA is planning to work to ensure our members that live in the 18th are aware the election is taking place and exercise their right to vote.