Pennsylvania Political Forecast – Cloudy with a 100% Chance of Uncertainty
If there were any thoughts that the month of February might clear up some of the issues surrounding the future path of Pennsylvania politics, they’ve been fried by the 80 degree temperatures we experienced in the middle of the month, buried by the foot of snow parts of the state experienced a week later, then blown away by the 75 mile wind gusts that knocked out power to many Pennsylvanians.
We entered March with candidates for Congress circulating nomination petitions in districts mandated by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which issued its own Congressional District map after ruling the previous map unconstitutional and refusing to implement any map drawn by caucuses in the General Assembly, the Governor, or other interested parties. The Republican leaders of the General Assembly, joined by all Republican members of the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation except Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick from Bucks County, appealed this action to a U.S. Federal District Court and the U.S. Supreme Court stating the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s action in drawing new Congressional districts on their own is unconstitutional. The Federal Court heard the case March 9, while action at the U.S. Supreme Court is pending.
Should either Court issue a stay to prevent elections taking place under the new district boundaries it is likely the May 15 primary elections will either be delayed or cancelled, moving Pennsylvania into uncharted political waters and quite possibly impacting which political party controls the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2019-20 session.
One other note on this situation – a number of Republican politicians, including U.S. Senator Pat Toomey, have raised the possibility of considering the impeachment of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices who took this action. Supreme Court justices are elected in Pennsylvania and run as nominees of political parties. The PA Supreme Court currently has a 5-2 Democratic majority.
At the State Capitol, February was dominated by the Governor’s budget address and budget hearings. The Pennsylvania House and Senate have scheduled only one week of session in March.
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.
Update – In meetings with legislative staff of the House Professional Licensure Committee AARP has been told not to expect action on this issue in 2018. The Chair of the Professional Licensure Committee, Rep. Mark Mustio, has announced he is retiring and is not running for re-election.
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 – SB 780 is on the Senate calendar for first consideration. The legislation will likely be referred to the Appropriations Committee when the Senate returns in mid-March
Status – State Treasurer Joe Torsella’s task force on retirement security held its fourth and final hearing on the issue on February 14. Sarah Mysiewicz-Gill from the AARP National Office is an appointee to the task force.
Update – A new website, www.myretirementpa.com was launched in early February for consumers, employers, and policymakers in Pennsylvania. AARP was asked to be a part of a working group on retirement security which is designed to take the information gathered at the Treasurer’s Task Force hearings and work with elected officials to turn it into a legislative initiative.
Status – No action on any proposal to assist the nuclear industry in Pennsylvania has occurred as of yet.
First Energy has submitted 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. A hearing on this proposal was held March 13 in Erie.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has issued a request for comments on how public utilities should utilize their savings resulting from the new federal tax law. AARP submitted comments suggesting that those savings be returned to ratepayers.
Update – PUC decisions on the First Energy request and the tax savings issue are not likely until late spring.
Other State Advocacy Activity of Interest
Governor Tom Wolf presented his 2018-19 State Budget address on February 6. Budget hearings in the General Assembly have continued over the past few weeks and have proven to be controversial, as Republican legislators contend that the Administration has by-passed the General Assembly to make spending decisions outside the Administration’s authority.
Senator Pat Toomey (R) has been the focus of attention because of the recent school shootings and his previous sponsorship of moderate gun control legislation. His recent appearances in the state have been highlighted by the gun issue, his continued championing of the tax bill, and his comments on the redistricting controversy
Senator Bob Casey (D), in partnership with Senator Susan Collins of Maine, held a hearing of the Senate Special Committee on Aging on March 7 focused on frauds and scams against older Americans. AARP PA volunteer Mary Bach was invited to testify at this hearing, along with AARP Washington State director Doug Shadel.
Senator Casey is up for re-election in 2018. US Rep. Lou Barletta (R-11) won the State Republican party’s endorsement and is the favorite to win the Republican nomination at the May primary.
The uncertainty around the final outcome of the redistricting drama has left members of the U.S. House delegation from Pennsylvania in a state of flux. At this point it is extremely difficult to speculate on the outcome of the Court challenges. Should the Pennsylvania Supreme Court map be utilized for the 2018 election, it is likely that Democrats will gain between 1 and 5 House seats. If the map is overturned and the current districts stay in place for the 2018 election, the range is most likely between 1 Republican gain and 2 Democratic gains.