Pa. House adjourns for elections, leaving policy items unsettled

Posted: October 07, 2010

HARRISBURG - With the bang of a gavel Wednesday, the state House recessed so members could return to their districts to run for reelection.

But the fate of a number of big-ticket policy items remains up in the air, among them a tax on extraction of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale. Other bills appear destined for legislative burial, including one that would crack down on distracted driving.

Although the Senate is scheduled to be in session next week, it will be in the Capitol for only three days. And though the House will return after the election, the Senate will not.

Brett Marcy, spokesman for House Majority Leader Todd Eachus (D., Luzerne), said Wednesday that the houses would try to iron out their differences during the next few weeks.

"Just because we're not in session doesn't mean negotiations can't continue," he said.

Last week, the House rammed through a bill calling for a levy of 39 cents per 1,000 cubic feet (or roughly 10 percent) of gas produced from drilling in the Marcellus Shale.

Senate leaders have called the proposal "ridiculous," dismissing the rate as the highest in the nation (though that is disputed by some analysts).

The sides have been in talks since then, but many lawmakers think it will be difficult to reach an agreement in the next week.

Complicating matters is a belief by Senate Republican leaders that the measure was unconstitutional because language establishing the tax was added to legislation on an unrelated topic. Senate President Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) is seeking an advisory opinion from the legislature's bill-drafting office as to whether the bill can withstand a court challenge.

Scarnati's counsel, Drew Crompton, put it this way: "I think the issue got knocked on its backside a bit because of this constitutional issue."

Also unresolved is whether to create an independent fiscal office to act as an outside check on the governor's revenue projections and spending reports. This also is bogged down by differences between House Democrats, who see it as unnecessary and costly, and Senate Republicans, who think it would take politics out of crafting a budget.

A measure that appears likely to die when the Senate adjourns next week would make it a secondary offense for adults to use a handheld cell phone or to text-message while driving - and prohibit it for teenagers. It would also make not wearing a seat belt a primary offense, and limit the number of passengers that teen drivers could have in their cars.

The measure is caught in a dispute about which chamber should vote on it first.

"It's silliness," said Rep. Josh Shapiro (D., Montgomery), who has championed it. "This is a bill that will save lives."

Still, not all is doom and gloom in the Capitol.

On Wednesday, Senate Republicans reported that they were close to reaching a deal with the House on a bill to lower pension costs.

Early this summer, the House passed a measure to reduce benefits for future state employees. Among other things, it would increase the minimum retirement age for most employees by five years, and spread future pension cost hikes over 30 years.


Contact staff writer Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934 or acouloumbis@phillynews.com.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|