Legislative Bulletin

See All Issues from July 2018 forward​​​​​​​.

 

 
Number 11
May 22, 2020

LEGISLATIVE BULLETIN

An e-newsletter of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania

 

 

 


 

717-526-1010

CCAP PRESIDENT HIGHLIGHTS IMPORTANCE OF MENTAL HEALTH FUNDING

On May 21, Clinton County commissioner and CCAP President Jeff Snyder released an editorial on the importance of increased and sustainable funding in the FY 2020-2021 state budget to support counties and the mental health services they provide to their residents, especially as mental health concerns continue to grow amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Counties had selected increased funding for mental health services as their top priority for 2020, recognizing that increasing needs for services in communities statewide are outpacing years of stagnant funding. As such, counties were advocating for a sustainable and impactful investment in mental health community base funds to help protect the social services safety net and ensure community programs could continue and be expanded into areas of need. Now, though, that safety net has been further stressed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has triggered job loss, social isolation and other difficult experiences, and so counties continue to urge lawmakers to increase mental health funding.

Counties continue to work on the front lines of the pandemic, navigating the provision of critical services in a world of stay-at-home orders and social distancing. As Pennsylvania adjusts to a new normal, counties are, as always, partners with the state in maintaining healthy, safe and resilient communities.

As budget negotiations are underway in Harrisburg, counties ask the General Assembly and the Wolf administration to show their support for Pennsylvania's residents by investing in the mental health community base that will continue to provide critical supports to individuals dealing with the effects of the coronavirus trauma in the coming year and reinforce mental health service provision for years to come.     

LEGISLATIVE HAPPENINGS  

The state House and Senate considered several bills of interest to counties while in session in recent weeks:

  • HB 360 (Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford) - Extends the deadline for child abuse history clearance recertifications required under the Child Protective Services Law and Pennsylvania School Code. Specifically, those whose clearances would expire during the COVID-19 disaster emergency will until Dec. 31, 2020 to renew clearances. The governor signed the bill into law as Act 18 on May 8.

  • HB 2502 (Rep. Natalie Mihalek, R-Allegheny) - Requires the Department of State (DOS) to work with counties to issue a report on the 2020 primary election, including mail-in and absentee ballot data. The bill was amended on the House floor to clarify the timelines in which the report would be expected, allowing counties 45 days to compile data and DOS 60 days post-primary to issue the report. The House approved the bill on May 19 and it now moves to the Senate for consideration.

  • ​SB 327 (Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill) - Adds new provisions for COVID-19 emergency statutory and regulatory suspensions and waivers reporting requirements and establishes the COVID-19 Cost and Recovery Task Force. The bill was amended in the Senate to re-add language that chamber had previously inserted that would give counties the authority to develop a countywide business mitigation plan. Although the House approved the addition of this language, on May 19, Gov. Wolf vetoed the legislation (Veto 7) on the grounds that it would undermine the current COVID-19 mitigation methods and prohibits commonwealth agencies from performing essential operations.

  • SB 959 (Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington) - Establishes dedicated Medicaid funding for county and nonpublic nursing facilities for ventilator or tracheostomy patients. The Senate unanimously approved the legislation on May 11 and it is now before the House for further consideration.

  • SB 1110 (Sen. Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland) - Directs the Secretary of Health or local health authority to release data related to confirmed COVID-19 cases to county 911 centers and other first responders during a proclamation of disaster emergency. Counties have been requesting this information to assist responders and help to efficiently allocate personal protective equipment (PPE) resources, but current state privacy laws have complicated the ability of state agencies to share the data. The bill passed the Senate in late April and was recently amended in the House Health committee to clarify certain access provisions. The legislation now moves to the full House for consideration.  

FEDERAL COVID-19 RELIEF: HEROES VS. SMART ACTS

U.S. legislators continue to debate a fifth round of coronavirus relief with different plans emerging in the House and Senate. On May 15, the U.S. House approved the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act (H.R. 6800), introduced by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), by a 208-199 vote. The HEROES Act contains $3 trillion in relief, including $187.5 billion in direct relief to counties of all sizes, which would address both lost revenue and increased expenditures as a result of COVID-19. County governments would receive approximately $125 billion within 30 days of the bill's enactment and $62.5 billion in year two. Reports indicate that the HEROES Act is unlikely to advance in the U.S. Senate, and does not have the support of President Trump.

However, U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) have introduced a separate proposal in that chamber, the State and Municipal Assistance for Recovery and Transition (SMART) Act (
S. 3752), to provide $500 billion in flexible emergency funding to state, county and tribal governments that could be used to backfill lost revenues and provide fiscal relief during the pandemic. Counties would receive around $80 billion of these funds, which would be distributed to the states to then allocate to counties by formula, with one-third based on population, one-third based on infection rates and one-third based on lost revenue.

Counties continue to advocate for flexible, direct
federal aid address the enormous economic and public health challenge that COVID-19 has presented. More information and analysis is available at www.naco.org.

PA SUPREME COURT REJECTS MAIL-IN BALLOT DEADLINE DELAY 

On May 15, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit brought by several advocacy groups asking the court to allow absentee and mail-in ballots to be counted if they were postmarked by election day and received within a week after the election. The current statutory deadline to accept these ballots remains 8 p.m. on election night, regardless of the postmark date.

This ruling comes as counties finalize preparations for the primary election, which had been postponed from April 28 to June 2. It is also the first election in Pennsylvania allowing mail-in voting under
Act 77 of 2019, in addition to absentee ballots. While mail-in ballots were expected to be popular, with the ongoing pandemic Pennsylvania voters have submitted around 1.6 million applications for mail-in and absentee ballots, with the application deadline still to come on May 26.

OOR OFFERS UPDATED RIGHT-TO-KNOW GUIDANCE 

The state Office of Open Records (OOR) recently issued an updated advisory related to the Right-to-Know Law (RTKL), to assist agencies and requesters with navigating issues related to the ongoing coronavirus emergency. The most recent advisory clarifies that agencies now in the yellow phase should process RTKL requests and participate in RTKL appeals as they would normally. Due to the current pandemic, exceptions may be necessary, and the OOR will continue to address those on a case-by-case basis.

For more information and to access the Sunshine Act and RTKL guidance advisories visit,
www.openrecordspennsylvania.com.

CHESAPEAKE BAY WATERSHED STATES RECEIVE EPA FUNDING 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced this week that it will award a total of $6 million to states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed area, including Pennsylvania, to reduce excess agricultural runoff. Pennsylvania will receive almost $3.7 million, by far the most of any of the six states slated to receive an award, as it the commonwealth has 61.6% of the commitments to reduce nitrogen from agricultural sources in its Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan.

At the same time, a coalition of state attorneys general from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia and has filed notice of intent to sue the EPA for not meeting its responsibility to ensure states meet their 2025 pollution reductions goals. The attorneys general allege that the EPA has failed to hold individual states, namely Pennsylvania and New York, accountable for attaining goals in their Chesapeake Bay pollution reduction plans
.

CCAP RESOLUTIONS PROCESS

Throughout the month of June, CCAP policy committees will be holding their annual conference call meetings to begin consideration of resolutions amending the PA County Platform. County officials are encouraged to begin reviewing the Platform now and to send any proposed resolutions to CCAP Government Relations staff at PACountiesGR@pacounties.org, or to discuss them with CCAP policy committee chairs.