Mar. 22, 2019

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The Weekly Roundup
The latest news from the State Capitol
A Closer Look at the PA Farm Bill

A comprehensive, $24 million PA Farm Bill proposed by the Wolf Administration was the focus of a joint House and Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday at the state Capitol. As vice chairman of the House committee, I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about the plan from Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding.

We all agree the additional focus being placed on our state’s top industry is warranted. Agriculture is a vital contributor to our economy with a more than $135 billion annual economic impact and 580,000 direct and indirect jobs. But it’s also clear we need to assess the costs and benefits of the governor’s plan and prioritize the elements that could make a definitive difference for our farmers across the state.

Among the concerns raised during the hearing was the call for an additional $5 million for the Dairy Investment Program -- certainly a worthwhile program -- when the $5 million we put toward that program as part of last year’s budget still has not been distributed by the Wolf Administration. Dairy producers are struggling to stay afloat, and grants that could help them are being held up by bureaucracy.

The overall price tag was also questioned, especially since the governor chose to eliminate funding from his budget plan for several proven programs in the Department of Agriculture, including agricultural research and promotion, hardwoods research and promotion, and the livestock and open dairy shows.

Several committee members also questioned the proposal to provide $1.6 million in funding for a PA Preferred Organic Initiative to make the Commonwealth the nation’s leading organic state. Many of us have heard from non-organic farmers concerned that the plan would pit different types of farmers against one another or put them at a competitive disadvantage. It’s still not entirely clear how the administration would address those concerns if the program was implemented.

Members did express support for the part of the plan that aims to better educate children about farming and strengthen our ag workforce for current and future generations. This is vital to ensure our Commonwealth’s agriculture traditions continue to grow and evolve for years to come.

To watch a video of the hearing, click here.
Take the Perry County Farmer Survey

The Perry County Economic Development Authority is asking farmers to take a survey that will be used to help develop an Agricultural Plan for Perry County. The authority is only seeking responses from farmers in Perry County. Their feedback is critical to ensure the plan has a meaningful and positive impact. The survey takes 15-20 minutes to complete and is available here.
FFA in the House

Members of the West Perry, Greenwood and Shippensburg FFAs saw their state government in action on Tuesday. They stopped by a hearing I was leading as majority chairman of the House Commerce Committee. We heard from Auditor General Eugene DePasquale (far left) about the effectiveness of workforce development programs.
Holding Public Officials to a Higher Standard

The House this week gave overwhelming approval to a bill that would ensure public officials or employees who commit felony crimes related to their jobs will not collect a taxpayer-funded pension. The measure is now on its way to the governor for his signature.

Senate Bill 113 would expand the types of convictions that require officials or employees to forfeit their pensions to include any felony conviction, guilty plea or no contest plea related to an official’s job.

The legislation would also put a stop to the practice of a person pleading guilty to lesser crimes to avoid losing their pension and closes several other loopholes that have been exploited by officials to continue to collect pensions from the state after breaking the law and violating the public trust.
Setting Up Students for Career Success

Working to ensure Pennsylvania students have a diverse array of career paths from which to choose, the state House overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan package of bills designed to boost career and technical education (CTE) at schools across the Commonwealth. The bills now go to the Senate for consideration.

The initiatives are a cornerstone of the House Republican Caucus’ #GoodJobs4PA initiative aimed at ensuring all Pennsylvanians have access to good-paying jobs and careers.

To help students plot their path to success, there are bills that would allow technical schools to recruit students like colleges do; make it easier for students to see where credits transfer; create a database of workforce development programs at secondary and post-secondary institutions; create an online career resource center; and allow students who complete classes in STEM education to apply the credits to a course through a vocational-technical school, technical institution or vocational school. Learn more here.
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