Alternative Graduation Requirements Bill Clears House in Unanimous Vote

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

The House unanimously passed legislation last week that would expand options for fulfilling high school graduation requirements in Pennsylvania.

Senate Bill 1095 – which also passed the Senate unanimously in June – would allow students enrolled in career and technical education or other alternative pathways to opt out of taking the Keystone Exams.  The exams were developed as a way to ensure that Pennsylvania students graduate high school as prepared as possible for the next phase of their lives and were planned to take effect for the 2016-17 school year, but have been delayed.

The PA Chamber is among a broad group in support of strong graduation requirements because we support a public education system based on rigorous standards, with appropriate transparency and robust accountability measures.  When S.B. 1095 was first introduced, our organization opined that while we understood that graduation requirements should reflect the diversity of the student body, the bill swung the pendulum too far back and threatened the accountability standards we wanted to see implemented.  Since that time, however, those concerns have been addressed through negotiations with lawmakers.

Shortly before the House’s vote on S.B. 1095, the PA Chamber joined Excellent Schools PA and Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children in sending a memo that urged lawmakers to engage in oversight to ensure that the standards in the legislation are being met.  “To be sure, the impact of added transparency and accountability measures, and the extent to which the bill in general benefits students, is entirely based on how it is carried out by schools in partnership with state officials and with vigorous oversight from the legislature,” the coalition wrote.  “Passing this legislation is an important, but early step in the process and we urge all stakeholders to maintain a commitment to the principles now encompassed in this bill.”

PA Chamber Government Affairs Director Alex Halper was quoted in a Pennlive story about the House’s passage of the bill, saying that while rigorous standards for graduating high school students must be met, the PA Chamber understands that a blanket approach to graduation requirements might not work for everyone. “When this legislation is implemented, it will be a significant improvement over the status quo,” Halper said.  

October is Local Chamber of Commerce Month in Pennsylvania

Governor Tom Wolf has officially declared October 2018 as “Local Chamber of Commerce Month” in Pennsylvania. The Governor issued an official proclamation making that declaration. 

Below is the text of that proclamation.

Greetings:

It is my pleasure to join with the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business & Industry to support October 2018 as Local Chamber of Commerce Month in Pennsylvania. 

Since its inception, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry has served and advocated for Pennsylvania businesses. Our local chambers of commerce play a critical role in supporting the needs of our vibrant business community and are essential to the Commonwealth’s continued economic growth and advancement. As my administration works hard to retain current and create new family sustaining jobs by supporting business and industry throughout the Commonwealth, I am grateful for our local chambers of commerce for providing the invaluable role that they play in ensuring that businesses new and old can continue to prosper in Pennsylvania. I commend Pennsylvania’s local chambers of commerce for representing thousands of businesses, and I am certain their efforts to enhance our communities will serve as an inspiration across the Commonwealth for years to come.

As Governor, and on behalf of all citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I am honored to support October 2018 as Local Chamber of Commerce Month. Please accept my best wishes for continued success.

Tom Wolf
Governor
October 2018

28th Annual Economic Survey Shows Boost in Employer Optimism, While Workforce Needs, Healthcare and Taxes Continue to Burden Employers

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

The PA Chamber unveiled the results of its 28th Annual Economic Survey last week, which showed record high optimism among employers in terms of their confidence with the direction of Pennsylvania’s economy and their willingness to invest in their facilities and workers.  However, a jobs skills gap was listed for the first time as the biggest hurdle facing their businesses.  Also, ongoing concerns about the state’s tax structure and rising healthcare costs were among the leading issues they cited as barriers to economic opportunity.

According to the survey of 650 employers, job creators listed difficulties finding skilled and qualified employees to fill open positions as the biggest problem facing their companies.  This represents a stark increase over last year and has officially reached an historic high as business owners’ “top of mind” issue.  Given this rising concern and the increased attention to this problem, the PA Chamber is proud to include as part of its mission the “Start the Conversation HERE” initiative that is aimed at closing the skills gap in Pennsylvania by educating students, their families, educators and workers about family-sustaining jobs in the skilled trades and other employment trends in the Commonwealth. Visit StartTheConversationHere.com to learn more about this dynamic program and the PA Chamber’s ongoing efforts to tackle the skills gap in Pennsylvania.

As to other leading employer concerns in the survey, the PA Chamber remains committed to working with lawmakers to reduce tax burdens and address rising healthcare costs, which continue to increase despite efforts from the Trump administration to expand healthcare access. “We’re working to combat rising healthcare costs, which employers have cited as a major hurdle over the last ten years of economic surveys,” PA Chamber President Gene Barr said in a press release announcing the survey results. “Expanding access to affordable healthcare coverage should be a universal goal, which is why it’s so unfortunate that the state Insurance Department is resisting allowing many small businesses to take advantage of the new federal rule on Association Health Plans.  The goal of these plans is to achieve savings within the health care system and provide Pennsylvania employers with solutions to meet the needs of their workforce.”

Standing out as a positive takeaway from this year’s survey was the considerable improvement in employers’ perception of Pennsylvania’s business climate.  A record high 40 percent of employers now say the economy has gotten better during the last 12 months, up sharply from 25 percent last year.  Moreover, 26 percent of employers rate Pennsylvania as “very” business friendly, up from 15 percent last year and also a record high.  However, when asked to cite the top issues that should top business advocates and lawmakers’ “to-do” lists, they overwhelmingly cited controlling healthcare costs (at 66 percent) and cutting business taxes (at 50 percent) as the top two priorities.

The 28th Annual Economic Survey was conducted in August 2018 by Susquehanna Polling and Research, a Harrisburg-based public opinion polling company. To review the survey, visit the PA Chamber’s website.  

Public Meeting Scheduled to Discuss Routes 54 & 642 Safety Improvements in Danville

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is advancing a safety improvement project at the intersections of Route 54 and 642 in Valley Township, Montour County that began in 2015. Following several public meetings, a study was conducted with a community advisory committee to identify and evaluate alternative improvements to the Route 54 corridor between the Route 642 east and west intersections. A recommended alternative will be presented at public meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 16 at 6 p.m. at Danville Middle School, located at 252 Northumberland Rd. (Rt. 11) in Danville.  

The alternative removes a proposed roundabout along Jerseytown Road. The plan is available on PennDOT’s website. Included in the public meeting will be explanations of the design, benefits of this plan over previous configuations, as well as a simulation of traffic flow. The project is expected to begin in 2021 and take two years to complete at a cost of $16 million.

IRRC Releases Comments in Response to Proposed Overtime Rule Changes

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

The Independent Regulatory Review Commission last Friday issued their comments in response to the state Department of Labor and Industry’s proposal to dramatically expand overtime eligibility in Pennsylvania.

Many of IRRC’s directives and questions are similar to those posited by hundreds of employers and other stakeholders who submitted comments in response to the proposal and outlined multiple reasons the proposal should be rejected.

The Department’s proposal, released in June 2018, included a 100 percent increase in the minimum salary threshold to qualify for “overtime exempt” status and also required regular increases to the threshold. Additionally, while the proposal indicated a desire to align federal and state overtime guidelines – which the PA Chamber strongly supports – the actual regulatory language unfortunately fell far short of this goal.  The PA Chamber submitted comments in response to this proposal outlining numerous concerns including the cost on businesses and the nonprofit community and the negative impact on employees who will be forced to transition from earing a salary to less flexible hourly positions. Many of these concerns were highlighted by IRRC which also stated that the Department should work more closely with the legislature when undertaking such a significant and substantial rule change.

The Department of Labor and Industry will likely submit a final proposed rule, which IRRC could opt to reject if its questions are not sufficiently answered or directives not sufficiently adopted.