House Makes Revisions to Background Check Law

To further clarify the types of volunteers and employees who are required to obtain background checks to work with children, the House passed House Bill 1276 last week. The legislation is designed to more clearly define who is and who is not subject to the background check requirements and, where possible, make the requirements less onerous for volunteers, nonprofit organizations, employees and employers.

Under the bill, only those volunteers and employees with direct and routine interaction with a child as part of a child care service, a school, or a program, activity or service would need to obtain the clearances. For example, a Sunday school teacher and Scout leader would need the clearances, while a cook at a youth camp, a parent dropping off baked goods at a school or a guest reader/performer would not. The legislation would also permit employers or organizations to accept non-original copies of the required documents on file, rather than the original copies to be maintained by the employer or organization.

The House had previously amended the bill to waive the two $10 fees that volunteers must pay for background checks associated with the child protection laws. The legislation now heads to the state Senate for consideration. More information is available at www.KeepKidsSafe.pa.gov.

Member Spotlight

Freas Farm-TransparentFreas Farm Winery began producing wine in the fall of 2013 and bottling in spring 2014. Owners Patricia Leighow and Stephanie Rothery learned under their mentor John Crane, of Birdsong Winery. They first opened their doors at 130 Twin Church Road in Berwick in June 2014. The winery is located at a farm owned by Rothery’s great grandparents and her family’s story is still entwined in the house as well as several of the wines they produce. They recently opened their second location at Rohrbach’s Farm Market in Catawissa.

Freas Farm offers PA preferred farm to table wines and Port. They use Minnesota hybrid grapes grown in Sullivan County, which do well since they’re accustomed to being grown in a colder climate.

Their wines have won awards at the 2014 Silver Finger Lakes International Wine Competition in the Sweet Rose category, 2014 Bronze Finger Lakes International Wine Competition in the Frontenac Gris Category, 2015 Silver Finger Lakes International Wine Competition in the Port Category, and 2015 Bronze Finger Lakes International Wine Competition in the Red Blend Non-Vinifera Category.

Their tag line is “Community and Culture in Every Bottle” and they try to operate their business by those words. They work with many non-profits in the area. The Alzheimer’s Foundation is significant to them and they donate a portion of every bottle of Forget Me Not to the Foundation for research. Freas Farm partners with Berwick Theater and Center for the Community Arts as well as the Geisinger-Bloomsburg March of Dimes.  Both of these organizations are having fundraisers at the winery on May 29th and 30th. They also support Beyond Violence, PAWS Crossroads and Stuart Tank Marine Corps League Detachment 1400.  Civic and community organizations are encouraged to hold their meetings at the winery at no cost to them.

Freas Farm Winery can be reached at 570-759-WINE or visit freasfarmwinery.com

The subject of each month’s Member Spotlight is selected from attendees of Chamber events.

A Look At How PPL Electric Utilities Is Improving Its System

From Teri MacBride, PPL Regional Affairs Director

PPL Electric Utilities’ network investments are providing long-term service reliability to help businesses remain competitive, as well as an economic development boost with jobs and contract work for everything from traffic control to line clearing.

Reliable electric delivery for quality, consistent operations helps businesses remain productive and competitive. PPL Electric Utilities is focused on providing a reliable power supply at a reasonable cost and operating more efficiently to make sure electric service remains a good value.

The utility invested $4.7 billion over the past decade to improve its electric delivery system, and will invest another $5.7 billion over the next five years as it continues to renew, strengthen and modernize the network. It’s the largest investment of its kind since the 1960s and ‘70s.

According to the latest reliability statistics, the work and investments have already had a positive effect on the system. Customers are seeing a steady decline in the number of outages, and more improvements are in store.

On average, customers are experiencing 20 percent fewer outages today than in 2007 — when PPL Electric Utilities embarked on one of the largest reliability improvement programs in its history. It expects to have another 20 percent improvement by 2019.

Trees are the biggest cause of storm-related outages, and the company’s expanded trimming and clearing program is also making a difference. As a result, tree-related outages are on the way down — 18 percent fewer in 2014 compared to the average of the previous 10 years.

Strong economic development is powered by a reliable supply of electricity. PPL Electric Utilities’ reliability work also provides job-producing contracts and contractor positions in areas including engineering, tree trimming and traffic control.

Some of the key reliability projects aimed at making the system stronger and more storm-resistant include:

• Installing smart grid equipment, which improves reliability by sensing power outages and rerouting power around the damage — restoring many customers even before repairs are made. In areas where the equipment has been installed, it has reduced outage durations by an average of 30 percent.
• Moving inaccessible lines closer to roadways and dividing some lines into sections to reduce the number of outages customers experience.
• Stepping up removal of trees and tree limbs, to keep them away from power lines. This has reduced the number of customers affected by storms over the past few years.
• Installing stronger, more weather-resistant poles, replacing aging equipment, and installing animal guards to prevent outages caused by squirrels and other animals.

The investments are about making sure the system that serves large and small businesses in central and eastern Pennsylvania is strong well into the future.

Chamber Board Supports 911 Funding Reform

County commissioners from across Pennsylvania have identified 911 services funding reform as their top priority issue for 2015. As state funding sources have not been updated, counties have had to make up the difference in supporting their systems from local tax dollars. This week, the Chamber Board joined with the commissioners in urging the Legislature to update fees to avoid further burdens on local property taxpayers.

Counties assumed responsibility for 911 service with the 1990 adoption of the state Public Safety Emergency Telephone Act. That legislation provided funding in the form of a monthly fee on land lines of $1.00 to $1.50, with a $1 fee on cell phones and VoIP lines implemented later. As the fees have not been updated, and county systems need to be upgraded regularly to work with new communications technologies, the funding covers an average of 70 percent of counties’ cost according to a 2012 report issued by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee. The cell phone fee is also scheduled to sunset at the end of June.

Last Monday, commissioners from Columbia, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder, Union and Juniata counties held a press conference in Selinsgrove to bring attention to this issue. They were joined by Senator John Gordner and Representatives Kurt Masser, Fred Keller and Linda Schlegel Culver. The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania says that an across the board increase to $2 would generate an additional $100 million statewide. The commissioners are also suggesting that reform legislation include a mechanism to account for inflation and new technologies that may use 911 systems, such as OnStar. Additional information is available at www.pacounties.org.

Columbia and Montour County Commissioners have been working with other counties in the region to share 911 infrastructure and manage costs in providing this essential service. However, the lack of adequate funding is resulting in hundreds of thousands being used from local tax revenues to maintain and upgrade systems. At its regularly monthly meeting yesterday, the Chamber Board approved the attached letter calling on our state delegation and the House Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee to update the fee structure. The Chamber is also asking other chambers across the state to contact their legislators as well.

Chamber Expresses Support for Gas Pipeline Project

Last Tuesday, the Chamber provided comments in support of a proposed 35-mile natural gas pipeline. The primary reason for the project is to supply a power plant in Snyder County, but could also provide gas service to a portion of Montour County. The remarks were part of a public scoping meeting for the Sunbury Pipeline Project held at the James F. Baugher Elementary School in Milton.

The project’s main purpose is to supply the proposed 1000 megawatt Hummel Station power plant near Shamokin Dam, though there would be additional capacity. The pipeline would begin in Lycoming County by connecting to the Transco Pipeline. An estimated 500 construction jobs would be created, with permanent jobs at the power plant, which is currently dormant. Details on the project are available at www.sunburypipeline.com.

As part of the approval process, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), conducts a scoping period to receive public comment and questions. The period will close April 17th. Information on how to submit comments is available at www.ferc.gov by searching ‘Sunbury Pipeline’.

In March, the Chamber Board approved a resolution supporting the expansion of Pennsylvania’s natural gas transportation and distribution infrastructure. UGI Energy Services, which is coordinating the project, has stated that they will be working with communities and other businesses along the 35-mile corridor to explore ways to provide service from this pipeline. “As the distribution infrastructure in much of this area is lacking,” said Chamber President Fred Gaffney, “the project would directly benefit other businesses and residents along this corridor as well.”