General Assembly Ends Governor Wolf’s COVID-19 Disaster Emergency Declaration

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

The state legislature flexed its new constitutional authority last week and voted to end Governor Tom Wolf’s ongoing COVID-19 Disaster Emergency Declaration.  The concurrent resolution received bipartisan votes in both chambers, with one Democrat joining all 28 Republicans and one Independent in the Senate and eight Democrats voting with all 113 Republicans in the House to approve the measure.

During floor remarks, Republicans argued that with a majority of the Wolf administration’s mitigation orders having already been lifted, an increase in the number of vaccinations and a decrease in COVID caseloads, an emergency declaration was no longer necessary.  The administration – which had strongly opposed giving the General Assembly the authority to end emergency declarations with a simple majority – and legislative Democrats raised concern over the future of programs and federal funding that tied to the emergency declaration.

To that point, the General Assembly also passed legislation – which the governor signed into law – that extends the regulatory flexibility the administration utilized over the past year as part of the disaster declaration.  This extension lasts until Sept. 30. 

May Primary Election voters approved two changes to the state’s constitution as it relates to a governor’s emergency powers.  The first measure gives the General Assembly the ability to end or extend an emergency disaster declaration by a simple majority vote. The second measure would limit emergency disaster declarations to 21 days, but allow the General Assembly to approve an extension via a concurrent resolution.  Prior to these changes, governors could issue an emergency declaration for up to 90 days and extend it indefinitely, and the General Assembly could only end a declaration by a 2/3 majority vote.  The PA Chamber had supported the constitutional amendments as a way to restore checks and balances to the emergency declaration process.

SECV8 Spotlights Chamber

The Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce is spotlighted in the latest edition of SECV8’s In Your Neighborhood program. Host Chris O’Rourke interviewed Chamber President Fred Gaffney about the organization’s activities since the pandemic began, and how the Chamber is looking to help members and the general business community going forward. 

The episode will air every Wednesday at 6:30 and 9:30 p.m., every Friday at 5:30 and 9:30 p.m., every Saturday at 1 and 4:30 p.m., and every Sunday at 1, 5, and 9:30 p.m. through the month of June.

New Unemployment Compensation System Now Online

Pennsylvania’s new unemployment benefits system is now online and accepting claims at benefits.uc.pa.gov.

The new unemployment system replaces a 40-year-old outdated mainframe that made filing for unemployment benefits complicated for users and processing benefits cumbersome for staff. The new system makes filing for benefits easier and faster for claimants. Staff will need less time to process claims, which is expected to help reduce the number of claimants waiting for their claim to be processed.

These changes will allow employers to:

• Receive important information and notices via a dashboard.
• View all notices of separations, dates of appeal hearings, and UC correspondence in real-time.
• Have greater oversight, faster response time, and better communication regarding changes in information.

 

Member News- June 9, 2021

Attorney Travis Petty Recognized as Rising Star by Peers
 
Travis Petty, an attorney with Law Offices of Lutz, Grieco & Petty, LLC in Berwick, was recently named a Rising Star for 2021 by the website Super Lawyers. The designation means that he is a top-rated attorney as recognized by peers. 
 
Petty assists clients in areas of personal injury, criminal law, real estate and family law.
 
Bloomsburg University Celebrates New Building
 
Bloomsburg University’s new Arts and Administration Building has been open several months, but officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday following the statewide easing of coronavirus restrictions.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to have an actual event,” said Dan Knorr, the university’s director of external and government relations.

Knorr spoke to about two dozen people, including state Rep. Kurt Masser, Chamber of Commerce President Fred Gaffney and BU administrators and staff, gathered outside the new four-story, $35 million building near Centennial Hall on campus.

“I know this is just a small thing, but I feel like I’ve been dreaming of it for a year. So this is very exciting,” Knorr remarked.

The light-filled glass building features a large, central atrium and is home to administrative offices as well as student classrooms and art studios.

That’s an unusual mix for a campus building, noted BU President Bashar Hanna. He called the new facility a “collaboration.”

“Often, when universities build buildings, they design them either as academic buildings or as administrative buildings,” Hanna told the crowd. “What we’ve done here at Bloomsburg emphasizes that it’s one family.”

Just inside the main entrance, the new admission’s office welcomes incoming students in the same building as other student services, such as financial aid and the registrar. Those offices had been scattered throughout campus, making it harder for students to access those services, university spokesman Tom McGuire said.

History and art students who had crowded into the aging 114-year-old Old Science Hall for classes now have space and resources spread throughout the building’s four floors, McGuire added.

The university broke ground on the building in late 2018. It opened early this year.


 

State Revenue Collections Strong Heading into Last Month of Fiscal Year

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

With less than one month remaining in the state’s 2020-21 Fiscal Year and negotiations on the upcoming year’s budget beginning in earnest, the Commonwealth continues a strong fiscal showing. May’s revenue collections totaled $3.9 billion – representing a staggering 65.4 percent increase over official estimates.

Last month, the state’s Independent Fiscal Office forecasted the Commonwealth would finish the fiscal year with a $3.16 billion revenue surplus. The state is on track to realize that number with revenue collections to date totaling $36.6 billion, or $2.9 billion over estimates.

The higher than anticipated revenues come as welcome news for state government officials. With the fiscal year nearing an end, June historically marks a period of intense negotiations over the upcoming year’s state budget. Adding another dynamic to budgetary discussions is the influx of more than $7 billion in federal stimulus aid.

While strong revenues help to alleviate pressures on the General Fund brought forth by the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still several areas of disagreement between the Wolf administration and Republican majorities in the General Assembly – including the final spend number and the allocation of the stimulus dollars.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed interest and optimism in finalizing the 2021-22 budget plan well ahead of the June 30 constitutional deadline.