Monthly Archives: October 2014

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By Rep. Mike Hanna

rep. mike hanna 2Perhaps you’ve seen the legal advertising in newspapers for proposed amendments to Pennsylvania’s constitution. Among them is a proposal to change how public charities’ tax-exempt status is determined.

The proposed change won’t be on the Nov. 4 ballot. It still faces another round of approval in the state House and Senate but ostensibly could be before voters as soon as next year.

The fate of the amendment could determine who pays property taxes and who doesn’t.

I believe the amendment would harm property taxpayers because it would sabotage municipalities’ ability to question whether some “charities” are actually acting as charities.

Property tax exemptions should be distributed about as easily as manhole covers are tossed about. If not, more of the tax burden falls on homeowners, who already are shouldering an unfair load of the unfair tax.

In some communities, nonprofits consume two-thirds of the properties, and their tax-exempt status makes it impossible for local governments to levy fair taxes to pay for police and fire protection, schools and infrastructure.

Any proposal to tinker with our constitution should be viewed warily. However, the public charities amendment is advancing without even a single public hearing.

Both the process and the policy are suspect. The amendment, I believe, would uphold an unfair system where large health-care organizations with multi-millions of dollars in revenue are judged by the same standards as the local boys’ and girls’ club.

The dispute has been brewing for a long time.

The state constitution permits the legislature to exempt “institutions of purely public charity” from tax. However, the framers of the constitution neither defined “institutions of purely public charity” nor granted the General Assembly the authority to define public charities, leaving it to state courts under separation-of-powers principles.

These issues set up the turf war between the courts and the legislature that’s been whip-sawing back and forth, leaving battered taxpayers and communities in its wake.

Fast forward to1985 when the state Supreme Court established a five-part test for nonprofits to qualify as a public charity and receive property tax exemptions. Under the court’s “HUP Test” — Hospital Utilization Project v. Commonwealth — nonprofits must:

  • Advance a charitable purpose;
  • Operate free from the private profit motive;
  • Donate a substantial portion of their service;
  • Benefit a substantial class of citizens who are the legitimate subject of charity; and
  • Relieve the government of some of its burden.

While the HUP Test was not implemented perfectly, the legislature compounded the problems in 1997 with passage of Act 55, the Purely Public Charities Act.

Act 55 imposed too-easily-met exemption standards and hamstrung local governments’ abilities to challenge an organization’s standing as a purely public charity.

But the fuse in the latest round of the turf war was lit by a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling that denied tax-exempt status to a religious camp in Pike County. The court ruled that the legislature could pass laws to more clearly define what a charity is, but that it could not pass laws creating a broader definition than outlined in the HUP test.

The legislature responded with all the subtlety of a train wreck, ramming through the proposed constitutional amendment – with no public hearings and little public debate. It would give the legislature ultimate and overly broad authority to determine which institutions are public charities and eligible for tax-exempt status.

As I said, the amendment question – as well as proposed amendments regarding abolishing Philadelphia Traffic Court and increasing the mandatory retirement age for judges — is not on the Nov. 4 ballot. All three proposed amendments would have to be approved by the legislature elected Nov. 4 before they could be placed on a ballot.

Although next month’s election could change the dynamics, I will urge that the charities amendment be defeated if and when it reappears before the legislature next session –and for its defeat if and when appears before voters.

President John F. Kennedy said government is an art and a precious obligation. It also requires balance. In a complicated and important issue like this, reason and compromise are needed.
Lobbing a constitutional amendment grenade into the separation of powers turf war is hardly the answer, and property taxpayers stand to lose from this nuclear option.

Rep. Hanna is Democratic whip of the Pa. House Democratic Caucus.

 

 

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gotshallThe House this week voted to concur in Senate amendments to legislation sponsored by Rep. Robert Godshall (R-Montgomery) to reauthorize the Responsible Utility Customer Protection Act, which was set to expire at the end of this year.

The act (known as Chapter 14 of the Public Utility Code) was established in 2004 to govern gas, electric and water company procedures related to service termination and reconnection, as well as establishing terms for payment arrangements issued by the Public Utility Commission (PUC) to customers who fall behind on their utility bills. It protects responsible bill-paying customers from rate increases attributable to other customers who, despite the means to do so, choose not to pay their bills. It also provides commonsense tools for utilities to improve collections and reduce uncollectible accounts.

“Chapter 14 ensures all customers will have access to utility services, that low-income customers continue to receive payment assistance and that all utility ratepayers will be protected from rate increases caused by the bad debt of those who can pay their bills, but choose not to. House Bill 939 makes reasonable, responsible amendments to ensure the customer protection goals, established in the original law, continue to be met,” Godshall said.

The Senate amended House Bill 939 to add provisions relating to Friday service terminations and security deposits and to establish a new sunset date for the law of Dec. 31, 2024. The House unanimously concurred in Senate amendments, and the bill has been delivered to the governor for his signature.

 

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dog and catLegislation that would make it a crime to willfully and maliciously kill dogs and cats for human consumption won approval in the state Senate last week and is scheduled to come back to the House for a concurrence vote today. The House gave this legislation its unanimous endorsement earlier in this legislative session.

House Bill 1750, sponsored by Rep. John Maher (R-Allegheny/Washington), would close a loophole in the law that fails to protect domesticated animals from being slaughtered and eaten. Maher’s legislation would prohibit the processing, sale and serving of dog and cat meat for human consumption and impose strict penalties on those who violate the law.

“As repulsive and unfathomable as it is to imagine that anyone would subject family pets to such a horrific end, we know it is happening and there are no laws to prevent it,” said Maher. “House Bill 1750 would effectively shut down back alley slaughterhouses and keep Fido and Frisky off the dinner menu. This law would make clear to anyone who would prey on our beloved pets, that they will pay a heavy price for doing so.”

Violations would result in a misdemeanor carrying a fine of $1,000 to $10,000 and/or up to five years imprisonment. Subsequent violations would result in a felony of the third degree, carrying a fine of $2,500 to $15,000 and/or up to seven years in prison.

“People who abuse or neglect animals face tough penalties under the state’s animal cruelty statutes, but there is nothing on the books to specifically prohibit the slaughter and consumption of domesticated animals. That makes absolutely no sense. Our laws must extend the same protections to dogs and cats,” said Maher.

On Thursday, the Senate overwhelmingly approved the legislation with amendment and returned the measure to the House on concurrence. In the waning hours of this legislative session, the fate of these animals rests with the House, which has already given the bill its unanimous approval. A positive vote on concurrence will send the bill to the governor to be signed into law.

Media contact: Donna Pinkham, 717-260-6452

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corbett press clubGovernor of Pennsylvania, Tom Corbett, will address the Pennsylvania Press Club on Monday, October 27, 2014. The luncheon begins at noon and will be held at the Hilton Harrisburg & Towers.
Since his inauguration as Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on January 18th, 2011, Tom Corbett has been fighting for the people of Pennsylvania.
By reducing spending for the first time in 40 years, cutting government waste and fraud, balancing state budgets without borrowing more or raising taxes on the middle class and opening up the Marcellus Shale for responsible exploration and development, Pennsylvania was able to close a $4.2 billion budget deficit, invest unprecedented funding in public education, create over 180,000 new private sector jobs and is on the verge of unchartered economic prosperity.
Tom Corbett has dedicated much of his life to serving others. After graduating from college, Tom spent a year as a civics and history teacher at Pine Grove Area High School in Schuylkill County. A few years after graduating from law school, Tom was hired by the Reagan administration as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, focusing on organized crime and drug enforcement. He was also one of the first members of President Reagan’s National Drug Task Force. In 1989, following several years of private law practice, he was appointed as the United States Attorney for Western Pennsylvania by President George H.W. Bush.
Tom Corbett offered his legal expertise as an advisor to Tom Ridge, a U.S. Congressman at the time, who would become Governor and appoint Tom to fill an interim role as Pennsylvania’s Attorney General from 1995 to 1997. Tom returned to the private sector and eventually opened his own firm. A champion for public safety and criminal justice, Tom Corbett was elected the 46th Attorney General of Pennsylvania in 2004. He was overwhelmingly re-elected in 2008 with over three million votes, more than any Republican candidate in Pennsylvania’s history.
Answering Pennsylvanians call for change and reform in Harrisburg, Tom announced his candidacy in September of 2009 and was elected as Pennsylvania’s 46th Governor in November of 2010.
A lifelong Pennsylvanian, Tom was born in Philadelphia and raised in Shaler Township outside of Pittsburgh, where he attended high school. He obtained his undergraduate degree from Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania and his law degree from St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas. Tom also served his country and Commonwealth for 13 years as a member of the Pennsylvania National Guard’s 28th Infantry Division, before retiring as a Captain in 1984.
Tom Corbett and Susan Manbeck of Pine Grove, Pennsylvania, were married in 1972. They continue to reside in Shaler Township in the same home Tom grew up in and have been blessed with two children, Tom and Katherine, and a grandson, Liam. They also enjoy the company of their two Airedales, Harry and Penny — short for Harrisburg and Pennsylvania. The dogs were named by Pennsylvania’s children in a statewide contest.
The luncheons for the year 2014 are underwritten by the following: 2T Tiboni Tucker Associates, AFSCME Council 13, AFT Pennsylvania, APSCUF, Bravo Group, Broadband Cable Association of PA, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, PC, Cancervotes, Capital Associates, Capital Blue Cross, Ceisler Media & Advocacy, Columbia Gas of PA and MD, Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, LLC, Gmerek Government Relations, Hudak & Company, Integrity Bank, McKonly and Asbury LLP, McNees Wallace & Nurick, LLC, Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters, Pennsylvania Business Council, Pennsylvania Chamber of Business & Industry, Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, Pennsylvania Newsmedia Association, PSEA, Quantum Communications, Tierney Communications, United Way of Pennsylvania, and WPX Energy.
The Pennsylvania Press Club Series is sponsored by the Broadband Cable Association of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters, Pennsylvania Cable Network, Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents Association, Pennsylvania Newspaper Association and the Pennsylvania Public Relations Society.
The public is invited to attend. Cost is $30 per person and must be paid in advance. Reservations can be made by contacting (717) 939-1400 or info@papressclub.org. For more information visit our website at www.papressclub.org.

 

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email pornGov. Tom Corbett says a review of State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan’s state-email account “indicates that he did not participate in opening, originating, forwarding or replying to any message” the Office of Attorney General said contained sexually explicit and pornographic material.

Noonan received hundreds of emails that were passed between several former top aides to then-Attorney General Corbett from 2008 to 2012.

“He got everything, but sent nothing,” said OAG spokeswoman Renee Martin of Noonan.

The Office of Attorney General initially said it would not release the information contained in emails after several Pennsylvania media outlets filed Right-To-Know requests. However, a day later Kane’s office allowed reporters to review pictures and videos that her office says were part of a series of hundreds of explicit emails sent by several men who worked under Corbett.

The releasing of information has been done largely piecemeal, leading to charges of bias. Kane is the first Democrat to hold the office since it became an elected position in 1980. The eight men – only a portion of a larger group of individuals, some of which are reportedly current OAG employees, to have received or sent such emails – named by Kane’s office were hired under past Republican administrations.

“I call upon the Attorney General to release to the public, in a complete and unbiased manner, all of the information on all individuals associated with this issue. Such action is in the best interest of the public and will serve to regain trust in those who work in public service,” Corbett said.

Noonan is currently heading up one of the largest manhunts in state police history as local, state and federal law enforcement officials scour the northern Monroe and southern Pike counties for Eric Frein, the prime suspect in the ambush of two state police officers two weeks ago. One officer died.

“It is important that Commissioner Noonan remain focused on the critical public safety mission he is leading in the manhunt for Eric Frein and that there is no disruption in the work underway in this case,” Corbett said in the statement.

On Oct. 2, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Christopher Abruzzo resigned after the governor’s office reviewed emails containing text – some sexually explicit. OAG said he received 46 emails and sent eight.

In a resignation letter, Abruzzo said he had “no recollection” of sending emails, but took full responsibility for his actions in 2009.

During that same examination of emails, Corbett’s office reviewed emails sent by DEP Deputy General Counsel Glenn Parno, AG Corbett’s former chief deputy attorney general for environmental crimes. The governor also accepted his resignation on Oct. 2. OAG said he received 178 and sent 10.

Corbett’s office reviewed information about Abruzzo, Parno and Noonan but is expecting to review more in the very near future. Randy Feathers, a former investigator in Corbett’s OAG who now sits on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, also was named by Kane’s OAG as having sent hundreds of explicit emails.

Corbett has said he was unaware that close aides were sending explicit emails on state email accounts. He denounced the activity, which, while not illegal, is prohibited by an OAG policy instituted by Corbett when he was attorney general.

“As I have said, I do not condone or tolerate comments or behavior degrading to individuals, written or otherwise. This type of activity does not belong in the workplace and I find it inexcusable,” he said in a statement.

Martin said OAG will release another batch of email for Feathers, Patrick Blessington, a former OAG staffer now prosecutor in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, Rick Sheetz, a former executive attorney general who now works for the Lancaster District Attorney, and former Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley.

–Kevin Zwick, Capitolwire

 

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probationDauphin County Judge Richard Lewis will allow two defendants charged in the Pennsylvania Turnpike “pay-to-play” corruption case to enter into a probation program.

Jeffrey Suzenski, a vendor consultant, and Dennis Miller, a Turnpike vendor, were admitted into Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition (ARD). The two men will stay in the probation program for two years, perform 100 hours of community service and pay standard ARD fees at the cost of about $1,200.

If they successfully complete the program, the charges against them will be dropped and their records will be expunged.

Judge Lewis said he had “no hesitation” to admit Miller and Suzenski into the ARD program after “thoroughly” reviewing evidence and testimony presented at the preliminary hearing as well as “a plethora” of pre-trial motions. He said their admission into the program is “more than appropriate.”
J.J. Abbott, a spokesman for Attorney General Kathleen Kane, said the ARD deal was an “appropriate resolution and proper disposition of these two cases.” He could not elaborate or comment more broadly on the case.

Lawyers for Miller and Suzenski said there is no agreement for the two men to cooperate with the prosecution of the remaining defendants.

“My client has maintained his innocence since day one. He continues to do so. There is no admission of any guilt here,” said Mark Sheppard, Miller’s lawyer. “This is a disposition that allows him to finally get on with his life.”

“Obviously the fact that the single charge against my client will be dismissed at the end of this process and the fact that his record will be expunged certainly is an indication that Mr. Suzenski is an individual who should not be characterized as someone who violated the law here,” said Suzenski’s lawyer, Michael Engle. “Mr. Suzenski is not entering this program because of an admission of any wrongdoing.”

Miller was brought up originally on charges including unlawful bid-rigging, theft, restricted activities and conspiracy charges. Suzenski was charged with one count of restricted activities.
Both men were lesser known defendants in the Office of Attorney General’s broader investigation into bid-rigging at the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which has ensnared former Sen. Bob Mellow, and former Turnpike officials Mitchell Rubin, a former commissioner; Joseph Brimmeier, a former CEO; and George Hatalowich, a former COO.

Those four men were charged with participating in a corrupt conspiracy where thousands of dollars in political contributions translated into lucrative, multimillion dollar Turnpike contracts. Judge Lewis is still reviewing motions that asked for the charges to be dismissed or at least separate trials for the four remaining defendants.
-Kevin Zwick, Capitolwire

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