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Feb. 2: Week in Review From Pa. Sen. Bob Mensch

Here's an overview of Pa. state Senate activity for the week of Jan. 28, 2013

2013-14 Legislative Session Floor Activity Begins

The Senate kicked off its 2013-14 Legislative Session floor activity this week by meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday. State government was closed on Monday in commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

Senate floor activity focused primarily on accepting annual reports from various state agencies, formalizing standing committee assignments and introduction and referral to committee of legislation.

Lottery Privatization Contract Reviewed by Committee

The Senate Finance Committee held a public hearing January 14 on the privatization and future of the Pennsylvania Lottery. The hearing focused on negotiations between the Corbett Administration and Camelot Global Services, a firm which operates Britain's national lottery and is the sole bidder to privatize management of the Pennsylvania Lottery.

The hearing helped highlight some important facts. The Lottery is not being sold. As the private manager, Camelot will be responsible for assisting with the day-to-day operations of the Lottery, but the Commonwealth will retain the full rights to conduct, control, inspect and audit the Lottery. In return, Camelot will earn incentive compensation of no more than 5 percent of the total annual Lottery profit per year. Camelot's bid is expected to generate $50 million in new funds in the coming fiscal year and up to $4.5 billion over 20 years.

This arrangement is expected to strengthen support for programs serving older Pennsylvanians.  Organizations such as AARP, the Area Agencies on Aging and the Pennsylvania Association of Senior Centers all support privatization of the Lottery as a means to protect vital services for older Pennsylvanians for the long term. 

Click here for video and written testimony from the hearing.

Judiciary Committee Holds Hearing on Prison Closings

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on Tuesday to receive testimony on the planned closing of the State Correctional Institution at Cresson and the State Correctional Institution at Greensburg. 

Testifiers at the hearing included Corrections Secretary John Wetzel, municipal officials from Cresson Township, Cresson Borough and Hempfield Township and union representatives. The planned closings are the result of the first drop in state prison population in years and the implementation of judicial reforms. The closings will save $23 million per year, but result in the loss of hundreds of jobs in the affected communities.

Click here for an agenda and video from the hearing.

Majority Policy Committee Considers Special Education Challenges

The Senate Majority Policy Committee held a public hearing on Wednesday to hear from school officials and others on the increasing challenges faced by school districts trying to meet state and federal special education mandates.

Testifiers, including superintendents and education advocates, discussed issues driving up special education – including class size mandates and litigation -- and the inequities in the state funding formula. Among the school districts testifying were the Upper Darby School District (Delaware County), the Lewisburg Area School District (Union County), and the North Allegheny School District (Allegheny County).

Click here for video and written testimony from the hearing.

Environmental Resources and Energy Committee Approves Stormwater Management Bill

The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee approved a measure Wednesday that I am co-sponsoring to help fund community stormwater management projects.

Senate Bill 196 will enable the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority to expand its capability to use federal monies provided by the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to fund storm water management and water pollution remediation projects. To expand the use of these federal funds we must amend state law.

The bill will also expand the list of eligible funding applicants to include non-governmental entities such as nonprofit organizations and watershed groups.

Intergovernmental Operations Committee Moves STEB Bill

The Intergovernmental Operations Committee met Wednesday to consider and approve Senate Bill 66. I co-sponsored this bill to complete the process of formally moving the State Tax Equalization Board (STEB) into the Department of Community and Economic Development. 

This move, which actually was included as part of the 2012-13 state budget, is intended to save taxpayer money while streamlining and enhancing STEB operations. STEB provides a vital service, especially for school districts that operate in multiple counties.

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