The Legislature is back. Here’s three things to watch for this week | Monday Morning Coffee

November 18, 2019 7:24 am

Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

One of the nation’s largest and best-paid Legislatures returns to voting session this Monday morning for what could well be its last week of voting sessions for calendar 2019. It’s the first time the two chambers have been under the gilded dome since late October after working a backbreaking schedule of six session days spread over two weeks. And if you’re asking yourself how you ended up with the political equivalent of a Chevrolet Corvair, you’re not the only one.

This week promises to be a busy one, with the Republican-controlled House and Senate both in session through Thursday, as the two chambers wade through a veritable bumper crop of bills — some of which, depending upon one’s inclinations, are either acts of inspired genius, or disasters just waiting to happen.

With that in mind, here are three of the big issues on our radar screen this week.

An SEIU activist rallies for a $15/hr. minimum wage, which was one of the policies that F&M researchers polled in their most recent public opinion survey. (Stephen Melkisethian/Flickr Commons)

1. A Minimum Wage Hike? At last?
As the Capital-Star’s tireless Stephen Caruso reported late last weekGov. Tom Wolf is set to present a version of his legislative white whale to Democratic allies in the Legislature and organized labor this week.

The deal now on the table calls for boosting the state’s $7.25 an hour minimum, which hasn’t seen an increase since the first year of the Obama administration, to $9.50 an hour. In exchange, Wolf’s office will back off an overtime hike for low-income workers.

According to two House Democratic sources granted anonymity to speak candidly, Wolf will pitch the compromise, which he’s been crafting with business leaders, as soon as Monday.

Wolf was already supposed to visit the caucus to smooth over tensions from the electoral reform bill he negotiated with Republicans and signed into law in October, the sources told the Capital-Star.

The plan would still hinge on legislative buy-in, which has prevented Wolf from accomplishing the key second term priority of increasing the state’s minimum beyond the federal level.

The GOP-controlled Senate has shown more willingness to work with Wolf on the issue than the House, which has declared it a non-starter.

The administration has declined to comment on the contours of any such agreement, though the issue has been known to be in play since at least mid-October when Senate Democrats were reportedly to make fresh overtures to GOP bosses in the upper chamber.

Pa. House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny (“Friends of Mike Turzai” / WikiMedia Commons)

2. Vouchers, anyone?
From a Democratic white whale, we turn to a Republican one: School choice. Public education advocates are girding themselves for battle over a proposal, sponsored by House Speaker Mike Turzai, that would provide vouchers for students in the financially troubled Harrisburg school district.

The bill is on deck for a vote in the House Education Committee at 11:30 a.m. in G-50 Irvis, according to a schedule sent out by House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler’s, R-Lancaster, office late last week.

In a Capital-Star op-Ed published on Sunday, a trio of Harrisburg residents, including city school board member Carrie Fowler, wrote that Turzai’s bill would do more harm than good at a time when city schools are starting to turn the corner.

“Harrisburg’s district leaders are aggressively addressing the district’s financial and academic problems, and we’re starting to see the fruits of their labor,” they wrote. “Any voucher scheme that diverts millions of dollars from neighborhood schools to private schools will stop that progress.”

Turzai has been adamant in his belief that choice is the best way to go for public education.

“Nothing will [incentivize] the Harrisburg School District to do better than more competition,” Turzai said in September, when U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos swung through Harrisburg for a visit to a city Catholic school. During that same visit, Turzai was caught on video in a confrontation with two protesters picketing DeVos.

A floor vote on the vouchers bill is expected by the end of the week.

State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, R-Clinton, speaks during a news conference in the state Capitol on Oct. 21, 2019

3. The fight over abortion rights.
Those close to the issue tell us that the Legislature could act on as many as four bills aimed at restricting a woman’s right to an abortion this week.

First up, the Senate Health & Human Services Committee is set to advance legislation that would ban abortion based on an in vitro diagnosis of Down syndrome. The 11 a.m. session is in Room 461 on the Senate side of the Capitol on Monday morning.

The bill, sponsored by Turzai, has already cleared the state House on a party-line vote. It’s expected to run into an immediate gubernatorial veto if the Senate decides to send it to Gov. Tom Wolf.

Abortion rights advocates are also warning against a House bill, sponsored by Rep. Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon, coming up on third consideration on Monday that categorizes a miscarriage as a death, regardless of the length of the pregnancy, and, would require healthcare providers to file a death certificate, obtain a burial permit, and to provide ritual burial or cremation.

In a Capital-Star op-Ed on Sunday, a trio of psychologists argued that the bill would be emotionally damaging for women — already going through a tough time — because it “intrudes inappropriately into a woman’s experience of miscarriage, by compromising her privacy and dictating how she should make meaning of it, a process that is influenced by her health, religious beliefs/moral convictions, desire to have a baby or not, relationships and past experiences of loss.”

That’s because if a woman doesn’t abide by the strictures of the bill, “she will be responsible for potentially significant fees to opt out of this legal demand,” the experts wrote. “By requiring a death certificate (under Article V of the Vital Statistics Law) for all miscarriages (not just those 16 weeks or later, as is now the case), family members could have immediate access to the record and it would also become part of the public record later on, thus compromising a woman’s privacy and safety.”

(Image via pxHere,com)

Also worth watching this week:
The House State Government Committee meets Tuesday at 9 a.m., once again in the cell phone dead zone that is G50 Irvis, to take up gift ban legislation sponsored by the panel’s chairman, Rep. Garth Everett, R-Lycoming.

The bill would “prohibit public officers, public employees and candidates for public office from accepting a gift of cash in any amount,” according to a co-sponsorship memo“The same individuals will be prohibited from accepting any gift that has either a fair market value or an aggregate actual cost of more than $50 from any one person in a calendar year. In addition, public officers, public employees and candidates for public office will be prohibited from accepting hospitality, transportation or lodging that has either a fair market value of an aggregate actual cost of more than $500 from any one person in a calendar year. The legislation will also add a definition of ‘lobbyist’ to Title 65 and make clear that the word “person” includes an individual lobbyist or an employee of a lobbyist.”  

So it’s not a total ban. But let that one sink in for a moment: The chairman of the State Government Committee is kinda actually doing something good government-y. That’s a break from long-standing precedent.

Our Stuff.
Here’s Stephen Caruso’s full story on the emerging contours of that minimum wage hike and the ‘disappointment’ it’s engendered in Big Labor.

From our partners at the Philadelphia TribuneMayor Jim Kenney has called on the Philly library to abolish overdue fees. Which means we’re returning all our books in Philadelphia — even if they’re not from there. Philly City Council has also sent Kenney a bill that would provide free counsel to qualifying renters facing eviction.

In a special report, Christine Vestal, of Stateline.orglooks at the fight over safe injection sites in Philadelphia.

On our Commentary Page, opinion regular Dick Polman wonders why Republicans are still focused on the whistleblower.

(Capital-Star file)

More pregnant women in Pennsylvania are reporting workplace discrimination, the Inquirer reports. And while other states are moving to ban it, Pennsylvania, which is only too happy to pass abortion bans, still does nothing to help pregnant women and new mothers.
Pittsburghers are mourning the passing of Vera Clemente, the widow of the late Pirates great Roberto ClementeThe Post-Gazette has the details.
An on-site survey of highway litter turned up some truly repulsive resultsPennLive has the breakfast-ruining details. You’ve been warned.
The Morning Call looks at efforts by freshmen Reps. Jennifer O’Mara and Megan Schroeder to help Pa. students deal with a stunning $68 billion in debt.

Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:

WHYY-FM has its preview of this week’s vouchers fight in the General Assembly.
Thirteen Pa. prison employees have been suspended after an inmate’s death, the AP reports (via WITF-FM).
President Donald Trump is trailing the top three 2020 Dems in Pa., according to a new Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll (via PoliticsPA).
Roll Call has last week’s hits and misses on Capitol Hill.

What Goes On.
The House and Senate both come in at 1 p.m. today. Laissez les bon temps roulez, as they say.
9:45 a.m., Main Rotunda: The Pa. Library Association gives an award to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Stan Saylor, R-York.
12 p.m., Main Rotunda: Start Strong Pa. releases a report on ‘greater investments in high-quality childcare.’

Gov. Tom Wolf 
joins probation reform advocates for a 1:30 p.m. newser in the Main Rotunda.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
Yup, it’s a session week.
7:30 a.m.: Breakfast for Sen. Camera Bartolotta
11 a.m.: Luncheon for Rep. Tarah Toohil
12 p.m.: Luncheon for Rep. Tina Davis
5:30 p.m.: HDCC reception
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Pa. Senate candidate Dave Arnold
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Marty Flynn
Ride the circuit, and give at the max, and you’re out a wildly offensive $18,000 today.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s a band we got hipped to over the weekend. It’s Mamas Gun and the wonderfully soulful ‘You Make My Life a Better Place.’

Monday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
 ended its losing skid in high style, crushing Calgary 6-0 on Sunday night. Oof.

And now you’re up to date. 

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.