They’re baaack: The 3 big challenges facing the General Assembly this fall | Monday Morning Coffee

September 16, 2019 7:18 am

Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Finally catching up with every other schoolkid across Pennsylvania, the General Assembly — well, part of it anyway — returns to Harrisburg this week for what basically amounts to a month and some change of voting sessions between now and the Christmas holidays.

The House gavels in on Tuesday, kicking off 24 session days that run, with some interruption, until Dec. 18, according to its official home page. The Senate returns to session on Sept 23 for just 15 voting days, according to its official home page.

The 253-member chamber faces some pretty significant challenges — from criminal justice reform and raising the minimum wage to redistricting reform — during its abbreviated fall session. And while it’s possible that days can always be added to the voting calendars, this is going to be (to contort a metaphor) a sprint rather than a marathon.

Here’s a look at three of the bigger issues facing the majority-Republican General Assembly and the Democratic Wolf administration this fall.

A woman holds a sign in favor of extreme risk protection orders at a gun control rally in the Capitol rotunda. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

1. Gun violence reform:  As is the case with their colleagues in Washington D.C., lawmakers return to voting session this fall facing significant public pressure to do, well, something, about the epidemic of gun violence in our streets.

Given that the Legislature moves — when it moves at all — at a glacial pace, the most likely candidate to end up on Wolf’s desk before year’s end are so-call ‘Red Flag‘ bills, now before the House and Senate, that would allow the court-ordered seizure of someone’s weapons if family/friends or law enforcement believe they pose a significant danger to themselves or others. The bills have the support of Gov. Tom Wolf.

Both pro-Second Amendment forces and civil libertarians have raised concerns about due process abuse in the bills sponsored by Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery, and Tom Killion, R-Delaware. We’re reliably informed that Stephens has been relying on an amped-up PowerPoint presentation to bring skeptics around to his way of thinking.

In an Aug. 23 op-Ed for the Capital-StarKillion wrote that his legislation would protect due process rights “of all involved.”

“This law would create a transparent process in which judges can only order the relinquishment of firearms if there is compelling evidence that individuals pose a serious danger,” he wrote. “Long-term orders can only be issued after a full hearing is held, at which all parties can appear and present evidence.”

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzernehas scheduled two days’ worth of hearings on Sept. 24 and Sept 25 to consider the Red Flag measures and other gun violence-related measures.

(Photo via Flickr Commons)

2. Medicaid Work Requirements: As our friends at the PA Post reported just last week, legislative Republicans, with a ‘The Tunnel is Really a Cliff Face‘ kind of determination, will take a third run at sending Wolf a bill requiring able-bodied Medicaid recipients to work, volunteer, or job-hunt in order to receive benefits.

Wolf has twice vetoed previous measures. And there’s been zero indication the administration has had a change of heart on the matter. Undeterred, the GOP sponsors of a new Senate proposal have added language they hope will lure Democratic votes, the PA Post’s Katie Meyer reported.

For one, Sens. Scott Martin, R-Lancaster, and David Argall, R-Schuylkill, have added new exemptions Meyer writes, like being “medically frail.”

Meyer writes that the actual work requirement is “more flexible, too. A person could qualify for Medicaid by volunteering or going to college, along with working or looking for jobs. They’d be able to mix and match to reach the necessary hours.”

“This program, last year, grew by over $1 billion,” Martin told the PA Post last week. “If it keeps growing at the pace it’s growing, the program is not going to be sustainable.”

Wolf’s spokesman, J.J. Abbott underlined the administration’s opposition to the new bill.

“In other states, these requirements are resulting in less people having access to health care and are not helping improve health outcomes, which is the purpose of the Medicaid program,” he told Meyer.

Photo via

3. Restore PA: Debate over Gov. Tom Wolf’s legacy-burnishing, $4.5 billion infrastructure investment plan will continue. But Republicans, who oppose a severance tax that will pay for the bonds that back the project, have their own ideas about how to proceed.

House Republicans are expected to return the results of their own infrastructure-plan, after launching a special committee with some hullabaloo earlier this summer. Meanwhile, the House GOP will also start moving components of a plan called “Energize PA” over the next couple of weeks, House GOP spokesman Mike Straub tells WITF-FM.

As WITF-FM reports, the plan includes measures that would “make it easier for companies to get environmental permitsencourage development on abandoned industrial sites, and make it cheaper to run natural gas lines to businesses.”

But Republicans aren’t Wolf’s only headache as he tries to assemble the votes for his plan. Environmental groups, opposed to the plan’s reliance on fracking, have been pressuring progressives (with some success) to drop their support.

Others were already opposed, saying the administration should be moving away from fossil fuels and toward an energy strategy that encourages renewables. Our Stephen Caruso has been all over this story all summer.

WikiMedia Commons

Our Stuff.
Stephen Caruso
 leads our coverage this morning with a conversation with Republican 10th Congressional District hopeful Bobby Jeffries, who’s somehow managed find a space to the right of incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott Perry. It’s the latest in a series of Q&As with the candidates contending for a seat that’ll be in the national spotlight in 2020.

Elizabeth Hardison spent a historic day with the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, as the panel headed by LG John Fetterman voted on 23 clemency applications from people serving life in prison without parole — the most on a single day in more than 40 years.

On our Commentary Page, Opinion regular Dick Polman wonders whether an economic ‘Trump Slump’ would doom the POTUS’ re-election chances — and that was before the worldwide spike in oil prices over the weekend.  A University of San Francisco scholar looks at the environmental implications of giving legal rights to natural resources, as the city of Toledo just did to Lake Erie.  And John N. Mitchell, of the Philadelphia Tribune, says the right was singing from a familiar hymnal when it went after journalist Jemele Hill last week.

(Photo via Flickr Commons)

The Inquirer
 explains how Pennsylvania’s ‘wet’ towns are picking up some extra cash through ‘hosting’ liquor licenses.
The state Department of General Services is imposing new limits on crowd sizes for rallies in the Capitol rotunda, PennLive reports.
In the last year, 7,000 Pennsylvanians have lost their health coveragePittsburgh City Paper reports.
Allentown’s new police chief says he’ll put more officers into the city’s neighborhoodsThe Morning Call reports.
The Post-Gazette explains why prevention is key to fighting homelessness.

Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:

Kermit Gosnell’s ‘house of horrors’ in West Philadelphia might be bought by an anti-abortion rights group.
WITF-FM has its look at what’s ahead for the General Assembly. 
has a look at the six states — including Pennsylvania — that are launching their own healthcare exchanges.
PoliticsPA has last week’s winners and losers in state politics.
Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar will tour ‘blue wall’ states, Politico reports.
U.S. House Republicans are embracing President Donald Trump as part of their 2020 re-election strategy, Roll Call reports.

What Goes On.
11 a.m., Main Rotunda: 
Charter school parents will voice their concerns with Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposal to reform charter schools in Pennsylvania.
1 p.m., Main Rotunda: HIspanic Heritage Month kick off event
1 p.m., 60 East Wing: Joint House and Senate State Government committee meeting on election-related issues.
4 p.m., Mount Airy Casino Resort, Mount Pocono, Pa: House Gaming Oversight Committee hearing on sports betting. We’re sure the location is entirely coincidental, but the Browns are a 6.5-point road favorite against the Jets on Monday night, according to SB Nation. Just sayin …

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
8 a.m.: House Republican Campaign Committee 
Central Pa. golf outing
12 p.m.: Golf outing for Rep. Marty Flynn
Hit both events, and give at the max, and you’re out $8,000 today.

Heavy Rotation.
On Sunday night, we got word that Ric Ocasek, frontman for 80s pop-rockers The Cars had died. The Boston band left behind some pretty amazing songs. Here’s one of our faves, it’s “Since You’re Gone.”

Monday’s Gratuitous Soccer Link.
The Guardian
 has 10 talking points from this weekend’s round of Premier League play, including the fact that Arsenal’s backline remains awful.

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.