Gov. Tom Wolf’s bill-signing muscles got a workout on Monday as the Democrat signed a trio of substantive bills into law, from measures offering college grants to the families of Pennsylvania National Guard personnel to one smoothing out regulatory speed bumps to make it easier to attract new workers to the state.
The bills, some in the works for months, reached Wolf’s desk in the frenzy of votes that resulted in last week’s final legislative authorization, and Wolf’s signature, on a $34 billion state budget for the new fiscal year that began at 12:01 a.m. on Monday.
With the Legislature out of town for its annual summer recess, Wolf’s staff set up a series of well-scripted media events, spread across an otherwise sleepy news day, during a holiday week.
In a 10:30 a.m. ceremony at Soldiers & Sailors grove at the Capitol’s East Front, Wolf signed legislation, known as the “PA GI Bill,” that provides college grants to the spouses and family members of Pennsylvania National Guard soldiers who agree to reenlist. The new law could benefit up to 8,000 military family members, the administration said in a statement.
Wolf was joined at the ceremony by freshman state Sen. Lindsey Williams, D-Allegheny, as well as Maj. Gen. Tony Carrelli, who is the state’s adjutant general and the head of the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
“In most cases, our family members do not wear a military uniform, but they serve and sacrifice right alongside our Guardsmen,” Carrelli said in a statement. “We thank the governor and the legislature for leading the nation in recognizing the critical support role our Pennsylvania Guard families have in securing our safety and security.”
Writing on Twitter, Williams celebrated the occasion, saying she was “so proud that this pro-family, pro-education bill that benefits our National Guard families is my first piece of legislation signed into law.”
Today @GovernorTomWolf signed the Pennsylvania Military Families Education Program, or the PA GI Bill, into law. I’m so proud that this pro-family, pro-education bill that benefits our National Guard families is my first piece of legislation signed into law. pic.twitter.com/WXvwmLA4pQ
— Lindsey Williams (@SenWilliamsPA) July 1, 2019
In a ceremony, about an hour later in the Reception Room outside his second-floor Capitol office, Wolf ran his signature across a massive, $23 million piece of legislation, familiarly referred to as the “PA Farm Bill” that’s aimed at helping the state’s agriculture industry.
The legislation makes “strategic investments into the agriculture industry to grow opportunities and resources, remove barriers to entry, and cultivate future generations of leaders within agriculture,” the administration said in a statement.
Among other things, the bill would:
- “Invest $2 million to create the Agriculture Business Development Center to support business planning, marketing, diversification, and transition planning services to Pennsylvania farmers.
- Create a realty transfer tax exemption for any transfer of preserved farmland to a qualified beginning farmer.
- Provide for the construction and use of a residence for the landowner or an employee and provides for the subdivision of preserved farmlands.
- Expand Pennsylvania’s Dairy Investment Program, funded at $5 million, to support innovation, value-added processing, marketing, and organic transitions in the dairy industry.
- Invest $500,000 to support a state-level Specialty Crop Block Grant program to invest in priority crops for Pennsylvania, such as hardwoods, hemp, and hops.”
“In my 20 years of public service, this is the largest investment I’ve ever seen made in Pennsylvania agriculture,” Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said in a statement. “Thanks to Governor Wolf, this is the beginning of a new era of opportunities for our state’s top industry, and we’re proud to be here to witness it.”
House and Senate Republicans, with milkshakes in hand, gathered in the Capitol rotunda last week to celebrate the legislation’s ultimate path to Wolf’s desk.
“There is no smarter long-term investment than Pennsylvania’s farmers,” House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, who worked part-time at a dairy farm while he was in high school, said at the time.
At 2 p.m., Wolf, again flanked by officials from the Department of Military & Veterans Affairs, signed legislation sponsored by Rep. David Hickernell, R-Lancaster, intended to cut through the bureaucratic red tape surrounding the state’s occupational licensing system.
Pennsylvania has 29 boards and commissions that license 255 different occupations, ranging from landscape architects to funeral directors, Wolf said Monday. According to administration data, “one in five Pennsylvania workers needs an occupational license to do their job, representing more than 1 million workers.”
And often, people who are licensed in those occupations in other states have to get new licenses to pursue their chosen career in Pennsylvania. Military spouses are most often affected, and can spend weeks or months waiting to clear the requisite hurdles, foregoing income as they wait.
Among other things, the legislation provides for reciprocity with states whose licensing requirements meet or exceed those of Pennsylvania’s, Wolf said Monday.
“We have employers who need employees and folks who are looking for jobs,” Wolf said, adding that Pennsylvania “needs to have a licensing system that encourages, not discourages, work.”