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What will short legislative session bring?

Published by Mike Pound on .

Gov. Tom Corbett. (AP Photo)

Gov. Tom Corbett. (AP Photo)

Ready for a month of fun?

Our state legislators return to Harrisburg today to begin a four-week session that probably won't produce much action on some of the biggest issues facing Pennsylvania – but could, at least, produce a fair amount of fodder for us.

What could happen: Our Karen Langley takes a look at the possible agenda for the session; among the issues that could make it through in the next four weeks are a cigarette tax to deliver extra funds to Philadelphia schools, improved monitoring of prescription drugs through an electronic database and new child-protection provisions.

What probably won't: It's rare that Mr. Corbett makes a public appearance these days without mentioning pension reform, but the more the governor talks, the less it seems anyone in Harrisburg is listening. And Mr. Corbett himself seems to understand that pension reform won't go anywhere this fall; he's already pledged to call a special session to address the issue if he's re-elected. And although house Majority Leader Mike Turzai is calling on the governor to renew his push for modernizing the state's system to sell beer, wine and booze, Mr. Corbett seems reluctant to jump back into that debate.

Election-year politics in the background: Mr. Corbett may find that even his Republican partners in Harrisburg are a bit uncooperative after he cut $72 million in operational funds for the Legislature from the 2014-15 budget, something Mr. Corbett said was a result of the Legislature's inaction on pension reform. And will Democrats work to give Mr. Corbett a boost with Election Day less than two months away? Not likely.

Lest we forget: We're probably going to see and hear plenty from Mr. Corbett while the General Assembly is in session, because he badly needs a legislative win of any kind between now and November. Why? Two more polls, both released last week, show healthy leads for Tom Wolf, Mr. Corbett's opponent. YouGov.com found Mr. Wolf with a 46-35 lead among likely voters – and those figures jump to 50 to 39 when those who are leaning towards a particular candidate are included -- and a new Quinnipiac University poll showed Mr. Wolf with a commanding 59-35 lead.

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Toomey seeks student protection

Published by James O'Toole on .

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.,  was joined District Attorney Stephen Zappala and Allison Hall, the director of Pittsburgh Action Against Rape at a Courthouse news conference calling for enactment of legislation designed to chiled students from sexual predators in schools.

The proposed law, The Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act, is designed to bolster the effectiveness of background check on school personel.  The measure would prod schools to preform more effective scrutiny of the records of their employees, including checks on federal as well as state data on charges of sexual misconduct and violence.   It would also bar school districts from engaging in the practice of "passing the trash,'' _ a pattern conduct that's recurred across the country in which a school with a problematic employee, but one not charged or convicted of an actual crime, is persuaded to leave one district with the promise of a positive letter of recommenation to hellp them get employment elsewhere.

Mr. Toomey said that more than 300 school employess had been arrested for sexual misconduct in the alst year, including 18 in Pennsylvania.

"Every one of these stories represents a tragedy,'' Mr. Toomey said.  

The Republican co-sponsored the legislation with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.  It was prompted by a case in which a Delaware County school district dismissed a teacher but helped him secure a new job in West Virginia.  Subsequently he was convicted of raping and murdering a student there. 

Noting that similar legislation has passed the U.S. House unanimously, Mr. Toomey urged the Senate to allow a vote on the bill.  Mr. Toomey and Mr. Manchin have asked for consent to bring it to the floor but they have yet ot convince thier colleagues, and the chamber's Democratic leadership to allow a vote to go forward.

 

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Taking each other to school

Published by Mike Pound on .

Education has been identified as the most important issue to Pennsylvania voters this fall, so we should expect a lot of discussion of the issue by The Battling Toms between now and November. And SURPRISE – two new ads and two opposing takes on Gov. Tom Corbett's education budgets.

Did we say "surprise?" OK, maybe not so much.

Corbett: Statistics Class

What's new: Not much, except that Ed Rendell seems to be as much of a target here as Mr. Corbett's actual opponent, Tom Wolf. As we recall, Mr. Rendell was a pretty popular guy and we wonder if he's the best surrogate for Mr. Corbett to pick on.

What's not: The Corbett campaign employs happy musicians as well?

Bottom line: "And now you know the truth."

Random things we noticed: Given the recent ads by Mr. Corbett and the state Republican party, it seems likely we're going to see as many mentions of Mr. Rendell and President Obama as we will actual issues – or an actual candidate. Given the complexity of this issue – and that fact that both candidates can lay claim to being right – we wonder if the Corbett campaign will continue to focus on the funding issue or move on to something more palatable to his base, like, say, dismantling Common Core.

Tom Wolf: Education Facts

What's new: As was the case with Mr. Corbett's ad, not a whole lot. Although it does seem like Mr. Wolf is content to run against one guy.

What's not: Outside of the bit about the number of educators who have lost their jobs under Mr. Corbett's watch? It's all old hat, even down to using the same headlines for the claims about "taking the ax to education" and the number of districts considering property tax increases.

Bottom line: "Tom Corbett. Can't trust him on education. Can't trust him to be for us."

Random things we noticed: We wondered before whether Mr. Wolf himself has the personality to pull off an attack ad, so it's worth noting he doesn't appear in this one. And we really appreciate the addition of a new claim on Mr. Corbett's education record—that would be the one about teachers losing their jobs – because the old ones are feeling a little stale.

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Toomey sets sights on corporate tax inversions

Published by Tracie Mauriello on .

20140718MWHhealthBiz06-5toomeysmallSen. Pat Toomey (Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette)

As Congress returns from its summer break, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., laid out his fall priorities, reiterated his criticism of the administration's reaction to ISIS, and said he has little confidence, but still a bit of hope, his colleagues will find a way to discourage American multi-national corporations from keeping revenue overseas to avoid U.S. taxes on foreign profits.

One priority for Mr. Toomey will be his legislation to require more extensive background checks for school personnel in order to keep students safer from violent and sexual predators. He has been working on the bill with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., with whom he also teamed up on last year's failed effort to require more extensive background checks for gun purchasers.

Mr. Toomey, who more typically throws his weight behind fiscal issues, also is hoping for Congressional action on tax reform to curb corporate tax inversions, maneuvers increasingly used by multinationals such as Cecil's Mylan Pharmaceuticals.

Immediate action appears unlikely, but the senator said the lame duck session will provide another opportunity to address inversions. That's when Congress will take up a series of expiring tax breaks.

"Am I optimistic we'll get it done? I'm really not ... but I'm going to continue to advocate for solution," he told Pennsylvania reporters on a conference call Monday.

Some Republicans insist on tackling inversions only as part of broader tax reform because they believe the real solution is to reduce the country's corporate tax rate. At 35 percent it is the highest in the industrialized world, although few pay that much because of tax loopholes and write-offs.

Mr. Toomey wants broad-based tax reform, too, but short of that he is more willing than some of his colleagues to address inversions separately.

"I want to fix this badly," he said. "My hope is that they would at least agree to changing the tax code so that an overseas subsidiaries ... can repatriate the money after paying taxes due in the jurisdiction" where it is located.

Currently, when U.S. multinationals bring profits home, they must pay the difference between the U.S. rate and the rate of the country where the profits were earned.

Meanwhile Monday, Mr. Toomey remained critical of the Obama administrations lack of transparency on its approach to ISIS. He said he looked forward to briefings this week.

"More fundamentally, we need to understand what the president's strategy is. Is the goal just to contain these guys? Is the goal to destroy their ability to act?" the senator asked.

"People would like stronger American leadership, and that very seldom means putting troops on the ground. There are a lot of ways,' he said.

President Obama isn't doing enough, Mr. Toomey said.

"ISIS is an extraordinary threat," he said. "Their goal is to kill as many Americans as they possibly can ... and now they have a country of their own and lots of money and lots of weapons."

He said the U.S. must find a way to eliminate the threat but that it should not require significant numbers of troops on the ground. Rather, he said, it might require air strikes and intelligence.

Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: 703-996-9292, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.

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Metcalfe: ISIS and E-Verify

Published by Karen Langley on .

State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe

Why require Pennsylvania businesses to check that employees are eligible to work in the United States?

State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, the conservative Republican from Cranberry, has a new reason: Keep out ISIS.

He explained his thinking Thursday after a meeting in which the House State Government Committee received an update on a 2012 law requiring contactors to verify the eligibility of employees on public works contacts.

"There's a larger issue now for us as a state and as a nation because of the illegal alien issue," Metcalfe said. "With all of the youth that are now being brought in the states and the way that the borders have been flooded most recently, with ISIS, what's been going on there, with the terrorist threat resurrecting its ugly head again, I think there's more cause for concern for members of the Legislature to say: hey, we need to take further action to discourage Pennsylvania from being a destination point for people who want to work here illegally."

"If you reduce the magnet that draws illegal aliens here and you reduce the number of illegal aliens violating our border and you reduce the amount of cover that's provided for people who want to come in and commit atrocities against our people," he continued. "So right now, when you have a flood of people coming across the border, it's easy for terrorists to intermingle and come across the border."

Texas Gov. Rick Perry got attention last month when he suggested militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria could already have sneaked across the border from Mexico.

A spokesman for the Pentagon said there was no evidence ISIS operatives were crossing the border.

Metcalfe has introduced a bill to require all employers in Pennsylvania to enroll in the federal E-Verify program. States have varying requirements for using the database.

At the committee meeting, Secretary Sheri Phillips said that in the past 18 months the Department of General Services has conducted 53 audits and found 17 firms not in compliance with the law.

The majority of violations occurred because of misunderstanding, she said. The department recommended limiting the requirement for screening to on-site workers and requiring all public bodies to include in their bidding documents notification about the law.