Reading the text of a piece of legislation can be a frustrating experience in cases where the issues are complex or when the bill makes a series of small modifications to existing law.
Fortunately for onlookers, in Pennsylvania most lawmakers make use of what are called “co-sponsorship memoranda,” which in broad strokes are statements written in plainer English that describe what a bill does in more understandable terms. In some instances the memos are made public before the text of the proposed legislation is drawn up.
For those curious about how the upcoming 2019-20 legislative session will unfold, the posting Monday of several dozen such memos on the Legislature’s website provides one of the first clues.
As the name suggests, these memos are intended to attract other lawmakers to sign on as co-sponsors to bills. The more co-sponsors, the more likely it is that a piece of legislation will come up for a vote and gain passage.
Among some of the memos of interest posted Monday were:
• A bipartisan proposal from Sens. Lisa Boscola, D-Bethlehem, and Richard Alloway, R-Chambersburg, to allow independent voters to take part in party primary elections. This is an idea that has previously been touted by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati.
“According to the PA Department of State’s November 2018 statistics, 1,227,673 voters in Pennsylvania are not registered with the largest two political parties,” Boscola and Alloway wrote. “Our legislation allows for those registered voters to engage in primary elections.”
• Boscola signaled that she’ll be reintroducing her legislation that would seek to create an independent commission to draw legislative maps. Her bill in the last session, Senate Bill 22, passed in that chamber, but only after the Republican majority amended it to also revamp judicial districts. Boscola’s memo says she’ll be bringing back the original version. Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, also intends to pursue an independent commission.
• Sen. Michele Brooks, R-Greenville, plans to bring forth a bill to reduce the corporate net income tax rate. She says her proposal will shrink it by 0.5 percent annually for six years, bringing it from the current 9.99 percent to 6.99 percent in 2024.
“Taking this step to improve Pennsylvania’s business tax climate will give businesses a stronger incentive to locate or remain in our Commonwealth,” she wrote. “[It will] grant them the tax relief they need to increase their investments in the economy, add jobs, increase wages, spur prosperity, and boost our competitive edge in an increasingly global economy.”
• Sens. Bob Mensch, R-Red Hill, and Wayne Fontana, D-Pittsburgh, have a proposal to create first-time homebuyer savings accounts in the state. Earnings deposited in such an account and withdrawn for the purpose of buying a house would not be subject to state income tax.
• Echoing a Watchdog.org story from October, Reps. Jim Cox, R-Sinking Spring, and Carl Walker Metzgar, R-Somerset, each plan to introduce legislation to modernize the state’s fiscal transparency website PennWATCH.
“Members of the media have recently pointed out that the website, which is managed by the Governor’s Office of Administration, is now fraught with data deficiencies, outdated, and difficult to navigate,” Cox and Metzgar each wrote. “They have even questioned the integrity of the information available. PennWATCH has not kept up with technology and has failed to remain an innovative tool for inquisitive users.”
Cox says his bill would transfer management of PennWATCH from the Governor’s Office of Administration to the Independent Fiscal Office and expand the available data.
• Rep. Matthew Dowling, R-Uniontown, is going to reintroduce what was HB2138 in the last session, legislation requiring able-bodied adults to seek and obtain work in order to retain medical assistance benefits.
“The policy goals of helping individuals and families rise out of poverty and attain independence aligns with the current work requirements applicable to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” Dowling wrote.
• Rep. Frank Ryan, R-Palmyra, plans to propose legislation to eliminate the state’s property taxes. His legislation would create a commission to come up with a new plan to fund Pennsylvania’s schools.