GOP lauds Pennsylvania Legislature's record after its productive session
HARRISBURG — Republican legislative leaders say the 2011-12 session was productive and the General Assembly will take up unresolved issues in January.
Lawmakers passed 371 bills, compared with 226 and 209 in the two previous sessions, and approved the second consecutive no-tax-increase, on-time budget that restrained state spending. They levied an impact fee on natural gas drillers and regulations for the burgeoning shale-gas industry. They agreed to limit the liability of minor defendants in civil lawsuits.
Gov. Tom Corbett considered this “one of the most successful sessions of the General Assembly” during a governor's first two years, spokesman Kevin Harley said.
Many of the bills will have “positive impacts on Pennsylvania residents for years to come,” said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County.
Analysts aren't as glowing in their assessments.
Chris Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, gave the legislature a C and Republicans an “incomplete.”
Joe DiSarro, chairman of the political science department at Washington & Jefferson College, said the effort was worth a B.
“The record is one the legislature can be reasonably happy with,” DiSarro said.
With their largest majority in more than 50 years, Republicans were “amazingly unproductive from many standpoints,” House Democratic spokesman Bill Patton said.
Patton recalled the late Democratic Gov. Robert P. Casey's question: “What did you do when you had the power?”
“Republicans did not do very much,” Patton said. “They brag about passing two budgets ‘on time,' but those budgets didn't help kids do better in school or help more people find jobs or make our roads and bridges safer.”
Said Harley: “The House Democrats' solution to everything is to raise taxes and spend more.”
Pileggi said several bills that passed are aimed at improving the business climate and creating jobs. Lawmakers continued to phase out a tax on company assets, expanded tax-free districts known as Keystone Opportunity Zones and approved a financial formula to resolve the state's $3.5 billion unemployment compensation debt. The business community pushed to stem lawsuit abuse.
House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, said the session did address education. He cited the expansion of a tax credit for businesses that donate money for scholarships that enable youths to attend private or parochial schools. Lawmakers added a provision to help students in the poorest or worst-performing schools.
Pileggi said lawmakers laid the groundwork for a new session to consider pension reform, funding of highway and bridge repairs and regulating charter schools.
One casualty of the session was Pileggi's bill to expand the DNA pool available to law enforcement. The bill would have required felony suspects to provide DNA upon arrest.
The bill passed the Senate but died in the House.
“This is one of the rare pieces of legislation that would unquestionably protect citizens from violent assaults and violent sexual assaults by getting predators off the streets more quickly,” Pileggi spokesman Erik Arneson said.
Turzai pledged to continue to push legislation to sell state liquor stores. Although he couldn't round up the votes needed, “we completely changed the dynamics” on privatization, he said.
Perhaps the most controversial bill was the Marcellus shale impact fee. Democrats complain about how it was done.
“After years of delay, the Republicans passed the nation's lowest, weakest impact fee on the companies that drill for natural gas, while trying to take away local zoning control at the same time,” Patton said.
Brad Bumsted is state Capitol writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.