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Big fixes eluded Corbett in 2012

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By Jan Murphy (Harrisburg) Patriot-news
Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012, 11:34 p.m.
 

Gov. Tom Corbett put his signature on scores of new laws during his first administration's first legislative session.

Corbett signed more bills into laws than his predecessor, Gov. Ed Rendell, signed in any of the three prior sessions. But in the eyes of some, Corbett did little in the way of addressing two of the biggest challenges facing the state.

Pension reform and transportation funding remain on his to-do list. He has committed to making both a 2013 priority.

But at least one longtime Capitol observer had expected to see him get more done on bigger issues talked about during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

“He has had the largest majorities (in the House and Senate controlled by his party) of any governor since the 1950s. That should allow him to do his agenda,” said Franklin & Marshall College political science professor G. Terry Madonna. “If you can't do it with these huge majorities, when can you do it?”

Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley listed two dozen legislative and non-legislative acts credited to his boss. He highlighted Corbett passing two on-time balanced budgets that kept the spending level below the $28.3 billion high-water mark set under Rendell.

Michael Young, a retired Penn State political science professor who heads a consulting firm that bears his name, said the Corbett administration nibbled at low-hanging fruit and had little notable success so far on his major legislative items.

Corbett, a Republican, put 373 laws on the books in 2011 and 2012, compared with Rendell's low of 226 from the 2009-10 session. Of course, Rendell, a Democrat, had to negotiate with a Legislature ruled by the opposing party during that session.

The record for most laws belongs to Gov. Robert Casey, credited with 439 from 1989-90.

Corbett takes ownership of laws that range from making birth certificates available for stillborn children to clearing the way for private industry to invest in roadways and transportation projects.

“When you look at it, there's a fairly prolific series of legislative enactments covering a wide range,” Madonna said.

Some of the laws Corbett signed:

Guns

He expanded the so-called Castle Doctrine to allow citizens to use deadly force to defend themselves against an attacker without first having to try to retreat anytime, anywhere.

And he drew praise from gun-control proponents by signing a law that toughens the penalties for people who illegally buy guns for criminals by changing the law to allow a defendant convicted of multiple “straw purchases” of guns in a single trial to be sentenced as a repeat offender.

Road rules

One of the most talked-about and difficult-to-enforce new laws he signed sought to eliminate a major driving distraction on the roads: texting while driving. He made it a primary, or stoppable, offense, but police officers say violators are difficult to detect.

Corbett signed laws requiring motorists to give bicyclists a 4-foot clearance when passing and making it illegal to drive around a road closure barricade signaling a hazardous condition.

Junior drivers can blame him for restrictions on the number of passengers they can have in their vehicle.

Prison reform

Along with his efforts to crack down on illegal behavior, he enacted a law designed to reduce the number of inmates in state prisons and save hundreds of millions of dollars.

Health

A new law requires a high school athlete who shows signs of a concussion or symptoms of cardiac arrest to get clearance from a medical specialist before re-entering the game. Another law took aim at unsafe abortion clinics by imposing stricter regulations for these centers upon the discovery of what prosecutors called a “house of horrors” in Philadelphia.

Taxes

Corbett signed an impact fee on natural gas drillers. Lawmakers and two-thirds of Pennsylvanians agreed it was time for the largest natural-gas-producing state to impose some type of levy on drillers.

Corbett continued the phase-out of the state's business assets tax and approved state tax credits for businesses to help create jobs, reward donations to scholarship organizations for students living near low-performing schools and foster the petrochemical industry.

He enacted reforms to the unemployment compensation system, saving employers $150 million. He signed off on a bill to end the inheritance tax on family farms. And he tweaked the property tax relief law to limit the circumstances by which a school district can increase property taxes above a state-set index without voter approval.

Business help

Corbett signed a tort reform measure described at the time as the most important thing he saw to spur economic development. It shifts the priority in civil verdicts against multiple defendants from ensuring that victims receive damages awarded by juries to making sure no defendants pay more than their fair share of the cost.

School reforms

In addition to a tax credit program intended to provide financial help for parents to transfer their children out of low-performing schools, Corbett instituted a teacher evaluation system and signed a law requiring school employees to come clean to their supervisors about any arrests or convictions of serious crimes.

Government reforms

A new website, www.pennwatch.pa.gov, was created by a law that tracks state government spending and revenue.

The governor signed a law that stiffens the penalties for government agencies that violate the state's open meetings law.

He authorized the controversial voter ID law.

This law was slated to take effect for this year's election but court rulings pushed the start date to 2013. Opponents hope to convince the court to delay it permanently.

 

 
 


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