This Week in the Pennsylvania Legislature

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

House and Senate lawmakers both return to session this week, with the Senate convening Monday through Wednesday and the House coming in Tuesday through Thursday.

With less than six weeks to go before the end of the 2017-18 Fiscal Year, the General Assembly met some headwinds last week in their quest for funding to balance the coming year’s spending plan. A question that had been tied up in court concerned whether the General Assembly could transfer $200 million from the state’s Joint Underwriting Association to the general fund. This question was answered last week when a federal Judge Christopher Conner ruled it could not, explaining, “The association’s function is inherently private. It is, as its core, an insurance company …The commonwealth cannot take those funds without just compensation.”   This order – which House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin called “overly broad,” could have larger implications on the Fiscal Code and means that the state will have $200 million less than it planned on for 2018-19. Wolf administration spokesman J.J. Abbott called the transfer “one of the many mechanisms passed by the General Assembly and signed into law to eliminate the deficit,” adding that the administration as reviewing the decision.

While elected officials contend with this new development, the PA Chamber is also urging lawmakers to pass legislation that would fix a recent anti-business ruling by the state Department of Revenue. Senate Bill 1056 – which passed the Senate late last month , and H.B. 2017 – which passed the House in March, would reverse the agency’s ruling issued last December that prohibits Pennsylvania taxpayers from taking advantage of 100 percent bonus depreciation when filing their corporate taxes, and would provide for a generally accepted depreciation schedule. The PA Chamber supports both bills as they would reverse the department’s action, which has made Pennsylvania less competitive and dissuades businesses from making purchases such as new equipment that would help to expand and improve their facilities.

State Senator John Gordner and PA Chamber director of government affairs Alex Halper will discuss these and other issues currently under consideration in Harrisburg at the Chamber’s spring legislative breakfast on Thursday, May 31 at the Greenly Center in downtown Bloomsburg. Cost is $20 for members and $30 for non-members, which includes a buffet breakfast. 

Zartman Construction Opens New Tool and Equipment Rental Shop, Bear Rental

On Saturday, May 19, the Columbia Montour Chamber helped the team at Zartman Construction cut the ribbon on its new venture, Bear Rental, a retail tool and equipment rental service. They were also joined by representatives from two other Chambers, as well as PA state rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver. Zartman owner and president Dave Zartman and Rep. Schlegel Culver each made brief remarks prior the the ribbon cutting. 

Bear Rental has a wide selection of tools and equipment available for rental. From small and simple items like shovels and rakes, all the way up to large scissor lifts and cranes, Bear Rental offers nearly anything that someone could need for a home improvement, landscaping or heavy construction project, whether it is for a weekend, do-it-yourself project, or a longer term construction project with a contractor. Zartman invested over $200K to add to its already vast inventory of tools and equipment in order to get Bear Rental up and running. Its motto is “problem solved.” 

Bear Rental, which is located inside the Zartman Construction facility on Route 11 between Danville and Northumberland, can be reached at 570-701-1525, via email or visit its website

 

Welcome Traditional Home Care

More than 400 businesses and organizations belong to the Chamber to receive benefits and support efforts to strengthen their businesses and our region. Increased membership allows us to offer additional programs and benefits, have a stronger voice in advocacy and be involved in more activities and initiatives in our communities. The Chamber welcomes its newest member, Traditional Home Care, to help us fulfill our mission.

Based on Dunmore just outside Scranton, Traditional Home Care recently moved into Berwick at 139 West Front St. It provides various services, mainly to seniors, to assist them in their homes with personal care, companionship, help around the home and much more. Its unique, evolving and multi-disciplinary approach to health care places an emphasis on the individual needs of the patient. Traditional’s goals are to restore the patient’s health and increase patient confidence in their own abilities so that they may lead healthier, more productive lives. Traditional’s Berwick’s branch can be reached at 570-507-9420 or visit its website

PA Chamber Urges Lawmakers to Address Protz Fix

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

The PA Chamber is urging lawmakers to prioritize the consideration of legislation that would provide a fix to a financially devastating state Supreme Court decision related to workers’ compensation.

Last year, the Court’s decision in the Protz v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board case threw out the Impairment Rating Evaluation process, which for more than 20 years had been a fair and effective way for state-designated physicians to determine whether patients were healthy enough to someday return to work or should continue receiving wage-loss benefits indefinitely. The Court’s ruling – which was essentially based on a technicality – prompted the Pennsylvania Compensation Rating Bureau to file a mid-year loss cost increase, which is raising insurance premiums for Pennsylvania employers and will ultimately impose hundreds of millions of dollars in additional costs every year.

The PA Chamber has since spent time educating the business community about reasons behind these anticipated cost hikes while also advocating for a legislative fix. Senate Bill 963, which passed Committee and awaits further consideration in the Senate, and H.B. 1840, which awaits action by the House Labor and Industry committee, would update Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation law to address the concern raised by the Supreme County. The concern centered on a provision of the Act that directed physicians conducting an IRE to use the most recent edition of American Medical Association guidelines. Since the guidelines are updated by AMA doctors periodically without oversight from the Pennsylvania legislature, the Court ruled the legislature has unconstitutionally delegated authority. The two bills, which were introduced by the respective chairs of the Senate and House Labor and Industry Committees, would address this concern by adopting the most recent edition of the AMA guidelines.

The PA Chamber is coordinating a broad-based coalition of supporters for this legislation. In memos sent to lawmakers earlier this year, the coalition – which is comprised of various business, local government, medical and school board groups – urged support for these bills to help save Pennsylvania employers from this heavy financial burden. “The IRE using AMA guides is a nationally accepted means of adjusting to changes that inevitably occur during the course of an employee’s recovery from injury,” the coalition wrote. “S.B. 963 will help ensure the constitutionality of the IRE process by updating the law with the most recent edition of the AMA guides and applying it to future claims. We urge you to support this bill and help save Pennsylvania employers hundreds of millions of dollars in increased insurance costs.”

Apprenticeship Summit at Penn College Highlights Skilled Trades

Earlier this month, business and education leaders from across the region, including representatives from the Columbia Montour Chamber and the Chamber Foundation, gathered at Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport to discuss apprenticeships as one piece of the puzzle in addressing workforce needs. As employers of all sizes and sectors are challenged to find quality employees, statewide surveys show that those who invest in their employee development have the highest levels of satisfaction with their workforce. Programs and funding are being developed to support apprenticeships in a number of fields. 

Jim Nemeth, human resources director for North American operations at Autoneum (pictured), provided an overview of the mechatronics apprenticeship program that they developed with Penn College in collaboration with Kawneer and SEKISUI SPI. A traditional apprenticeship consists of 8,000 hours of on-the-job training combined with academic instruction of approximately 144 hours. Penn College recently partnered with the Central Pennsylvania Workforce Development Corporation to offer the program to other employers in the region with tuition assistance. Dr. Davie Jane Gilmour, Penn College president, also announced a $576K state grant to increase the College’s capacity in apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs.

Dr. Robert Lerman of the Urban Institute noted at the Summit that apprentices make up just .28% percent of the U.S. workforce, which is significantly lower than a number of European countries. While funding was recently increased to $150 million by the federal government, the U.S. has a long way to go to catch up to those countries in fostering apprenticeships, according to Lerman. He and Nemeth agreed that the state and/or federal government needs be more proactive in certifying apprenticeships. Currently, labor unions are coordinating a number of certifications. Eric Ramsay, director of the apprenticeship and training office with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, said that his office is getting additional resources to be able to certify apprenticeships.

Surveys conducted by the PA Chamber of Business & Industry in recent years echoed what our members are telling us, that finding skilled employees is their number one issue. Those surveys also show that employers who are proactive in investing in their employee development are more satisfied with their workforce. According to Dr. Gilmour, companies realize a $1.50 return on investment for every dollar invested in employee education.

The Columbia Montour Chamber and its Foundation are working to address member workforce needs on a number of fronts. The Foundation supports programs in our local school districts to develop employability skills in students, and expose them to career opportunities in our area. The Chamber and Foundation are working to connect members with educational and other resources to strengthen the skills of existing employees, in an effort to meet immediate needs. The Chamber is also advocating for long-term policy changes to better align our educational resources and encourage people to want to work. If you are interested in learning more about these workforce initiatives, contact Fred Gaffney at the Chamber at 570-784-2522 or email, or Jeff Emanuel at the Chamber’s Foundation at the same number or email.