Sens. Blake &Pileggi: Bills to Strengthen Right-to-Know Law Introduced

HARRISBURG – Two bills which will significantly strengthen Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law have been introduced by Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R-9), the author of the state’s current law, and Sen. John Blake (D-22), a longtime advocate for increased transparency.

“Since the new Open Records Law was enacted in 2008, the public has been given access to tens of thousands of government documents that were previously unavailable,” Sen. Pileggi said. “My legislation will strengthen the law for both requesters and agencies by simplifying the appeals process for requesters, giving the Office of Open Records much-needed flexibility in addressing complex appeals, and reducing the burden of requests from inmates. I’m pleased to be working with Sen. John Blake on this crucial effort.”

Senate Bill 411 (Pileggi) will also establish a new, reasonable fee structure for commercial requests, ensure that requests made to campus police departments receive the same treatment as requests to municipal police departments, and clarify that entities such as economic development authorities and industrial development authorities are covered by the law.

“It’s important to take up reforms to the Right-to-Know Law in this legislative session,” Sen. Blake said. “I’m glad to continue the work begun in the last session with my friend and colleague, Sen. Dominic Pileggi. Senate Bill 444 was passed unanimously out of the Senate in the last session but, due to time constraints, was not taken up in the House. This update of our Open Records statute is informed by more than six years of experience. Expanding the law’s coverage regarding reporting and transparency for our four state-related universities is essential and long overdue.”

Senate Bill 412 (Blake) will require state-related universities – Penn State, Temple, Pitt, and Lincoln – to create freely accessible online databases which include extensive budget, revenue and expenditure data; the number of employees and aggregated, non-personal employee data; and the number of students and aggregated, non-personal student data.

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Sen. Blake Announces $ 292k State Grant to help NEPA Entrepreneurs

SCRANTON, Jan. 13, 2015 – Continuing his work to grow Northeast Pennsylvania’s technology-based economy, Sen. John Blake today announced the award of a $292,500 state grant to help the Scranton-based consortium, TecBridge, further develop the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The investment is from Pennsylvania’s Discovered in PA, Developed in PA – or D2PA grant program.

“Entrepreneurs have great ideas but they don’t always have the resources to bring that inspiration to life,” Sen. Blake said. “Investing today in TecBridge means more entrepreneurs in Northeast Pennsylvania will have the means to develop their ideas and transfer them into the marketplace and our local schools will have new opportunities for the transfer of knowledge into the workplace.”

“TecBridge will use its D2PA award to promote our nascent technology companies; open new opportunities for the bright minds now learning in our region’s colleges; support incubator openings for even more tech startups so they can gain a solid footing in our regional economy; and allow company CEOs to network with one another to find new synergies, innovations or partnerships for job growth, sales growth and revenue growth.” Blake said.

Specifically, the new grant will allow TecBridge to offer workshops, seminars, internships and start-up support to entrepreneurs, Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ) companies, private industry, as well as secondary and post-secondary school students.

Since he was first elected in 2010, Sen. Blake has focused his attention on improving NEPA’s technology-based economy. In addition to Innovate in PA, which is creating a multi-million dollar capital investment program for new and promising early stage businesses statewide, he has vigorously supported NEPA’s Regional Bioscience Initiative and three annual forums on the importance of career-focused education to ensure that more students make an efficient and productive 21st century transition from the classroom to the world of work.

TecBridge was formed in 2012 by the Great Valley Technology Alliance and the Northeast Pennsylvania Technology Institute. The “Tec” in TecBridge is an acronym for “technology, entrepreneurship, and collaboration.”

Discovered in PA, Developed in PA looks for opportunities to seed innovative ideas that, like TecBridge, promote entrepreneurship, technology transfer, business outreach, and increased capacity.

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Blake Named Senate Appropriations Committee Vice-Chairman

HARRISBURG, Nov. 12, 2014 – State Sen. John Blake today was named the Democratic vice-chairman of Senate Appropriations Committee, the legislative panel charged with allocating billions of taxpayer dollars throughout the commonwealth.

Sen. Blake issued the following statement:

“I am deeply humbled to take on this new responsibility of serving as the vice chairman of appropriations for the Senate Democratic caucus, and I am grateful for the confidence of Sen. Jay Costa, the Democratic leader.

“I am committed to supporting our caucus and our Appropriations Committee chairman, Vince Hughes, in every way possible. I am also looking forward to serving in this new capacity and having an effective interface with the Wolf administration.”

Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Pittsburgh) served as the committee’s vice-chairman during the 2013-2014 legislative session. Ferlo is retiring after serving three terms in the Senate.

Blake was re-elected to his second term last week as senator for the 22nd Senatorial District, which serves Lackawanna County and portions of Luzerne and Monroe counties.

 

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Governor’s Approval of Act 47 update a ‘Satisfactory Step’ in the Overhaul of PA’s Municipal Financial Recovery Program

SCRANTON, Nov. 3, 2014 – The governor’s approval of legislation to change how the commonwealth helps local governments in financial distress is a step in the right direction, state Sen. John Blake said today.

The governor signed House Bill 1773 into law Friday. The measure amends PA’s Municipal Financial Recovery Act, which is better known as Act 47.

“Since Act 47’s inception, too many communities have needed state oversight due to fiscal distress and too few of them have emerged from distressed status,” Blake said. “There is a shared responsibility for this – state and local – though the reason communities enter Act 47 has much to do with the lack of sustained growth in local and regional economies.

“Getting HB 1773 signed into law is an important and satisfactory step toward improving the nature and the scope of the engagement between the state and local governments and to address the fiscal distress that severely impedes economic growth.”

Blake said some of the notable changes to Act 47 include:

  • Allowing a financial coordinator under Chapter 2 or a receiver under Chapter 7 of the law to examine the financial records of authorities incorporated by a distressed municipality and other organizations performing an associated government function – as the financial position of these entities can have bearing on the finances of the distressed community.
  • Requiring annual reviews of the performance of state-contracted financial coordinators to ensure contract compliance and quality in the conduct of their work with Act 47 communities.
  • Requiring coordinators to conduct an in-depth analysis of the local tax base and all local revenue sources in order to make recommendations, as necessary and appropriate, to modify revenue sources, including the subjects and the rates of taxation in the distressed community.
  • Requiring coordinators to evaluate opportunities for enhanced cooperation and changes in land use planning and zoning, including regional approaches that would promote economic development within and around the Act 47 community.
  • Offering options for Act 47 communities to consider changes to local revenue that may ensure a fairer distribution of the burden on different classifications of taxpayers in order to foster economic growth, not stifle it.

Sen. Blake said the new law’s 10-year horizon of engagement with the commonwealth is also vital.

“To keep communities from entering distressed status, we’ve incorporated into statute, for the first time, the state’s early intervention program. Further, Act 47 communities will get preference and priority when they apply for grants from all state agencies,” Blake said. “After the 2-year early intervention period, a municipality can be in Act 47 for five years and then receive a three-year extension, if warranted.”

State receivership or bankruptcy remain options at the end of the five year period under the amended law if an Act 47 community cannot right its financial condition, but emergence from Act 47 is the ultimate goal, the senator said.

The urgency of critical analysis and decision-making by local government officials is very important in order to hasten exit from distressed status, he said.

“This new law does not solve all of the ills of local governments and their fiscal distress – nor does it address all of the underlying causes of that – but we needed to update Act 47 and retool the relationship between the state and our distressed communities.

“When we return in the next legislative session we need to take up comprehensive Community Reinvestment Improvement Zone legislation to drive investment into the core business districts of our cities and we need to address comprehensive municipal pension reform as those legacy costs impose the most stress on the budgets of our small cities,” Blake said.

The global financial services company, Fitch Ratings, said the amended Act 47 law is “a positive.”

“It should increase pressure on both local and state managers to resolve the issues that led to the municipalities’ financial distress more promptly,” the company said in an Oct. 20 press release.

Sen. Blake acknowledged the work of Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Hollidaysburg); Rep. Chris Ross (R-Chester); and Rep. Bob Freeman (D-Easton) as well as Michael Gasbarre, executive director of the PA Local Government Commission and his staff, all of whom started the Act 47 overhaul more than three years ago.

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Sen. Blake Seeking NEPA Student for Valley Forge Military Academy Opportunity

SCRANTON, Oct. 28, 2014 — State Sen. John Blake is once again looking for a student from his 22nd Senatorial District to be his appointee to the Valley Forge Military Academy & College in suburban Philadelphia.

“Valley Forge Military Academy & College is an 86-year-old institution that prides itself on academic excellence and character development and I am positive that the person who becomes my appointee will get to experience something that will last their lifetime,” Sen. Blake said today.

The academy awards one appointment from each legislative district to the two-year military academy in Wayne.

The student who is selected as Sen. Blake’s “Commonwealth Scholar” will receive guaranteed admission and a guaranteed partial scholarship to The Military College of Pennsylvania. A student awarded the Legislative Appointment Initiative Scholarship may receive the award for up to two years.

Legislative appointees will have the opportunity to earn a military commission as second lieutenant in the U.S. Army after two years of attendance and participation at VFMA.

To be considered as a Valley Forge Military Academy & College appointee, a student must carry a minimum 2.5 GPA, a combined SAT score of at least 1,000 (or 20 on the ACT).

Applications for Blake’s appointment can be obtained by calling Sen. Blake’s district office at 570-207-2881.

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