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Higher Education and Open Records

Capitol BuildingWhen Pennsylvania’s 2008 Right to Know law was implemented, the PA Open Records Office was housed at the PA Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) where I served as a senior manager.   While at DCED -- and since taking office in the State Senate -- I had considered possible improvements to the law. 

One of those improvements involved revisiting the exemptions granted to our four state-related universities. In the wake of horrific details of alleged child abuse coming out of State College it is clear that changes and improvements to the law are imperative.

Penn State University, the University of Pittsburgh, Temple University and Lincoln University receive hundreds of millions of dollars each year from Pennsylvania taxpayers. These are world class institutions -- and we need to ensure they remain so -- but clearly it is in the taxpayers’ interest that they be subject to a more appropriate level of public scrutiny and accountability.

Pennsylvania has one of the nation’s strongest open records laws but, unfortunately, our four state-related universities are not subject to all of its provisions.  We can do better.

While requiring a higher level of scrutiny would not have stopped the alleged abuse or the distasteful conduct reported to have taken place at Penn State University, it may have contributed to earlier detection of the alleged misconduct.  Public scrutiny and public attention can and often do serve as powerful deterrents to such misconduct.  I look forward to working in a bipartisan manner with the leadership of both Senate legislative caucuses to achieve much needed improvements to Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know law.

Here are some links to news stories regarding the proposed legislation to update and upgrade our open records law:

Impact Fee Bill Sells Pennsylvania Citizens Short

Sen. BlakeWe in Northeastern Pennsylvania know all too well the implications of allowing our natural resources to be extracted from the ground while seeing the wealth associated with that extraction industry exiting the state.

Global multi-national, multi-billion dollar natural gas companies who are consolidating control of the Marcellus field are able and willing to exploit our natural resources for years to come, but the Republican-controlled General Assembly in Harrisburg appears unwilling to ask that industry to pay a fair share back to state coffers to relieve tax burdens on our middle-class or to support local communities statewide that are afflicted by failing infrastructure, environmental degradation, joblessness and economic recession.

As passed by the Senate, Senate Bill 1100 would levy an initial base impact fee of $50,000 per well, which would decrease annually and be completely eliminated in twenty years even if wells were still producing at that time. There is no provision in the bill that addresses the volume of natural gas produced at well-heads throughout the state.

Sen Blake Floor Speech Video
Sen. Blake: Drillers still not required to pay fair share
Sen. Blake says "Let's get Pennsylvania back to work."

I also have serious concerns about the provisions in SB 1100 that erode or preempt the influence of local land use and zoning ordinances and remove local control over proposed gas drilling and pipeline operations within their jurisdictions.

Senate Bill 1100 would permit the state attorney general’s office to compare a municipality’s zoning ordinance to a statewide zoning standard. If it were found that the municipality ordinance had stricter standards than the state, that municipality would be ineligible for any impact fee revenue. 

Drilling companies are paying hundreds of millions in severance taxes in other states and yet in Pennsylvania, Senate Bill 1100 provides only for a wholly inadequate impact fee that will be but a rounding error on the balance sheets of these profitable companies.

Pennsylvania’s citizens and Pennsylvania’s environment deserve better than Senate Bill 1100.

Essential Flood Relief Bills Clear State Senate

Duryea floodingLast week, I was proud to support a bipartisan package of flood relief legislation that will help our communities ravaged by September’s record flooding begin to rebuild their infrastructure and restore their pride.

I would like to commend Sen. John Gordner’s (R-Columbia) leadership and the other sponsors of these bills for expediting this relief package and showing the flood ravaged businesses and families that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

I was the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 1267 included this package, which would allow local taxing bodies to decrease real estate taxes for properties substantially affected by the flood

The other bills included in the bipartisan flood relief package would:

  • establish a restricted account in the state Treasury to provide additional state grant monies to individuals and families. Funds would be awarded based on income eligibility and damage losses;
  • authorize $150 million for the state share of flood-related highway and bridge rehabilitation projects;
  • allow local taxing bodies to decrease real estate taxes for properties substantially affected by the flood;
  • authorize a county-by-county list of highways, bridges, flood control and hazard mitigation projects for state Capital Budget funding; and
  • give the Secretary of Education the authority to waive certain requirements for public and non-public schools substantially damaged by the flood.

These bills passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support and I am hopeful that my colleagues in the House realize the urgency felt by our flood affected communities and act as quickly

International Business Development Forum on Nov. 29

International Business Forum

This forum is a great opportunity for individuals and businesses to learn about the benefits of growing a business internationally and assistance available to them through federal and state programs and services.

If you are interested in registering for this free, informational forum call 570-207-2881 or toll-free 1-877-346-5721. The registration deadline is November 23. For more information click here.

Have a Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving

On behalf of myself, Louise and the kids, I would like to wish all of you a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.

Stay safe, be smart and enjoy your day of family, friends, food and football!

Stay Connected

For updates on this and other legislative initiatives, stay in touch with me on the Internet through my website or on Facebook. Facebook

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