ELW Legislative Luncheon/February 24, 2017

Report Prepared By:  Lori Dolan, Secretary for ELWV/Answers paraphrased
Moderator: ELWV Member, Dorothy Bloom

Guests:

State Representatives—
Ryan Bizzarro, 3rd District
Pat Harkins, 1st District
Flo Fabrizio, 2nd District
Curt Sonney, 4th District

State Senator—
Dan Laughlin, 49th District

 Questions Posed by the League:

Q1. Redistricting Reform
Q2. Voter Access Reform
Q3. Education Funding Reform
Q4. Environmental Protection
 
Q1


Bizzarro: 
Supports bipartisan redistricting/reform. Has co-sponsored legislation to set up independent councils and make the process more transparent.


Harkins:
Supports bipartisan redistricting/reform. Involved in a number of bipartisan bills supporting redistricting reform in the last session. He did not feel they were getting any “traction”.

Fabrizio:
Would like to see an independent commission created for redistricting in PA.  His question was “How independent would it really be?” 

Sonney: 
Stated my district is like a perfect rectangle.  Does not see a problem in his district.  Districting should be based on the population.  Would support fair districting.

Laughlin:  In favor of bipartisan redistricting.  Would support a stated goal of even/fair districts. Felt a level playing field was necessary for all candidates. With skewed district mapping it becomes even more difficult to get individuals to run for public office.

Q2


Bizzarro: 
Has supported a bill for same day registration, a position supported by every major newspaper across the state of PA—but was never picked up for a vote (House Bill 13/www.pahouse.com/InTheNews/NewsRelease/?id=67606) Feels same day registration would have an impact on voter turnout in PA.

Harkins:
Considers himself a proponent of voter reformation.  He responded that a package of bills had been proposed last year.  Feels they will only come to a vote with a strong bipartisan push.  Harkins also feels younger representatives coming into office may have a positive impact on voter reform.  Strides have been taken with the introduction of electronic voting machines.

Fabrizio:
Flo is all for whatever makes voting easier for the people.  He feels current registration rules serve more to protect the incumbent than benefit the public voter/preferred the old voting machines. He does not necessarily support electronic voting machines and feels the PA legislature needs to closely monitor protecting the vote. He says yes to same day registration and early voting.  He says no to laws and reforms which would serve to minimize opportunity to vote or make it more difficult.

Sonney:
Sonney is “OK” with same day registration and no excuse absentee ballots, and states the County has the responsibility to manage these procedures. He asked the question, “What happens is you want to change your mind?” and you have voted early. With absentee ballots, he continues, they do not have to be counted until Election Day.  He is in favor of checks and balances. Sonney thinks we need to work on the problem of getting people to vote, more so than registration.

Laughlin:
Feels we need to make it easier for people to register and agrees with no excuse absentee balloting.  An idea of Laughlin’s was to register 16 and 17 year olds as independents so candidates would have to work harder to win their votes for their party and the young people would have to work to learn about the candidates in all parties.  Laughlin also would like to see independents be able to participate in PA primaries.

Q3

Bizzarro:
Echos Laughlin’s perspective (see Laughlin response). Feels even with the Fair Funding Formula, the state still has a problem with how funds are distributed. States that right now our schools rely primarily on property taxes.  States it is a complicated issue with many factors coming into play and that the problem is not an “easy fix”.

Harkins:
States it is a complex subject.  Serves on the House Education Committee. Feels there are no “quick fixes”.  States 1/12 school districts in PA are on the cusp of default.  Felt the Corbett administration has no regard for education.  Harkins brought Governor Wolf to Erie to visit our city school district.  Opposes cuts in areas such as sports and languages. Feels charter schools need to be reformed.  Relates that the Fair Funding Formula in PA will not kick in for another 4 or 5 years.

Fabrizio:
The PA constitution mandates providing a public education for all the young people of our state.  States for every 1/10th of 1% increase in personal income taxes, 400 million dollars is generated.  He supports a fair and quality education for all PA students. Yes, he says, for me the answer could include raising taxes to generate revenue for education. 

Sonney:
Feels across the state there is about 50/50 funding, drawing from property taxes and the state distributed revenue—approximately 11 billion dollars for education in PA.  He feels education is a PA priority, monies are appropriated before being “gobbled up” by human services.  Does support the PA FFF/ will help drive out new dollars.

Laughlin:
Campaigned for funding of Erie city schools.  He feels the systems are 100% backwards.  Education funds for schools should come primarily from the state and not the public property taxes.  Supports the PA FFF.  Feels that the dollars currently spent on education in PA are not adequate. 

(*FYI/https://www.psba.org/issue/pennsylvania-pension-crisis/)

Q4

Bizzarro:
Has not seen information on toxic disposal in PA come through the House.  Feels the PA DEP is one of the strongest environmental departments in the Nation.  States that PA is the only state that does not have a severance tax for natural resources.  PA does have an impact fee.  Feels PA needs an appropriate level of taxation which would not hurt development of our natural resources. Coal is phasing out.  Funds need to be appropriated to incentivize training for employment transitions.  Our state has a diverse energy portfolio utilizing natural gas, solar energy and some wind.  Although Bizzarro says there is always room for improvement, he likes what he sees coming out of the PA DEP.

 Harkins:
He is much in favor of a gas shale tax.  Rendell had agreed to a 5% tax which Corbett rescinded.  Harkins is pro environmental legislation.  Feels it is important to protect PA water reserves.  He also has not heard of any action on toxic disposal in this state (commented that after 911 PA was looked at as a disposal state). Feels there is a need to generate jobs in clean energy in PA.

Fabrizio:
Feels toxic disposal sites should go to states that don’t support environmental regulations.  He does not want it for the state of PA.  State oil and gas industry is important to PA.  Must be a happy medium between drillers and the environment. States there is an abundance of natural gas in PA and it is less expensive and cleaner than coal.  PA utility companies are moving towards natural gas fueled energy. Coal production is down.  We don’t want to see people out of work.  Automation is advancing is advancing and will not bring back jobs, just dollars for companies. The steel industry is gone, coal jobs are not returning.  The public must understand this.  Feels fracking must be regulated properly. The PA Health Department needs to know what is in our water with regard to fracking. Feels solar is the answer.  Reasonable ground with oil/gas drilling and energy needs/ environmental protection must be found.

Sonney:
Does not want to see toxic waste disposed of in PA.  He absolutely supports clean energy.  Supports tax incentives for clean energy.  Feels wind is the most challenging form of alternative energy.  Says people want investment in wind , but not in their backyard.  Supports windmills on preserved farm land. () Sonney would vote for a severance tax on fracking feeling it is going to happen sooner or later.  Referred to the PA Oil and Gas Act-- The Act has four purposes. First, the Act promotes the development Pennsylvania’s oil and natural gas resources without sacrificing the “health, safety, environment and property of the citizens of Pennsylvania.” Second, the Act protects the safety of both the people and facilities that the oil and gas industry employs in development efforts. Third, the Act protects the “safety and property rights” of people who live in areas affected by the development of oil and natural gas resources. Fourth, the Act protects “natural resources, environmental rights and values” in accordance with the Pennsylvania Constitution. Sonney feels that there should be a separation in the regulations on traditional drilling and new energy resource drilling.

Laughlin:
Laughlin states he is a fan of solar power.  In 1989, bought his first solar panel. States solar energy is currently 20% efficient, there needs to be a move toward making it 50-60% efficient.  Use and production of clean energy should be incentivized.  Toxic waste should be dealt with in whatever state generates it.  Says he is a “hands on guy”.  He believes in facts.  If fracking negatively impacts the state’s water supplies, he wants to know about it.  Would like to visit fracking sites to learn and understand more about the issue. 

 
ADDITIONAL audience questions pertained to these issues and the PA Criminal Justice System—payment or lack of state payment of public defenders and the status of the funding of the Erie school system.

 END

Encourage students and schools / teachers to become involved in out 2017 High School Video contest !

EVENTS

SUMMARY OF RESPONSES FROM PANEL:

Representatives of Erie League of Women Voters attended the citizenship ceremony on Friday, February 3rd, 2017 at the Erie Country Federal Courthouse.  Forty nine new candidates were representative of 18 different countries. League members Dorothy Bloom, Lucy Krupicz and Lori Dolan provided voter registration help at the reception.


Erie League of Women's Legislative Luncheon held February 24th 2017 at the NW PA Sight Center. Guests Representatives Bizzarro, Harkins, Fabrezio, Sonney and Senator Laughlin answered questions from the League and the audience on the environment, voting and redistricting. The LWV celebrated its 97th Birthday this year!