A Win for Local Government!
Over five months ago, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed House Bill 1950 (HB 1950), which later became Act 13, a comprehensive law that deals with many aspects of the Marcellus Shale and how the industry operates in our state. Included in the new law are annual well fees, updates of various regulations, and the duties of the Public Utility Commission and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). One of the most controversial portions of Act 13 deals with local government zoning controls or the lack thereof.
When it comes to local issues, the people who live in these municipalities are often the ones who know what is best when it comes to their communities. Many feel that Act 13 strips municipalities of their rights and inhibits the local governments’ ability to protect the health and safety of their residents. In fact, the law forces municipalities to accept oil and gas drilling operations, pipelines, and compressor plants in every district, including residential areas. For that reason, seven municipalities sued the state on constitutional grounds. They were backed symbolically by 67 municipalities and counties that signed letters criticizing Act 13.
On July 26th, by a 4-3 decision, judges on the Commonwealth Court ruled that Pennsylvania cannot require municipalities to allow drilling in areas where it would conflict with their zoning rules. Now, local communities can once again decide whether and under what conditions and circumstances drilling can occur in their communities.
Specifically, the Commonwealth Court removed provisions in the law making gas wells and pipelines a permitted use in all zoning districts, forbidding municipalities from imposing more stringent zoning regulations than those imposed on other industries. The majority opinion issued by President Judge Dan Pellegrini declared this part of the law as “unconstitutional, null and void.” Judge Pellegrini continued to say Act 13 “violates substantive due process because it allows incompatible uses in zoning districts and does not protect the interests of neighboring property owners from harm, alters the character of the neighborhood, and makes irrational classifications.”
The majority ruling also overruled a section of Act 13 that allowed state regulators to waive setback requirements for gas wells in some environmentally sensitive areas. The court found these regulations lacked adequate standards to guide and restrain the powers delegated to DEP.
Two democrat and two republican judges constituted the majority opinion followed by three republican no votes. The rest of Act 13 will remain in place, including the impact fee. The decision grants a reprieve to townships that had about two weeks remaining to overhaul their ordinances before an injunction delaying the section of the new law was to expire. The Corbett Administration has already filed an appeal against the ruling and the case will now most likely go before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
I voted against Act 13 and one of the main reasons was because I felt the law took control away from the locals and instead gave the authority to the industry and state government. Municipalities were created so people and the community would have a greater say in how their local government operates. The Marcellus Shale industry has great potential in the future of the Commonwealth if things are done correctly. However, we the people, who live here after all, are the ones with the closest links to the land and will be the ones most affected by any changes.
ACCESS Cuts Avoided
ACCESS is a 32-year-old system of accessible transportation that is lauded as one of the most efficient and effective in the nation. This service provides door-to-door shared rides to about 6,000 individuals who need to get to such destinations as doctor appointments, jobs or everyday activities like grocery shopping. Many of the individuals who ride ACCESS vehicles cannot use regular buses or other means of public transportation because of a disability.
Earlier this year, the Port Authority of Allegheny County had announced proposed cuts and elimination of routes as well as increased fare rates. Part of the proposal included a 35 percent reduction which would have meant the end of the ACCESS shared-ride services for at least a year starting September 2nd. This would have ultimately cut off a life line for so many individuals that rely on the system to get around.
In late July, the Port Authority Board of Directors unanimously voted to accept special funding arrangements made possible by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and two federal programs which will result in ACCESS service being continued for another year after all!
The $3.65 million was made available through the federal Job Access and Reverse Commute and the New Freedom programs, both of which are matched by state funding. This allocation ensures that ACCESS service will remain stable through September 1, 2013.
Although ACCESS riders will continue to receive services into next year, the Port Authority is still scheduled to cut regular bus and rail services starting September 2nd in an effort to fill a $65 million budget deficit. Efforts are ongoing between local and state government officials to secure additional funding in order to prevent the proposed future cuts.
In the mean time, although this program will now be able to continue on for another year, a long-term solution must be put in place to guarantee ACCESS services and funding will be maintained for many years to come. I am a co-sponsor to Senate Bill 1575 (SB 1575) that would make Allegheny County eligible to apply for funding for the Persons with Disabilities (PwD) program, which provides reduced-fare shared ride transit service. When the PwD Program was instituted in 2001, Allegheny County was not included since ACCESS was already providing transportation to these individuals. This legislation becoming law would guarantee our county will permanently have funding for ACCESS through this program.
Changes to Highmark’s Chiropractic Care Coverage
Over the past few weeks, I have heard from many constituents and chiropractors upset at recent changes to Highmark’s coverage policy when it comes to certain care and have asked me to step in and find a resolution.
In a cost saving effort, Highmark will soon require prior authorization for physical medicine therapies, such as occupational therapy and chiropractor services. Beginning September 1st, Highmark customers will have to get pre-authorization after their eighth visit in a calendar year for certain services.
After reaching out to Highmark, I understand this move is to address growing customer concerns over unwarranted variations in the delivery of care that contributes to the rising cost of care. Highmark’s data has shown that nearly two-thirds of their members have their needs met and resolved within eight visits. Even with the pre-authorization requirement, it does not mean that services will necessarily be cut off.
Since Highmark is a private company, I cannot dictate the length of coverage of care nor do I have the authority to tell this company how to conduct their business. With that being said, I have reached out to the Pennsylvania Insurance Department to assist me on this matter of where my constituents can go from here. The Insurance Department has stated that if these terms are in your insurance contract, there is little they can do about the changes. However, the Pennsylvania Insurance Department has a Bureau of Consumer Services, which you can find at the following site: www.insurance.state.pa.us/. Here, an insurance consumer may file a complaint, which may be an appropriate avenue to secure a possible future resolution. The Department has expressed to me that they have been inundated with inquiries over the Highmark decision.
If you would like a complaint form mailed to you, my office is more than willing to assist you.
Record Year for the Pennsylvania Lottery
In the May 8th edition of my News & Views, I wrote about the benefits of the state’s Lottery system and how Governor Corbett was looking at possibly permitting a private firm to manage day-to-day operations of the Lottery in hopes of maximizing the Lottery’s performance to increase revenues for senior programs.
When I spoke about this issue a couple months ago, my theory about the Pennsylvania Lottery was “if it’s not broke, why fix it?” Fortunately, the 2011-12 fiscal year proved my theory was correct! The Pennsylvania Lottery experienced their most successful year in its 41-year history, as the Lottery set new records for annual sales and profits which generated more than $1 billion for programs benefitting older Pennsylvanians.
For fiscal year 2011-12, Lottery sales totaled $3.48 billion, which was $273 million, or 8.5 percent, above the previous year and prior all-time sales record. For each $1 ticket purchased, the Lottery generates about 30 cents for senior programs throughout the state. What this means is that as our population ages, more money will be available for such programs like in-home personal care, free transportation, tax rebates and prescription drug assistance.
The escalation in sales is believed to be attributed to the growth in sales of instant tickets, continued efforts to expand the Lottery’s retail base, and growth in the multi-state games like Powerball and Mega Millions. Furthermore, Lottery officials continue to look at ways to decrease administrative costs which also declined during the fiscal year.
I congratulate the Pennsylvania Lottery for their successful efforts and hope you will continue to support the state Lottery so our lucky fiscal streak carries onto another year!
Did You Know…
Did you know since its inception in 1971, the Pennsylvania Lottery has contributed nearly $21.5 billion to programs that include property tax and rent rebates; free transit and reduced-fare shared rides; the low-cost prescription drug programs PACE, PACENET and PACE-Plus Medicare; long-term living services; and the 52 Area Agencies on Aging, which include full- and part-time senior community centers throughout the state?
Rivers Casino Named Best Gaming Resort in PA
Congratulations to the Rivers Casino on being named Pennsylvania’s Best Overall Gaming Resort by Casino Player magazine! This is the third straight year Rivers Casino has been recognized by the national publication as Pennsylvania’s Best Overall Gaming Resort. In total, the casino garnered 11 first place awards this year including Best Casino, Best Table Games Tournaments and Best Dealers. Rivers Casino also received six second place awards and four third place awards. Category winners are voted by readers in the publication’s Best of Gaming Annual Poll. In addition to receiving first place awards in several gaming categories, Rivers Casino also won first place awards for Best Buffet and Best Steakhouse. Congratulations again to the Rivers Casino on this award and for your continuing national recognition!
Retail Training Program Information Session
Neighbors in the Strip is offering an Information and Recruitment Session tomorrow, Wednesday, August 8th, at the Eastside Neighborhood Employment Center at 10:30 a.m. for a Retail Training Program. The Eastside
Neighborhood Employment Center is located at 5321 Penn Avenue.
Neighbors in the Strip, in collaboration with Pittsburgh Public Market, has received a private foundation grant to fund a one-year pilot project to provide retail specific training for individuals who receive, or are eligible to receive, unemployment compensation and/or public assistance (TANF). This training is for a period of three months and involves one week in a classroom setting with the remaining 11 weeks spent doing hands on
training by creating a permanent retail booth within Pittsburgh Public Market. The goal is for all trainees to obtain the necessary skills to secure a job in retail sales and potentially gain the knowledge and skills to open their own small business.
Selected participants will receive a stipend of $1,500 spread over the three month training period with the bulk of the stipend payable upon completion of the program. To pre-register for this Information and Recruitment Session please call 412-362-8580. You may also contact Neighbors in the Strip at 412-201-4774 or visit www.neighborsinthestrip.com for more information on the program.
UPMC Recruitment Session
On Thursday, August 9th, the Eastside Neighborhood Employment Center is hosting a Recruitment Session for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC). The session begins at 2 p.m. at the Bloomfield-Garfield Community Center at 113 North Pacific Avenue. UPMC recruiters will be on hand to provide information about their POWER Program, which gives job seekers at UPMC an advantage in the application process. If you’re seeking employment and are interested in learning more about applying for positions at UPMC, please register for this event by calling 412-362-8580 or stop by the Eastside Neighborhood Employment Center at 5321 Penn Avenue.
To view UPMC’s current openings and approximately 6,000 other available jobs throughout the region, you may view my last News & Views Special Edition: JOBS! by clicking here.
Supporting Focus on Renewal
The PGA Nationwide Tour returns to western Pennsylvania later this month with the 3rd Annual Mylan Classic, August 27th – September 2nd at Southpointe Golf Club in Canonsburg. Through the ANSYS TICKETS Fore CHARITY program, the Mylan Classic will donate 100% of all ticket sales to local charities, including Focus on Renewal (FOR). Additionally, FOR will earn a percentage of the $40,000 Bonus Pool that will be distributed among the participating non-profits based on the program’s total ticket sales.
Every patron who purchases a ticket for this event can select one of 225 non-profit organizations, including FOR, and the Mylan Classic will donate 100% of the proceeds from the ticket price to the selected organization. Since its inception in 2010, the Mylan Classic has raised more than $1.2 million for partnering non-profit organizations. To purchase tickets online please visit www.mylanclassic.com/buytix/FOCUSONRENEWAL or call 724-746-3535. You may also obtain ticket order forms by contacting Chris Crytzer at 412-771-6460 ext. 305 or email@example.com.
39 Days Until FontanaFest! – Join us on Saturday, September 15th from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at South Side’s Riverfront Park (bottom of 18th Street at the river) for a FREE day of family fun! Enjoy FREE food and drink, entertainment, door prizes, numerous booth sponsors, games for kids and much more!
The 31st Annual Brookline Breeze 5K Race and Fitness Walk is being held this Saturday, August 11th, with festivities scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. at Brookline Park. In addition to the race, which begins at 9 a.m., kids can participate in a Mini-Breeze and dog owners can participate in a 1-mile Dog Walk. The 5K will begin at Brookline Park and continue up Brookline Boulevard before turning left at Pioneer Avenue and then turning around and ending back at the park. Top runners in all age groups will be presented with awards after the race. Following the race, runners and attendees are invited to Boulevard BreezeFest, a community celebration along Brookline Boulevard that features merchant sales, games, prizes, inflatable rides and much more. For more information, to register for the race online, or to download and print an application, please visit http://www.brooklinebreeze.com/.
Local Olympian Update
Congratulations to Cassidy Krug, a 2003 graduate of Montour High School, for competing in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Cassidy, a Kennedy Township native, finished seventh in the 3-meter springboard competition last weekend. Cassidy is a three-time Pennsylvania state diving champion. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette featured Cassidy and her family and their Olympic experience in an August 6th article. Please join me in congratulating Cassidy for her dedication and for the tremendous accomplishment of representing her country at this year’s Olympics as a member of the U.S. Women’s Diving Team.
The Milken Institute, a Santa Monica, Calif., think tank, recently ranked Pittsburgh 10th on its first "Best Cities for Successful Aging" Index, which ranks the top 100 large metros and top 259 small cities in America based on a wide variety of criteria. The city was singled out for its affordable living, relatively low crime rate, large senior community and available activities.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana