Senator Fontana was happy to meet with students from the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf (WPSD) last week at the Capitol in Harrisburg. Senator Fontana is pictured here with Makenna Hager,
a 6th grade student. Founded in 1869, The WPSD is a non-profit, tuition free school that
provides quality educational services and a complete extracurricular program to
Deaf and hard-of-hearing children from birth through Grade 12.
Pennsylvania Supreme Court Ruling and Gaming Fix
Under the 2004 Pennsylvania gaming law, most casinos must pay at least 4 percent of gross slot machine gambling revenues to their host communities. That includes 2 percent to counties and 2 percent or a flat fee of $10 million, whichever is greater, to municipalities. The 2 percent to municipalities would only really come into play once gross slot revenues for a casino went above $500 million. Because that never happened, the nine casinos affected by the law – SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia and much smaller resort casinos in Valley Forge and Fayette County aren’t subject to the minimum requirement - simply pay $10 million a year.
Last fiscal year, over $141 million in slot revenue was distributed to counties and municipalities for such things as road and park improvements, police salaries, rehabilitating public and neighborhood facilities, and water and sewer infrastructure updates. This includes the $48 million paid by casinos to satisfy the $10 million host fee.
In 2015, Mount Airy Casino argued that the “local share tax” violates the uniformity clause in the Pennsylvania State Constitution, which requires that “all taxes shall be uniform, upon the same class of subjects.” As a constitutional challenge to the gaming law, the matter bypassed lower courts and was filed directly to the state Supreme Court.
In September of this year, the Supreme Court ruled that the municipal portion of taxes on slot machines violates the state constitution since it effectively imposes different rates on Pennsylvania’s 12 casinos depending on their size. In essence, the payment schedule imposes a heavier tax burden on lower-performing casinos. For example, Parx Casino in Bucks County, was just 2.8 percent of the casino’s 2014 gross slot machine revenue. The $10 million Mount Airy Casino paid was more than 7 percent of its revenue for 2014.
Because the decision would gouge municipal budgets, the Court gave the Pennsylvania General Assembly until January 26, 2017, to fix the law. In addition, the Supreme Court’s decision is final, with no opportunity for appeal.
In the Senate’s final voting week before the end of the 2015-16 legislative session, we approved a stopgap bill to continue local share money for six months. This would give lawmakers the time needed to iron out the details concerning the expansion of gambling while at the same time keeping the funding flowing to the local municipalities and counties that rely on it for critical programs and services. Specifically, the Senate bill would have set up a prorated $10 million flat fee casinos would have had to pay from January 1 to May 1 – or face the prospect of having their casino license yanked by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.
In the other chamber, the House of Representatives passed a permanent measure that would tie the restoration of local share money to the legalization of internet gaming, permits airports to set up internet gambling kiosks, and fantasy sports betting. The expansion requires the state’s casinos to pay a $10 million yearly fee to their host municipalities and could represent roughly $100 million in new revenue for the state.
The Pennsylvania General Assembly officially ends on November 30. Even though we do return to session in mid-November, lawmakers typically do not vote on any bills during the post “lame duck” session and instead use this time to tie up any ends left open within our own caucuses. In addition, I would like to remind my constituents that it would be up to the majority party to place additional bills on the calendar to be voted on.
With that being said, fixing the gaming law is a complex matter. I am disappointed that the House hastily added all these extra provisions in their version of the gaming bill that needs to be thoroughly looked at instead of rushed through the General Assembly. Please know I understand the magnitude the Court ruling has had on Allegheny County and our local municipalities and I will continue to work towards a resolution so that Allegheny County continues to receive the $5.5 million and Pittsburgh the $10 million that our communities have come to depend on.
Governor Signs Law Authorizing Ride Share Companies to Operate in Pennsylvania
Today, Governor Wolf is expected to sign into law legislation that regulates “Transportation Network Companies” (TNCs), like Uber and Lyft, which will allow them to permanently operate in Pennsylvania. TNCs provide an alternative to traditional taxi service through a smart phone application that connects drivers with passengers. As you may recall, Uber and Lyft began providing rides in the commonwealth in 2014 despite lacking permission from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC), but were eventually given temporary, experimental licenses that expire early next year.
The new law empowers the PUC with licensure and oversight of TNCs and also grants the PUC the authority to confiscate, impound, and sell personal vehicles used for TNC services for a violation of the statute.
Under the new law, in order to be a TNC driver, one must:
- Have a valid state driver’s license for at least one year prior to applying to become a driver;
- Be at least 21 years old; and
- Have not had more than three moving violations or a major violation in the preceding three years.
Additionally, a TNC company must conduct a local and national criminal background check for each driver applicant and implement and enforce a zero-tolerance policy on the use of drugs and alcohol by a driver while providing transportation network service. A driver cannot smoke while engaging in a prearranged ride.
Under the new law, vehicles being used for TNC services must meet the following standards:
- Has a seating capacity of less than 10 people, including the driver.
- Has at least four doors and meets federal motor vehicle safety standards.
- Is a coupe, sedan or light-duty vehicle, including a van, minivan, SUV, pickup truck, hatchback or convertible.
- Is not older than 10 model years, or 12 model years for an alternative fuel vehicle, with no more than 350,000 miles.
- Has not been issued the title class of salvage, rebuilt, junk or total loss.
A personal vehicle must also meet Pennsylvania inspection requirements and display the PUC approved signage at all times while the driver is providing services.
Included in the legislation is language that wheelchair-accessible vehicles must be clearly identified and that by January 1, 2017, a TNC must be accessible to customers who are blind, visually impaired, deaf and hard of hearing.
A TNC driver must maintain primary automobile insurance that recognizes that the driver is a TNC driver or otherwise uses a vehicle to transport passengers for compensation. While engaged with a prearranged ride, an individual must have $500,000 in primary automobile liability insurance for death, bodily injury and property damage. Additionally, first party medical benefits, including $25,000 for pedestrians and $5,000 for driver, are required under this law. It is important to note that a driver may not require a passenger to sign a waiver of potential liability for a loss of personal property or injury.
A TNC driver may not engage in solicitation of potential passengers, cash payment for a prearranged ride or acceptance of a street hail or telephone call for transportation under the law. A driver must also not pick up or drop off passengers at an international airport owned by the city and located in whole or in part of the city unless the municipality or governing authority that owns and operates the airport adopts regulations allowing services, which is the case for the City of Pittsburgh. In June 2015, the Allegheny County Executive announced a permit that would allow approved TNC companies to drop off and pick up passengers at the Pittsburgh International Airport. The same language is included that a TNC driver may not pick up passengers at a train station owned by AMTRAK in a city unless the city and AMTRAK reach an agreement.
A TNC must disclose the fare or fare calculation method prior to a prearranged ride and provide an estimate for the cost of trip upon request under the new law. A TNC may charge a higher rate than the regular fare if the TNC:
- Provides notice of the time period when the higher rate is applicable.
- Provides to a customer requesting a trip the option to obtain the total fare estimate of the trip; and
- The TNC reviews and responds to all passenger complaints about a fare that exceeds the estimated fare by more than 20%.
Please know that different rules were included in the new law for ridesharing in the City of Philadelphia. The taxi cab industry in that city is regulated by the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) and not the PUC like the rest of the state. Lawmakers in that region found it best that the PPA be the ones that continue to have regulatory oversight over TNCs.
When Uber and Lyft came into Pittsburgh in 2014, I was at the forefront of introducing legislation to regulate TNC’s in Pennsylvania. Because this new law contains most of the language of my Senate Bill 447 (SB 447), I was happy to support passage. After all, a lot of what goes on in Harrisburg is compromise.
However, I was not pleased with an amendment that was added by the House at the last minute that would significantly reduce the penalty levied by the PUC on Uber from $11.36 million to $250,000 for the time spent out of compliance. I feel that if a company wants to conduct business in the commonwealth, they should adhere to the rules. Otherwise, a company should be adequately punished as a lesson to deter the actions from happening again. By stripping away the hefty fine, Uber is now basically just getting a slap on the wrist. After all, the PUC was created as a consumer protection unit to make sure companies conduct business lawfully and are held accountable.
Early Voting Hearing
I want to remind everyone that tomorrow I am hosting and co-chairing a Democratic Policy Committee hearing on the issue of early voting and other election reforms. I have introduced Senate Bill 255 (SB 255), allowing early voting in Pennsylvania. This hearing will take place at the August Wilson Center in the Highmark Room at 10:00 a.m. Participating in the hearing include: Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald; Constance Parker, President, NAACP – Pittsburgh Chapter; Douglas Hill, Executive Director, County Commissioners Association of PA; Suzanne Almeida, Executive Director, League of Women Voters of PA; Kisty McNulty, Common Cause of PA; Dr. Clifford Bob, Professor and Chair of Political Science at Duquesne University.
The August Wilson Center is located at 980 Liberty Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh. The hearing is open to the public and I encourage everyone to attend.
All Senate offices will be closed next Tuesday, Nov. 8 for Election Day. My offices will re-open on Wednesday, Nov. 9 as scheduled.
Information for Election Day
For any questions related to voting, I encourage you to visit www.votespa.com. This site has information on your rights as a voter, answers to frequently asked questions, and allows you to confirm your registration and polling place. Below is additional information about the Nov. 8 General Election. If you need any further assistance, or have any additional questions, please call one of my district offices and my staff will gladly assist you.
Deadline to Request Absentee Ballots
Any voter who needs an absentee ballot for the Nov. 8 General Election must complete and return the application to the Allegheny County Elections Division by 5 p.m. today. The Elections Division is located in the County Office Building, 542 Forbes Avenue, Room 601 in downtown Pittsburgh. You can download and print an absentee ballot application by clicking here or by visiting www.votespa.com. You can also pick one up at any of my district offices. For fastest results, you may visit the Elections Division office and complete an application in person. If properly registered, you will be handed an absentee ballot on the spot.
Anyone voting by absentee ballot will be required to provide a PA Driver’s License number, PennDOT ID number, or last four digits of Social Security Number. If you do not possess any of the aforementioned items, a copy of an acceptable ID must be provided with the application.
Completed absentee ballots must be received by the Elections Division office by 5 p.m. this Friday, Nov 4.
Polling Place Locator
If you are a newly-registered voter, have recently moved or have not voted in a while, and are unsure where your polling place is located, you can visit the Polling Place Locator Page at www.county.allegheny.pa.us/elect/index.aspx. You will be asked to enter your municipality, house number and street name. Once that information is entered, the site will inform you of your polling place and provide the address. You will also be provided an opportunity to enter your name and birth date to determine if you are a registered voter and will also be able to view the ballot you will be presented with at your polling place. If you are unable to find your polling place on this site, or if any of your information is listed incorrectly on the site, please contact the Elections Division office at 412-350-4500.
PLEASE NOTE – 19 polling places in Allegheny County have changed since the April Primary Election. Voters in districts that are affected have been notified by mail. The following locations in the 42nd Senatorial District have changed:
Our Lady of Angels, 36th Street Entrance, 225 37th Street
Evangelical Lutheran Church, 237 37th Street
Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, 237 37th Street
Carnegie Library – Lawrenceville branch, 279 Fisk Street
Presley Ridge, 2611 Stayton Street
Presley Ridge, 2611 Stayton Street
Middletown Road Baptist Church, 2660 Middletown Road
Middletown Road Baptist Church, 2660 Middletown Road
Council of 3 Rivers American Indian Ctr., 201 Rochelle St.
Carnegie Library – Knoxville branch, 400 Brownsville Rd.
Carnegie Library – Knoxville branch, 400 Brownsville Rd.
Mt. Troy VFC Ballroom, 33 Lonsdale Street
How to Register Election Day Complaints
Any registered voter who wishes to file a complaint about alleged election law violations can do so by visiting www.votespa.com and clicking on the “Election Complaints” tab. The voter will be asked to enter their first and last name, address, county of residence, and date of birth to ensure they are a registered voter. Once submitted, these complaint forms will be directed to the county election board for the county in which the voter making the complaint resides. Written statements of complaint are available at all polling places and the Allegheny County Board of Elections. You may also call 1-877-VOTES-PA (1-877-868-3772) to obtain a complaint statement.
Did You Know…
Did you know that in the 2012 General Election, 58.2% of registered voters in the United States voted? That number was 11.6% in 1789 when only a small percentage of the total population was permitted to vote.
A Notice to Voters
I want to remind everyone going to the polls on Nov. 8 about the ballot question. Please know that one of the questions on the ballot will ask you whether to amend the state constitution allowing judges to remain on the bench until the end of the year in which they turn 75. This is five years longer than is currently permitted.
As necessary for all questions to change the state constitution, a proposed amendment has passed the state Legislature in two consecutive sessions and appeared on the spring primary ballot. However, this year posed a unique situation where lawmakers essentially invalidated those votes.
Weeks before the constitutional amendment was scheduled to appear on the April ballot, a resolution was pushed through the General Assembly delaying the question on the ballot until November. Many felt the resolution was necessary citing the ballot question was unwieldy and confusing thus changing the wording so that it removed any reference to the existing mandatory retirement age of 70. This prompted many lawsuits from both political parties. However, in September, a 3-3 split decision by the state Supreme Court left the ruling intact and the reworded question will be seen on the November ballot.
The ballot question will appear like this:
“Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to require that justices of the Supreme Court, judges, and magisterial judges be retired on the last day of the calendar year in which they attain the age of 75 years?”
Please know that this mandatory retirement age question applies to roughly 1,000 justices, judges and district judges that are currently serving in Pennsylvania.
Funding for Lawrenceville Project
I am pleased to announce a grant of $1 million has been awarded for site development at the Regional Industrial Development Corporation’s 14-acre Lawrenceville Technology Center. Funding was attained through the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) and will be used for land development, infrastructure improvements, building development, and to construct a parking garage. The Lawrenceville Tech Center has already been a success story with biotech and robotics businesses flourishing. These funds will help accommodate additional business interest, expansion, investment and jobs. The RACP program is used for the acquisition and construction of regional economic, cultural, civic, recreational, and historical improvement projects. Qualifying projects have a regional or multi-jurisdictional impact, help create of maintain jobs, and generate economic activity.
Dispose of Unused Medications in Brookline
Allegheny County Sheriff William Mullen recently implemented an initiative to help residents safely eliminate unused and expired narcotic medications. Project D.U.M.P. (Disposal of Unused Medications Properly), allows citizens to contact a Sheriff’s Office Evidence Custodian who will report to their residence and take possession of any unwanted medications. The Sheriff’s Office established this program to help curtail opioid and heroin related overdoses and overdose deaths in Allegheny County.
I’m pleased that Sheriff Mullen is taking Project D.U.M.P. on the road and his office will be collecting unwanted and/or unused medications in my Brookline office on Tuesday, Nov. 22 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. My Brookline office is located at 932 Brookline Boulevard.
The Sheriff’s Office continues to stress that drug take-back programs are among the safest options for disposing of unused prescription narcotics, and that medications such as Vicodin, Percocet, and Oxycontin should not be thrown in the trash, flushed down the toilet, or left around the house for others to access.
If you have any medications you want to dispose of, I encourage you to visit my office on Nov. 22. Anyone with questions on Project D.U.M.P. can contact Deputy Joe Cirigliano at 412-459-5000.
Medicare Open Enrollment
The Pennsylvania Department of Aging is reminding all Medicare beneficiaries that the annual Medicare open enrollment period began on October 15 and runs through December 7. Any new coverage selected takes effect beginning January 1, 2017.
During open enrollment, new Medicare beneficiaries can sign up for Medicare Prescription Drug coverage and health plans to compliment Medicare for the first time, and current Medicare beneficiaries can review and make changes to their current coverage so that it better meets their needs.
In order to help Medicare beneficiaries navigate through their options, Pennsylvania offers a free, objective health benefits counseling program called APPRISE, which is designed to counsel and empower Medicare-eligible individuals, their families, and caregivers to make informed healthcare benefit decisions. With over 700 trained APPRISE volunteers in Pennsylvania, the APPRISE program provides easy-to-understand information about Medical Supplemental Insurance, Medicare Advantage Plans, and prescription drug plans in order for Medicare beneficiaries to compare plans and determine which plan best meets their needs. Additionally, APRRISE holds a series of Open Enrollment events around Pennsylvania.
To learn more about the program or to find an Open Enrollment event, please call 1-800-783-7067 or visit www.aging.pa.gov/insurance.
LIHEAP Opens Today
Starting today, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services is accepting applications for this season’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The program helps low income families pay their heating bills. You can apply and check the status of your application on the state’s COMPASS website. You can also pick up an application in my district offices or download one yourself from the DHS LIHEAP website. Completed paper applications should be returned to the Allegheny County Assistance Office, 5947 Penn Avenue, 4th Floor, Pittsburgh, PA, 15206.
Funding for LIHEAP is provided by the federal government and eligibility is based on the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines. The income limits for this season are as follows:
After your application is received you will receive a written notice explaining your eligibility and the amount of assistance you will receive. Payments are generally sent directly to a utility company or fuel provider and will be credited to your heating account. Crisis grants may also be available if you have an emergency situation and are in jeopardy of losing your heat. For more information, please contact the LIHEAP hotline at 1-866-857-7095.
OASIS Seeking Older Adults to Serve as Tutors
OASIS Intergenerational Tutoring Program is seeking volunteers ages 50 and over to tutor students in grades K-4 in the Pittsburgh Public School District. An upcoming two-day training class will be held
Wednesday, Nov. 16 and Friday, Nov. 18 from 9:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. at OASIS, located at 411 Seventh Avenue, Suite 525 in downtown Pittsburgh.
No teaching experience is required to participate in this program and all training, materials, and clearances will be provided free of charge. For more information on the OASIS Intergenerational Tutoring Program or to register, please contact John D. Spehar, Pittsburgh OASIS Tutoring Program Director at 412-393-7648 or email@example.com. The program is operated in partnership with the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S. high school graduation rate in 2014-15 was 83.2 percent, the highest percentage on record.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana
| Brookline District
932 Brookline Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Weekdays – 9 am – 5 pm
543 Main Capitol
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Weekdays – 8:30 am – 5 pm
524 Pine Hollow Road
Weekdays – 10 am – 4 pm
| Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
Tuesdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|Northside (Mobile Office)
1230 Federal Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Wednesdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|Lawrenceville (Mobile Office)
279 Fisk Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15201
Thursdays - 11 am - 4 pm