|Budget Hearings Continue to Form Basis for Upcoming Negotiations
The second full week of budget hearings wrapped up on Thursday, with my colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee and me asking agency and department officials a variety of questions about executive functions, programs and efficiencies. These questions, along with submitted written testimony, will serve as the foundation for budget negotiations this spring.
Appearing this week were the departments of Environmental Protection, Agriculture, Corrections, General Services, Health, Drug and Alcohol Programs, and Military and Veterans Affairs, along with the Liquor Control Board and the Office of Attorney General.
On the agenda for the third and final week of budget hearings are full days for the departments of Education and Human Services, along with the Pennsylvania State Police, Office of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General, and Gaming Control Board. The final day will feature Budget Secretary Randy Albright.
The hearings can be viewed live at PAHouseGOP.com, with archived videos posted within 24 hours of the hearing.
Committee Takes Look at School Preparedness
The issue of school safety and security, especially the prevention and handling of active shooters and other emergency situations, was one of the discussion topics at a meeting of the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee this week.
In Pennsylvania, schools are required to have an emergency plan, but that may or may not cover active shooter situations. Under Act 55 of 2017, schools are encouraged to conduct at least one security drill per school year in each school building. The security drills may be used in place of one of the school’s monthly fire drills.
In further discussion on this serious nationwide issue, the House Education Committee will hold a day-long hearing on March 15 to examine further prevention methods.
Challenges Within the Dairy Industry
Members of the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee this week met with state Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding and other leaders about the challenges facing the dairy industry and efforts to overcome them.
A major focus of the discussion was an ongoing study of the industry, commissioned by the department and the Center for Dairy Excellence, which has indicated investing in additional dairy processing capacity in the Commonwealth could generate as much as $34.7 million annually in combined revenue generation and cost savings. Information about the study is available here.
Other suggestions for improvement included capitalizing on branding and marketing opportunities, improving regulatory processes and the business climate, broadening workforce development and education opportunities, and investing in broadband infrastructure.
More than a third of the state’s agriculture revenues come from the dairy industry; however, many of these mostly family-owned farms are struggling because of an oversupply of fluid milk in the market and persistently low prices. Other challenges discussed in the meeting include regulatory issues and permit delays.
Resources to Help with Problem Gambling
With March being observed as National Problem Gambling Awareness Month, officials from the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and the Pennsylvania Lottery discussed the warning signs of problem gambling and highlighted available resources to help with a gambling addiction.
In the Commonwealth, the Council on Compulsive Gambling of Pennsylvania works to educate Pennsylvanians on compulsive and problem gambling to prevent development of dangerous gambling habits. It operates the Pennsylvania Problem Gambling helpline, 1-800-GAMBLER (1-800-426-2537). More resources, including a 24-hour chat service, are also available at pacouncil.com.
For more information on how to recognize the warning signs of a gambling problem and to find treatment options around Pennsylvania, visit ddap.pa.gov or paproblemgambling.com or call 1-877-565-2112 to reach the state’s problem gambling helpline.