Radio Pennsylvania Roundtable – November 21, 2014

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, a recap and reaction to President Obama’s immigration action; how Pennsylvania is helping Buffalo dig out from an historic snowfall; and a Pennsylvania Congressman speaks out against the NCAA.

Radio PA Roundtable is a 30-minute program featuring in-depth reporting, commentary and analysis on the top news stories of the week.

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:

Sen. Casey Talks Immigration, Guns & Jobs

As a busy week in Washington DC began winding down, Radio PA caught up with Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) for a wide-ranging interview.  Fresh off of a briefing on an 844-page immigration bill, Casey said he believes an immigration overhaul is highly likely this year.  “I wouldn’t have said that six months ago,” Casey explained.  “If you would have asked me six months ago, I would have said that immigration reform is years away not months away.” 

Bob Casey Jr.

Bob Casey Jr.

A bipartisan group of four Democrats and four Republicans has crafted a plan that would both create a path to citizenship for some of the 11-million people in the country illegally, and significantly beef up security along the Mexican border. 

But just because a piece of legislation is a bipartisan compromise, that doesn’t guarantee passage.  Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) spearheaded the bipartisan compromise on expanded background checks for gun sales, which failed in the Senate this week. 

Senator Casey was among the 54-supporters, but the amendment needed 60-votes to advance.  “It was a bad day for the Senate and I think a bad day for the country,” Casey says, “but it doesn’t mean we’re going to give up and it doesn’t mean that the American people will in any way be satisfied with just one day’s worth of voting and then we move on for another decade.”

Casey’s views on gun legislation have shifted since December’s tragedy in Newtown Connecticut.  In addition to expanded background checks, he’d like to see federal bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.

With so many issues before Congress these days, Casey stresses that he doesn’t want to lose sight of the jobs issue.  Along those lines, he’s pushing an extended tax break that he hopes will help the restaurant industry grow its payrolls.  The bipartisan bill would permanently extend the 15-year tax depreciation period for restaurants’ construction and renovation projects.  The tax break used to be spread out over 39-years.  “The only problem is that – if we don’t pass my bill – it will revert back to 39-years, which doesn’t provide the right kind of incentive you would want for a restaurant to grow and expand.”

The restaurant industry has a $17-billion dollar economic impact in Pennsylvania and employees 500,000 people statewide.

High-Profile Immigration Bill Reaches House Floor

Designed to keep public dollars out of the hands of illegal immigrants, SB 9 would require proof of citizenship before individuals can receive state welfare benefits.  Democrats on the House State Government Committee complained that it was drafted on anecdotes, not facts. 

Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) questioned Chairman Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) on whether there are any cost studies to justify the bill.  “My answer is we are spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on illegal aliens in Pennsylvania, and we should stop spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on illegal aliens,” Metcalfe shot back.  Metcalfe estimates there are 140,000 illegal immigrants currently living in the Keystone State. 

Committee debate got even more heated, Tuesday, when several Democratic members described the bill as “xenophobic.”  Metcalfe cut-off Democratic Chair Babette Josephs mid-sentence: “Representative Josephs, you’re out of order in using that term,” he chided. 

The committee amended and advanced SB 9 via a party line vote, with all Republicans voting for it.  The so-called ‘Proof of Citizenship for Receipt of Public Benefits Act’ passed the Senate (40 – 9) earlier this year, with some Democratic support.  It’s now poised for state House action.

First of 15 Immigration Bills Passes Committee

It took an hour for the House State Government Committee to advance the first piece of the National Security Begins at Home legislative package, via a party line vote.  The legislation (HB 439) would revoke the professional license of an employer who knowingly hires illegal immigrants.  “If you can hold somebody who has a professional license accountable to not employing illegal aliens,” State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe said after the meeting, “Then you start to shutdown some of that attractiveness of a professional licensee to undercut his competitor by hiring an illegal alien workforce.” 

Metcalfe, the committee’s Republican chair, tells us he doesn’t expect all 15 bills to move this fall, but he is working with the Senate in efforts to get as many as possible to the governor’s desk.  “This package of legislation seeks to shut down any attraction that might be in Pennsylvania for an illegal alien to reside here; access to jobs, access to public benefits,” Metcalfe explains.   

Metcalfe may appear to have the Republican votes to pass the bills, but the committee’s Democrats aren’t rolling over.  Minority chair Babette Josephs has been extremely vocal about the bills that she calls anti-immigrant.  “We’re in the position of scaring away the fastest growing minority in this country, which is Latino voters,” Josephs says.  “This is wrong.”

Another committee meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, when another of the 15-bills may be brought up for a vote.  For now, Metcalfe says he’s taking the process one step at a time.

Controversial Bills Get 2 Days of Capitol Hearings

15-bills are up for discussion before the state House State Government Committee, most of which are included in a package called “National Security Begins at Home.”  The bills range from authorizing local police officers to conduct Arizona-style enforcement, to requiring government-issued ID to receive public benefits, to barring babies born to illegal immigrants in PA from automatic citizenship status. 

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) testified that this is a states issue too, and government can’t pick and choose which laws to enforce.  “They might be the nicest person in the world, looking for work, however we’ve got lawbreaking that starts here,” says FAIR’s Robert Najmulski.

Illegal Immigration Issues

Members and supporters of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition rallied ahead of this week's committee hearings.

But the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition (PICC) contends that the bills being discussed are fueled by fear, and detrimental to all Pennsylvanians.  “Their goal: attrition through enforcement will weaken our commonwealth, which relies on immigrant workers and employers to keep our economy strong,” says PICC executive director Brian Baldia.  He spoke in the capitol rotunda, as critics lamented that the committee’s agenda was lob sided in favor of the bills’ supporters. 

Inside the hearing room, Chairman Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) defended his references to Pennsylvania’s “illegal alien” invasion.  “Personally, I take offense when somebody calls a foreign national who is here illegally an immigrant.  My wife is an immigrant.  My wife immigrated here legally.” 

Both sides of the debate are talking dollars and cents.  FAIR testified that taxpayers’ bill for illegal immigrant amounts to $1.3-billion dollars a year.  “That is broken down through education, Medicaid, criminal justice system, welfare and other benefits,” Najmulski says.  But, the ACLU of Pennsylvania contends that study can be debunked.  Legislative director Andy Hoover says most of the so-called cost is for the education of the children of undocumented immigrants, who are US citizens according to the Constitution.

“Two states that have passed these ‘papers please’ laws, these law enforcement bills, have lost hundreds of millions of dollars in business.  Arizona and Georgia have both seen economic disaster as a result of passing these laws,” Hoover adds.