Advocates Hope Legislation Can Sound the Alarm on a Silent Killer

Advocates hope legislation can sound the alarm on a silent killer — carbon monoxide (CO). SB920 would require that most homes be equipped with CO alarms at the time of sale. It would also mandate CO alarms in most multifamily homes and apartment units within one year, if it becomes law. CDC statistics show that from 2000 – 2006 about 600 Pennsylvanians died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Executive director of the Pennsylvania Fire & Emergency Services Institute, Don Konkle, adds that CO alarms only cost $20 – 40-bucks. “We think it is a very cheap price to reduce those deaths.”

The prime sponsor Patrick Browne (R-Northampton) recently addressed a Pennsylvania Safe Homes Coalition rally, and shared the story of three people in his district who were hospitalized last month, because they were unaware that a space heater was seeping the deadly gas. Konkle tells us CO is called a ‘silent killer’ because it is colorless, odorless and builds up over time. Specifically, SB920 would apply to homes with fossil fuel-burning heaters or appliances, a fireplace, or an attached garage. It’s been referred to the Urban Affairs and Housing Committee.


Capitol Building

State House Republicans’ Budget Bill is Positioned for Debate

State House Republicans’ budget bill is positioned for floor debate the week of May 23rd. Like the plan laid out by Governor Tom Corbett in March, the House GOP budget would spend $27.3-billion dollars and raise no new taxes. Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) says the goal is to have “an on-time, no-tax increase budget” that prioritizes spending within the framework of the governor’s blueprint.

House Republicans have restored $210-million dollars to basic education line items and about $380-million dollars to higher education funding, when compared to Governor Corbett’s proposed cuts. They plan to find the money primarily through targeting a 4% error rate in public welfare programs; it’s a rate they call “conservative.” Rep. Turzai feels confident that they can find $470-million dollars in Department of Public Welfare (DPW) savings. In fact, Turzai suggests it may be the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to waste, fraud and abuse.

Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee approved the GOP-backed budget plan — along party lines — after nearly three hours of debate. Around that same time, a Senate committee was holding its confirmation hearing with Governor Corbett’s nominee for DPW Secretary. In that hearing, Senators asked Acting Secretary Gary Alexander if the projected savings were viable. Alexander says, “there’s definitely savings. I don’t know if its $400-million at this point. It could be a lot more, it could be less.” He also suggested it will take time to thoroughly review the entire department.

What’s not included in House Republicans’ budget is use of the $500-million dollars in unanticipated tax revenues the state has collected fiscal year-to-date. Rep. Turzai notes that it’s not clear whether the economy will continue to grow, or whether the revenues will continue to come in. However, House Democrats are making this a big budget issue. Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny) says there is no rational reason for making Pennsylvania’s working and middle class families suffer, “when we can avoid much of the pain in this budget.”

The budget process is currently on pace to meet the June 30th deadline. If the budget bill passed the House during the week of the 23rd, it could set the stage for negotiations with the Senate and Governor Corbett’s office after Memorial Day.

Texting While Driving

Status of Texting/Cell Phone Bans in the PA Legislature

The State House and Senate are each positioning distracted driving bills to ban the use of handheld cell phones and texting while driving. But, the key difference is enforcement. State Rep. Josh Shapiro (D-Montgomery) tells us that making it a primary offense will help to stop accidents from occurring in the first place, instead of just punishing drivers after the fact. A similar Senate bill would make this type of distracted driving a secondary offense – similar to PA’s seatbelt law. At this week’s Senate Transportation Committee meeting, State Senator John Wozniak (D-Cambria) said we can always ratchet up the law, but it’s difficult to ratchet it down.

Rep. Shapiro knows this enforcement issue will be the key battle when it comes down to negotiations between the House and Senate. HB8 was amended Wednesday evening, and could see final House votes later this month. SB314 was amended in committee, and now heads to the full Senate for consideration. The Senate Transportation Committee also advanced a contingency plan of sorts; SB635 would apply the distracted driving language only to junior drivers.

Tom Corbett

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Due to Governor Corbett’s recent back surgery, “Ask the Governor” on will debut in June. You may submit your question for the governor now, and be sure to check back in June to see if your question makes it on air. Due to the high number of emails, not every question can be addressed on air. Check back often for updates on the governor’s scheduled appearances on