Senate Votes to Keep PSU Fine In-state

With a unanimous vote, the state Senate has advanced legislation that would require Penn State’s $60-million dollar fine to be spent here in Pennsylvania.  Currently, up to 75% could be distributed to fund sexual abuse programs in other states

Senator Jake Corman (R-Centre) addressed the chamber before today’s vote:SB187

The first $12-million dollar installment is sitting in an escrow account, and has not been dispersed pending a lawsuit that Corman has filed. 

Governor Tom Corbett has filed his own lawsuit seeking to overturn all of the NCAA sanctions, but he tells us Penn State should still honor the fine by funding sexual abuse prevention programs & victims services within the commonwealth’s borders. 

Corman’s bill (SB 187) would also apply to future governing association fine levied on PA colleges & universities.  The House must take up Corman’s bill before it can be sent to the governor’s desk. 

Meanwhile, as the Senate was voting today, Judge John Cleland issued an order denying Jerry Sandusky’s post-sentencing motions.  The ex-assistant football coach is currently serving 30 – 60-years in prison for the sexual abuse of ten boys.

House Majority Proposes Charter, Cyber Charter Funding Changes

The cyber school funding formula is at the center of the latest charter school debate in Harrisburg.  House Republicans unveiled a package of bills on Friday, which would allow school districts to make four additional deductions when calculating payments to cyber charter schools. 

“Our children are being treated as second-class citizens in the education world, and it’s not fair,” says PA Families for Public Cyber Schools Executive Director Jenny Bradmon.  On average, she says charter schools are already receiving just 70% of what it costs a school district to educate a child. 

But state Rep. Mike Reese (R-Westmoreland/Fayette) says it’s not about picking winners and losers.  “This is about making sure that there’s equitable funding for both brick-and-mortar public schools and our cyber schools in Pennsylvania,” he tells Radio PA.

“I believe cyber schools play a very important role in our education system, no doubt about that, but I think we have a responsibility to the taxpayers of Pennsylvania to make sure that their tax dollars are being spent wisely.” 

Among other things, Reese’s legislation would allow school districts to deduct 50% of the cost of extra-curricular activities and 100% of the cost of things like student health, food and library services. These are costs borne by a district’s taxpayers, but services that are not necessarily offered by the cyber schools.    

There are parts of the House GOP package that charter school advocates do support.  For instance, one provision would call for the state to fund charters directly in order to ensure timely payments.  Another would allow for longer charter terms, which would allow the schools to obtain better financing for their own capital projects. 

But Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools Executive Director Bob Fayfich says the so-called cyber funding reforms are arbitrary.  “They’re based not on what the cost is for a high-quality cyber education… but rather an arbitrary percentage of costs associated with the expenses of the district.” 

House Republicans call their bills a “starting point” for discussions with all interested parties. 

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) and Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) have each released statements referring to the Republican package as a positive step toward meaningful charter school reform. 

More than 105,000 Pennsylvania students are currently enrolled in 157-charter schools and 16-cyber charter schools.  The statewide average for non-special education charter school payments is just over $9,400 per student.

Merit Selection Would End Statewide Judicial Elections

The latest push for the merit selection of Pennsylvania judges comes as suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin stands trial on a series of campaign corruption charges.  “[Melvin’s trial] should be Exhibit A on why we need a system of choosing judges that doesn’t involve partisan campaign practices and judicial fundraising,” Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts Executive Director Lynn Marks tells Radio PA.  “It’s a very timely illustration.” 

Senator Anthony Williams, a Philadelphia Democrat, was introducing his latest merit selection bill just as the jurors were being picked for Melvin’s Allegheny County trial.  “I’ve filed a merit selection bill under a Democratic governor and I’m filing one under a Republican one.  This isn’t a matter of partisanship.  It’s about ensuring integrity on the bench,” Williams said in a statement.     

Under the merit selection bill, appellate court judges (Commonwealth, Superior, Supreme) would be nominated by the governor from a pool of candidates that have been pre-selected by an independent, bipartisan commission.  The governor’s selection would then be subject to the Senate confirmation process. 

“It doesn’t make sense to have people campaign in a totally partisan process, while at the same time they’re pledging to be non-partisan after Election Day,” says Marks. 

While critics say this sort of reform plan is more ‘political appointment’ than merit selection, Marks stresses that it takes the money out of the process.  She’s not naive enough to say it’s going to get rid of all the politics, but Marks calls merit selection a vast improvement over the current system.  

Merit selection would require a constitutional amendment, which means Williams’ bill would need to pass the General Assembly in two consecutive sessions before it could be put to the voters for ratification.

Florida Child Death Case Leads to More Proposed Legislation in Pennsylvania

The Caylee Anthony case in Florida has sparked legislation in a number of states.   The little girl was missing for a month before her disappearance was reported and she was later found dead.

State Representatives Justin Simmons and Tarah Toohill want to toughen penalties for concealing the death of a child and making false reports to police. Representative Simmons (R-Lehigh/Northampton) would make concealing the death of a child a third degree felony and increase the penalty.  House Bill 1842 would apply to natural parents, step parents, adoptive parents, guardians or custodian of a child. He says this provision would close a loophole in the current law.

Representative Toohil (R-Luzerne) has introduced a companion measure, House Bill 1841, aimed at those who make false statements to police. Casey Anthony, Caylee’s mother, was convicted of lying to police, a misdemeanor in Florida and Pennsylvania.  Toohil’s bill increases it to a third degree felony.

Rep Toohil was asked if Pennsylvania has had cases similar to Caylee Anthony’s. She was not aware of any, but added they need to prevent these types of situations from occurring.  She believes if the standards in Florida were stricter, there would have been consequences in the Anthony case.

State Senator Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia) has proposed similar legislation regarding concealing the death of a child.

Bill Would Regulate Non-farm Fertilizer to Improve Water Quality

A state senator who also chairs the Chesapeake Bay Commission has introduced a bill to set limits on non-farm fertilizers in Pennsylvania.    Senator Mike Brubaker’s (R-Lanc) bill would require all professional fertilizer applicators to be certified, setting limits on applications to lawns, golf courses and athletic fields.

Brubaker says the science is perfectly clear, that when you apply the appropriate amount of fertilizer to commercial lawns and residential lawns, then water quality is improved. The goal is to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous in the water and ultimately the Bay.  He says similar legislation has already been enacted in Maryland and New Jersey.

He says people’s fertilization habits don’t need to change if a soil test shows the turf needs nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. He says SB 1191 is aimed at getting the correct amount applied.

Senator Brubaker says they have been working with the professional lawn care industry in drafting the bill and they’re getting input from golf courses as well.

He says Pennsylvania and other states in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed are under a federal court mandate to reduce the levels of pollution getting into the bay. He believes regulatory changes need to occur in some cases in order to allow the state to meet those limits.

Brubaker says they have to address how turf grass is fertilized, because the number one land use in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is turf grass, including cemeteries, residential lawns, commercial lawns, golf courses and football fields.

The bill would not apply to farmers, who have been under nutrient management law for decades. It would also not apply to homeowners who are using fertilizer on their lawns.  Senator Brubaker says they will attempt to deal with those residential applications through education.

State Senator Working on “Caylee’s Law”

The Casey Anthony trial is sparking a legislative effort in Pennsylvania. State Senator Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia) plans to introduce “Caylee’s Law”, named after the Florida  girl who was missing a month before her disappearance was reported. The 2-year-old was later found dead.

Concealing the death of a child is only a first degree misdemeanor in Pennsylvania right now.  Senator Farnese wants to change that to a third degree felony. The current penalty is a maximum of 5 years in jail and a $10,000 fine. Raising the degree of the charge would increase the maximum sentence to 7 years and the fine to $15,000. Farnese says he was surprised to see concealing the death of a child is currently a minor offense in Pennsylvania.

Farnese also wants to add a new offense, neglecting to report a missing child, making it a first degree misdemeanor. He says they would want to consider the state of mind and the intent of a potential defendant.

He believes the state needs to move quickly in addressing this issue.  Farnese  hopes Congress will consider getting a national law on the books to make sure this never happens again. He says regardless of the jury’s verdict in the Anthony trial on the murder charges, most people agree the mother’s conduct following her child’s disappearance was shocking and reprehensible. He says we have to address the fact there’s nothing on the books right now to protect the children.

Casey Anthony was charged in the death of daughter, Caylee, but acquitted by a Florida jury of all charges except four counts of lying to authorities.