By Rep. Anita Kulik
The Pennsylvania State House and Senate both met in session the week of June 5 and passed various pieces of legislation, including bills dealing with the state budget.
An appropriations bill passed on party lines, this being one of the first steps toward a final budget. This bill makes state and federal appropriations for the three branches of the government for the 2023-2024 fiscal year. Again, this is merely an early step in the budget process. Next, the bill will be sent to the senate and then will go back and forth between the house, senate and administration until a final budget can be presented that will pass both the House and Senate.
House Bill 689 passed with significant bipartisan support. Often people with past criminal offenses who have not committed any further crimes have trouble getting employment because of their past offenses. As a lawyer, I dealt with many people who faced job, and other, limitations due to a criminal record.
I have advocated for various “clean slate” proposals, to help those who may have made a mistake. HB 689 will increase the opportunity for someone to obtain a “clean slate” under certain limited circumstances.
The train derailment in East Palestine Ohio caused great concern here in Pennsylvania, especially in the Beaver County area. I was concerned, in particular, because this was so close to the 45th District. The potential for this kind of disaster exists across the commonwealth, but especially in the towns that make up our district. Every municipality in our district has railroad crossings, with some tracks cutting through the hearts of the towns. I grew up directly across the street from a rail line, and often hear the whistles as trains pass through and by Coraopolis, McKees Rocks, and other local communities.
After the Ohio accident, and after meeting with residents in Beaver County, I, along with many of my colleagues from the area, began discussions on what can be done from a legislative perspective to protect residents. There are limited things any state can do as far as railroad regulation, as this part of the legislative world is governed principally by the federal government.
However, in light of the many derailments that have taken place over the past several months, more and more state legislatures are calling for action and looking into ways that they can regulate railroads to help prevent disasters in our communities.
House Bill 1028 passed the house with bipartisan support, looking to impose safety regulations on railroads as they pass through our towns. The bill proposes to do many things, including limiting the length of trains, prohibiting trains from blocking a crossing for emergency vehicles for more than five minutes, and creating safe staffing levels of trains and light engines.
The bill will also require PennDOT and the Public Utilities Commission to examine current state and federal laws regarding the transportation of hazardous materials and waste by rail. They would be directed to make recommendations on how to strengthen the state’s safety requirements, and to suggest appropriate enhancements to civil and criminal penalties for the transport of hazardous materials and the mishandling of such.
Taxpayer relief act
The Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program is vital to so many of our seniors, both homeowners and renters alike. Eligible income limits for the program have not been increased in a very long time, leaving too many ineligible for relief, sometimes by only a few dollars of income.
House Bill 1100 passed with significant bipartisan support to amend the Taxpayer Relief Act to expand the PTRR Program. The income limit for homeowners and renters would be raised to $45,000. The revised rebate schedule would go from $380 to a maximum of $1,000 depending on income level. The bill would also provide for an annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).
Each of these bills will be sent to the senate for action there. Nothing is final until passed by the house and senate and then signed by the governor. I hope that these bills will become law, as each is designed to benefit the citizens of the commonwealth.