State house passes pension reform

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The State House of Representatives agreed to state Senate changes to a State Employees Pension reform bill — changes that would share the cost of future increases with employees, soften some of the rate spikes in coming years and create an oversight commission on state spending.

Although House Democratic initially leaders balked at coming back for a lame duck session, pressure from Democratic rank and file members and well from from various state labor groups, including the teachers union — fearing more draconian pension cuts by Republicans in 2011, if the bill was defeated although further measures may be in the offing in 2011.

Gov. Ed Rendell is expected to sign the bill into law.

The changes should smooth out some of the expected increases of teacher pension costs for the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, improving the odds of minimizing or eliminating the need for staff layoffs in 2012 – depending on how negotiations on a new teachers’ contract go. Those negotiations resume today.

Hopes for changing the system for new hires to a defined contribution system from the current defined benefit system appear to have been shot down when state Sen. Dominic Pileggi, Senate Majority Leader — as well as Unionville’s local state senator — said there weren’t enough votes to support such a change, while arguing that the changes to the pension bill would save an additional $39 billion.

Other legislative notes:

Ross asks hunters to share the harvest

The Pennsylvania Game Commission and Rep. Chris Ross (R-Chester) invite area hunters to participate in the Hunters Sharing the Harvest (HSH) program.

Since 1991, the HSH program has coordinated the processing and distribution of donated wild game from hunters to Pennsylvanians in need.  An average-sized deer will provide enough highly-nutritious, low-cholesterol meat for 200 meals.

In an average hunting season, the HSH program will channel about 100,000 pounds of processed venison annually through the state’s 21 regional food banks, which then redistribute the meat to more than 3,000 local provider charities such as food pantries, missions, homeless shelters, Salvation Army facilities, and churches, in addition to families.

Hunters donating their harvest voluntarily pay a $15 tax-deductible fee toward each processed deer.  The remainder of the processing fee is covered through HSH sponsors and donations.

Anyone interested in donating venison to the HSH program should call 1-866-474-2141.

Information can also be found on Ross’s website at RepRoss.com under “Hunters Sharing the Harvest.”

Barrar calls for investigation into Black Panthers

Amidst reports that one of the same members of the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) accused of voter intimidation at a Philadelphia polling place during the 2008 elections was present at the same polling place during the Nov. 2, 2010, General Election, Rep. Stephen E. Barrar (R-Chester/Delaware) is renewing his calls for an investigation into the 2008 incident.
“The right to speak our minds in free and open elections is one of our core American principles,” said Barrar.  “I take these allegations of vote intimidation very seriously, and I will continue to pursue this issue because all voters should feel safe when entering the polls to exercise their right to vote.”
The 2008 incident, during which the aforementioned member of the NBPP wielded a nightstick and claimed to be “security,” was caught on tape.  There have not been any voter intimidation allegations resulting from the recent election, but Barrar believes the 2008 incident was never properly resolved.
Barrar’s House Resolution 982 calls on the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation to:
•    Review the acts of the U.S. Justice Department in the matter relating to voter intimidation by persons and groups, and especially by the NBPP.
•    Introduce legislation requiring U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez to investigate this matter and issue a report as to why the case was concluded.
•    Conduct a further investigation and audit of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department to establish whether its policies and procedures are race neutral.
•    Demand the Justice Department comply with subpoenas issued by the Commission on Civil Rights and continue the investigation, further exploring the statements made by attorney Christopher Coates during his testimony before Congress.
•    Urge the Justice Department to pursue all available civil and criminal remedies against all defendants in this matter to resolve the outstanding issues regarding this alleged act of voter intimidation.
The resolution is before the House State Government Committee.  Barrar noted he also intends to reintroduce the legislation next session when Republicans have control of the Pennsylvania House, Senate and governor’s office.

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