News from the Pennsylvania General Assembly from Thursday, July 3, 2008:
INSURANCE COMMISSIONER: The Senate unanimously approved Joel S. Ario to become Pennsylvania's insurance commissioner, a year after Gov. Ed Rendell first nominated the former chief insurance regulator in Oregon. Ario's nomination has been held up, amid numerous partisan disputes over insurance between the Senate Republican majority and Rendell, a Democrat. The nomination was Rendell's longest battle with the Senate over a cabinet-level job. As the acting commissioner, Ario has been studying whether to allow a merger to go forward between Independence Blue Cross of Philadelphia and Highmark Inc. of Pittsburgh, the state's two largest health insurers.
KEYSTONE OPPORTUNITY ZONES: The Senate voted 49-1 to approve House amendments to a bill to reauthorize Pennsylvania's Keystone Opportunity Zone program, which is geared to foster business development in certain designated zones where taxes are reduced. Under the bill, extensions would be granted to vacant parcels in existing zones, and provisions would be allowed to add territory to zones. Sen. Christine M. Tartaglione, D-Philadelphia, said the updates were important to a pending deal for the financial firm BlackRock Inc. to establish a major office in the proposed Cira South office building in downtown Philadelphia. The bill goes to Rendell. (Senate Bill 1412)
GREENHOUSE GASES: The House approved a bill, 176-24, that is designed to find out how much Pennsylvania contributes to global warming. Under the bill, the state Department of Environmental Protection each year must catalog the sources and amounts of greenhouse gases, which most scientists believe contribute to a warming global climate. Within 15 months of becoming law, the DEP would have to begin producing reports that study cost-effective strategies for reducing or neutralizing greenhouse gases. Rendell's office said he will sign the bill. (Senate Bill 266)
HEALTH CARE DISPUTE: The Senate approved a bill 48-2 to allow the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council to operate until Jan. 1, 2013, and extend a state subsidy that helps doctors and other medical professionals pay for malpractice insurance. Rendell has said he would veto the bill because he wants to tap a surplus in the malpractice insurance subsidy to help finance his plan to expand the state-subsidized health insurance program. Because of the continuing political stalemate, the council has shut down and medical professionals are paying the full cost of their malpractice insurance. The bill now goes to the House. (House Bill 2648)
DOG LAW: The Rendell administration said it was unhappy that the Legislature apparently will not take up legislation to impose new standards for commercial breeding kennels before its two-month summer recess. Jessie Smith, the state's dog law enforcement official, said in a release that "every day that goes by without action on (the bill) only prolongs the suffering of dogs." A state Agriculture Department Web site that makes the case for the Dog Law changes is at www.doglawaction.com. (House Bill 2525)
MINE SAFETY: Rendell plans to sign a bill to improve safety in Pennsylvania's 200 bituminous coal mines on Monday afternoon at the Robina miners' memorial in Carmichaels, Greene County. The law, spawned by the rescue of nine miners from the flooded Quecreek Mine in 2002, represents the first major rewrite of the state's mining law in nearly 50 years.
QUOTEWORTHY: "We need to have a fairer process, and the process we have in place is not fair." -- Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair, speaking on the Senate floor in support of forcing all museums to compete for state grants, instead of using a long-held practice of allowing some museums to receive a special noncompetitive state grant.
LOOKING AHEAD: The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission will hold hearings on a proposed electricity transmission line in Bucks and Lehigh counties on July 14 and July 17.
IN FACT: During the "Late Woodland" period in Pennsylvania from 800 to 1550 A.D., Native Americans farmed and most established stockaded villages. Pottery styles were elaborate and the bow and arrow was widely used as a weapon.