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Local News

Transportation funding and eviction reform pass the Pa. House in first session week of 2024

The Pennsylvania House chamber. (Credit: Capital-Star photo by Peter Hall)

John Cole, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
March 22, 2024

In its first session week of 2024, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed bills on transportation funding, eviction reform, and tuition savings accounts. The bills now advance to the state Senate, but not all will cross the finish line. 

Here’s a quick look at the bills passed by the House this week:

Senate Bill 654

A bill that would increase funding for mass transit passed the House. Democrats lauded the effort to increase the revenue from sales tax towards investing in systems like SEPTA in Philadelphia and PRT in Allegheny County as a way to continually boost local economies across the commonwealth without riders seeing significant hikes in fees.

“If we don’t get this funding across the finish line, SEPTA is going to have to announce historic cuts that are going to impact our constituents this year,” state Rep. Jen O’Mara (D-Delaware) said.

O’Mara, who is chairperson of the House Democratic Caucus’ southeast delegation, emphasized that the effort would not raise taxes adding that investing in SEPTA will help the rest of the state thrive, since the Philadelphia region is an economic driver for the entire commonwealth.

Republicans who spoke out against the bill largely took issue with the increase in funding being tied to the increased share in sales tax as well as the process in which Democrats in the appropriations committee amended the bill to alter its initial focus. 

Senate Bill 654 was originally introduced as legislation to allow landowners to depreciate well values, which Rep. Seth Grove (R-York), called a “very pro-fracking bill.”

Grove said the bill as amended was a “mass transit bailout.” House Minority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) cited concerns about crime and a decrease in ridership on mass transit.

“It is clear this legislation is being positioned for further budget discussions and negotiations. I understand the need to have a starting place to have negotiations, I honestly do,” Cutler said. 

GOP Reps. Joe Hogan, Tom Mehaffie, KC Tomlinson, Dane Watro, and Martina White joined every Democrat, with the exception of state Rep. Frank Burns (D-Cambria), in supporting the bill on final passage. 

The legislation passed 106-95

House Bill 843

House Bill 843 would create a second PA Task Force Urban Search & Rescue team, based in Allegheny County to provide coverage to western Pennsylvania. The eastern region of the state already has such a task force. 

“This is a good day for Pennsylvania,” said state Rep. Natalie Mihalek (R-Allegheny), a co-sponsor of the legislation. “This is a really good day for western Pennsylvania.”

The bill was prompted by the collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge in Pittsburgh and the several hours it took crews from the eastern region of the state to arrive on scene.

“And while we are definitely looking to build out the capacity in western PA, the reality of it is, is that it is a system improvement statewide,” state Rep. Dan Miller (D-Allegheny), a co-sponsor of the legislation said. “So while we build out capacity in western PA, that capacity will help out eastern PA.” 

This bill passed the House unanimously on Wednesday, 201-0

House Bill 287

A bill House Democrats describe as “common sense eviction reform” passed the state House on Wednesday. 

State Rep. Rick Krajewski (D-Philadelphia), a sponsor of the bill, said that Philadelphia is the only county in the state that relies on a private entity to enforce most of its evictions. 

He cited multiple shootings in Philadelphia in 2023 that occurred during the eviction process. The legislation would create an eviction advisory board to provide oversight and accountability to evictions in Philadelphia, require a behavioral health professional to be available during an eviction lockout, and ensure that the proper date and time is given to a tenant prior to an eviction, with the goal of preventing “surprise lockouts that are a higher risk of violent confrontation,” Krajewski said.

“It’s become clear that it is time for a significant overhaul of our eviction process in Philadelphia,” Krajewski said, “to ensure in the course of an eviction process is also balanced with dignity, humanity and compassion.” 

A co-sponsorship memo lists the statewide standards to also include “comprehensive eviction proceeding training,” and “public accountability and transparency,” for the bill.

The legislation passed along party lines, 102-99

House Bill 1745

This bipartisan bill which would create a tax credit for employer contributions to 529 tuition savings accounts passed the state House unanimously, 201-0 on Wednesday.

State Reps. Paul Friel (D-Chester) and Kristin Marcell (R-Bucks), both former school board members, said the legislation would address affordability of higher education in the state and contributes to building a more skilled and educated workforce.

House Bill 1399

This legislation, which would require law enforcement officers to have their identification badges visible at all times, passed the House unanimously 201-0, on Wednesday.  

co-sponsorship memo from state Rep. Donna Bullock (D-Philadelphia) states that the legislation would allow Pennsylvanians to identify officers that may be engaging in “unethical or illegal behavior, keeping their communities safe.” The bill doesn’t address how or if the law would apply to law enforcement officers working undercover.

The Pennsylvania House will return to session on Monday, while the Senate’s next scheduled session is April 8.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.