Capitol Report

Executive and Legislative Action for Week of Feb. 10, 2014

, The Legal Intelligencer

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Harrisburg Capitol Building

Following is a listing of executive, legislative and judiciary action for the week of Feb. 10. Members of the General Assembly are set to return to session March 10.

Alternative Energy Requirements

Legislation has been introduced in the state House of Representatives to repeal Pennsylvania's Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act.

The sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Tommy Sankey, R-Clearfield, said: "My overlying concern is for the Pennsylvania consumer whose wallet is taking a double hit—first when your electric bill goes up an anticipated 12 percent to 15 percent, and second through the grants that are offered as incentives to promote use of alternative energy. Wind and solar power are honorable endeavors that are unfortunately too cost-prohibitive to be relied upon heavily."

The act requires utilities to obtain 18 percent of their power generation from nontraditional resources by the year 2021.

Criminal justice reforms

Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille has been asked by the U.S. Department of Justice to serve as part of an eight-member expert workgroup, formed by the National Institute of Justice, according to a statement from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.

The workgroup, consisting of jurists, prosecutors, defense attorneys, jail administrators, court administrators and court technology staff from around the country, plans to review Pennsylvania's experience to develop protocols in state and local courts for post-arraignment release hearings to maximize the return on investment in videoconferencing and reduce jail detention or overcrowding.

Based on a 2011 survey, Pennsylvania's courts conduct approximately 15,000 proceedings via videoconferencing each month. Approximately 62 percent of these proceedings are preliminary arraignments; others include warrant proceedings and bail and sentencing hearings. Videoconferences are conducted with defendants located in state correctional institutions, county and local prisons, booking centers and Pennsylvania State Police stations. The practice is estimated to save $21 million annually in prisoner transportation costs by eliminating an estimated $73 to transport a defendant from a local facility and an estimated $588 to transport a defendant from a state correctional institution.

Liquid fuels payments

Gov. Tom Corbett has announced that Pennsylvania's new transportation plan will allow PennDOT to distribute $345 million in liquid fuels payments to certified municipalities on March 3 to help them maintain their roads and bridges.

The allocation is $25.1 million more than the 2013 figure, roughly an 8 percent increase.

"This investment helps our towns meet the tough challenge of maintaining municipality-owned roads and bridges," Corbett said in a statement. "Because of the new transportation plan that I signed into law, Pennsylvania will be able to increase these resources in coming years, which could provide some relief to local taxpayers from these costs."

Liquid fuels allocations are annual payments to municipalities to help pay for highway- and bridge-related expenses such as snow removal and road repaving. There are 119,847 miles of public roads in Pennsylvania, with 77,889 of those miles owned by municipalities and eligible for liquid fuels. The formula for payments is based on a municipality's population and miles of locally owned roads.

Keystone communities grant

Corbett has announced that the city of Erie will receive $425,000 in Keystone Communities grants to develop a strategic plan for future growth and make downtown improvements to drive visitors and new development to the city.

"Every city is the heart of a region, and as a city is stronger, so too is that region," Corbett said in a statement "This partnership with Erie will help revive the city's downtown and attract new growth throughout the Northwest."

The Department of Community and Economic Development has awarded Erie three grants through the Keystone Communities program, including a $50,000 façade grant, a $25,000 planning grant and a $350,000 operational and residential reinvestment grant.

In its statement, the Corbett administration said the program will provide funding for façade improvements to Erie's Downtown Improvement District, including preservation of historic commercial buildings and bringing substandard exterior improvements into compliance.

Other downtown improvements, according to the statement, will include sidewalk replacement, residential façades, roof repair and gutter replacements, park and streetscape improvements, home security systems, emergency home repairs and residential property code deficiency remediation.

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