Rep. Bryan Cutler’s lobbyist disclosure bill signed into law after decade-long effort

HARRISBURG — Lobbyists who are paid to influence state lawmakers but don't disclose their work will face harsher penalties under a new law from southern Lancaster County Rep. Bryan Cutler and signed by Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday. The nearly 3,000 registered lobbyists in Pennsylvania will also be required to file their quarterly reports electronically, and the Department of State will have to make them public within a week. Wolf's signature on the bill marked the end of Cutler's decade-long effort to enact the changes. “It's been a long time coming," the Peach Bottom Republican and House majority whip said alongside the governor at the Capitol. Wolf, a Democrat who congratulated a smiling Cutler during the bill-signing ceremony, said the law will “help create a more open, honest and transparent government here in Harrisburg, one that is more accountable to the people." Specifically, the bill increases the daily penalties for not filing a lobbyist disclosure report by the quarterly deadline. Politics Fines for violating state lobbying law would double under Rep. Bryan Cutler's bill The fine currently is $50 per day. Under the new law, it will be $50 per day for the first 10 days, then rise to $100 per day from day 11 to day 20, and $200 per day after 20 days. The maximum penalty will be doubled from $2,000 to $4,000. But those numbers are also far less than what Cutler originally proposed when he first introduced the idea in the 2007-08 session. That bill would have increased per-day late fees to $250 and set the maximum at $10,000. He re-introduced the bill in every two-year session since and over time scaled back the penalties. Late-reporting violations have generally decreased in recent years. The Pennsylvania Ethics Commission handles the cases, and there were 31 in 2015 and 11 in 2016. Cutler said there were about 14 in 2017. Cutler said he hopes the new filing requirements will help strengthen constituents' belief in the Continue Reading

Pensions, drones, bump stocks: Highlights of bills Christie signs into law

From sweetening the pension of a South Jersey political ally to regulating drones, Gov. Chris Christie signed more than 100 bills ranging in consequence into law on Monday.About a week ago, in his final State of the State address, Christie admonished Democratic and Republican governors going back 35 years for their record on funding the pension system.Yet on his last full day in office, Christie signed into law a bill that increases the pension benefits for at least one of his longtime political allies, former Camden mayor Dana Redd, who starts as CEO of the Rowan-Rutgers–Camden board of governors on Tuesday. The post provides her with $275,000 salary.Christie also signed dozens of bills last week, including bipartisan legislation that promises $5 billion in tax credits for Amazon to build its second headquarters, known as HQ2, in Newark. The city previously promised an additional $2 billion in tax breaks for the technology giant.Here’s a quick rundown of the bills Christie signed into law on Monday:Pension sweetenerThe bill, S-3620, allows certain elected officials to re-enroll in the pension system they were kicked out of when they switched offices following the enactment of a 2007 law.The bill seems to benefit Redd, an ally of Christie and legislative leaders, whose pension was frozen when she was elected to the mayor’s office in 2010, after having served on the city council. She was forced to enroll in a less generous “defined contribution” system, similar to a 401(k).Drunk-droningUsing a drone with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent or more, the same as the legal limit for driving a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, is now a disorderly offense under the bill, S-3370, which Christie signed on Monday.Using a drone to “knowingly or intentionally” endanger someone’s life or property or to “take or assist in taking” wildlife is illegal under the new law. If someone uses a drone to Continue Reading

Gov. Kasich signs into law Down syndrome abortion ban in Ohio

The governor of Ohio and former presidential candidate John Kasich signed into law on Friday a controversial state bill that would ban abortions after a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome. The legislation, which cleared the GOP-led Legislature with some Republican opposition, makes it a crime for a doctor to end a pregnancy based on knowledge of Down syndrome, a genetic abnormality that causes developmental delays and medical conditions such as heart defects and respiratory and hearing problems. It makes performing an abortion in such cases a fourth-degree felony, which is punishable by up to 18 months in prison and requires the state medical board to revoke a convicted doctor's license. Pregnant women involved in such procedures won't be penalized. The law will go into effect in 90 days. Kasich, despite signing the bill, has mentioned in the past that he had concerns about the bill being unconstitutional, according to That led him to veto a separate bill in 2016, which proposed a ban on abortions done after six weeks of gestation. The anti-abortion group Ohio Right to Life said that the bill’s signing into law was a victory. "Now that the Down Syndrome Non-Discrimination Act is law, unborn babies prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome are given a shot at life" the group's president, Mike Gonidakis, said in a statement on Friday. Abortion rights groups in the state argued that the new law would be another blow to woman's constitutional right to legal abortion. Continue Reading

Two Queens historic sites may get protected status under new bill signed into law by President Obama

The National Park Service will look into whether two historic Queens sites should be federally protected, a bill signed into law by President Obama mandates. The measure, passed Dec. 19, requires the agency to study the John Bowne House and the Old Quaker Meeting House in Flushing to determine if the two locations merit designations as national parks. Both city-run sites are esteemed for their connection to the Flushing Remonstrance, the groundbreaking document signed in 1657 by English citizens, declaring the need for religious freedom. “The Flushing Remonstrance is a vital part of American history but few Americans and few New Yorkers know much about it,” said Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens), who pushed the bill. “It’s time for that to change, and this study could finally allow Queens to claim its rightful place in U.S. history,” Meng said. The Bowne House, built in 1661, was once the site of banned Quaker religious meetings. The Meeting House is considered the oldest structure in continuous religious use in the city. The study, which does not yet have a start date, is expected to cost between $200,000 and $300,000, officials said. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Texas Senate passes sweeping abortion restrictions, send to Gov. Perry to sign into law

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Senate passed sweeping new abortion restrictions late Friday, sending them to Republican Gov. Rick Perry to sign into law after weeks of protests and rallies that drew thousands of people to the Capitol and made the state the focus of the national abortion debate. Republicans used their large majority in the Texas Legislature to pass the bill nearly three weeks after a filibuster by Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis and an outburst by abortion-rights activists in the Senate gallery disrupted a deadline vote June 25. Called back for a new special session by Perry, lawmakers took up the bill again as thousands of supporters and opponents held rallies and jammed the Capitol to testify at public hearings. As the Senate took its final vote, protesters in the hallway outside the chamber chanted, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” Democrats have called the GOP proposal unnecessary and unconstitutional. Republicans said the measure was about protecting women and unborn children. House Bill 2 would require doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, allow abortions only in surgical centers, limit where and when women may take abortion-inducing pills and ban abortions after 20 weeks. Abortion-rights supporters say the bill will close all but five abortion clinics in Texas, leaving large areas of the vast state without abortion services. Only five out of 42 existing abortion clinics meet the requirements to be a surgical center, and clinic owners say they can’t afford to upgrade or relocate. The circus-like atmosphere in the Texas Capitol marked the culmination of weeks of protests, the most dramatic of which came June 25 in the final minutes of the last special legislative session, Davis’ filibuster and subsequent protest prevented the bill from becoming law. The Senate’s debate took place between a packed gallery of demonstrators, with anti-abortion activists wearing blue Continue Reading

California bill protecting children of celebrities from paparazzi signed into law

A California bill aimed at keeping paparazzi away from the children of celebrities and supported by film stars and parents Halle Berry and Jennifer Garner was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on Tuesday. Brown, a Democrat who dated rock singer Linda Ronstadt during his first stint as California governor in the 1970s, approved the measure without comment. The California Newspaper Publishers Association and other groups had opposed Senate Bill 606, which increases penalties for harassing children because of their parents' job, on the grounds that it could restrict reporters and photographers covering the news. The penalties for harassing children of celebrities would increase from a maximum of six months in jail to a maximum of one year. Potential fines would increase to $10,000, from the current $1,000. The bill got a boost when Hollywood moms Berry and Garner testified on its behalf at a California legislative hearing in August. An emotional Garner told a California Assembly Committee that she and her children were followed everywhere they go. "How often do we see a tragedy unfold and say, 'Oh, there were so many warning signs. Why didn't anybody pay attention?'" Garner, who has three children with actor-director Ben Affleck said at the time. "I am asking you as a parent to pay attention." Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Mississippi’s so-called anti-Bloomberg bill signed into law

Mississippi’s so-called anti-Bloomberg bill forbidding municipal leaders from regulating food and drink in local restaurants and eateries has been signed into law by the governor of the fattest state in the nation. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed the bill on Monday. His signature was widely expected after the bill was overwhelmingly approved by state lawmakers. "It is simply not the role of government to micro-regulate citizens' dietary decisions," Bryant said in a statement. "The responsibility for one's personal health depends on individual choices about a proper diet and appropriate exercise." The law bans local communities from requiring restaurants to post calorie counts on menus or limit portion sizes, as Mayor Bloomberg tried to do with his proposed ban on large sodas. Also forbidden: any local rule banning toys from being distributed with kids’ meals. The bill’s supporters said local regulations would be too difficult to navigate by business owners. Its author, state Sen. Tony Smith, owner of the Stonewall's BBQ chain, also said government has no business telling people what they cannot eat. The bill’s small group of opponents said local governments should be allowed to make their own rules. Bloomberg, who is appealing a judge’s decision to toss his big soda ban, has called the Mississippi bill "ridiculous." According to federal rankings, nearly 35 percent of Mississippi adults were very fat in 2011, the worst rate in the nation. With News Wire Services [email protected] Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Endangered ferrets’ reintroduction signed into law

With a flourish of his pen and the exclamation, “Now that’s a law,” Gov. John Hickenlooper paved the way for the reintroduction of the endangered black-footed ferret to northern Larimer County on Saturday in Fort Collins.Hickenlooper signed into law a bill that will allow the prairie dog-eating carnivores to return to Soapstone Prairie, a natural area owned by the city of Fort Collins.The ferrets are natural predators in Soapstone, which spans 28 square miles 25 miles north of the city. They were believed extinct until 1981, when a small population was discovered and then bred in captivity near Fort Collins.The first ferrets are expected to be released in the fall, after Saturday’s bill signing held at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, which hosts a display featuring a pair of the ferrets.“This is a huge positive for our community and a real reason to celebrate,” Mayor Karen Weitkunaut told those in attendance Saturday.Soapstone will become one of 21 reintroduction sites in eight states for the ferrets. The ferrets will be reintroduced on Soapstone Prairie and on Meadow Springs Ranch, where the hope is that they will cull a growing prairie dog population.The Northern Colorado reintroduction site will also become a testing ground for a new vaccine to control sylvatic plague, a bacterial disease that can decimate prairie dog colonies and afflict black-footed ferrets.“This is a win-win solution for endangered black-footed ferrets and for Coloradans,” Defenders of Wildlife Program Director for the Rockies and Plains Jonathan Proctor said in a written statement. “This legislation allows private landowners or local communities such as the city of Fort Collins to voluntarily help conserve this endangered species in a way that works for them, preserving existing uses on those lands such as grazing or — in the case of Fort Collins’ Soapstone Prairie —public recreation.”According to Defenders of Continue Reading

Pilot pre-K program signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence

Surrounded by preschool children and lawmakers, Gov. Mike Pence today signed into law one of his top legislative priorities that will create pilot pre-K programs for low-income children.“I’m very moved and very grateful to have the opportunity to move forward with pre-K education,” said Pence at the DayStar Childcare, a ministry of Englewood Christian Church on the Eastside.The legislation was in doubt until the end of the session when Pence and Senate leaders agreed to use existing state money to fund the pilot program. Pence has originally sought a more expansive statewide pre-K program serving low-income children.Under the legislation, the state Family and Social Service Administration will select a diverse group of five counties, including rural, urban and suburban areas, to launch the program. Public and private preschools in those areas can then apply to be chosen to receive funds for 4-year-olds to attend, as early as this fall.To qualify, a child’s family could earn no more than 127 percent of the federal poverty limit. That’s about $28,380 for a family of four.As much as $15 million will be used to fund the program for the first year from state and federal funds and private donations. The programs could serve from 1,000 to 4,000 youth, depending on how much money is used to support each child. The range outlined in the legislation is from $2,500 to $6,800 per child.“I think it’s a big step for the state of Indiana to be moving in this direction,” said Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, bill author. “I’m pleased that we’re able to start moving this year and not have to wait, which is even more exciting.” This story will be updated. Continue Reading

AID BILLS SIGNED INTO LAW. Thousands of Ground Zero rescuers will get benefits

GOV. PATAKI SIGNED into law yesterday three bills aimed at covering the health costs of 9/11 responders - thousands of whom are suffering from debilitating illnesses as a result of their heroic actions nearly five years ago. Standing at the edge of Ground Zero, under a sunny sky that was once black with dust and debris, Pataki said the bills would go a long way toward repaying the sacrifices of uniformed 9/11 responders and their families. "The bottom line is simple," Pataki said. "We asked a great deal of our heroes after the horrible attacks, and they gave without asking anything back. Now it is our turn." The governor also singled out the Daily News for what he termed a "tremendous" series of articles that called on government to recognize the plight of Ground Zero responders and their families. "Today we answer that call," Pataki said of The News' series. Noticeably absent from the Ground Zero ceremony was Mayor Bloomberg, who continued to voice objections yesterday over the laws' high cost - which will largely be footed by city taxpayers. Saying he agreed with the bills' laudable goals, Bloomberg asked, "Can the city residents pay for it? And the answer is: If we pay for this, that will be some library that won't be able to stay open an extra day. It will be some firehouse that we won't be able to keep open." The three bills will: Provide full line-of-duty death benefits - or 100% of the deceased's last salary, plus health benefits - to surviving family members of 9/11 rescuers. The city has refused to grant line-of-duty status to the handful of responders believed to have died as a result of Ground Zero work. Allow Ground Zero workers covered by workers' compensation to reapply for those benefits despite having missed the two-year deadline that passed in 2003. Grant workers who retired with regular city pensions to reapply for an "accident disability" pension if 9/11-related health problems emerge - boosting benefits to 75% of their Continue Reading