PEC Previews Upcoming Senate/House Bills

As the General Assembly draws toward the end of its 2011-2012 legislative session, two important bills are likely to see final consideration early next week.

The Good – Senate Bill 1261

Senate Bill 1261 does one simple thing – it clarifies existing law to ensure that, if they so choose, local governments have the opportunity to establish a Municipal Authority to address the challenges of stormwater management.

This legislation passed the Senate unanimously in March of this year, and now awaits a vote in the House Local Government Committee before it can be considered for final passage. PEC presented testimony before the Committee in support of this key legislation last week.

We urge you to contact your Representative and let them know that you support Senate Bill 1261.

The Bad – House Bill 2224

House Bill 2224 would remove current legal restrictions so that counties and municipalities could more easily sell parks and public greenspaces.

At present, Pennsylvania law requires local governments to apply to Orphan’s Court in order to sell a park or greenspace that the local government has deemed to have no public benefit. House Bill 2224 would remove this requirement, putting many of our parks and greenspaces at risk of being converted to cash — erasing years of public benefit in exchange for a short-term financial fix.

While PEC understands the desire to improve the current process local governments must follow to dispose of public properties that no longer serve the public good, House Bill 2224 greatly oversteps this goal.

Handing local governing boards the ability to quickly undo decades of decisions and commitments by previous boards is poor public policy. Although officials can be held accountable in the next election, a sold park cannot be saved.

As a compromise, PEC is advocating to amend the bill to ensure the public has a voice by requiring local governments to provide for a referendum on any sale of parks, trails, farmland or open space. A referendum is a simple and democratic method to determine whether the public land is viewed by the community as serving a public purpose. This is a reasonable check on potentially shortsighted and irreversible decision-making.

We urge you to contact your Senator and let them know that you oppose House Bill 2224 as currently written.