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Pennsylvania’s huge GOP majorities could test a Wolf veto

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – The largest Republican majority in the Pennsylvania state Senate in nearly 70 years is wasting no time in flexing its conservative muscle, advancing bills that ultimately could test whether a veto by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf can withstand an override vote.

In the Senate’s first full week of the new two-year session, a Senate committee advanced legislation that would kill Philadelphia’s sick-leave law, and any other municipal law like it, and punish sanctuary cities by withholding state grant dollars.

More committee votes are planned, including on legislation to make it harder for public-sector labor unions to collect member contributions through paycheck deductions.

Versions of those bills- and other hard-line or hot-button measures – have passed the Senate after Wolf took office in 2015. Some died amid opposition in the Republican-controlled House or a veto threat by Wolf. Some did get vetoed, such as a bill to strip teachers of seniority as protection during school district layoffs.

Now, Senate Republicans are hoping to launch some of those bills through the chamber in the next two weeks as the chamber tries to pick up where it left off, said Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman.

“We may be a little more aggressive than we have been in the past, because it’s easier to find votes to pass more difficult or more controversial items,” Corman said.

So far, Wolf has vetoed 16 bills since he became governor two years ago, and none have been overridden.

Veto overrides are rare, in any case: The last one was in late 2010, when the lame duck Legislature overrode then-Gov. Ed Rendell’s veto of a massive schools bill because it carried tax breaks for certain charter schools. Before that, the last one was in 1994, when the late Gov. Robert P. Casey was in office, according to House parliamentarian Clancy Myer.

This year could test that rarely crossed line.

Republicans picked up three Senate seats in November’s election, giving the GOP a 34-seat veto-proof majority in the 50-seat chamber. The GOP also picked up two seats in the House, leaving Republicans 14 members short of a two-thirds majority.

Thus far, House Majority Leader Dave Reed has focused his public comments on the state’s ragged finances, and House GOP members say the caucus has not yet held its policy retreat to prioritize issues.

In the recently ended two-year session, Senate bills limiting the collection of union dues through paycheck deductions or abolishing Philadelphia’s sick leave law stalled in the House, hitting a wall of opposition from Democrats and labor-friendly Republicans from southeastern Pennsylvania.

That is unlikely to change, said Rep. Gene DiGirolamo.

“My guess is that the votes still aren’t there in the House to do that,” DiGirolamo said.

Legislation to punish sanctuary cities – counties or municipalities where authorities do not honor federal requests to detain someone suspected of being in the country illegally – got bogged down amid disagreements between the House and Senate GOP.

Measures to restrict abortion rights or broaden gun rights have received bipartisan majorities in the Republican-controlled Legislature, and could pose the biggest threat to override a Wolf veto.

Last year, bills on both subjects inched toward the finish line late in the legislative session, but died amid a veto threat by Wolf.

One bill would have made Pennsylvania the 15th state to ban elective abortions after 20 weeks. Another would make it easier for gun owners and organizations like the National Rifle Association to win court challenges to cities’ firearms ordinances.

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa said he believes the chamber would reject an attempt to override a Wolf veto of abortion legislation.

“You probably have three, maybe four strong pro-life” Democrats, Costa said. “I think on the other side you probably have five or six or seven or eight pro-choice folks. So I think combined, we get there.”

The legislation targeting municipal firearms ordinances sought to revive a 2014 law struck down in court on a technicality. It passed the Legislature under Wolf’s predecessor, Republican Tom Corbett, with veto-proof majorities.

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Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/timelywriter. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/author/marc-levy.

Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC.

Source: www.washingtontimes.com stories: Politics

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