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PennFuture Session Daze :: brief, informative, and interesting looks at public policy, especially in Pennsylvania PennFuture Session Daze :: brief, informative, and interesting looks at public policy, especially in Pennsylvania

Monday, July 22, 2013

Stormwater bill success highlights spring legislative session

The negotiation and passage of the budget for the next fiscal year in Pennsylvania is generally accompanied by a flurry of legislative activity on a wide range of bills. With Governor Corbett signing the last piece of budget-related legislation into law on July 18, this week is a good time to review some of the finished and unfinished business left behind by the General Assembly.

Today we will start with a highlight of the spring session, the passage of Sen. Ted Erickson's Senate Bill 351 that provides municipalities with the option to create stormwater authorities. Governor Corbett signed SB 351 into law as Act 68 of 2013.

A municipal authority in Pennsylvania, such as a water or sewer authority, is an alternative means to advance public purposes independent of the direct action of local governments or the use of their taxing authority. Local governments can create an authority, either on their own or jointly with other local governments, to acquire, construct, operate or fund projects. Authorities have been created to address a wide range of issues across the Commonwealth, including water and sewer systems, airports, transit systems, libraries, solid waste, and parks and recreation.

However, prior to the passage of SB 351, many local governments have been hesitant to create an authority to tackle the widespread problem of stormwater management because they believed that they lacked the legal authority to do so.

Stormwater can have a catastrophic effect on life, property and communities, and is also one of the largest sources of pollution to Pennsylvania's rivers and streams. Stormwater can carry a wide range of pollutants including toxic heavy metals, sediment and nutrients.

Stormwater authorities will allow communities to work together to address stormwater issues on a watershed basis. Today's Scranton Times-Tribune has an editorial urging municipalities in northeastern Pennsylvania to quickly move to create such a regional authority for this reason. Stormwater authorities will also provide municipalities with potential sources of funding for stormwater planning and projects.

Former PennFuture attorney Brian Glass proposed this legislation in 2011, and over the past two years I had the great pleasure of working with prime sponsors of the bill, Sen. Ted Erickson, R-Delaware, and Rep. Kate Harper, R-Montgomery, and many other legislators, to get the bill passed. 

Sen. Erickson showed strong leadership in building near-unanimous support for SB 351 in the Senate and working with the Senate Republican leadership to get the bill to Governor Corbett's desk. Rep. Harper did an extraordinary job guiding SB 351 through the House Local Government Committee that she chairs, and then around some challenging shoals in the House Republican Caucus for a final passage vote in the House. Rep. Bob Freeman, D-Northampton, the minority chair of the House Local Government Committee, also provided valuable leadership and built near-unanimous support for the bill among House Democrats.

The Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association, Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Chesapeake Bay Foundation and many local government officials also provided key support for the legislation.

Thanks to the support of the General Assembly and Governor Corbett, Pennsylvania's local governments now have a new and important tool to help address the critical problem of stormwater management. 

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