Pennsylvania’s skill video games legislation could generate $300m in tax revenue

An estimated $300 million in immediate tax revenue could be the result of new legislation aimed at establishing a taxing structure and regulatory framework for skill video games in Pennsylvania. 

Small business owners, lawmakers, members of the Pennsylvania Taverns and Players Association (PA TAP) and veterans expressed their support at the State Capitol last week for legislation for skill video games in the state. 

Sponsored by State Senator Gene Yaw, R-Bradford/Lycoming/Sullivan, the legislation could bring millions in tax revenue and would help eliminate from the market illegal and unlicensed games. 

Yaw said if anyone wanted to know the importance of skill games, they should visit a family-owned market in Lebanon County, a VFW in Bucks County, or a neighborhood market in western Pennsylvania. 

“Skill games are a piece of the small business economy in our state, and we heard from supporters from all walks of life on the importance of the revenue they provide,” Yaw said in a statement. “It is time we recognize the benefits of this emerging industry and offer regulatory support, so we can ensure it flourishes safely and responsibly.” 

LaVar Arrington, former Penn State and NFL player and proponent of skill games community support and charitable giving, was among those promoting the proposal at the Capitol on April 25. 

Nicole Miele, owner of Miele Manufacturing, a Lycoming-based manufacturer of skill game terminals located in Yaw’s senate district, said skill games are built in Pennsylvania and 90% of the revenue from the finished products stay in the state and help support their communities. 

“Skill games mean good-paying, family sustaining jobs across the board,” Miele said. “As the legal skill game business grows, so does the small business community.” 

The proposed legislation incudes a valid I.D. requirement to play and a limit on the number of machines in each establishment. All games will be required to be connected to a terminal collection and control system that allows the state to monitor transactions and ensure that taxes are accrued and paid. 

In addition, the legislation will strengthen penalties for illegal and unlicensed games and gambling devices.

Pa. House Republicans elect caucus chair, leadership team

Pennsylvania House Republicans on Tuesday elected their caucus chairman along with a slate of leaders for the 2023-24 legislative session. 

Rep. George Dunbar (R-Westmoreland) was selected by his peers for a second time to serve as chairman of the state House Republican Caucus. Dunbar was first elected in 2021. 

“Overall, the past legislative session has presented challenges and the House Republican Caucus charted several successes, including improving the tax code for Pennsylvania’s small and large employers,” Dunbar said in a statement. “But we have our work cut out for us as we move into 2023 and I am as excited as ever to work with my peers on advancing policies to strengthen our economy and make our communities safer.” 

Dunbar as caucus chair will conduct all Republican Caucus meetings, as well as inform members of the session and voting schedules, notify members when bills they are sponsoring are scheduled for a House vote and if amendments are posted to their legislation. He will also participate in leadership discussions and help guide the House agenda. 

Previous sessions saw Dunbar serve as majority vice chairman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committees. He chairs the bicameral, bipartisan Legislative Audit Advisory Committee. 

Also, the House Republican Caucus elected the following members to the House Republican Leadership team for the 2023-24 legislative session: 

  • Leader: Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) 
  • Whip: Rep. Tim O’Neal (R-Washington) 
  • Appropriations Chair: Rep. Seth Grove (R-York) 
  • Caucus Chairman: Rep. George Dunbar (R-Westmoreland) 
  • Caucus Secretary: Rep. Martina White (R-Philadelphia) 
  • Caucus Administrator: Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland) 
  • House Republican Policy Committee Chair: Rep. Josh Kail (R-Beaver/Washington) 

Cutler called the caucus an optimistic group of forward thinkers from diverse backgrounds and regions. 

“Our shared experiences and commitment to find solutions is unwavering and this group is poised and ready to find a pathway to opportunity for all Pennsylvanians,” he said. “This leadership team, just like our caucus, is ready to take on what lies ahead. And I look forward to being with this caucus every step of the way.”

Pa. Senate Dems reelect Muth to Chair of Policy Committee

Katie Muth (Berks/Chester/Montgomery counties) was reelected Tuesday by the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus to serve as Chair of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee. 

Muth will serve as a member of leadership for the 2023-24 legislative session. She was elected to the state senate’s 44th District in 2018. 

Muth said in a statement that she is grateful for the support of her colleagues and stakeholders and looks forward to the upcoming session, which will provide another opportunity to work on a robust policy agenda for the Democratic caucus. 

“In my first term as Policy Committee Chair, our committee crisscrossed the state to ensure all members of our caucus had an opportunity to host hearings on issues impacting their committees and ensured that all our constituents and stakeholders were able to tell their stories, share their knowledge and advocate for various causes,” said Muth. 

“I am really looking forward to promoting these causes and hearing more impactful stories that drive our caucus’ policy agenda and priorities.” 

The Senate Democratic Policy Committee hosted 47 policy hearings across the state under Muth’s leadership during the 2021-22 legislative session. The hearings focused on legislation, policy initiatives, and causes meaningful to caucus members. 

The committee also collaborated with the House Democratic Policy Committee to host a series of hearings focused on reproductive rights in Pennsylvania.

Legislation introduced in Pa. House of Reps to protect, honor Native American culture

To protect and honor Native American culture and history, State Rep. Chris Rabb, D-Phila., announced he is introducing wide-ranging legislation this month, November being Native American Heritage month. 

The Native-centered legislation is aimed at bringing awareness to the indigenous peoples, their culture and history, and how Pennsylvania can right the wrongs of misappropriation. 

Rabb authored a resolution in 2021 aimed at amending the rules of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to include a formal land acknowledgement at the beginning of each legislative week. In 2018, he introduced a bill to formally abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day (H.B. 2110). He has reintroduced the latter legislation twice. 

“Symbolism matters – particularly when it’s tethered to substantive action,” Rabb said in a statement. “That’s why rhetoric must be followed by redress.” 

Rabb has also put forth, with the affirmation and involvement of tribal leaders, legislation to protect Native American trademarks. The legislation would prevent the use of Pennsylvania state trademarks by non-Native groups to claim Native American patterns and tribal names, as well as other cultural heritage and intellectual property. 

Rabb cited the name change of the NFL’s Washington team to the Commanders, calling it a small step to address the use of racist logos and team names in professional sports. In Pennsylvania, schools and stores sell clothes, keepsakes, and household items that use Native American tribal names, patterns, and symbols supporting teams using Native American mascots. Rabb noted that the profits from these sales support groups that are not affiliated with Native Americans. 

“We have a special responsibility to ensure that our state and state laws do not support cultural theft and profiteering,” said Rabb. 

Rabb has authored two bills relating to Native mascots, one that prohibits their use by public schools and another that would assist schools in Pennsylvania committed to updating mascots, logos, school or team names through a grant program. The bill would provide grants to schools that have a Native American mascot and voluntarily discontinue their use of the mascot. 

Pennsylvania has more than 60 schools whose mascots embrace Native American culture. These schools have retained their Native American names and mascots despite continued calls from the Coalition of Natives and Allies and other advocacy groups. 

“Decades of social science research have shown how derogatory mascots have a serious negative psychological and social impact on those with an indigenous heritage,” said Rabb. “In fact, it is well established that mascots, logos and the like that stereotype or fetishize indigenous peoples highly correlate to the alarmingly high suicide rate among Native youth. 

“As the descendant of 16 great-great-grandparents of African descent born across six states wherein slavery was state law, the systemic denial of ‘personhood’ and the use of racist stereotypes to further dehumanize marginalized people is deeply personal to me.” 

Rabb will draft legislation in the new legislative term to study the elements of a land back initiative toward re-establishing sovereignty, particularly the political and economic control of lands, for indigenous peoples descended from tribes that predated settler colonization of Pennsylvania.

Three new Pa. bills announced as becoming law

Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster County) has announced three new bills becoming law. 

House Bill 2633, now Act 139, refines an existing law allowing the compensation of student athletes for the use of their name, image, or likeness (NIL). It includes a provision removing language prohibiting schools from arranging NIL deals for their student athletes and requiring students to share the contract with their school for at least seven days prior to the execution of the contract. 

Martin said it is a small but important clarification that provides student athletes more agency over their private contracts and the financial rewards they earn. 

“In the absence of national standards around NIL compensation by the NCAA or Federal law,” Martin said in a statement, “we must do everything we can here in Pennsylvania to make sure every student athlete that chooses one of our schools is treated fairly.” 

The U.S. Supreme Court decision a year ago in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) v. Alston provided a path for student athletes to be compensated for NIL usage. Still, no national standard was established for a way that was appropriate and equal. States were left to enact their own rules, and Martin authored Act 26 of 2021, along with Sens. Tommy Tomlinson (R-Bucks County) and Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh County). 

“Our institutions of higher education continue to work with students to help them navigate the new law and promote and protect themselves,” said Martin. 

Also becoming law last week, Martin said, was legislation that will provide educational credits to dentists who volunteer at free clinics and charity events. Martin’s Senate Bill 1173 became Act 159 and allows professionals to claim up to three hours served at a volunteer clinic or a charitable event as credit for continuing education. After passing unanimously in the Senate in June, it was approved in the House of Representatives last October. 

“Those who participate not only hone their skills but expose themselves, in many cases, to progressive dental emergencies that arise from lack of routine care,” Martin said. “I believe this type of volunteerism should be encouraged and its value should be properly recognized.” 

Poor oral health has been linked to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and overall health and wellbeing, according to multiple studies. Martin said volunteer opportunities provide crucial access to underserved populations who often fall through the cracks in the existing health care system and face poorer outcomes. 

“This law not only improves the healthcare of many of our constituents in the short term,” said Martin, “but as mentioned before, it would go a long way to preventing long-term diseases, which of course means less of a financial burden on Pennsylvania taxpayers as a result.” 

In addition, Martin said a bill clarifying license plate obstruction violations became law last week to prevent the criminalization of thousands of drivers overnight. 

“You can look around any parking lot and you will see many vehicles with custom frames surrounding their license plates, often issued by their car dealers or of their favorite sports team,” Martin said, referencing a recent Superior Court decision in Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Derrick Ruffin. 

The decision involved a panel of three judges ruling justifying a Philadelphia police officer’s decision to pull over a vehicle because a custom license plate frame blocked the state’s tourism website from view. 

“That decision meant that any one of those drivers could be pulled over with probable cause,” said Martin. “That wasn’t the intent of lawmakers, and certainly wasn’t fair to our motorists or our police departments. I’m pleased this law now fixes that for all parties involved.” 

To that end, Martin sponsored Senate Bill 1357, stipulating that plate obstructions only apply to important identifiable information. It was amended into House Bill 1486 and became Act 112 after becoming law with the Governor’s signature.

Senate approves cannabis banking bill 

State-legal cannabis businesses could have better access to banking and insurance services if a bill passed by the state Senate on Wednesday receives approval from the House. 

The Senate approved Senate Bill 1167, authorizing financial institutions and insurers to provide services to state-legal cannabis businesses. 

The legislation was authored by Senators John DiSanto, R-Dauphin and Perry counties and Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, and would protect against state penalties for banks and insurers that service the medical cannabis industry. 

The approval by the Senate comes after the Pennsylvania Senate Banking and Insurance Committee bipartisan approved the legislation in late March. 

Financial institutions and insurers received guidance in 2014 from the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crime Enforcement Network regarding how they could service cannabis-related businesses. However, federal law does not currently protect financial institutions for servicing cannabis-related businesses. 

The legislation would codify that existing climate of regulatory non-enforcement, according to a release from DiSanto.   

It would also allow the state-legal cannabis industry to operate on credit. Currently companies are forced to operate strictly with cash, making them a target for armed robberies and putting patients and employees in jeopardy, said the release. 

Senate bill looks to make cocktails-to-go permanent

A bill introduced in the state Senate last week would permanently allow the sale of cocktails-to-go in Pennsylvania after they were temporarily allowed for sale during the pandemic. 

Senators Daniel Laughlin, R-Erie and John Yudichak, I-Carbon and Luzerne, introduced Senate Bill 1138 last Friday, which would allow taverns, bars and licensed restaurants to permanently sell cocktails-to-go. 

The bill was written by Tom Tyler, president of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association (PLBTA) and could provide a needed boost in revenue for Pennsylvania businesses, according to the PLBTA. 

Gov. Tom Wolf signed a temporary cocktails-to-go bill into law in May 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 shutdown. The bill allowed businesses with valid R licenses from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to sell cocktails-to-go if they lost at least 25% of their revenue because of the pandemic. 

Under the law, bars and restaurants could sell mixed drinks to-go in a sealed container no greater than 64 fluid ounces, including alcohol and mixers in a single transaction. Businesses lost the authority to sell to-go cocktails when Wolf’s pandemic disaster emergency declaration ended last June. 

While cocktails-to-go served as a lifeline during the COVID-19 emergency declaration, it also provided a way for family-owned establishments to expand their product offerings and increase customer convenience,” the PLBTA wrote in a statement on Monday. “Unfortunately, the end of the emergency declaration also meant the end to these products. This was a loss to both our industry and our patrons.” 

SB 1138 would help restaurants and bars maintain cash flow and expand their offerings, Laughlin and Yudichak wrote in a memo to Senate members in January.  

The memo goes on to say that 33 states adopted alcohol-to-go programs in the early days of the pandemic. Fifteen of those states have extended approval of those programs and 16 have passed laws to make the programs permanent. 

New York Governor Kathy Hochul just called to make drinks-to-go permanent, and New Jersey passed legislation last year allowing local governments to authorize cocktails to go.,” the senators wrote in the memo. “We need to continue to support our businesses in Pennsylvania with this type of legislation. It will create revenue for businesses that continue to struggle and aid in their recovery.” 

Gov. Wolf signs $225 million health care funding bill into law 

Following approval from both the Pennsylvania House and Senate this week, Gov. Tom Wolf signed House Bill 253 into law on Wednesday. 

The bill allocates $225 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to support health care professionals and strengthen Pennsylvania’s health care workforce.  

“This is a major, bipartisan investment in supporting the health care workers who have done so much for our commonwealth over the past two years,” said Wolf. “This funding will provide needed relief to our hospitals and health care workers. 

Through the bill, the state will distribute $100 million to acute care, critical access and children’s hospitals on a per-bed basis and $110 million to high-Medical Assistance hospitals, designated Critical Access hospitals and inpatient and residential behavioral health facilities for recruitment and retention payments to key staff. 

$15 million in funds will also be given to the nurse loan forgiveness program at the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA). 

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Clint Owlett, R-Tioga, Bradford and Potter counties, was introduced to the House in early 2021 to establish a task force to “improve the safety, well-being and permanency of substance-exposed infants and other young children adversely affected by their parents’ substance abuse disorders.” 

The Senate approved the bill on Tuesday after it was amended to include the $225 million in health care industry funding. The House then gave unanimous final approval of the newly amended bill on Wednesday. 

“We appreciate and applaud Governor Wolf and the legislature for listening to nurses and hospital workers and taking action on their demands,” said Matt Yarnell, president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare Pennsylvania, the state’s largest union for healthcare workers. “These bipartisan votes to direct emergency financial resources to the bedside and to support our essential caregivers during this pandemic is a good step towards the urgent reform that’s needed.”