PA Chambers of commerce, businesses urge permitting reform

Chambers of commerce and business associations across Pennsylvania are urging the Shapiro Administration and the state’s House and Senate to undertake permitting reform. 

Representing many of Pennsylvania’s industries and professions, the chambers and businesses collectively sent a letter Monday to Gov. Josh Shapiro and the members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. 

The letter urges them to “fix the commonwealth’s dysfunctional and unpredictable permitting system. Doing so will result in greater opportunity for our residents, a modernized system of infrastructure, and encourage more investment into our state.” 

State Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York, sponsored Senate Bill 350, calling for transparency in permitting. She said in a memorandum that the “permitting process should be a collaborative effort between the entity seeking the permit and government and not something that is overly burdensome or punitive.” 

Phillips-Hill said Senate Bill 28, introduced in the last session to reform the permitting process, will be reintroduced. The legislation will require agencies which issue permits to increase transparency by posting information on their websites about permits they grant.  The creation of an accessible tracking system for applicants to check the status of their applications and the stating of the legal authority the agency relies on when rejecting a permit application are also parts of the legislation. 

Phillips-Hill noted that Shapiro on his campaign trail emphasized the need to provide Pennsylvania businesses with permitting transparency and dates when permits can be expected. 

In one of his first steps as governor, Shapiro signed an executive order on Jan. 31 to improve response times for licenses, permits, or certificates applied for through the state. He announced on May 5 that all agencies under the governor’s jurisdiction completed a review of their licensing, permitting, and certification process. 

The governor’s office stated in a press release that the review is a critical step in Shapiro’s mission to “make government work efficiently and effectively for Pennsylvania residents and businesses.” 

The review catalogued 750 licenses, 800 permits, and 360 certifications. The governor’s office reported that a catalogue of permits, licenses, and certifications in Pennsylvania had not been previously assembled. 

“Pennsylvanians work hard to keep our economy moving, and the commonwealth should work just as hard to process their applications,” Shapiro said in a statement. 

The collective of PA chambers of commerce and businesses stated that while Pennsylvania’s potential to lead the region and even the nation economically is “tremendous,” it has often trailed other states when it comes to investment. A key reason for this is a permitting system deemed “inadequate” by the collective. 

“The current process takes too long, lacks transparency, and costs businesses money and good-paying jobs for our state’s workers,” the letter stated. 

PA chambers and businesses supported the executive action taken regarding permitting and encouraged the Shapiro Administration and General Assembly to “work collectively, build on executive orders and improved management, and enact durable and lasting reforms to the state’s permitting process.” 

Phillips-Hill said the tracking system will include processing time, dates of each permit, completeness review, technical review, elevated review, an estimated time for incomplete phases of the permit approval process, and a contact person assigned to answer questions about the application process. 

“This will allow for greater transparency, which gives those individuals who are applying for permits, more peace of mind and assurance that they have not been forgotten in the process,” she said. “We must reform this process to help businesses and business owners throughout the Commonwealth.” 

PA chambers and businesses said this is the time to rally around reforms that allow Pennsylvania to compete and lead. 

“Doing so will build upon bipartisan momentum at the federal level to streamline permitting and unlock American investment,” they wrote. “We have a generational opportunity to meaningfully change the economic trajectory of our state and communities.”

State agencies to prioritize customer service under new executive order

To improve Pennsylvania’s licensing, permitting, and certification processes, Gov. Josh Shapiro on Tuesday signed an executive order setting standard response times and money-back guarantee. 

Shapiro’s action begins what his administration expects will be an in-depth review of the length of time it takes agencies to process applications and how businesses and workers apply online. The executive order will help establish a date for applicants to hear back regarding every license, permit, or certificate. Should applicants not hear back by that date, agencies must refund the application fee. 

“State government’s top priority should be serving the people of our Commonwealth, but for far too long, Pennsylvanians have had to endure long wait times, outdated systems, and bureaucratic delays,” Shapiro said in a statement. “They deserve a government that works efficiently and effectively to get them answers.” 

Shapiro said his administration will work to make certain that citizens know the length of time it takes for agencies to respond and if they fail to respond by a certain date, will get their money returned. 

“Pennsylvanians work hard to keep our economy moving,” Shapiro stated, “and the Commonwealth should work just as hard to process their applications.” 

Lengthy wait times for state-issued licenses, certificates, and permits create obstacles for both businesses and workers. Pennsylvania, for instance, has some of the lengthiest wait times in the nation for issuing nursing licenses, which sometimes take as long as three months, according to a 2021 NPR analysis. 

Shapiro is having state agencies, boards, and commissions catalog the licenses, certificates, and permits they issue, along with the statutory authority governing the length of time they must process applications and the application fees. 

Agencies have 90 days to send this information to the Governor’s Office, which will analyze, review, and establish efficient application processing times for all occupational permits or licenses based on agency recommendations. 

Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth Al Schmidt said the executive order launches Pennsylvania on a new path that makes its citizens and customer service a top priority. 

“People shouldn’t have to suffer through long wait times to put their skills and knowledge to good use,” Schmidt said. “Together with the Governor’s Office, we will work to ensure Pennsylvanians can get to work in a timely fashion without having red tape hold them back.”

Tuesday’s executive order builds on Shapiro’s initiative to provide efficient and expedited customer service. Last week, he created the Office of Transformation and Opportunity, a one-stop shop for state businesses to grow.

Allentown extends health license, fire permits through June

The Allentown Health Bureau and Allentown Fire Department are extending the license and permit periods of food and childcare establishments with licenses or permits due to expire this month.

Food establishments with licenses expiring in March, April and May have been extended to June 30. These businesses should continue to adhere to the food code, practice social distancing and follow Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s directive restricting food sales to take-out and delivery only.

City childcare establishments with a health license and fire permit expiring in March, April or May are also being extended to June 30.

Fire department inspections include checks of exit signage, smoke detectors and fire extinguisher installation and testing. Facilities are also required to have an approved fire safety plan.