- Gov. Corbett and his fellow Republicans who control the Legislature scrambled at the Capitol yesterday to wrap up several major bills and put the best face on their first year of sharing power in Harrisburg.
The day was scheduled to be the last in session this year for state senators before their traditional holiday break from Harrisburg, and they waded through a torrent of votes. However, after months of trying, an agreement was eluding Republican leaders of the House and Senate on two major priorities of Corbett's, lawmakers said.
They are a bill that would create taxpayer-paid vouchers to subsidize private-school tuition for children of lower-income families in struggling public schools, and another that would impose an "impact fee" on Pennsylvania's booming natural-gas drilling and update the state's regulations over the industry.
Democrats largely oppose the Republican-sponsored bills on the subjects, calling vouchers a taxpayer-paid gift to Catholic schools that do nothing to improve public schools and saying the Marcellus Shale gas drilling legislation lacks strong environmental protections or a meaningful tax that many other states impose on the lucrative and powerful industry.
House Republican leaders spent much of the day behind closed doors trying to drum up support for a proposal to test vouchers in a five-year pilot project that would be much smaller in scope than envisioned in legislation the Senate passed in October. But the GOP said in the afternoon that it lacked enough votes to pass and would not surface.
Without an agreement with the House on gas-drilling legislation, Senate Republican leaders took a procedural step yesterday to move toward a six-person House-Senate conference committee designed to negotiate a compromise bill that gets an up-or-down vote in each chamber, with no amendments allowed.
Also on tap yesterday in the Senate were bills that would toughen regulations for clinics that perform abortions and create new boundaries for Pennsylvania's shrinking number of U.S. House districts.
Senators voted 32-18 to approve the more stringent abortion regulations, over the objections of abortion-rights supporters and various associations of medical professionals, including obstetricians, gynecologists and social workers. The House approved the bill a day earlier, and Corbett was expected to sign it.