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Senate Labor and Industry Committee UPDATE

TartaglioneThe Senate Labor and Industry Committee met July 1 to consider House Bill 1846 (Quinn), which would amend the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act to address physician dispensing of medications to injured workers.

Sen. Baker offered several amendments in committee that would limit physicians to dispensing a seven-day supply of Schedule II and Schedule III drugs containing hydrocodone and a 20-day supply of all other drugs to workers' compensation patients. Further, the reimbursement rate for physicians would be capped at 110 percent of the average wholesale price, physicians would be able to dispense an additional 15-day supply of drugs to injured workers who require surgery, and the Pennsylvania Workers Compensation Advisory Council would be required to conduct an annual study on the costs of physician-dispensed drugs.

By a vote of 10 to 1, this bill was reported as amended out of committee and was referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration.

The following labor-related bills were signed into law by the governor:

HB 118 (Ellis) would amend the Whistleblower Law to expand its coverage to private businesses or entities that receive public funding for work or services, improve whistleblower confidentiality, allow enforcement by the Office of the Inspector General and increase penalties.  Following passage in the House and Senate, this bill was enacted as Act 87 on July 2. 

HB 185 (Gibbons) would amend the Whistleblower Law to expand coverage to employees of the General Assembly and its agencies.  Following passage in the House and Senate, this bill was signed into law as Act 88 of 2014 on July 2.

HB 1980 (Fee) would repeal the Pennsylvania Employment Agency Law, which requires the Department of Labor and Industry to license and regulate all employment agencies and agents that charge clients a fee for employment services.  This bill was passed by both chambers and signed into law as Act 102 of 2014 on July 2.

PA Budget Games

CapitolUnhappy his Republican senators and representatives would not – or could not – agree with him on pension reform, the Republican governor took his one-eighth pound of flesh Thursday from the General Assembly.

At least, that is how he defined his target.

Gov. Corbett blue-line vetoed $72 million from the 2014-15 budget. Most of that, $65 million, will come from the legislature’s budget lines and $7 million was intended for discretionary legislative spending.

He defended his actions by saying lawmakers failed to deliver on his wish for pension reform. I get his frustration, but the governor must bear a significant part of the blame. The hybrid Tobash proposal won his support late in budget negotiations and didn’t promise to improve the state’s pension situation that much, anyway. Still, the Senate approved the proposal and returned to the GOP-led House, which did not vote on it before departing for the summer.

We do need pension reform. We don’t need the kind of brow beating the governor hit our teachers and educators with as he attempted to explain his rationale for his very late budget decision. Our teachers are the least supported labor groups around and they’ve been the target of the governor’s budget-balancing “strategy” for his tenure in Harrisburg.

As my Senate Democratic colleagues have articulated, Gov. Corbett’s actions clearly illustrate the Republican gridlock and dysfunction in state government. This is a Republican budget mess, crafted solely by Republicans and delivered to the citizens of Pennsylvania by a party that lacks leadership at the top.

Jobs and the Economy

JobsAs Pennsylvania’s jobless rate drips to below 6 percent, new federal labor statistics are providing more reason for optimism.

There were fewer people applying for unemployment compensation nationwide, according to the Labor Department. The Wall Street Journal had expected 319,000 workers to file new claims during the week ending July 5 but the actual number was 304,000 – a drop of 11,000.

What are economists saying about the new numbers? Click here for a story from The Wall Street Journal.

U.S. News & World Report offers additional perspective.

Social Union Organization

Labor NotesAt some companies, it’s not easy – or safe – for workers to attempt to organize. But there are ways and “Labor Notes” is out with tips and warnings for those who want to develop a stronger voice with management through social media. Facebook, specifically.

“Labor Notes” yesterday wrote about two cases where workers enjoyed success and failure.

As it reports,”Practically all union contracts, whether private or public sector, have a “just cause” provision that says the employer cannot discipline or fire you without a good reason that it can prove. That makes it harder for your employer to discipline you for something that you post online—but there are still limits. Don’t publicly criticize your employer’s product, service, or customers. Your employer could accuse you of disparagement or disloyalty, especially if your criticism is not related in some way to working conditions.”

A good read.