Friday, December 19, 2008

State Capitol Roundup for December 19

Here's this week's State Capitol Roundup courtesy of state Rep. Bob Mensch, R-147th:

Open Records Law to Take Effect in New Year

Legislation passed earlier this year granting Pennsylvanians unprecedented levels of access to state and local government documents is set to take effect on Jan. 1. Under the new law, most government records are presumed to be open to the public. Additionally, agencies will be required to prove a record they have produced is not public information, effectively reversing the burden of proof that currently rests upon citizens. An Office of Open Records has been created in the Department of Community and Economic Development and will be dedicated to handling all requests not related to the legislative or judicial branches of state government. While the full law takes effect Jan. 1, state contracts and state related records have been available since July 1 of this year.

Lawmakers Monitor Actions Affecting Marcellus Shale Drilling

Recognizing the potential value of natural gas reserves deep within the Marcellus Shale formation, lawmakers are closely monitoring the actions of the administration that affect the affordability and accessibility of harvesting this important natural resource. Just this week, the Environmental Quality Board approved a request from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to substantially increase fees for drilling the deep wells. Permits that used to carry a flat rate of $100 would jump to a base fee of $900 per well, plus another $100 for every 500 feet drilled beyond 1,500 feet. House Republicans are concerned the increased fees could make the difficult-to-recover resource more expensive to harvest, and ultimately less competitive among existing sources of energy. The Marcellus Shale region has been estimated to contain vast amounts of natural gas, as many as 50 trillion cubic feet, according to the United State Geological Survey, which is enough to supply the nation for two years.

Home Heating Assistance Available

Individuals who are struggling to pay home-heating costs this winter can now apply for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). LIHEAP, which is funded by the federal government and run by the state Department of Public Welfare, helps low-income households pay their heating bills and provides assistance to those in danger of losing heat due to emergencies. Eligibility for this year was expanded to 210 percent of the Poverty Income Guideline. As a result, an additional 80,000 are eligible to receive help through the cash grant portion of the LIHEAP program. A family of four with an annual income of up to $44,443 can qualify for LIHEAP. For more information, call LIHEAP toll-free at 866-857-7095 or visit Mensch's Web site at

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