HARRISBURG - Two bills to provide more state oversight to guard against risky municipal debt deals were approved by a Senate committee last week.

The measures would give state officials greater review power over municipal debt borrowings and give the state Ethics Committee authority to investigate alleged ethical violations by individuals involved in municipal financial transactions.

The bills' approval by the Local Government Committee marks the start of consideration for a legislative remedy to prevent a future repeat of the Harrisburg debt crisis. A massive debt tied to the city's incinerator has pushed the city into Act 47 distressed status

Sen. John Blake, D-22, Archbald, sponsored the ethics investigation bill and Sen. John Eichelberger, R-30, Hollidaysburg, sponsored the bill to give the state Department of Community and Economic Development power to put conditions on municipal debt borrowings and limit the ability of a municipality to provide guarantees on municipal authority debt borrowings.

"These bills need to be signed into law to correct flaws or omissions in previous laws and ensure Pennsylvania's local government officials are properly accountable to the taxpayers and ratepayers they serve," said Eichelberger, who chairs the committee.

Still awaiting committee action is a bill to ban use by municipalities of complex financial interest rate transactions known as "swaps."

Pocono septic systems

State lawmakers gave final approval last week to a bill aimed at heading off a controversial proposed state watershed rule involving septic systems.

The measure, which Gov. Tom Corbett is expected to sign, would sanction on-lot sewage systems approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection as meeting the requirement of not degrading the water quality of a protected stream.

The bill will provide certainty to local governments and developers seeking sewage planning approval for projects near special protection watersheds, said Corbett.

"The House and Senate found a solution that allows the Department of Environmental Protection to rely upon the existing standards of Act 537," added Corbett.

The bill was pushed to passage by five Northeast Pennsylvania lawmakers, including Sen. Lisa Baker, R-20, Lehman Twp.; and Reps. Sandra Major, R-111, Montrose; Mike Peifer, R-139, Honesdale; Mario Scavello, R-176, Mount Pocono, and Rosemary Brown, R-189, Middle Smithfield Twp.

The lawmakers said a DEP rule proposed earlier this year could have led to costly requirements that septic systems for homes and businesses be located on larger tracts of property or have a greater buffer zone.

(Robert Swift is Harrisburg bureau chief for Times-Shamrock Communications. Email rswift@timesshamrock.com.)