With end of session comes barrage of ideas on policy
With the close of a legislative session comes a flow of reports from legislative research offices and a gubernatorial commission.
These reports often lay the groundwork for future legislation or administration policy agendas.
The governor's commission on higher education weighed in last week with policy recommendations in that field while the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee released a slew of various reports in response to directives from lawmakers.
Still awaited is a report by a special legislative commission to recommend changes to child protection laws in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal at Pennsylvania State University.
One recommendation garnering attention in the commission report on higher education is to tie future state funding increases for colleges and universities to a performance system.
The state Education Department would develop a scorecard under the proposal to evaluate institutions on keeping tuition rate increases and fees down, improving academic achievement, increasing access to underserved populations, responding to workforce training needs and attracting research dollars.
The commission also recommends a state bond issue to finance infrastructure and building projects at campuses with a special focus on the research institutions that offer science, technology, engineering and math programs.
And it opens the door to an assessment to determine if institutions and academic programs can be consolidated in light of a decline in enrollment rates and tight budgets.
With the debate over a voter photo ID requirement still fresh, the budget and finance committee issued a report examining whether using photo ID cards, so-called smart cards or fingerprinting to deter fraud in the dispensing of public welfare benefits is worth the cost.
The report recommends that the Department of Public Welfare try a pilot program using the smart cards but suggests that using photo ID cards and fingerprinting as fraud prevention tools would be too costly.
While a smart card costs about $1 to $1.50 to produce and the magnetic stripe cards already in use cost about 23 cents each, photo ID cards would cost about $8 each to produce, the report said.
Lawmakers on the committee debated how much fraud exists in public welfare programs. Rep. Phyllis Mundy, D-120, Kingston, expressed skepticism about whether fraud exists on such a scale to justify a huge investment in costly cards.
(Swift is Harrisburg bureau chief for Times-Shamrock Communications newspapers. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.)