By Mark Scolforo, Associated Press
(AP) — Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday asked lawmakers to send him a bill to legalize the recreational use of marijuana by adults, and outlined how he thinks the state should spend much of the $1.3 billion remaining in federal coronavirus relief funds during what’s left of lawmakers’ two-year session.
The Democratic governor urged the General Assembly to put $225 million toward hazard pay for more than 200,000 workers on the front lines of responding to the pandemic, effectively giving them all $3-an-hour wage increases.
The state House and Senate have 11 session days over four scattered weeks left before the November election, a limited period to wrap up their business as the two-year session winds down.
Leaders of the Republican majorities in both chambers have criticized Wolf during the pandemic period for what they consider a governing approach that has not given them sufficient input, and Wolf’s agenda is highly unlikely to be enacted in full, or without changes.
Pennsylvania received nearly $4 billion in federal coronavirus funds, but when lawmakers and Wolf allocated about two-thirds of it in May, they set aside the $1.3 billion that remained, and Wolf wants to spend much of that reserve.
House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, a Republican from Centre County, was dismissive of the governor’s proposals.
“It is disingenuous for this governor to put forward an unaffordable legislative agenda and require taxpayers to bail him out of his unilateral mandates that have devastated their lives and livelihoods,” Benninghoff said.
He said a House session next week will focus on “finding the normalcy Pennsylvanians have long desired.”
Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said Wolf has not held a call with legislative leaders since last month, and called the governor’s fall agenda a political document.
Wolf wants to direct some of the tax revenues from the sale of recreational weed to a program to repair what he called a release of “the harm done to crime victims and communities as a result of marijuana criminalization.”
About half the proposed weed tax would go to help historically disadvantaged businesses, which are those more than half owned and operated by people who are Black, Hispanic, Native American or Pacific Islander — groups deemed to have traditionally been discriminated against in financial dealings.
Wolf signed legislation authorizing the state’s medical marijuana program in 2016, and last fall announced he also supported making the drug legal for recreational purposes. Pennsylvania law treats possession of any marijuana outside the medical marijuana program as a crime, although there is a diversion program for first-time, nonviolent offenders and a few municipalities have enacted what is effectively decriminalization of possession of very small amounts.
Photo: Joe Hermitt The Patriot-News via AP