The Pennsylvania Public Official and Employee Ethics Act has been in effect since 1979 and must be carefully followed by state and local officials and employees.  Mainly, the Act requires that public officials file annual statements disclosing their financial interests, but it also prohibits activities that have been deemed a violation of the public’s trust.  The Act is enforced by the State Ethics Commission, which is comprised of seven politically appointed commissioners assisted by a staff of investigators and prosecutors.  Repercussions for violating the Act include administrative penalties, civil fines/restitution, and sometimes criminal prosecution. Continue Reading Criminalizing Politics: Ethical Obligations of Pennsylvania’s Public Officials

Act 33 was enacted and signed into law on June 18, 2018 to provide counties with greater flexibility in combating blight. The new law, which takes effect 60 days after signing, allows a county to designate a redevelopment authority as the land bank for its jurisdiction.

Since 2012, counties have had the ability to establish land banks under the Pennsylvania Land Bank Act. Land banks are independent public entities created to expedite the process of acquiring and rehabilitating blighted, dilapidated and abandoned real estate. They often work together with redevelopment authorities to help eliminate blight in local communities. But while land banks have been crucial in this fight, many Pennsylvania counties have had active redevelopment authorities performing similar functions for over half a century.

Originally sponsored by Sen. Pat Stefano (R-Fayette) as SB 667, Act 33 will allow redevelopment authorities to possess powerful tools previously available only to land banks, such as acquiring tax-delinquent properties at judicial sale without competitive bidding, discharging tax liens on those properties and sharing up to half the real estate taxes for five years after their conveyance. For counties that have active redevelopment authorities but do not have land banks, the law will eliminate the need to form a new entity and staff a new board before being able to use these tools.

Act 33 does not limit the powers of land banks or restrict the ability of a county to use both a land bank and a redevelopment authority. The law simply provides more flexibility for counties to efficiently use their limited resources. Given the lack of resources and funding in many communities, the new law could benefit those counties with active redevelopment authorities already engaged in the elimination of blight. Act 33 could also help save time, money and resources by eliminating the need to establish separate boards, bylaws and other mechanics that may be cost-prohibitive and impede effective blight reduction efforts.

In a prior post we highlighted a recent podcast that McNees real estate attorney Kandice Hull recorded on eminent domain. Interested to know more about this topic? You can find her additional thoughts, including on the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London, below.

Did you miss part 1 in this series? You can get caught up here. And, be sure to subscribe to our blog – as part 3 is in the works!

A recent Commonwealth Court decision affirmed that municipalities within Pennsylvania are not immune from claims of adverse possession.  In City of Philadelphia v. Galdo, 181 A3d. 1289 (Pa. Commw. 2018), the Commonwealth Court held that the City of Philadelphia had lost title to a property that it had previously condemned to an adjacent property owner who adversely possessed the property. Continue Reading Municipalities Can Lose Property Through Adverse Possession

On May 23, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives approved Senate Bill 234, which creates the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Program. SB 234, which was approved by the Senate in January of this year, would help owners of agricultural, commercial and industrial properties obtain low-cost, long-term financing for energy efficiency, water conservation and renewable energy projects. The program would not include multifamily housing or other residential property. Continue Reading Pennsylvania Legislature Approves New Municipal Alternative Energy Program

On Monday, May 14, the United States Supreme Court announced its eagerly awaited decision in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association and, as many expected, struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (“PASPA”), a federal law that prohibits states from authorizing and regulating sports wagering. Continue Reading Supreme Court Opens Door to Sports Betting in all Fifty States

McNees attorney Claudia Shank recently authored a series of blog posts on the McNees Land Use Blog on the Supreme Court’s revival of the Environmental Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Environmental Rights Amendment provides in pertinent part:

Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people including generations yet to come.  As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of the people.

The Court’s revival of the Environmental Rights Amendment has repercussions for municipalities, as the Commonwealth’s trustee obligations “are not vested exclusively in any single branch of Pennsylvania’s government”; rather, “all agencies and entities of the Commonwealth government, both statewide and local, have a fiduciary duty to act toward the corpus with prudence, loyalty, and impartiality.”

Head on over to the McNees Land Use Blog for Claudia’s complete analysis.

When Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) late last year, a much-heralded provision of TCJA was the reduction in the federal corporate income tax rate, from 35% to 21%. However, that reduction has had unforeseen consequences for the municipal bond industry. The reduction in the tax rate is expected to result in efforts by banks to increase the interest rates charged by banks for current outstanding loans to municipalities and 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations. Whether a bank may increase the interest rate on a loan will depend on the language of the loan documents. Even if the loan documents permit the bank to unilaterally increase the interest rate, some banks may be hesitant to do so, as the request is may be received poorly, potentially jeopardizing the bank’s ongoing relationship with the borrower. Continue Reading Continuing Disclosure in the Municipal Bond Market: Importance of Compliance

On March 22, 2018, a cyberattack hit the City of Atlanta.  A ransomware program infected the City’s computer systems.  That malware encrypted the city’s files, and officials believe it may also have provided unauthorized access to the City’s data to a group of hackers (although, the City says it has not yet “seen any evidence that personal information has been misused as a result”).  The hackers demanded a ransom payment of six bitcoin (valued at approximately $50,000). Continue Reading Atlanta Cyberattack Shows Importance of Cybersecurity for Municipalities