House and Senate sessions on April 30 start the busiest time of the year in the state Capitol, an intense period ahead of the looming end of the state government's fiscal year. That's particularly true in even-numbered years, during the last six months of the two-year legislative session.
The House will be in session for 25 of the 62 days leading up to the budget deadline, the Senate for 23 days. They will likely be off for July and August, the September and October calendar will be overshadowed by the looming election, and two years ago the Senate Republicans ruled out the postelection "sine die" session.
Last year, with Republicans in control of both chambers and the governorship for the first time in eight years, they accomplished the largely symbolic goal of enacting a new budget by the June 30 deadline.
Passage of an on-time budget that does not raise new taxes or increase spending remains a goal of most—if not all—members of the GOP majority, and definitely for Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. But beyond that, it's far from clear what else will come up during the period when many deals are traditionally done.
Republicans have accomplished a number of their priorities during the past year and a half of one-party rule, including an industry-friendly Marcellus Shale tax bill, toughened welfare rules, the "castle doctrine" self-defense law, civil lawsuit changes favored by the business community, abortion clinic regulations, amended juvenile justice procedures and a ban on texting while driving.
So far about 2,400 bills have been introduced during the current session, and if history is a guide only a few hundred will become law.
Among the proposals that could move in the coming months are privatization of the state liquor stores, a favorite of Corbett and House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny. Corbett does not support the privatization bill that's been amended in the House, said his spokesman, Kevin Harley.
Corbett also has pushed for school vouchers, and although a vouchers bill has passed the Senate it has languished in the House. There also could be action on related education issues such as teacher assessments, expanded tax credits for private school scholarship donations and new charter school regulations.
The Senate might take up a House-passed bill to establish public-private partnerships for transportation projects, but that won't do much to address the frustrations many lawmakers have expressed over Corbett's apparent reluctance to take on Pennsylvania's broader needs to upgrade roads and bridges and fund mass transit.
Harley calls the criticism "blatantly unfair."
"This problem wasn't created in the last 14 or 15 months," Harley said Friday. Corbett, he said, "would like to see what the Legislature would like to do."
"It's easy to stand up and have a news conference," Harley said. "It's something else when they have to deliver votes."
There also has been talk of revisions to the Right-to-Know Law and a lot of work in the House on a bill designed to address the so-called Delaware loophole on corporate taxes.
The House has sent the Senate a bill to cut the number of senators and representatives by 25 percent, and the Senate has sent the House a bill that would let the state opt out of the individual mandate under the national health care law. Both require amending the state constitution, so they could not be enacted this year.
Although non-budget bills always pass in June, most of the focus is on the state budget.
In February, Corbett put on the table a $27.1 billion spending plan that would cut higher education and services for the poor, elderly and disabled but would not raise taxes. He also proposed a new block grant program for public schools that are still reeling from deep cuts made as a result of last year's budget.
The choices haven't gotten any easier, with state revenue collections continuing to lag projections by about $387 million as of March.
Harley said the governor would like the General Assembly to address the state's massive unemployment compensation debt to the federal government, and prison reform legislation that would divert nonviolent offenders. He said they could be significant budget money-savers.
Turzai spokesman Steve Miskin says the budget-season agenda is still very much a work in progress, calling the question about other bills "a good guessing game."
House Democratic caucus spokesman Bill Patton said the outcome of Tuesday's primary elections may be a factor, as it will give incumbents a better sense of what their constituents think, particularly those who vote in primaries and follow state government news.
Patton said Corbett's leadership approach has caused frustrations for Republicans more used to a governor who more actively pushes for his agenda.
"I think the House and Senate Republicans have found the governor lacking in setting a direction and working to get things passed," Patton said. "From time to time he throws topics out there, but then he kind of steps back and waits for the Legislature to pass something and give it to him."
Expect just that to happen in May and June.
Mark Scolforo covers the Legislature for The Associated Press in Harrisburg. He can be reached at mscolforo(at)ap.org.