Legislature

Elections and self-driving cars are likely on the fall agenda of the Pennsylvania legislature

State lawmakers have scheduled just a few weeks of working days by the end of the Nov. 30 session. But that does not prevent either chamber from considering a few bills by then.

A key House committee said Friday it would vote next week on new guidelines for transporting ballots after an election. Under the proposal, counties would have to place all ballots in a sealed container and include a manifest of the contents. They should also record all instances where seals are broken.

In some cases, Pennsylvania election law already requires workers to keep ballots in “safe, secure and sealed” containers before counting, but the proposal would give county councils more detailed instructions.

The House State Government Committee will also consider monthly purges of deceased voters. Right now, that happens every May — as part of Pennsylvania’s participation in an interstate voter database system called ERIC.

Republicans argued that purging the slates more frequently would reduce the risk of a deceased person’s name being used to vote illegally. It only happened once in the 2020 election: A Delaware County man pleaded guilty last year to using his late mother’s name to vote for former President Donald Trump.

Lawmakers could also take another step toward fully legalizing driverless vehicles.

In recent years, places like southwestern Pennsylvania have become hubs for growing technology: Venture capital money aimed at developing cars that can drive themselves has poured into cities like Pittsburgh. But the companies developing these vehicles say a state law that requires a human driver behind the wheel is holding them back.

Lawmakers like Sen. Wayne Langerholc (R-Bedford) have said they want to change that. Langerholc is sponsoring a bill that grants research companies special permission to test driverless self-driving cars, provided they have insurance coverage of at least $1 million.

The Republican senator told a committee meeting in January that his proposal “paints a picture” in which Pennsylvania is becoming a leader in driverless technology.

“This image is going to bring many, many jobs and significant economic activity to this Commonwealth, and we will not be left behind in our efforts,” Langerholc said.

The Senate is also considering another self-driving car bill sponsored by Rep. Donna Oberlander (R-Armstrong) — which has already received bipartisan support in the House.

Among other things, House and Senate Democrats say they are working with Republicans to make permanent a state home repair grant program as early as this fall.

Lawmakers earmarked $125 million in pandemic relief money for so-called whole-house repairs in the latest state budget, but that program will run out of money by 2026.

“This will help a lot of families, especially our seniors, to stay in their homes as repairs will be made,” said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa. “We want to make sure that we have a state program with state resources so that we can continue to build this program.”

Homeowners and landlords have not yet been able to apply for home repair grants. The Department of Community and Economic Development says it will issue guidelines by the end of this year and open the program next year.