Popular ‘Solar for Schools’ Bill Held Up by Republican Immigration Amendment

State Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler speaking at a Solar for Schools press conference at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg on June 5, 2023. (Photo: Sean Kitchen)

By Sean Kitchen

June 14, 2023

Republican State. Rep. Martina White attached an unrelated immigration amendment to the Solar for Schools legislation, which has bipartisan support from members of the Pennsylvania legislature. Supporters are calling for a clean passage of the bill.

Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler’s (D-Philadelphia) popular Solar for Schools legislation was expected to have a vote on the Pennsylvania House Floor this week, but is currently being held up by Rep. Martina White’s (R-Philadelphia) attack on the immigrant community.

White attached an amendment to House Bill 1032, requiring employers or contractors who are awarded contracts under the Solar for Schools legislation to check the immigration statuses of their employees through the federal E-Verify system. 

Republicans have used E-Verify in the past to try and create a split in the House Democratic caucus, but supporters of Fiedler’s legislation are calling for a clean passage of the bill, without White’s amendment. 

The Solar for Schools legislation would use funds from President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act to establish a state grant program that allows school districts to apply for funds to install solar panels on the roofs of schools or district owned property.   

At a recent press conference promoting the legislation, Fiedler explained that the federal money will cover 30 to 50% of school construction projects. This will allow school districts to save money on their utility bills and create construction jobs within those communities. 

Fiedler’s organizing around the Solar for Schools legislation brought together allies who may have been at odds with each other in the past. It has the support of environmental organizations and a host of labor unions, including the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, the Philadelphia Building Trades, LIUNA, IBEW, and the American Federation of Teachers. 

Arthur Steinberg, the President of the American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania, called the legislation “a benefit to school districts, taxpayers and society as a whole.”

“It will provide good clean energy while having school districts save money, which returns funding to the taxpayers so taxes will not have to be increased,” he added.

The bill also gained bipartisan support as Fiedler spent months promoting her bill across the commonwealth. She was joined by Republican legislators from both chambers as they visited solar fields, and her bill sailed through the House Consumer Protection, Technology and Utilities Committee in May with a unanimous 14-0 vote.   

“We’ve had a very good mix of Republican and Democratic legislators both in the House and Senate that back it,” said Michael Ford, the Secretary-Treasurer of the Pennsylvania State Building and Construction Trades Council.

White, who has a history of introducing controversial immigration-related legislation and clashing with immigrant rights groups, has not issued a public statement about her amendment. But the consequences of her proposed E-Verify amendment could be significant, if enacted. Florida passed a law earlier this year requiring most businesses to use E-Verify. The law stoked fear among immigrant workers and the state has since seen an exodus of them, leaving many businesses scrambling to find labor.  

The bill was removed from the table once this amendment was introduced, and it is unclear when it will come up for a vote on the House floor. 

Author

  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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