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Shapiro says unfinished business includes vouchers, more school funding and higher minimum wage

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro said Monday that his list of unfinished business for the state Legislature includes passing a private school voucher program, increasing the minimum wage and approving bills to curb gun violence.

Shapiro also said he wants lawmakers to lift limits that prevent adult victims of childhood sexual assault from suing their assailants and institutions.

“I consider this to be unfinished business, along with making sure we raise the minimum wage, along with passing statute of limitations reform, along with making sure that we do something about gun violence in our communities,” Shapiro said.

Looking forward to next year, the governor said he will prioritize addressing a court ruling that found Pennsylvania unconstitutionally discriminates against the poorest school districts.

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Speaking at a Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon, Shapiro, repeatedly couched his remarks by acknowledging that he must contend with a politically divided Legislature.

He said he hopes his next budget proposal — due in early February — will include more money for public schools, as well as a new education funding formula that has bipartisan support. That idea depends in part on a review by the Basic Education Funding Commission, a panel of lawmakers from both parties and gubernatorial appointees.

“I asked them to finish their work by around Jan. 1 so that I can announce in my next budget both a formula that enjoys bipartisan support, as well as increased funding for public education,” Shapiro said.

A Commonwealth Court judge in February ruled that the state's system of funding public schools unconstitutionally discriminates against the poorest districts.

However, Republican lawmakers have balked at approving the billions of dollars public school advocates say is needed to fix disparities. On Monday, Shapiro did not propose a specific dollar figure to address the problem.

The budget Shapiro signed last summer — his first — boosted aid for public school instruction and operations by $600 million, or about 7%. That was well short of the billions many Democratic lawmakers and public school advocates had wanted.

Instead, the governor tried to get Democrats to support a Republican proposal to send $100 million to families for private school tuition and school supplies.

Shapiro later backed down amid opposition from House Democrats. But his support for it left advocates optimistic that the proposal will eventually become law and his willingness to back vouchers stands out among Democratic governors.

As for the rest of Shapiro's agenda, agreements are nowhere in sight between the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democratic-controlled House.

The Senate has taken no action on a House-approved bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour or on measures Democrats say are designed to cut down on gun trafficking, suicide deaths, accidental shootings and day-to-day violence.

Senate Republicans have blocked efforts to give adult victims of childhood sexual assault the chance to sue their victimizers. Republicans have linked that initiative to other priorities, including expanding voter identification requirements.

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Follow Marc Levy at twitter.com/timelywriter.