Senate Democratic Wrap-up for the Week of December 6, 2015

The Senate voted 40-10 in favor of House Bill 530, which would make several changes to the law impacting public and charter schools.

Under the bill, the Charter School Funding Advisory Commission would be created to “exam the financing of charter school entities.” This commission would analyze the impact finances have on a charter school’s ability to operate independently from the existing school district structure. The measure would also allow the state to transfer some public schools into charter schools to improve student performance. The bill would also enable charter school employees to enroll in the Public School Employees’ Retirement System.

The measure would also:

  • provide for construction reimbursements for schools and create a “Public School Building Advisory Committee” to make construction-related recommendations;
  • create a three-year pilot program in the Philadelphia School District to intervene in underperforming schools.
  • change the Keystone Exams to include: a required fiscal impact statement containing the cost analysis of the proposed regulations for the Keystone exam and an extension for the Keystone Exams benchmark and graduation requirement until the 2018-2019 school year;
  • require the Department of Education to post public school’s financial information on the Internet;
  • make several changes to background clearance requirements to comply with the Child Protective Services Act; and
  • enable student self-administered diabetes care, online math support for public schools, and several other changes.

The legislation would also distribute $7.2 billion in education funding. This bill would also give community colleges the same funding as the 2015-2016 fiscal year, reenact the same formula distribution of Special Education funding and provide a distribution method for the excess funds allocated to private schools.

The bill now goes to the House Rules Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 777, which amends the state Lottery Law to protect individuals from being ineligible for the PACE and PACENET programs due to Social Security cost-of-living adjustments.

PACE and PACENET are prescription drug assistance programs for low-income seniors and they provide them low-cost prescriptions. This bill ensures individuals enrolled in these programs remain eligible, extending the Social Security COLA moratorium through December 31, 2017.

The bill was enacted as Act 91 of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 857, which amends Insurance Company Law to renew the Pennsylvania Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which would have expired on December 31, 2015.

The bill also requires insurance providers to reimburse emergency medical service agencies, provides for loaner vehicles insurance, amends the CHIP program and amends Managed Care Organization Assessments to agree with proposed Public Welfare Code amendments.

The legislation also requires insurance companies to reimburse non-network EMS providers to ensure balanced billing for consumers so that they avoid extra costs. Insurers must reimburse EMS providers if the following conditions are met: EMS providers submitted a direct reimbursement form to the Department of Health, EMS providers complied to be subject to insurance audits, balanced reimbursement can be completed, and the EMS provider cannot promise reduced bills because an individual made a donation.

This bill amends the Insurance Company Law to clarify whether the dealer or renter is responsible for damages to “loaner” vehicles. Liability would be placed on the customer’s insurance when the loaner vehicle is damaged. However, the bill places liability on the dealer while it is in possession of a customer’s vehicle.

The legislation moves the regulatory authority of CHIP to the Department of Human Services (DHS). DHS is now required to crosscheck families that receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program aid and child care subsidy benefits to check families’ eligibility to CHIP.

The bill was enacted as Act 84 of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously passed House Bill 909, which amends Real Estate Tax Sale Law to allow county tax claim bureaus to recover costs incurred because of compliance to municipal property maintenance codes.

Tax claim bureaus gain possession of a building when it cannot be sold at the lowest cost to cover all unpaid taxes. These buildings require maintenance and reconstruction to keep them in saleable conditions. This bill will help counties by allowing them to recover costs through the use of the sales price of the building.

The bill was enacted as Act 77 of 2015.

 

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The Senate voted 48-2 in favor of House Bill 941, which would reduce the licensing fee for a historical distillery to $1,200 a year, make several amendments to the Administrative Code, extend Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) temporary licenses, add provisions for fantasy sports online and reform Pennsylvania’s horse racing industry.

The legislation would reform the Citizens Advisory Council to be an independent advisory council within the Department of Environmental Protection. The Administrative Code currently oversees the council and this amendment would give the council “the sole power to employ and fix the compensation of an executive director.” The Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection would become an ex officio member of the council.

 

The bill would authorize TNCs, such as Uber and Lyft, to operate in Philadelphia under the same provisions they operate under in the rest of Pennsylvania. Under this measure, the temporary regulations for TNCs would be extended until December 31, 2016.

This bill would also reform for Pennsylvania’s horse race industry by updating guidelines and restructuring the State Horse Racing and State Harness Racing commissions. These two commissions would be consolidated into one, entitled the State Horse Racing Commission.

The changes are aimed at helping the horse racing industry to improve finances. Racing funds are mainly obtained through purses at horse races. Due to a decline in wagering, the funding mechanism needs to be adjusted. The new commission would regulate horse racing and the pari-mutuel (betting) operations. This amendment would also provide licensed racing entities the ability to create electronic wagering systems.

The bill would also establish the Pennsylvania Breeding Fund Advisory Committee. This five-member committee would advise the commission on breeding regulations. The bill would allow the commission to impose licensing fees and suspend/revoke licenses. The commission could inspect and seize any property at locations where horse racing occurs.

The bill would also require the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to submit a report on “Fantasy sports as a gambling product in this Commonwealth.” The report would contain information on current fantasy sport formats, potential regulations on fantasy sports and their impact on the state’s gaming industry, minors and gambling addicts.

The bill was amended in the House and now goes to the Senate Rules and Executive Nominations Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1161, which allows licensed vehicle salespersons to be licensed with one dealership and sell at another related dealership if the two dealerships share a common owner. This change accommodates vehicle dealers who own several dealerships and have their salespersons go between dealerships.

The bill was enacted as Act 78 of 2015.

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1195, which amends the Vehicle Code to extend the financing period for a motor home or recreational trailer.

This legislation allows consumers to finance recreational vehicles for up to 20 years without needing to renew the finance. The law previously allowed institutions to offer recreational vehicle loans for only six years before needing to refinance.

The bill was enacted as Act 86 of 2015.

 

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The Senate voted 47-3 in favor of House Bill 1322, which makes several amendments to the Public Welfare Code.

The bill changed the name of the Public Welfare Code to the Humane Services Code. The code will now require individuals requesting to receive public assistances to prove they are not receiving assistance from other states. Applicants are required to list all states where they lived and received public assistance from in the last five years.

This legislation also codifies the Keystone Education Yield Success (KEYS) program to update regulations and comply with federal law. Students currently receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are eligible for the KEYS program. The program is designed to help impoverished students go to college or a similar higher education program. Students in the KEYS program must be pursuing a High Priority Occupation degree.

The KEYS program provides advising, counseling, financial aid and tutoring for students. To maintain extended membership in the program, students will need to take ongoing classes and maintain a minimum GPA (grade-point-average). TANF participants maintain a work requirement and this legislation allows students to count up to 24 months of study time, clinicals, labs and class time toward their work requirement.

This legislation also moves medical assistance payments from the Fiscal Code to the Public Welfare Code for the current fiscal year. This change moves the payments back to the Welfare Code and provides an incentive for private nursing homes to take in medical assistance patients.

The bill also extends the hospital assessment requirement until 2018, excludes cancer treatment centers from being added to the assessment calculation and increases the percentage of revenue calculated from 3.22 percent to 3.71 percent.

This legislation also adds a new Managed Care Organization (MCO) Assessment to comply with federal law. The previous MCO’s were ruled unconstitutional and the assessment fee will replace the gross receipts tax.

The code is also amended to require parents to pay a co-payment based on annual family income. Subsidies will be scaled based on family income and will apply to child care. Child care facilities will be required to be licensed to continue to receive money from the Child Care Development Block Grant.

The bill also ensures that the Department of Human Services make payments to counties during a budget impasse.

The bill was enacted as Act 92 of 2015.

 

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The Senate voted 48-2 in favor of House Bill 1327, which amends the Fiscal Code to provide for the implementation of the 2015-16 budget. The bill would make several key amendments to do the following:

  • Increase the minimum retailer’s cost of selling cigarettes from 6 percent to 7 percent (Philadelphia would be exempt);
  • Prohibit surplus funds from the 2014-2015 budget from being transferred to the Budget Stabilization Reserve Fund;
  • Reduce the transferring of funds from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund to the Marcellus Legacy Fund;
  • Provide for the transfers of funds from the Tobacco Settlement Fund and the Race Horse Development Fund, along with several other transfers between funds;
  • Distribute health-related funds, community-based projects, clean drinking water funds, school programs and several other fund allocations;
  • Reimburse school districts for costs associated with this year’s budget impasse;
  • Allow Second Class A cities to continue to charge a local service tax to pay down pension debt;
  • Reauthorize the State Workers’ Insurance Board until June 30, 2018;
  • Transfer $20 million from the Marcellus Legacy Fund to the Environmental Stewardship Fund;
  • Provide for the use of grants to obtain access to natural gas; and
  • Allow the legislature to request an extension to create and submit a state plan for Greenhouse Gas Regulations.

Opponents of this Greenhouse provision claim the proposed changes create more difficult circumstances for the Department of Environmental Protection to develop a state plan and prolong the implementation of the Clean Power Plan.

The bill now goes to the House Rules Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1603, which amends the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act to bring Pennsylvania into compliance with uniform laws regarding interstate and international jurisdiction of family support orders.

The bill changes how interstate and international family support orders are enforced to ensure children receive financial support from their parents regardless of where they are in the world. Prior to this legislation Pennsylvania was operating under the 1996 Uniform Interstate Family Support Act guidelines. The bill redefines personal jurisdiction and provides for clarification to child support orders existing in multiple states.

This legislation requires county agencies to report suspicions of a child being a victim of sex trafficking to local law enforcement. Under this measure, county agencies are required to report an annual number of sex trafficking victims to Department of Human Services. The bill also establishes new responsibilities for county children and youth services. This change provides additional procedures for cases involving children suspected of being sex trafficking victims or children who are missing. This bill also authorizes courts to consult with a dependent child to determine their desired permanency goal during a permanency hearing.

This law maintains Pennsylvania’s compliance with federal law and therefore allows the state to keep close to $150 million in funding.

The bill was enacted as Act 94 of 2015.

 

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In a near party-line vote the Senate voted 29-21 in favor of House Bill 1690, which would amend the Liquor Code to modernize Pennsylvania’s liquor industry.

The bill makes several provisions to modernize the sale of liquor in Pennsylvania. The legislation would:

  • Allow for the sale of alcohol at gas stations as long as the sale of gasoline and alcohol is does not occur on the same licensed premises, but instead at two locations not connected;
  • Expand wine permits to allow restaurants and hotels to sell up to four bottles of wine to-go;
  • Allow breweries to sell at farmer’s markets;
  • Provide a new type of casino liquor license in which casinos would be allowed to sell alcohol 24 hours a day, seven days a week;
  • Allow for unsold restaurant liquor licenses to be auctioned off, starting at $25,000;
  • Reduce the amount of time a liquor license could be held from three years to two years and increase the fee to hold licenses to $10,000;
  • Provide for the direct shipment of wine to homes in Pennsylvania;
  • Give the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) authority to adjust prices;
  • Remove the hour and day restrictions placed on state liquor stores and allow the PLCB to set the hours of operation;
  • Allow for the sale of lottery tickets in state stores;
  • Prohibit the sale or possession of powdered alcohol;
  • Provide for more Special Occasion Permits;
  • Create a Wine and Spirits Wholesale and Retail Privatization Commission to make recommendations about the privatization of wholesale wine, retail wine and spirits operations in Pennsylvania

The bill is designed as a compromise between Republicans, Democrats and the governor. It contains various provisions that were offered by both Republicans and Democrats in other pieces of legislation.

The bill now goes to the House Rules Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1735, which amends the Tobacco Product Manufacturer Directory Act to change the definition of “units sold.”

This amendment redefines “units sold” to more accurately measure the number of tobacco products sold to apply the correct tax. The Tobacco Product Manufacturer Directory Act will now measure packs bearing the tax stamp, “roll-your-own,” tobacco containers that are not required to have a tax stamp and cigarettes authorized to be sold without a tax stamp.

The office of the Attorney General will now attempt to obtain consent for the amendment from tobacco manufacturers.

The bill was enacted as Act 95 of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1736, which amends the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Act to provide for the definition of “units sold.”

This amendment redefines “units sold” to more accurately measure the number of tobacco products sold to apply the correct tax. Tobacco Settlement Agreement Act will now measure packs bearing the tax stamp, “roll-your-own,” tobacco containers that are not required to have a tax stamp and cigarettes authorized to be sold without a tax stamp.

The office of the Attorney General will now attempt to obtain consent for the amendment from tobacco manufacturers.

The bill was enacted as Act 96 of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 442, which creates the Taxpayer-Funded Advertising Transparency Act and requires all commonwealth-paid advertisements to say: “Paid for with Pennsylvania taxpayer dollars.” This legislation will not apply to advertisements that are broadcast free of charge.

This legislation was amended to exempt Pennsylvania State Lottery advertisements.

The bill was enacted as Act 90 of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 524, which establishes the Non-narcotic Medication Assisted Substance Abuse Treatment Grant Program within the Department of Corrections (DOC).

This pilot program will help educate and train law enforcement about opioid abuse, alcohol addiction and the proper use of non-narcotic medicines. This bill also educates prison officers and other providers about the different kinds of addictions inmates might be suffering from.

A treatment program will also be offered to offenders released from correctional facilities. The bill outlines the eligibility of offenders to join the treatment program. The legislation also lists criteria that disqualify an individual from eligibility, such as a history of violent behavior. Inmates are required to waive their health privacy requirements to allow access to their medical records. Naltrexone will be required to be pre-approved by all Medicaid managed care plans.

The DOC is required to make a report to the General Assembly on the fiscal aspects and participation data from the grant program within 18 months of this bill’s enactment.

The bill was signed into law as Act 80 of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 604, which would allow proceeds from Lake Erie fishing permits to be used for public fishing projects that support Lake Erie, Presque Isle Bay and their tributaries.

The bill now goes to the House Games and Fisheries Committee.

 

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The Senate voted 43-7 in favor of Senate Bill 1073, which is an agreed-to bipartisan state budget legislation that would appropriate $30.8 billion in spending for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

This budget plan would provide $350 million more to public education than last year’s budget. The bill would also appropriate $60 million more to early childhood education, $50 million more to special education funding, $25 million more to Pre-K Counts and $5 million more to Head Start supplemental assistance.

Opposition for this legislation comes from concerns for the increased spending and a lack of understanding as to where the revenue for the budget’s implementation would come from. In opposition to this agreed-to budget, the House Republicans created a smaller budget plan (HB 1460) spending about $500 million less. However, this plan makes a significantly smaller increase to education funding.

As of December 22 the bill passed second consideration in the House with a vote in favor 100-97. The bill has not been acted upon since this time.

 

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The Senate voted 38-12 in favor of Senate Bill 1082, which would amend the public pension system for teachers and state employees.

The proposal would create a new side-by-side hybrid pension system for newly hired employees who are members of either the State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS) or Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS). Hazardous duty employees, such as Police Officers, would be exempt from the legislation. The new plan creates a defined contribution (DC) plan and adds a cash balance (CB) component. The new hybrid pension plan uses a defined benefit (DB) plan for new members.

Under this bill, future employees would automatically be enrolled in the hybrid plan. The DB portion of the hybrid plan requires a 4 percent contribution for PSERS members and a 3 percent contribution for SERS members. The plan would use a 1 percent of final salary accrual rate and final salaries will be calculated based on the last five years of employment. The DC portion would offer various investment options and require a minimum employee contribution. The DC plan would require employers to contribute 2.5 percent. Employees would be required to contribute about 3.5 percent for PSERS and 3.25 percent for SERS. A lump sum withdrawal option at retirement would be available to be made on their defined benefit contributions.

Current employees who are post-Act 120 members are employees who began SERS or PSERS service on or after Jan. 1, 2011 or July 1, 2011, respectively. These employees would be subject to shared gain and shared risk provisions. If the assumed rate is below what expected employee contributions would increase.

Current employees who are pre-Act 120 members are employees who began SERS or PSERS service prior to January 1, 2011 or July 1, 2011, respectively. This bill would change the lump sum withdrawal to require that all future years of service be calculated actuarially neutral. These employees would also be subject to shared risk and shared gain provisions.

The legislation would also automatically enroll legislators in the new DC/CB hybrid plan if they are re-elected to office and would give them the option to go back to the previous pension plan.

The bill would add in an anti-spiking provision, and instead calculate retirement wages based off of the highest three years of income. The provision would also create the Public Pension and Asset Investment Review Commission to make pension reform recommendations to the General Assembly and the governor.

Opponents of the bill claim this legislation does not address the current pension deficit. These individuals are concerned that the new hybrid plan would place higher costs on future employees; and that the measure would yield very little revenue short-term, and the revenue it does generate comes from unconstitutional changes imposed on current employees. This legislation would collar the payments the government and schools pay, to allow them to hold off on outstanding debt payments. Opponents claim the decision to prolong payments would continue to increase the pension deficit.

The bill now goes to the House State Government Committee.

 

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