Senate Democratic Wrap-up for the Week of July 10, 2016

 

The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 325, which amends the definition of auctioneer and apprentice auctioneer licenses to provide for online auctions. Sellers involved in an online auction must be inside of Pennsylvania when the items transaction occurs.

The bill provides for special licensure by requiring a written contract to be created prior to certain auction transactions. This contract must be created 20 days prior to the auction. The special auction license is required if an online auction’s auctioneer or auction company is located outside of Pennsylvania when the auction occurs. The bill creates the auctioneer company license which must be obtained by any businesses engaging in auctions. This includes businesses selling property at an auction.

This legislation removes the need for an Auctioneer of Record to be present at every auction a licensed company holds. The bill also allows apprentice auctioneers to become licensed if they complete at least 20 credits of auction schooling and work as an apprentice for at least one year.

The bill was enacted as Act 88 of 2016.

 

***

 

The Senate voted 45-3 for House Bill 568, which would amend the Pennsylvania Construction Code Act to increase building permit fees by $1 and alters the makeup of the Uniform Construction Code Review and Advisory Council (RAC).

RAC assists with construction-related projects and assist the Governor and the department of Labor and Industry with ongoing construction projects.

The bill was amended to allow the majority and minority leaders of each chamber to nominate a member to RAC. The legislation would add two positions to RAC. One member would be designated to assist with constructions trades and the other member would be responsible for “consumer interests.” This legislation would change council membership requirements and extend term length from two to three years.

This legislation increases the permit fee to help assist with costs associated with RAC operations and expansion of the council. The Department of Labor would be required to provide staff for certain RAC operations and members of RAC could receive reimbursement for their expenses.

This legislation amends the current construction and review code process to require a 120-day review period before all public construction projects. The RAC would be required to assign advisory committees to handle all public recommendations.

The bill now goes to the House Rules Committee.

 

***

 

The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 806, which amends the Clean and Green Law to ban use values for situations where the assessment value is higher than the fair market value.

The Clean and Green Law is designed to reduce certain agricultural properties property taxes. Previous law allowed land assessors to evaluate land based off of the use value rather than the fair market value to provide for lower property tax costs. However, in certain counties market value assessments were not being done on an annual basis and, therefore, the use value was showing a much higher property value than the market value.

This legislation ensures that the lower assessment value is used when determining the land assessment for a preferential land. The three preferential lands applicable under this law are lands used for agriculture, agricultural reserve and forest reserve.

The bill was enacted as Act 89 of 2016.

 

***

 

The Senate voted 28-22 for House Bill 1198, which amends the Tax Reform Code to provide for the 2016-17 fiscal year budget. The bill makes the following changes:

  • Repeals the managed care organizations tax;
  • Expands an inheritance tax exemption applicable for the transfer of family farms;
  • Prohibits electronic devices called zappers that are used to hide the sale of items to avoid needing to pay the necessary sales tax;
  • Expands the sales and use tax on more items;
  • Adds various tax exemptions for the purposes of increasing production, creating jobs, developing businesses, assisting veterans, investing in infrastructure and expanding housing opportunities;
  • Extends corporate net income tax returns by one month;
  • Exempts certain real estate transfers facilitated by exempt veteran service organizations;
  • Expands the sales and use tax in Pennsylvania to now apply to movies, e-books and other downloads such as applications, videos, online subscriptions, games and music;
  • Increases the casino tables game tax to 14%.
  • Adds a tax to electronic cigarettes (E-cigarettes) at a 40% wholesale rate;
  • Increases the tax credit companies may receive for hiring a veteran from $1,000 to $2,500;
  • Applies the personal income tax (PIT) to lottery winnings;
  • Provides for intangible drilling costs to modify PIT deduction regulations to now be the same as federal regulations;
  • Raises the bank shares tax from 0.89 percent to 0.95 percent;
  • Amends the cigarette tax across Pennsylvania by increasing all tax amounts by $1. Most of the state’s cigarette tax will increase from $1.60 per pack to $2.60 per pack;
  • Expands and increases Pennsylvania’s film production tax credit, provides a tax credit for businesses utilizing coal refuse and expands eligibility for city revitalization tax credits to improve efficiency;
  • Amends the tobacco tax rate to now be taxed at 55 cents per ounce;
  • An additional $20 million will be used from the cigarette tax fund for the agriculture preservation fund; and
  • Creates a tax amnesty program for the Motor License Fund. The change forgives delinquent taxpayers of half of their interest owed and the full penalty amounts owed.

Approximately $700 million is expected to be generated from these tax code amendments. About $500 million of the funds is projected to come the tobacco tax adjustments.

The bill was enacted as Act 84 of 2016.

 

***

 

The Senate voted 45-5 in favor of House Bill 1605, which amends the Fiscal Code to provide budget implementation for the 2016-17 fiscal year budget. The bill makes the following changes:

 

  • Transfers $5 million from the Marcellus Legacy Fund to the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund;
  • Exempts “any well or wells that do not penetrate the Onondaga horizon… or wells that unintentionally penetrate the Onondaga horizon and do not intentionally produce oil or gas” for the purposes of the Oil and Gas Conservation Law;
  • Provides for the Business in Our Sites Program to limit grant funding to be no more than 40 percent of the total amount of financing awarded or $4 million, whichever is less.
  • Creates the Heritage Park Program to manage, operate, plan and protect “Heritage Areas;”
  • Extends the Cancer Control, Prevention and Research Act for 10 years;
  • Moves U.S. Savings Bonds to the Treasury Department;
  • Authorizes the transfer of funds from the Tobacco Settlement Fund for home-based and community-based services, prevention and cessation programs, health research and Medicaid benefits;
  • Adjusts the annual acreage charge paid for land used by the federal government and Pennsylvania;
  • Alters the unclaimed property regulations on U.S Savings Bonds to be deemed unclaimed after three years;
  • Limits the Motor License Fund for State Police funding for the 2017-18 fiscal year and reduces the funding annually by 4 percent until the 2027-28 fiscal year;
  • Transfers funds from the Race Horse Development Fund to the State Racing Commission;
  • Extends authorization for Transportation Network Companies to operate in Philadelphia until formal regulations are established;
  • Helps fund school districts during a budget impasse by changing regulations for the intercepting of subsidy payments by the Department of Education, which may be no more than 50 percent of the total non-federal General Fund subsidy payments made to the school during the previous fiscal year;
  • Transfers $2.5 million from liquor and alcohol sales revenue to the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs;
  • Transfers $5 million from Alternative Fuels Inventive Fund, $2 million from the Local Law Enforcement Block Grants, $200 million from the Pennsylvania Professional Liability Joint Underwriting Association account, $9 million from the Recycling Fund, $12 million from the Building Pennsylvania program, $28.5 million from the Tobacco Settlement Fund and $9 million from the Volunteer Companies Loan Fund to the General Fund;
  • Transfers $12 million from the High Performance Building Program to the Natural Gas Infrastructure Development Program;
  • Creates a restricted revenue account for the Commonwealth Financing Authority “for the purpose of making principal and interest payments” due annually;

The bill was enacted as Act 85 of 2016.

 

***

 

The Senate voted 47-3 in favor of House Bill 1606, which imposes administrative and budget-related changes for schools.

The bill requires public schools to make more information available to the public by placing it on their websites. Information relating to everyday operations, as well as school finances, must be posted online. The Department of Education also has a responsibility to post financial information on its website.

The bill requires the Plan Con Advisory Committee to report on the feasibility of a comprehensive public school building safety program. This program would require regular inspections of school buildings and facilities.

The Department of Education is required to declare a school district receiving more than $2 million educational access program dollars per year to be in financial watch status. The Department must help such schools develop financial improvement plans.

The bill lessens the stringency of teacher certification and continuing education requirements to address concerns over the state’s substitute teaching shortage. Persons, who are enrolled in a teacher preparatory program and have completed 60 credit hours, may apply for a substitute teaching permit. Further, individuals may receive provisional, vocational, teaching certificates by providing evidence of good moral character and completion of vocational education work.

Teachers earning excess continuing education credits may carry such credits over to the next compliance period.

To help schools struggling with rising costs and diminishing funds and student enrollment numbers, the bill provides for schools to partner with and share educational and administrative services. A School District of the First Class A may enter into an agreement with an adjacent school district to allow students from the adjacent district to enroll in the district of the first class. The adjacent district will retain the student head count, while the district of the first class will assume responsibility for providing educational services to those students. Such an agreement was established between the Pittsburgh School District and Wilkinsburg School District.

Additionally, school entities may enter into an agreement to share personnel, such as superintendents, and administrative services to reduce redundancy and increase the cost-effectiveness. The department would provide grants to help bring this concept of administrative sharing to fruition.

Students are now allowed to self-monitor and administer medication to treat their own diabetic conditions. A school employee other than the school nurse may be selected to maintain and administer diabetes medication. Such employees must receive training based on Department of Health and Department of Education guidelines.

The state has established the Drug and Alcohol Recovery High School Pilot Program through this bill. While completing coursework that meets Department requirements, students may gain assistance in recovering from drug or alcohol abuse or assistance. Up to 20 students from a School District of the First Class may attend the program. It is scheduled to sunset after the 2019-2020 School Year.

With the unveiling of the Special Education Funding Commission’s report on funding special education fairly and adequately in Pennsylvania, House Bill 1606 includes the recommended funding formula. The weighted student count is based on student costs, wealth, tax effort and sparsity/size. Intermediate units are funded at 5.5 percent of the Special Education Funding appropriation, and 1 percent of the appropriation is to be set-aside in a contingency fund for extraordinary special education expenses.

This bill was enacted as Act 86 of 2016.

 

***

 

The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 514, which amends the Generic Equivalent Drug Law to require pharmacists to alert a patient’s doctor before a pharmacist may give biosimilar products to the patient.

Currently, pharmacists are allowed to give patients lower-costing generic drugs instead of brand name products if they are biosimilar products. Under this legislation, doctors must be consulted before patients receive a biosimilar drug that might not be the best option for them. Substitutions would only be allowed if the drug received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The bill was amended to add reference to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to require pharmacists to notify prescribers within 72 hours.

The bill was enacted Act 95 of 2016.

 

***

 

The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 533, which outlines the procedure for dealing with contraband left in possession of parole and probation agencies.

The legislation would apply to all situations in which two years have passed since the parolee was in the jurisdiction of the court. Notice would have to be sent to inform the parolee that the item has been declared abandoned and no other claim could be made on the item.

After an item has been held and attempted to be properly returned, it will become property of the county probation and parole department. If it is refused by the Treasury Department, the items may then be destroyed, sold, donated to a nonprofit organization, or used for the official use of the county department.

The bill was enacted as Act 96 of 2016.

 

***

 

The Senate voted 41-9 in favor of Senate Bill 717, which amends the Professional Nursing Law to provide for the title of a certified nurse practitioners in Pennsylvania to include certified registered nurse practitioner, registered nurse practitioner, certified nurse practitioner and nurse practitioner.

The title of “advanced practice registered nurse-certified nurse practitioner” is reserved for individuals authorized to practice independently in a particular clinical specialty area.

This legislation would remove the requirement that nurse practitioners authorized to practice a clinical specialty not be required to collaborate with a doctor of medicine or an osteopathic doctor.

Under the bill, a certified nurse practitioner would need to meet the following requirements to become certified: hold a current license in Pennsylvania as a registered nurse, graduate from an accredited board-approved master’s or post-master’s nurse practitioner program and pass a national certification program exam in the particular clinical specialty.

Certified nurse practitioners are required to maintain their registered nurse licensure, specialty and complete 30 hours of continuing education under this legislation. In addition, the bill provides for a nurse practitioners authority to prescribe certain drugs.

The bill now goes to the House Professional Licensure Committee.

 

***

 

The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1227, which amends the Administrative Code to transfer specific pension responsibilities of the Public Employee Retirement Commission to the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO).

This legislation moves state pension review functions to the IFO and the municipal pension responsibilities to the Department of the Auditor General. It requires the IFO to prepare cost analyses for all collective bargaining agreements and to provide actuarial notes for all legislation amending the public pension retirement plans.

The bill was amended to require actuarial notes to be transmitted electronically. In addition, the IFO is moved into the Administrative Code and requires the IFO to perform Risk Transfer Analysis in its actuarial notes of all legislation that proposes substantial benefit design changes to school employees’ retirement pensions.

The bill was enacted as Act 100 of 2016.

 

***

 

The Senate voted 41-7 in favor of Senate Bill 1229, which would amend the Administrative Code to provide additional responsibilities for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) with respect to unconventional wells; place additional requirements on the Department of Corrections; amend the Pennsylvania Breeding Fund to provide for a broader and increase breeder reward system and amends the make-up of the Breeding Fund Advisory Committee members.

Originally this legislation would have only restored the language “Pennsylvania-bred” horses to the Race Horse Industry Reform Act because it was “erroneously omitted” from the amendments made by Act 7 of 2016 to the Race Horse Industry Reform Act. The bill was amended to add additional measures to the Pennsylvania Breeding Fund law for distributing purse money.

This legislation would amend awards to be the following:

  • Awards 30 percent of the purse to a registered Pennsylvania-bred thoroughbred racing horse that was sired by a registered Pennsylvania sire for the position of 1st, 2nd or 3rd.
  • Awards 20 percent of the purse to a registered Pennsylvania-bred thoroughbred racing horse sired by a non-registered sire for the position of 1st, 2nd or 3rd.
  • Awards 10 percent of the purse to the owner of a registered Pennsylvania-bred thoroughbred racing horse that finishes in 1st, 2nd or 3rd.
  • Up to 20 percent of the remaining Breeding Fund, at the end of the year, would be distributed among licensed racing entities in proportion to the rate they generated the funds to be used for Pennsylvania Breeding Fund Stakes Race purses.

The State Horse Racing Commission would be responsible for contracting with the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders’ Association for them to be responsible for tracking Pennsylvania-bred thoroughbred race horses and Pennsylvania sires.  The Commission would be authorized to adjust purse distributions to no less than 30 percent and no more than 50 percent of the award that is earned by a racing horse sired by a registered Pennsylvania sire.  They would be allowed to adjust the purse award of a racing horse sired by a non-registered sire to anywhere between 20 percent and 40 percent.

The bill also alters the makeup of the Pennsylvania Breeding Fund Advisory Committee.  The committee would consist of five members. Two members would be selected by the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders’ Association, one from the Licensed Racing Entities, one from the association representing Horsemen Racing in Pennsylvania and one from the Pennsylvania Breeding Fund Advisory Commission.

In addition, the bill was amended to amend the Unconventional Well Report Act in the Administrative Code. Unconventional well reports would be submitted to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and include the type of waste, the amount of waste and how the waste is being disposed. All reports would be required to be submitted on February 15 and August 15. The DEP would be restricted from establishing any requirements on water standards other water storage guidelines, for the storage of surface water, fresh groundwater or water obtained from an approved public water purveyor that is used in oil and gas development.

The bill was amended to amend regulations for solar photovoltaic technology. This technology would need to “directly deliver the electricity it generates to the distribution system operated by an electric distribution company” within Pennsylvania. This change will allow Pennsylvania to meet requirements under the “Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act.”

This legislation would provide guidelines to the Department of Corrections to prevent it from closing a state correctional institution without first holding a public hearing.  The hearing notice must be posted 30 days prior to the meeting in the Pennsylvania bulletin.

The bill now goes to the House Rules Committee.

 

###