Senate Democratic Wrap-up for the Week of June 21, 2015

 

The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 131, which removes the residency requirement for non-resident veterans, spouses of veterans, and dependants of veterans to receive in-state tuition rates. This would be applied at state universities and community colleges.

Previously, veterans from out of state needed to establish residency in Pennsylvania before applying for in-state tuition. This bill would allow veterans to transition from wherever they were stationed into Pennsylvania’s colleges right away.

The bill was enacted as Act 11 of 2015.

 

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The Senate voted 31-18 in favor of House Bill 189, which would amend the liquor code to allow any amount of wine to be shipped to an individual each month and allow for manufacturers to ship directly to consumers. Currently only 9 liters of wine are allowed to be shipped to an individual per month and manufacturers are not allowed to ship directly to a consumers home.

The measure is currently in the House Rules Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 911, which will modernize the 911 Public Safety Emergency Telephone Act. This legislation increases surcharge fees and updates how those funds will be collected and distributed.

The Senate approved the House’s changes to remove the optional $52 local county tax.

The bill was enacted as Act 12 of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 77, which would amend current dog hunting permit policies to lower the size restrictions for training zones in hunting clubs from 100 acres to 50 acres.

The bill would also remove the requirement for a special permit to hunt game on beagle training club grounds. Currently, vandalism and trespassing are major problems at these clubs, and these changes would allow the Game Commission to properly prosecute offenders.

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

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 129, which would amend the county pension law to clarify how the calculation of county pension cost-of-living adjustments (COLA’s) should be calculated.

The bill is aimed at encouraging counties to use COLAs as a local pension adjustment method. COLAs are a type of adjustment method for the changes in the cost-of-living index. These adjustments are given to retired county employees to account for inflation.

This legislation would provide clarification to calculation methods, by stating that COLAs do not need to be calculated retroactively to the previous adjustment. For example, if an employee was given an adjustment rate of 1 percent two years ago, and the current adjustment rate was set at 2 percent, the employee would keep the old 1 percent rate, unless the adjustment was not calculated retroactively. This change would “most likely” result in adjustments being more evenly distribution among retirees.

This legislation would also add the requirement that COLAs be assessed by an actuarian before approval.

The bill now goes to the House Finance Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 299, which would give municipalities the option of waiving some or all of the earned income tax for volunteer firefighters and volunteers at nonprofit emergency medical services agencies. Each municipality would create their own exemption requirements if they want to offer the tax credit.

The bill now goes to the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 307, which would amend Administrative Code to add an independent counsel to assist the Environmental Quality Board (EQB).

The Department of Environmental Protection would appoint this individual who would advise the board in all board matters, including privileged information.

The bill now goes to the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

 

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The Senate voted 25-24 in favor of Senate Bill 352, which would reform Pennsylvania’s horse racing industry.

The legislation would update regulations and dissolve the State Horse Racing Commission and the State Harness Racing Commission and combine them to create the State Racing Commission. The new commission would be in charge of regulating horse racing and the pari-mutuel (betting) operations. The commission would manage licensure, fines, fees and taxes to fund oversight and drug testing.

The bill is aimed at reforming the horse racing industry to improving its financial situation. Racing funds are mainly obtained through purses at horse races, and due to a decline in wagering, the funding mechanism needs to be adjusted.

This legislation would make a number of changes to the distribution of funds to generate additional revenue. The Department of Agriculture estimates that the proposed changes could generate approximately $3.3 million annually. Maximum fines would be increased and deposited into the Racing Fund, instead of being deposited into the General Fund. The changes would eliminate the admission tax, which in turn would result in a loss of about $37,000 to the Racing Fund.

Opponents of this bill, and to similar legislation, claim this restructuring would not generate the estimated revenue and, in the end, would hurt the industry more than it would help.

Similar legislation was previously introduced as Senate Bill 1188 in the 2013-2014 Session. Senate Bill 1188 passed the Senate unanimously; however, it died in the House’s Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.

Senate Bill 352 now goes to the House.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 356, which would amend the Local Tax Enabling Act to redefine the term “farmer” for tax purposes. The legislation would allow farmers to file one tax return per year, instead of quarterly. The bill would also change tax provisions for farmers to reflect the provisions used by the Department of Revenue.

The bill now goes to the House Finance Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 370, which would allow merging fire companies to receive the sum of their individual grant allotments indefinitely.

 

Due to mergers, larger fire companies currently lose their individual funding five years after merging, and instead receive grant funding equal to what only one fire company would receive. In efforts to maintain quality, membership and proper funding, this legislation would remove the five year transition period and keep equal funding as if the fire companies had remained separated.

The bill now goes to the House’s Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 397, which will privatize and adjust the current bail bondsman system to provide uniform regulations across the state.

This bill redefines a bail bondsman as “a person who engages in the business of giving bail as a surety for compensation.” This legislation allows bondsmen to operate in multiple counties. Previous law allowed bondsmen to only operate in the county that their office is located in.

Under this legislation, police officers could capture fugitives out on bond if they are doing so on their free time. This bill also limits compensation bondsman can charge by no more than 10 percent for the first $100 and 5 percent on every $100 thereafter.

The bill was enacted as Act 16 of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 398, which would amend Title 20 (Decedents, Estates, and Fiduciaries) to encourage organ donation.

By changing the language on organ donor applications and identification cards, this bill is designed to promote organ donation. The legislation would add the phrase “Pennsylvania strongly supports organ and tissue donation because of its life-saving and life-enhancing opportunities” to both the application for an identification card and on the organ donor form.

The bill now goes to the House Transportation Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 524, which would establish the Non-narcotic Medication Assisted Substance Abuse Treatment Grant Program.

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

The bill now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 609, which would create the “Prostate Cancer Surveillance, Education, Detection and Treatment Act” to raise awareness about prostate cancer.

The measure would create a task force with the goal of informing the public in all issues related to Prostate Cancer. The board would help raise awareness, inform medical professionals and the public of treatment options, and provide free prostate screenings for all men in Pennsylvania, regardless of insurance.

The bill now goes to the House Health Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 655, which would have established the 2015-2016 Fiscal Code. The bill would also have amended the Fiscal Code to extend the expiration date for the State Workers’ Insurance Fund until June 30, 2019.

The bill was vetoed by the Gov. Tom Wolf (Veto No. 4 of 2015). In his veto message, he stated, “As I vetoed the General Appropriations bill, I will also veto its implementation.” The governor called Senate Bill 655 one part of a budget plan that does not produce a balanced budget for Pennsylvania. Ultimately, the governor said the legislature failed to provide “adequate funding to ensure Pennsylvanians have schools that teach our students.”

 

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The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 663, which amends the Domestic Relations Code to give full custody rights to the mother in the event of a child being conceived as a result of a rape.

Previously, if a rape victim became pregnant and chose to keep the child, she could have been required to provide visitation rights to the perpetrator. Also, previous law enabled such offenders to avoid child support payments when their parental rights were terminated.

This legislation prevent rapists from interacting with the child conceived by rape by ending their parental rights, but the new law still requires perpetrators to pay child support.

The bill was enacted as Act 40 of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 737, which would approve the use of semi-automatic sporting rifles for hunting coyotes and woodchucks.

Currently it is illegal to hunt with any semiautomatic weapon in Pennsylvania. This legislation would limit their use for only these two animals. However, these weapons would not be allowed to be used during bear, deer, and turkey seasons.

The bill now goes to the House’s Game and Fisheries Committee.

 

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The Senate voted 40-9 for Senate Bill 747, which would require the Insurance Commissioner to research the total amount of punitive damages paid by doctors, long-term care nursing facilities and personal care homes.

This study would expand over the last 10 years to better inform the legislature of these medical costs. This legislation would also limit punitive damages to 250 percent of compensatory damages.

The bill now goes to the House.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 775, which would amend the Third Class City Code to require that an elected city treasurer must be a “qualified tax collector.” This legislation would also make a few technical changes to wording and dates.

The bill now goes to the House Local Government Committee.

 

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            The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 792, which would amend First Class Township Code to update references concerning property maintenance codes, reserved powers, and the Uniform Construction Code. This bill would also amend the First Class Township Code to align the code with similar changes made in other city, township and borough codes.

Similar legislation (Senate Bill 793) would apply to the Second Class Township Code. Senate Bill 792 now goes to the House’s Local Government Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 793, which would amend the Second Class Township Code to update references in the code concerning property maintenance codes, reserved powers and the Uniform Construction Code. This bill clarifies that second class townships are subject to the Pennsylvania Construction Code.

Similar legislation (SB 792) would to apply to the First Class Township Code. Senate Bill 793 now goes to the House’s Local Government Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 811, which would provide for the capital budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year. This legislation would authorize the maximum spending of $1.29 billion. This amount is the maximum amount of debt that the Commonwealth is allowed to incur for the 2015-2016 fiscal year while providing for capital projects.

The bill now goes to the House’s Appropriation Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 812, which appropriates $54 million from the General Fund to the Department of State. The legislation makes appropriations from the State Board of Medicine, the State Board of Osteopathic Medicine, the State Board of Podiatry, and the Athletic Commission Augmentation Account for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

The bill was enacted as Act 1A of 2015.

 

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            The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 813, which appropriate $72 million from the Workmen’s Compensation Administration Fund to the Department of Labor and Industry and the Department of Community and Economic Development. This legislation also transfers $3 million to the Uninsured Employers Guaranty Fund for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

The bill was enacted as Act 9A of 2015.

 

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The Senate approved Senate Bill 814 with a vote of 48-1. This legislation appropriates $1.3 million from the General Fund to the Office of Small Business Advocate in the Department of Community and Economic Development for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

The bill was enacted as Act 2A of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 815, which appropriates $5.3 million from the General Fund to the Office of Consumer Advocate in the Office of Attorney General for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

The bill was enacted as Act 3A of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 816, which appropriates $44 million to the Public School Employees’ Retirement Fund to provide for expenses of the Public School Employees’ Retirement Board for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

The bill was enacted as Act 4A of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 817, which provides $23.7 million from the State Employees’ Retirement Fund to provide for expenses of the State Employees’ Retirement Board for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

The bill was enacted as Act 5A of 2015.

 

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The Senate approved Senate Bill 818 with a vote of 48-1. This legislation appropriates $10.4 million to the Philadelphia Taxicab and Limousine Regulatory Fund and the Philadelphia Taxicab Medallion Fund to the Philadelphia Parking Authority for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

The bill was enacted as Act 6A of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 819, which appropriates $72.7 million from the General Fund and from Federal funds to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

The bill was enacted as Act 7A of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 820, which appropriates $78.3 million from the State Gaming Fund to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, the Department of Revenue, the State Police and the Attorney General.

The bill was enacted as Act 8A of 2015.

 

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The Senate voted 34-15 in favor of Senate Bill 875, which creates the Treated Mine Water Act to provide liability limitations for the use of treated mine water.

This legislation provides immunity to mine operators who use the treated mine water. This immunity is only applicable when all three of the following criteria are met: the mine water is only used outside the boundaries of the mining site, the treated water is only used for oil or gas well development, and the mine operator is not the same person using the treated mine water for oil or gas well development.

By re-using mine water, the bill is aimed at conserving fresh water sources.

The bill was enacted as Act 47 of 2015.

 

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