Senate Democratic Wrap-up for the Week of May 10, 2015

 

In a 28-19 party line vote, the Senate approved Senate Bill 1, which would have changed the public pension system for teachers and state workers.

The proposal would have created a 401k-style pension system for newly hired employees who are members of either the State Employees’ Retirement System or Public School Employees’ Retirement System.

Under the bill, current employees would have opted to either increase their contribution rate or accept a reduced benefit. Benefits already earned by current employees or retirees would not have been affected. Republicans claimed the bill would protect benefits while shielding taxpayers from the growing unfunded debt. They claimed the measure could save $18.3 billion over 30 years.

Apart from complaining that the 400-page bill was rushed through the Senate with little review and no hearings, Senate Democrats said the bill was unconstitutional since it would alter pensions for workers already in the system.

Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed Senate Bill 1 (Veto #5). He said the bill provided no immediate cost savings to taxpayers and did not maximize long-term savings for taxpayers.The governor also noted that the measure “violates federal tax law as it would be considered an impermissible cash or deferred arrangement (CODA). In addition, the bill forces newly-hired employees to pay down the unfunded liability of existing pension plans, caused by years of government failure to make necessary payments, while denying those new employees the full benefit of their contributions.”

 

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The Senate voted 40-7 in favor of Senate Bill 3, which would legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania.

The legislation would create specific requirements as to who can grow, assess and use medical marijuana. The bill would create a board of governor-appointed members to manage the distribution of licensing.

Bill proponents spoke at length about how medical cannibus can help children, veterans and others suffering from numerous illnesses.

Currently, marijuana is listed as a Schedule I illegal drug, which means there is no accepted medical use. The bill was introduced last session as SB 1182, but died in the House Judiciary Committee.

Senate Bill 3 is now in the House Rules Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 264, which would amend commerce and trade laws to prohibit the possession and sale of shark fins. Currently, it is against federal law to remove shark fins from sharks. The bill aims to slow the trafficking of shark fins in Pennsylvania.

The bill now moves to the House Judiciary Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 284, which amends current vehicle code to allow for special veterans license plate for motorcycles.

The specialty plates include the statement “Honoring Our Veterans.” Act 194 of 2012 allows individuals to purchase the plate for passenger vehicles and trucks. This legislation extends the opportunity to purchase them for motorcycles.

The bill was enacted as Act 17 of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 285, a companion bill to Senate Bill 284, which amends the current military affairs code to dedicate $15 from each “Honoring Our Veterans” license plate to the Veterans’ Trust Fund.

The bill was enacted as Act 18 of 2015.

 

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The Senate voted 39-8 in favor of Senate Bill 514, which would amend the current Generic Equivalent Drug Law.

This legislation would require pharmacists to alert a patient’s doctor before a pharmacist could give biosimilar products to a 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.

A similar measure was submitted (SB 405) in the previous session, but was laid on the table and was never acted upon.

The bill now goes to the House Health Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 678, which would expand the jurisdiction of college police at state universities.

The bill would allow college police to extend their patrol zone to all campus grounds, which would include roadways that run through college campuses.

The bill now goes to the House Education Committee.

 

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