Senate Democratic Wrap-up for the Week of May 15, 2016

 

The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 150, which amends the Vehicle Code to allow PennDOT to issue a “Share the Road” license plate to help bring awareness to bicycle safety.

Individuals may apply for this new plate for their car or truck (weighing less than 14,000 pounds) for a $40 fee.  The revenue from the plates will be used to create a “Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator position at PennDOT and to erect highway bicycle signage.

The bill was enacted as Act 36 of 2016.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 608, which amends The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act to simplify the process by which the Department of Health may add new chemical combinations to the list of illegal precursor substances.

This legislation allows the Secretary of the department to:

  • reschedule any controlled substances to coincide with federal law if the drug has been approved for over-the-counter use without a prescription;
  • exclude any substance or remove any controlled substance from any schedule if that the substance is approved for over-the-counter use without a prescription; and
  • temporarily schedule a drug if the substance is found to be an imminent hazard to public safety or has the potential for abuse.

Drugs that are rescheduled to a higher schedule must be posted in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.  Any temporarily scheduled drugs must be made known to the Attorney General.  The bill was amended to add Fentanyl derivatives to the list of Schedule I drugs.

The bill was enacted as Act 37 of 2016.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1196, which would amend the Liquor Code to redefine contiguous areas and provide for the temporary import distribution permit for the Democratic National Committee Convention (DNCC).

The bill would require distribution territories “to be within two contiguous counties.” The bill would also allow the Liquor Control Board (LCB) to work with the DNCC at unlicensed locations during the event. A national political party would be allowed to apply for a National Event Permit to allow for the service of alcohol at their convention.  The permit would be similar to a Special Occasion Permit currently offered by the LCB.

This bill would:

  • require all beer sales to be reported to the LCB, detailing the products volume sold;
  • allow Pennsylvania citizens to purchase alcohol outside of the state and transport it back into Pennsylvania legally;
  • restrict information received by the LCB from customer relations programs as being part of the Right-to-Know Law;
  • add the definition of mead to the Liquor Code;
  • reduce casino liquor license initial fees and renewal fees to $500,000 and $25,000 respectively;
  • allow for the increase in the permitted level of carbonation allowed in alcoholic cider;
  • allow alcohol to be sold on Sundays starting at 9 a.m.; and
  • Repeal the Spirits Wholesale and Retail Privatization Commission.

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

 

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The Senate voted 49-1 for House Bill 1436, which requires that public utilities file their federal income tax expenses individually for the purpose public utility ratemaking.

Federal law allows public utilities to collectively file consolidated tax returns if the companies are affiliated with each other.  This process allows public utilities to offset their losses and gains so they can utilize the tax money they save.

However, when public utilities file their tax expense collectively it is difficult to determine a utility’s individual federal income tax expense.  This legislation amends the current income tax filing procedures for public utilities so that the rates the Public Utility Commission (PUC) designates for the utility are based solely off of the individual utility.

In addition, the legislation requires that the PUC half of any revenue gained from this legislation to support system reliability and infrastructure; and that the other 50% be kept by the utility for general corporate purposes.

The bill was enacted as Act 40 of 2016.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1484, which will update the “Soldiers’ Grove” memorial located in Harrisburg.

The memorial is designed to honor all veterans in all wars after the Vietnam Conflict. Due to the limited amount of space available, the Department of General Services (DGS) will implement a plan to redesign the location and provide for future Medal of Honor recipients. The current design is entitled “Tides of War” whereby a new “wave” of the memorial is added after each conflict. The new design will add the “Pillars of Peace” to make space for the memorial.

This bill requires that the memorial be modified.  DGS will also be required to place several signs and barriers throughout the memorial.

The bill was enacted as Act 38 of 2016.

 

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            The Senate voted 49-1 in favor of House Bill 1552, which allows the Pennsylvania Department of Education to enter into interstate reciprocity agreements to allow for post-secondary distance education opportunities.  The legislation also provides for the student-weighted basic education funding formula.

Distance education is when postsecondary courses are offered online to students out of state. The bill makes the process by which out of state schools can offer distance learning opportunities to students in Pennsylvania much easier and more cost-efficient.  Colleges and universities are required by some states to be pre-approved if they want to offer courses to students out of state.

This legislation allows Pennsylvania to enter into a state authorization reciprocity agreement (SARA) to allow for interstate agreements. A SARA allows colleges and universities to offer distance education to any state that is a member of that SARA. There are no costs associated with Pennsylvania joining a SARA. Administrative costs are allotted to participating colleges and universities.

The bill also establishes a retroactive funding method in which schools will receive at least the basic education funding amount that was appropriated to their school during the 2013-14 for the previous two school years. This means that schools will receive additional appropriations for the 2014-15 school year and the 2015-16 school year equal to the difference between what was appropriated during 2013-14 school year and what they received the next two years.

The bill was enacted as Act 35 of 2016.

 

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The Senate voted 45-3 in favor of Senate Bill 180, which updates the law (Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code) governing organ and tissue donations.

 

This legislation would:

  • increase public education about organ donation;
  • update best practice methods used for transplantations and donations;
  • direct organ procurement organizations to collaborate with coroners and medical examiners;
  • expand the list of individuals who may execute an anatomical gift — this list takes effect in time-sensitive situations where certain individuals are not available;
  • States the circumstances in which anatomical donations can be made and for what reason;
  • Provide for organ and tissue donation education in secondary schools;
  • Clarify that the donor of an anatomical gift is not liable for any damage or injury resulting from the gift;
  • Requires the Department of Education to include organ donation education for students in ninth through twelfth grades;
  • require PennDOT to store all donor designations in the Donate Life PA Registry; and
  • determine the process by which coroners and medical examiners are contacted before organ procurement and clarifies their responsibilities and authority;

Anatomical gifts may be made for research or education at a hospital, medical school or organ procurement organization. The bill clarifies procedures governing when anatomical gifts should be used for educational purposes or when they can be given to an individual in need of the organ or tissue.

The bill was previously introduced as Senate Bill 850, but died in the House Judiciary Committee. The bill now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 290, which amends the Vehicle Code to implement additional provisions for ignition interlock systems.

Before this legislation’s enactment, drivers were required to install an ignition interlock system on their vehicle for a year after if they received a second driving under the influence (DUI) offense. They were only required to do this if they had received another DUI within the last 10 years; if the person refused chemical testing; or if the individual illegally operated a vehicle that did not have the ignition interlock system at the time of their second offense.

This legislation makes first-time DUI offenders eligible to immediately install ignition interlock systems in their vehicles. Individuals who have committed previous DUI violations or have refused chemical testing could apply for an ignition interlock limited license if they have served at least half of their driver’s license suspension. First-time offenders would be eligible to apply for the limited license immediately.

The license would allow individuals to only operate vehicles equipped with an ignition interlock system. A person would be eligible for the limited license if he or she had an existing Pennsylvania license, if the person is eligible under federal law, or if their driving privileges were not suspended due to a DUI-related homicide.

The bill is aimed at preventing drunk driving. Many drivers with suspended licenses continue to drive illegally. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention found ignition interlock laws have reduced repeat offenses by about 67 percent.

The bill was enacted as Act 33 of 2016.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 837, which amends the Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors Act to clarify professional titles and update the Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors Board.

The bill allows individuals with a Marriage and Family Therapist license to hold the title of a marriage and family therapist in Pennsylvania. Individuals without licensure are no longer allowed to use the title of marriage and family therapist, family therapist, marriage therapist or couples therapist. Violators face a fine of up to $10,000.

The bill allows students enrolled to become professional therapists and faith-based therapists to practice marriage and family counseling; however, they may not represent themselves as a licensed marriage and family therapist.  The legislation allows public and private school therapist and marriage and family therapists licensed out-of-state to use the title of marriage and family therapist, regardless of their licensure in Pennsylvania.

The bill also requires that one board position rotate between a licensed marriage and family therapist and a licensed professional counselor at the expiration of the member’s second term.

The bill was enacted as Act 54 of 2016.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1031, which establishes an investigative panel to investigate any criminal activity conduct by the Office of Attorney General.

The panel would investigate any criminal activity conducted by the Office of Attorney General; this includes the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General. The panel would consist of one Commonwealth Court judge and two judges from the court of common pleas.  A district attorney may appeal to the special Independent Counsel if they believe a member of the Office of Attorney General has committed a crime greater than a summary offense.  The bill provides for the panel and requires them to act within 90 days of receiving an investigation request.

The bill places certain limitations on the counsel on what it is authorized to investigate. The counsel would be restricted to maintain secrecy with all ongoing investigations.  The panel would have the same authorities as the Office of Attorney General.

Specifically this bill applies to situations for when the Attorney General is charged with a crime. This legislation would only be applicable to other employees if they were charged while performing duties associated with their position at the Office of Attorney General.

The legislation was spurred by the criminal prosecution and conviction of former Attorney General Kathleen Kane.

The bill now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1038, which would allow counties with county-operated juvenile facilities to allow a common pleas judge to serve on a juvenile detention board in third class counties.

This legislation would apply to: Berks, Chester, Erie, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Northampton, Westmoreland and York counties. The president judge of the court could be designated a member of the board of managers within one of these counties.

Currently, the board of managers in each county consists of the county commissioners, the sheriff and the county controller. The revised board would have authority over all local juvenile facilities through a licensed child welfare agency to manage the reception of delinquent or dependent children.

The bill now goes to the House Appropriations Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1108, which amends the Vehicle Code to define, license and report accidents of three-wheeled “autocycles.”

The bill defines an autocycle as “a three-wheeled motorcycle that has a steering wheel and seating that does not require the operator to straddle or sit astride.”  Autocycles are defined in the bill as a type of motorcycle, but a Class M motorcycle license would not be required for this vehicle.  Driver’s license applicants would not be allowed to use an autocycle to test for their driver’s license.

The bill was amended in the House to allow PennDOT to issue permits to trucks hauling milk on highways if the vehicles weighs less than 95,000 pounds.

The bill was enacted as Act 34 of 2016.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1154, which amends the Civil Service Act to update the notification and application process for Civil Service positions.

This bill changes how job openings for state jobs are presented to applicants. It would allow applicants to be notified of job openings by methods other than mail.  Specifically applicants are now able to be notified through email of their placement and position for a certain job as well as their test results.  The bill also allows the Civil Service Commission to allow for more than 3 applicants to be considered for an open position.

Lastly, the legislation allows the commission to post specific job openings rather than only general details about the position. This change allows applicants to apply for specific positions rather than a general class of jobs.

The bill was enacted as Act 69 of 2016.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1194, which amends the State Military College Legislative Appointment Initiative Program Act to remove the June 30, 2016 expiration and allow current law to continue indefinitely.

The Initiative Program allows the each member of the legislature to choose one student every year to be appointed to a state military college. Every Senator and State Representative is allowed to establish a State military college selection committee to choose an eligible applicant from their district.  The State Ethics Commission oversees the committees. The bill removes the expiration of this program and allows future students to be eligible.

The bill was enacted as Act 81 of 2016.

 

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