Senate Democratic Wrap-up for the Week of May 8, 2016

The Senate voted 26-22 for House Bill 805, which would have amended the Public School Code to allow school districts to furlough employees based first off of performance evaluations and then by their seniority.  The bill would have also allowed the district’s superintendent to extend the Temporary Professional Employee (TPE) status of an employee.

This legislation aimed to change the process by which teachers are laid off by removing seniority-based layoffs. Seniority-based layoffs require that the last person hired is the first person fired.  Under this legislation, layoffs for economic reasons would have been based on a teachers performance and then by seniority.  Proponents of this legislation claim the process is unfair to qualified teachers and does not account for the teacher’s performance qualifications.

Currently, new employees maintain TPE status for three years until they become Professional Employees (PE). This bill would have allowed superintendents to extend an employee’s TPE status to a fourth year if the employee had not demonstrated three years of appropriate and qualifying work.  Proponents of the bill said the additional year would give employers more time to determine if an employee is performing adequate work.

The bill would have also allowed tenured, or “profession employees,” to be furloughed for economic reasons as long as an equal proportion of administrative employees were also furloughed. These individuals would be eligible for being furloughed based off their “most recent end-of-year performance evaluation.”

The bill was vetoed as Veto No. 2 of 2016. Gov. Tom Wolf stated in his veto message that the “bill relies heavily on a single score from the teacher evaluation system, as opposed to using the entire method of evaluation.” Wolf stated that the bill does not give teachers the chance to improve on their weaknesses, but instead utilizes “high-stake test scores as the benchmark for teacher quality.”

 

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 944, which amends the Community and Economic Improvement Act to alter how Neighborhood Improvement Districts (NID’s) are created and regulated in Philadelphia.

This legislation adds definitions to the existing law to define which individuals are considered “affected property owners” within a NID.  These individuals are eligible to vote to reject a proposed NID in their area.  Previously a majority of 51 percent of affected property owners was required to deny the implementation of a NID plan.  This legislation requires that only 33 percent of the affected individuals vote against the plan – with up to 45 days after the hearing to object to the plan.

The bill requires that notice be given 30 days in advance of a public hearing to create a NID plan in a certain area.  The date, time and location must be provided to all affected property owners.  A second public hearing is no longer required if changes made to the NID plan are only technical in nature.

An annual audit must be submitted by the NID to the Department of Community and Economic Development and to any municipal departments designated within the NID.

The bill was enacted as Act 28 of 2016.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1200, which repeals a duplicate section in current law that provides for railroad track placement for tracks that cross under a viaduct or bridge.

Currently, railroad companies are required to contribute to the ongoing maintenance costs of bridges and viaducts for situations when tracks cross under one of these structures.  This legislation repeals the section (Section 7 of Act 71 of 1903) because this section is found in other parts of Pennsylvania’s laws.

The bill was enacted as Act 29 of 2016.

 

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 The Senate voted 48-1 in favor of House Bill 1310, to protect the information of those who make emergency 9-1-1 calls.

This bill, which amends Title 35 (Health and Safety), prohibits the use of a caller’s name, telephone number, address or location when he or she calls 9-1-1.  The bill is designed to protect the callers and the victims and to keep them from possible threats or danger. Citing safety and privacy, many witnesses want anonymity after witnessing a crime.

The measure does allow the information to be released with a court order. The bill was enacted as Act 30 of 2016.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1574, which amends and expands Pennsylvania’s anti-hazing laws.

This legislation expands the law to apply to public and private schools instead of only colleges and universities.  The bill adds to the list of organizations that fall under the anti-hazing law.  Specifically, the bill amends the definition of hazing from “students” to “person” in order to include any individuals associated with these originations.  Individuals may be found guilty and punished for hazing on or off school property.

This legislation also requires organizations under this law to adapt anti-hazing measures to prevent hazing.

Hazing offenses are currently a third degree misdemeanor. This legislation adds expulsion to the list of possible hazing punishments.

The bill was enacted as Act 31 of 2016.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1788, which amends the Community and Economic Improvement (CEI) Act to provide for the situation when a Neighborhood Improvement District (NID) overlaps with a Tax Increment Financing District (TIF) within Philadelphia.

NID’s are defined as “a geographic area within a municipality, in which a special assessment is levied on all designated property, other than tax-exempt property, for the purpose of promoting the economic and general welfare of the district.”  TID’s are “geographic areas within a redevelopment area that are defined and created by the governing body of a municipality to promote economic growth and combat blight.”

Special tax exemptions and regulations are granted to these two types of district plans to promote economic growth, attract business opportunities and put money back towards the community to develop employment opportunities and improvements within the district.

This legislation provides for situations where NID’s overlap TIF’s so that appropriate regulations can be applied to each.  The bill allows for a joint management team to regulate the two district plans that govern a single district.  The two district plans would be coordinated to provide for how revenue can be utilized between the two plans, the boundaries in the district and to provide for debt-service regulations between the two plans.

The bill was enacted as Act 32 of 2016.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 359, which would prohibit parents of truant children from being jailed for not paying fines.  Instead, the legislation allows a judge to require an offending parent to pay a fine, participate in community service or take part in a parenting education course.  The bill would also establish new truancy elimination plans for children failing to attend school.

A student is considered truant when they obtain three or more unexcused absences from school during a single school year. Currently, parents may be fined $300 or sentenced to take a parenting education program.  Failure to pay these fines can result in jail time.

Under this bill, students who are habitually truant and under the age of 15 would be referred to a community-based attendance improvement program or referred to the county’s children and youth agency. The bill allows for parents to pay a maximum fine of $750 if their student has committed several attendance violations.  Parents may be jailed for failing to perform court-ordered community service.

The bill would require schools to establish a truancy elimination plan so that administration, teachers and family members are able to collaborate before the student’s case is referred to the court system. This legislation would require schools to hold a school attendance improvement conference for children with a large number of unexcused absences. This conference would be used to establish an agreed-upon plan of action for the student, the best truancy prevention strategy and may refer the student to another intervention program.

The bill was prompted by a Berks County mother who died in jail after she was unable to pay the fines for her child’s truancy.

Similar legislation was introduced last session (SB 1455); however it was never acted upon in the Senate Education Committee. The bill now goes to the House Education Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1062, which increase the penalties for home invasion burglaries, specifically when the individual attempts or threatens to commit bodily harm to the homeowner.

The bill, which amends Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses), would add the definition of a “bodily injury crime” to include any attempt to commit homicide, assault, kidnapping, a sexual offense, arson, victim intimidation or a violation of a protection order. This change would qualify more violent offenses for increased punishment.

The bill now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

 

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Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1077, which allows school districts to send notifications about recordings on school buses to parents of students by other means than physical mail.

This change in the mailing requirement is designed to save schools money. The bill will no longer require school entities to send out an annual notification that some school buses are video and audio recorded.  The notification information is required to be posted on the school’s website and may be presented to parents in the student handbook or any other material that includes a school’s rules.

Guidelines for recording student activities on buses must be established by the district; and school districts are required to notify parents of these guidelines.

The bill was enacted as Act 56 of 2016.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1144, which would prohibit individuals from giving minors drugs that contain dextromethorphan (DXM).

This legislation prohibits the sale of medicines that contain DXM to anyone under the age of 18. DXM is found in numerous over-the-counter medicines, such as Alka Seltzer Plus™, Tylenol Cough & Cold™, Mucinex DM™ and DayQuil™. DXM can be used as a safe cough suppressant. However, if used excessively the substances can be abused.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse study revealed that approximately 1 in 30 teenagers have taken some form of cough suppressant medicine for non-medical purposes.

Individuals providing these over-the-counter medications to minors or individuals illegally obtaining them could be charged with a summary offense and fined up to $500. Advocates for the bill claim it would help prevent teen medicine abuse.

The bill now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1156, which would amend Title 23 (Domestic Relations) in child protective service to expand background check requirements.

Currently, individuals over 18 who have direct contact with children on a regular basis are required to have a background check. This legislation adds “health care personnel” to the list of individuals required to receive criminal background checks. Specifically it requires doctors and nurses to receive regular background checks.

The bill also adds requirements as to how long general protective service reports are to be kept. These reports could be unfounded or unconfirmed, however, the reports would be required to be kept for at least 10 years or until the child reaches 23 years of age.

The bill now goes to the House Children and Youth Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1229, which would re-add references to the term “Pennsylvania-bred” horses, for the purposes of horse racing purse distribution.

In the Race Horse Industry Reform, the awards from the PA Breeding Fund were specific to “Pennsylvania-bred” horses. Act 7 of 2016, which became law on February 23, 2016, drastically reformed the Race Horse Industry Reform Act. However, the language specific to “Pennsylvania-bred” horses was incorrectly omitted from the bill. This has impacted the purse distribution funds since Act 7 took effect.

This legislation would restore the prior wording and allow purse awards to be distributed as originally intended.

The bill now goes to the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.

 

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