Senate Democratic Wrap-up for the Week of November 15, 2015

 

The Senate voted 36-13 in favor of House Bill 89, which amends Title 42 (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure) to change the automatic retirement age for judges from 70 to 75 years old. This bill is a companion bill to House Bill 90, which provided the constitutional amendment needed to implement this bill.

The bill was enacted as Act 62 of 2015.

 

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The Senate voted 36-13 in favor of House Bill 90, a Joint Resolution that amends the Pennsylvania Constitution.

In the 2013-14 session, House Bill 79 was passed by both the House and the Senate. House Bill 79 of the previous session is the same amendment. Passing the same amendment in two consecutive legislative sessions is required because the bill amends the state constitution.

Therefore, House Bill 90 amends the Constitution to allow judges to serve until the age of 75.

The bill was enacted as Pamphlet Laws Resolution No. 1.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 753, which repeals the Intra-Government Council on Long-Term Care and establishes the Pennsylvania Long-Term Care Council.

The Long-Term Care Council will exist within the Department of Aging. The council will advise other agencies and make recommendations on regulations, licensure and financing relating to long-term care. The legislation allows the governor to assign the Council related long-term care duties.

The council will create committees to study the following areas: community access and public education, long-term care service, the work force, housing and regulatory review and access to quality care.

Similar legislation was previously introduced as House Bill 252 and was passed by the Senate, but not the House. House Bill 753 was enacted as Act 64 of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 934, which would amend the Public Welfare Code to restructure the Keystone Education Yields Success (KEYS) Program to give more students a chance to graduate with an Associate’s Degree from Pennsylvania community colleges.

The bill would also make additional changes to the Public Welfare Code to update regulations and to comply with federal law.

Students currently receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are eligible for the KEYS program. The program is designed to help impoverished students enter into an institution of higher learning. Students in the KEYS program must be pursuing a High Priority Occupation degree.

The KEYS program also provides advising, counseling, financial aid, and tutoring for students. To maintain extended membership in the program, students would be required to take ongoing classes and maintain a minimum GPA.

TANF participants maintain a work requirement and full-time students are only allowed to count 12 months of educational hours. This legislation would allow students to count up to 24 months of study time, clinicals, labs and class time towards their work requirement. This change would give students the additional help they need to complete an Associate’s Degree.

This bill would make the following amendments to the Public Welfare Code:

  • Reauthorizes the Federal Child Care Development Block Grant Act and requires all Family Care Homes to be licensed
  • Requires that each parent with custody of a sibling of a dependent child be notified if the child has been removed from the child’s home
  • Allows the Department of Human Services to issue provisional licenses
  • Extends the current providers’ submission process for child welfare placement costs

The bill now goes to the House Rules Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1411, which amends Title 26 (Eminent Domain) to redefine the maximum reestablishment amount for individuals who have their property displaced.

This bill provides for the costs related to moving and for replacement housing when individuals are displaced from their homes

The measure also redefines the re-establishment costs for an individual’s property displacement. The maximum cost of a displaced farm would be increased from $12,000 to $25,000. The maximum defined cost of a displaced homeowner would be increased from $27,000 to $31,000. For tenants, the maximum reimbursement for displacement costs would be hiked from $6,300 to $7,200.

The bill was enacted as Act 88 of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 62, which would amend the Vehicle Code to change the requirements for receiving a probationary license.

PennDOT offers probationary licenses to drivers who have had their driving privileges revoked several times. To be eligible for the license, a driver needs to have between one and seven offenses and have served at least three years with a suspended license. For more offenses, the driver is required to do the following: Eight to 14 offenses requires four years, 15 to 21 offenses requires five years and 22 or more offenses requires at least six years with a suspended license.

This legislation would cut each of the time requirements in half. For example, an individual with one to seven offenses would be able to get a probationary license after a year and a half of suspension time served.

Current law allows for individuals to receive a probationary license only once. This legislation would allow drivers to reapply for another probationary license after five years, if theirs was suspended. The individual would be able to earn their regular license after three years of driving with no violations.

Similar legislation was introduced last session (SB 618), but was never acted upon. The bill now goes to the House Transportation Committee.

 

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The Senate voted 48-1 in favor of Senate Bill 146, which would amend the vehicle code to require passengers involved in accidents to assist any injured person involved.

This legislation provides for the duty of passengers in a vehicle to help a person involved in a car accident. Current law only requires a passenger to help an injured individual if the driver is physically unable to assist them. This bill would require passengers to give reasonable assistance if the driver refuses or is unable to assist the injured person.

If a driver neglects to help an injured individual, they would be subject to a third degree misdemeanor and a maximum fine of $2,500. A passenger who neglects to assist an individual would face a summary offense with a maximum fine of $300.

Similar legislation has been introduced over the last few years. Senate Bill 357 was introduced in the 2013-2014 session but was never acted upon.

The bill now goes to the House Transportation Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 518, which would amend Title 20 (Decedents, Estates and Fiduciaries) to enact the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act and to allow representatives to access the digital assets of a decedent.

This bill would allow an individual to provide instructions as to how they want their digital assets to be handled in the event of their death. Individuals would be able to provide instructions for their digital assets in a will, trust or power of attorney, the same as they could for tangible assets.

This legislation assists in dealing with information that might become inaccessible if the account holder dies or loses the ability to manage their digital assets.

The bill now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

 

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

The measure creates a task force to inform the public in all issues related to prostate cancer. The board will 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 was enacted as Act 66 of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 887, which amends the Vehicle Code to protect highway workers and emergency responders in construction zones.

This legislation takes preventative action against reckless and speeding drivers. This bill was inspired due to the high number of deaths of highway workers and emergency responders on Pennsylvania highways the last few decades.

The bill adds several fines related to the death or harm of highway workers in highway work zones. The fine for endangering a highway worker or causing them bodily harm is now $1,000. For serious bodily harm a driver will be fined up to $5,000 and lose his or her license for six months. A fine of $10,000 and the loss of one’s license for one year will be the fine given to any driver who causes death to a highway worker.

This bill was also amended to provide for the conviction and punishment of minors who cause harm or death to a highway worker. They will be put into an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program.

The bill was enacted as Act 70 of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 927, which would amend the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Compact to require Senate confirmation of the new Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission members.

New Jersey represents half of the members on the commission and they currently require their state Senate to approve all of their governor’s nominations. This bill would also require the Pennsylvania Senate to confirm our governor’s nominations.

The bill now goes to the House Transportation Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1045, which amends Title 51 (Military Affairs) to clarify Veteran discharge conditions for discharges other than dishonorable.

This legislation redefines the nature of a veteran’s discharge to better interpret the law, and to cause less confusion when veterans apply for programs and benefits in Pennsylvania. The programs and benefits available for veterans depend on the individual’s discharge from service. However, the term “discharge” was not properly defined and did not specify that individuals with a dishonorable discharge should not be eligible for these services.

The bill was enacted as Act 82 of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1046, which amends Title 51 (Military Affairs) to alter the promotion process for retired Pennsylvania National Guard personnel.

Under this measure, promotions will now be based on merit and not solely on years of service. Previously, every retired officer who applied for a promotion was promoted to the next rank, above their current rank. Applicants must have completed at least 25 years of service in the U.S armed forces to receive this rank promotion.

This bill changes the retired National Guard Promotion honorary process to no longer award the individual promotion to any applicant but instead to base the rank promotion on the individual’s merit. This legislation requires a veteran’s service be evaluated by a commanding officer so that they can affirm that the individual served honorably.

The bill further mandates that those who wear the retired Pennsylvania National Guard uniform must do so in compliance with the military uniform regulations. This amendment brings Pennsylvania into compliance with the army and air force regulations.

The bill was enacted as Act 83 of 2015.

 

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