Senate Democratic Wrap-up for the Week of November 29, 2015

 

The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 907, which amends the Real Estate Tax Sale Law (RETSL) to amend the notice requirements for tax delinquent properties.

The RETSL is designed to inform both the owner of tax delinquent property and the general public of the potential/actual sale of the property. After one year the bureau notifies the owner that the property has back taxes owed. If taxes are still not paid in the second year of delinquency, the property will be put up for sale.

Notice of the sale of tax delinquent property is important and methods to do so have proven to be done inefficiently in rural areas. Different county tax bureaus have their own procedures for posting the sale of properties with delinquent taxes. This legislation would standardize the posting of delinquent properties across Pennsylvania to make sure the property owner and the public are made aware of the information.

The bill was enacted as Act 85 of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 891, which would amend the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission Act to require the commission to waive tolls for vehicles accompanying a fallen firefighter, ambulance service or rescue squad member, law enforcement officer or armed service member killed in the line of duty.

The bill now goes to the House Transportation Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 986, which would provide immunity for individuals attempting to rescue a child from a vehicle.

This legislation would create another Pennsylvania immunity law by giving immunity to an individual attempting to rescue a child, by breaking a window or attempting to enter into a vehicle to help the child. Pennsylvania currently has specific immunity laws for situations when individuals attempt to help people in certain emergency situations. These laws are often referred to as “Good Samaritan” laws and are aimed at encouraging bystanders to act without fear of legal repercussions.

To be granted immunity, the person attempting to rescue a child must do all of the following: determine the vehicle is locked and there is no other way to enter, determine the minor is in imminent danger, call the police, stay with the minor at a safe location until law enforcement arrives, and use only the necessary force to enter into the vehicle.

The bill now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

 

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The Senate voted 30-20 in favor of Senate Bill 1071, which would amend the public pension system for teachers and state workers.

The proposal would create a new side-by-side hybrid pension system for newly hired employees who are members of either the State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS) or Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS). The new plan creates a Defined Contribution (DC) plan and adds a Cash Balance (CB) component.

Under the bill, future employees would automatically be enrolled in the hybrid plan. The CB portion of the plan would be mandatory and require an employee contribution of 3 percent. The DC portion would offer various investment options and require a minimum employee contribution as well. The DC plan would require employers to contributed 2.59 percent for PSERS and 4 percent for SERS members. A lump sum withdrawal option at retirement would be available to be made on their defined benefit contributions.

Current employees that are post-Act 120 members are employees who began SERS or PSERS service on or after Jan. 1, 2011 or July 1, 2011, respectively. These employees would be subject to shared gain and shared risk provisions. If the assumed rate is below what is expected employee contributions would increase.

Lump sum withdrawals would be balanced to be actuarially neutral. Post-Act 120 employees would have their retirement-covered compensation limited to the Social Security wage base. If an employee’s salary exceeds the wage base they would have the option to participate in the new hybrid plan for the amount of salary that exceeds the base.

Current employees who are pre-Act 120 members are employees who began SERS or PSERS service prior to January 1, 2011 or July 1, 2011, respectively. This bill would change the lump sum withdrawal to require that all future years of service be calculated actuarially neutral. These employees would also be subject to shared risk and shared gain provisions.

The bill would add in an anti-spiking provision, and instead calculate retirement wages based off of the highest three years of income. The legislation would also automatically enroll legislators in the new DC/CB hybrid plan if they were reelected to office.

Opponents of the bill claim it does not address the current $53 billion pension deficit. They also are concerned that the new hybrid plan would place higher costs on future employees; and that the measure would yield very little revenue short-term, and the revenue it does generate comes from unconstitutional changes to current employees.

The Public Employee Retirement Commission estimates that the bill would save $8.3 billion in PSERS and $1.7 billion in SERS through the year 2048.

The bill was defeated in the House by a vote of 149 to 52. The measure was one of the components of the negotiated agreement aimed at ending the protracted budget impasse.

 

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