Senate Democratic Wrap-up for the Week of October 11, 2015

 

The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 239, which amends county pension law to clarify how cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) should be calculated. COLAs are a type of adjustment method for the changes in the cost-of-living index.

Under the legislation, COLAs do not need to be calculated retroactively to the previous adjustment. For example, if an employee was given an adjustment rate of 1 percent two years ago, and the current adjustment rate was set at 2 percent, the employee would keep the old 1 percent rate, unless the adjustment was not calculated retroactively.

This bill provides that counties do not need to apply a COLA Index change every year. This change will help manage tax increases without greatly impacting taxpayers. The measure also adds the requirement that proposed adjustments be assessed by an actuarian before approval.

The bill was enacted as Act 63 of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously passed House Bill 904, which amends the First Class Township Code to clarify that townships must follow the Pennsylvania Construction Code when construction changes are made to property.

The bill allows townships to enforce and enact building and property maintenance codes for times when the Pa Construction Code is not applicable. This also consolidates existing powers to administer construction, occupancy, and property maintenance regulations into one combined code – The Uniform Construction Code, Property Maintenance Code and Reserved Powers.

Any changes that do not comply with the First Class Township Code will deem a building to be considered a public nuisance. The bill allows maintenance inspectors to enter and inspect premises to enforce the property maintenance code.

The bill was enacted as Act 51 of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously passed House Bill 906, which amends the First Class Township Code to provide for the removal of elected officers.

Previously, a town official could be removed from office for several different reasons, such as not voting or continued failure to attend regular meetings.

This legislation removes the language of “failure to perform duties” and replaces the text with a reference to the Pennsylvania Constitution. New regulations require that for an official to be removed from office, the official has to have been convicted of an infamous crime or of misbehavior in office. This bill authorizes county courts to remove an elected official from office after conviction.

This legislation is part of a package of bills that attempt to alter the language of the removal of elected officials from office (along with HB 910 and SB 791).

The bill was enacted as Act 52 of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously passed House Bill 910, which amends Incorporated Towns Law to provide for the removal of officials from office in first class townships.

This legislation removes the language “failure to perform duties” and replaces the text with reference to the Pennsylvania Constitution. New regulations require that for an official to be removed from office the official would have to be convicted of an infamous crime or of misbehavior in office. This bill allows county courts to remove the elected official from office after conviction.

This legislation is part of a package of bills that attempt to alter the language of the removal of elected officials from office (along with HB 906 and SB 791).

The bill was enacted as Act 53 of 2015.

 

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The Senate voted 47-2 in favor of Senate Bill 296, which would amend Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) to further provide for false emergency calls and the sentencing for false alarms.

This legislation would require the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing to create a punishment for making a false report that leads to an individual being harmed or killed from responding to the fake emergency. The sentencing would apply to individuals who knowingly make a false report to an emergency service. Reporting a fake emergency is currently a first degree misdemeanor.

This bill would require the perpetrator to pay for the expenses associated with the incident. This would include salary costs for the people involved in the response and the equipment costs. The individual would also be responsible for any harm done as a result of the false report.

This bill would help deter fake 911 calls and preserve personnel and resources at the ready for real emergencies.

Similar legislation (SB 671) was introduced last session. The bill now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

 

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In a party line vote, the Senate voted 26-23 in favor of Senate Bill 501, which would create the Protection of Employee Wages Act to prohibit the deduction of money from public sector employees’ paychecks to be used for political contributions.

Proponents said the bill would prevent public employers from deducting money from employees’ paychecks to be used for political campaigns. The bill was originally drafted to prevent employers from collecting membership dues, but the bill was amended to allow employers to continue to deduct money for the purposes of bargaining agreements, charitable entities and fair share fees.

Opponents to this legislation said bill is an attempt to specifically target and weaken a unions’ ability to negotiate for their members and engage in the legislative process.  Current law already prohibits the use of union dues for political purposes and this bill specifically targets collective bargaining agreements.

The bill now goes to the House State Government Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 648, which would amend the vehicle code to provide for separate accounts for snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles (ATV).

Currently the funds are collected under one restricted account. This legislation would create the ATV Management Restricted Account and the Snowmobile Management Restricted Account.

Funds that are collected from snowmobile-related fines and costs would be distributed into the Restricted Snowmobile Account, and the same goes for ATV costs and funds. Current funding is used for continued operation, construction, land acquisition and maintenance costs. The funds would not be shared between accounts except for repairs that are made to shared trails. Lawmakers claim that ATV operations contribute a large amount of the current funding share, but receive a small portion of the distributed funds.

This bill would require House and Senate appropriations committees to audit funds every two years. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources would be responsible for managing the income and expenditures of each account and creating an annual report.

The bill now goes to the House Transportation Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 748, which amends the Vehicle Code to eliminate the mandatory police escort for super-sized truck loads.

This measure removes the requirement for a police escort for large loads, which in turn will reduce the costs of providing escorts for these vehicles. Drivers of certified escort vehicles are added to the list of traffic controllers. The measure also requires that drivers of escort vehicles be certified and licensed by PennDOT. Definitions are amended under this legislation, as well as the list of cargo that may be required to be escorted or transported on a super-sized truck.

The bill was enacted as Act 55 of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 772, which would amend the Professional Psychologists Practice Act to provide updates to the profession of psychology.

The bill would expand the psychologist practice to include the diagnoses and treatment of mental, emotional or nervous illnesses, alcoholism, psychological aspects of physical illness and psychoeducational evaluation, therapy, remediation and consultation.

This legislation would also authorize the State Board of Psychology to issue temporary practice licenses for licensed psychologists from other states with substantially equivalent licensing standards. The bill would also remove the six month wait period to retake a licensing exam.

Under this measure, school psychologists would be allowed to work in private practice if they are employed by a public school, private school, or in a program regulated by the Department of Education. School psychologists would also need to be certified or attempting certification as an Educational Specialist I or II in school psychology to work in private practice.

The bill now goes to the House Professional Licensure Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 791, which amends the Second Class Township Code to provide for the removal of elected officials.

This bill uses the state constitution as the basis for any removal decisions. Previously, officials could be removed from office because of a failure to perform job duties. This language has been amended and new regulations require that for an official to be removed from office, the official would have to be convicted of an infamous crime or of misbehavior in office.

Under the constitution, this bill further provides that courts have the authority to remove an official from office after conviction.

This legislation is part of a package of bills that attempt to alter the language of the removal of elected officials from office (along with HB 906 and HB 910).

The bill was enacted as Act 68 of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 925, which amends the vehicle code to unify national standards to receive a commercial driver’s license (CDL).

This bill changes the qualification standards for the CDL and for the commercial driver’s permit to comply with the Federal Motor Carrier Administration’s commercial driver’s license knowledge and skills testing and commercial driver permit standards.

The bill prohibits an employer from knowingly allowing an employee to drive a commercial motorized vehicle if the employee has a license restriction. The measure clarifies that the use of an interpreter while taking the knowledge test is also prohibited. Drivers will now be allowed to use the results of their skill tests from other states to receive their Pennsylvania license.

Permit holders must be accompanied by a CDL holder while driving, and are limited in which commercial vehicles they are allowed to drive. All applicants for a commercial driver’s permit must be at least 18 years old.

The bill amends the definition of a commercial motor vehicle and a tank vehicle to adjust to the changes made to the license requirements. PennDOT reserves the right to revoke commercial licenses.

The bill was also amended to extend the time period between required physical exams for school bus drivers, from 12 to 13 months.

The bill was enacted as Act 49 of 2015.

 

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