Senate Democratic Wrap-up for the Week of October 16, 2016

 

The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 49, which adds a $100,000 death benefit to members of the Pennsylvania Civil Air Patrol.

The Emergency and Law Enforcement Personnel Death Benefits Act already provides $100,000 in death benefits to law enforcement officers, certain emergency responders and National Guard members who die while performing their duties. This legislation extends those benefits to Pennsylvania Civil Air Patrol.

The bill was enacted as Act 110 of 2016.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 447, which amends The Landlord and Tenant Act to clarify how a lease termination occurs when the tenant dies.

The legislation deals with situations where a sole tenant passes away and a lease agreement needs to be resolved. The individual responsible for the tenant’s estate will be authorized to terminate the lease. The lease may be terminated on the last day of the third calendar month after their death or upon the removal of all of the tenant’s personal property, whichever occurs later.

The bill does not exempt the tenant’s estate from being liable for damages and other debt incurred before the lease termination. However, the tenant will no longer be liable for damages or breach of the lease due to termination.

The bill was enacted as Act 116 of 2016.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 683, which eliminates a Veteran’s disability income from being considered as income when determining their eligibility for the state’s Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program.

This bill excludes federal veterans’ disability payments and state veterans’ benefits from being considered as income against a person’s eligibility for the Lottery-funded senior citizen’s property tax and rent rebate program.

The bill was enacted as Act 117 of 2016.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 869, which would toughen penalties against those who kill, maim or torture a guide, hearing or service dog.

Under the bill, the perpetrator would be required to pay all fines, veterinary costs and training costs for another dog to replace the injured animal. The bill also expands the definition of “torture.”

In addition, the bill makes it a third degree misdemeanor if a person recklessly or knowingly abuses an animal. The bill adds an offense for tethering an unattended dog outside for more than nine hours without providing for the animal’s basic needs. The bill requires that a tethered dog must have access to water and shade, be attached to at least a 10-foot chain and protected from extreme or in situations where a severe weather warning is issued.

The bill now goes to the House Rules Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1581, which amends Title 18 (Crimes Code) to make strangulation a felony.

The bill defines the offense of strangulation and makes it punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000. The bill makes it a second degree felony if perpetrator strangles a family member or a caretaker; if the offense is committed in conjunction with sexual assault; if the offender strangled a person who had a protection from abuse order; or the perpetrator previously committed the offense.

The bill was enacted as Act 111 of 2016.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1619, which authorizes Pennsylvania to join the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact. This change will allow medical professionals to obtain licensure in other states more easily.

The legislation and the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact aim to enhance existing medical licensure and regulatory authority of state medical boards to provide for licensure in multiple states. This change allows medical professional to treat their patients regardless of where they are in the country. This bill does not alter Pennsylvania Medical Practice Act, but instead creates another authority for Pennsylvania medical professionals to receive licensure from. This legislation “adopts the prevailing standard for licensure and affirms that the practice of medicine occurs where the patient is located.

The bill requires physicians to: graduate from an accredited medical school, pass each component of the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination or Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination within three attempts, complete an accredited graduate medical education, obtain and maintain specialty certification, possess a full and unrestricted license, never have been convicted for any offense, never held a license authorizing the practice of medicine hat was subject to discipline by a licensing agency, never had a controlled substance license revoked and must have no active investigations by a licensing agency against them.

A physician is required to designate a member state as their principal license for purposes of registration for expedited licensure through the compact. The declared state must be where the physician claims residence and performs at least 25 percent of their practice. An expedited license received from the provisions of the compact are revoked if the individual fails to maintain licensure in their member state.

The bill establishes the two-member Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Commission to administer the compact provisions. The legislation allows members’ states of the interstate agreement and the commission to implement licensure fees.

The bill was enacted as Act 112 of 2016.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1734, which extends continuation education requirements by one year. This legislation amends the Public School Code to allow teachers and administrators additional time to complete the continuation education standards that were imposed by Act 48 of 1999.

Schools were previously required to submit a three-year professional education plan to the Secretary of Education by the end of 2016. This legislation grants schools an additional year to implement trainings, courses and other programs to assist teachers in obtaining their continuing education requirements. Notably these professionals are required to obtain 180 hours in continuing education every five years. Bill supporters claim the “significant financial strain” from the 2015-16 budget impasse is the reason schools are struggling to meet these education requirements.

The bill was enacted as Act 118 of 2016.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1841, which amends the Medical Practice Act to provide for temporary perfusionist licensure.

A perfusionist is a specialized healthcare professional who uses the heart–lung machine during cardiac surgery and other surgeries that require cardiopulmonary bypass to manage a patient’s physiological status.

This legislation allows the Medical Education and State Licensure Board to issue temporary graduate licenses. The applicant for the licensure is required to graduate from an educational program and take the licensure examination. The applicants would only be allowed to practice under the supervision of a licensed professional and the license will be valid for two years.

The bill removes the requirement that the individual’s temporary license expires immediately upon notice when they have failed the required licensure examination. This legislation is a companion bill to House Bill 1842.

The bill was enacted as Act 119 of 2016.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1842, which amends the Osteopathic Medical Practice Act to provide for temporary perfusionist licensure.

This legislation allows the Medical Education and State Licensure Board to issue temporary graduate licenses. The applicant for the licensure is required to have graduated from an educational program and applied to take the licensure examination. Applicants are only allowed to practice under the supervision of a licensed professional. Their license will be valid for two years.

The bill removes the requirement that the individuals temporary license expires immediately upon notice that the individual has failed the required licensure examination. The legislation is a companion bill to House Bill 1841.

The bill was enacted as Act 120 of 2016.

 

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The Senate voted 37-13 in favor of Senate Bill 286, which would have required the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) to adopt an open records policy, create a commuter’s council to oversee the agency’s activity and enter Pennsylvania into a compact with New Jersey.

The DRPA manages connecting bridges between Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Any changes proposed by this legislation would have needed to be passed in New Jersey as well. The bill would have placed several restrictions on the DRPA and the authority’s ability to act independently with regards to financial and economic development projects. The DRPA would have had several oversight rules placed on their members and actions to prohibit the abuse of power or resources.

DRPA board members would have been prohibited from receiving gifts, toll exemptions and other benefits that would have been personally beneficial to their board position. In addition, the Senate would have been required to approve the governor’s board appointments.

The bill was vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf (Veto # 5 of 2016). The governor stated that the reforms were consistent with his reform goals and worthy of becoming law. However, he stated that he was “concerned with a single provision within this measure that allows for legislative interference with an executive branch prerogative.” The governor said that the proposed state Senate approval of his board appointments is “unnecessary” and “does not improve the operation of the DRPA.” The governor added that several of the other beneficial reforms in this legislation were already implemented through other bills.

 

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The Senate voted 47-3 in favor of Senate Bill 535, which would amend the Vehicle Code to allow local police departments to use radar for speed enforcement.

This legislation would allow local police departments to utilize radar and other forms of electronic speed enforcement – after officers have completed a state-approved training. Individuals who are caught speeding by a local officer on one of these electronic timing devices would not receive any points against them unless they were driving at least 10 miles-per-hour over the speed limit.

The bill would also require all devices to be tested for accuracy within a year prior to the alleged violation. In accordance with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration policies, all electronic devices approved for use in Pennsylvania would need to be listed on the Consumer Product List.

Local police departments would be required to report revenue generated from speed enforcement citations to the Department of Revenue. Municipal shares of revenue generated from speed enforcement citations by radar that exceed 20 percent of a municipality’s budget would go to the General Fund for traffic safety purposes.

Currently, only State Police are authorized to utilize radar in Pennsylvania.

The bill now goes to the House Transportation Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 840, which would amend the Vehicle Code to provide a five-year pilot program for automated speed enforcement systems in active work zones.

The devices would detect vehicles exceeding the speed limit and record an image of the offender’s license plate, the time, location, and the vehicle’s speed. The program would only be conducted within active work zones. Two warning signs would be required to show that a device is in use.

It would record individuals who are speeding by at least 11 miles per hour over the posted speed limit while a work zone is active. All fines would be $100; and 75 percent of revenue proceeds would go to the State Police to recruit, train and equip state police cadets and bolster state trooper presence in work zones. The remaining funds would be used for work zone safety and public awareness.

PennDOT and the Turnpike Commission would be required to submit an annual report that includes the number of vehicular accidents, injuries and deaths in work zones. The report would include speed data, the amount of notices, violations, fines and the number of police hours provided in work zones as a result of the generated funds.

The bill now goes to the House Transportation Committee.

 

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The Senate voted 45-5 in favor of Senate Bill 976, which would amend the Wiretap Act to provide for law enforcement to use expand its use of audio and visual recording devices.

The bill would allow law enforcement officers to record illegal activity in a private setting within a jail. The Department of Corrections would be required to notify inmates that communications are being recorded. Officers would be banned from intercepting communication between an attorney and client.

The department would be required to implement annual guidelines for the use of these recording devices and would be responsible for establishing equipment standards. Communications intercepted within these facilities could only be accessed by the superintendent, warden or other chief administrative official.

The bill now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1266, which would amend the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act to allow the Bureau of Consumer Protection to refuse, suspend or revoke a contractors Home Improvement Contractor registration for the following reasons:

  • Obtained a registration through fraud, deception or misrepresentation;
  • Engaged in the use of dishonestly, fraud, deception, misrepresentation, false promise or false pretense;
  • Engaged in gross negligence, gross malpractice or gross incompetence;
  • Engaged in repeated acts of negligence, malpractice or incompetence;
  • Convicted of a crime involving theft, deception, fraud, misrepresentation or moral turpitude;
  • Holds a suspended or revoked registration as a contractor by another state for a similar reason; and
  • Violated or failed to comply with the provisions of the act.

Operating without the appropriate licensure in Pennsylvania could result in a fine of up to $2,000 or felony charge.

The bill now goes to the House Consumer Affairs Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1271, which amends Judiciary Procedure to ensure that a child placed in shelter care be able to remain in the same school they attended prior to placement, unless the court determines that remaining in their school would be contrary to the child’s safety and well-being.

The bill requires the court to consider the child’s parents’ or other authorized education decision maker’s wishes when considering the placement arrangement.             The bill also clarifies situations where a dependent child is placed in temporary legal custody and needs placement in a new school. Prior to any school changes, the court would be required to determine whether school stability is in the child’s best interest.

The bill now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1300, which would amend the Municipalities General Code to relax the residency requirements for active duty military members who run for office.

Under the bill, the individual would be allowed to claim their previous residence (before going on active duty) as their municipality. This change would allow an active duty military member to be considered an ongoing resident as long as they live there for at least one year prior to going on active duty.

The bill now goes to the House Local Government Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1313, which would amend the Guaranteed Energy Savings Act (GESA) to provide for new terms and clarify payment terms within a guaranteed energy savings contract.

GESA is designed to help local government and schools save on their energy costs by allowing them to enter into energy cost saving contracts with energy services companies.

The bill would redefine the term “energy conservation measure” to be “a program, facility alteration or technology upgrade designed to reduce energy, water, wastewater or other consumption or operating costs.” In addition, the term would apply to extensions of heating or air condition systems and indoor air quality systems.

The term “energy-related cost savings” now includes savings gained as a result of energy conservation measures. These savings may include avoided current or planned capital expense, avoided renovation, renewal or repair costs as a result of replacing old and unreliable equipment and systems or thermal improvements to the building envelope. The term “operating costs” would be redefined to provide for which costs should be included in cost-saving calculations.

The bill now goes to the House State Government Committee.

 

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The Senate voted, in near party lines, 30-19 in favor of Senate Bill 1330, which would amend the Local Government Code to allow for Pennsylvania municipalities to be sued for the enactment of firearms ordinances that are more restrictive than state laws.

 

This legislation would supersede local ordinances that contradict with Pennsylvania firearms laws. The Crimes and Offenses Code provides for the limitations local ordinances may place on firearms. The Crimes Code states that: “No county, municipality or township may in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components when carried or transported for purposes not prohibited by the laws of this Commonwealth.” This bill restates that any changes to current firearm law cannot conflict with this provision.

The bill would allow individuals and organizations adversely impacted by restrictions placed on them by local ordinances to “seek declarative and injunctive relief and the actual consequential damages” in court.   The court would be required to “award reasonable expenses to a person adversely affected.”

Advocates of the legislation claim the bill brings consistency across the state and prevents ordinances from superseding state law, which could possibly get Pennsylvania citizens in legal trouble with local gun ordinances. Many opponents have voted against this measure because it is similar to Act 192 of 2014, which was unanimously revoked by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2015.

The bill now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

 

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The Senate voted 46-2 in favor of Senate Bill 1365, which amends Judiciary and Judicial Procedure to increase the number of judges in certain judicial districts.

This bill would add one new judge to the following counties: Cumberland, Montgomery, Washington and Wayne. This legislation also adds two additional judges to Bucks County. The new judges added to Bucks, Montgomery, Washington and Wayne counties would be elected in 2017 and seated in January of 2018. The Cumberland County judge would be elected in 2019 ad seated in 2020.

The bill now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

 

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