Senate Democratic Wrap-up for the Week of October 18, 2015

 

The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 138, which amends Title 35 (Health and Safety) to allow first responder organizations to solicit contributions alongside roads and highways.

First responder organizations include: fire companies, emergency medical service companies, law enforcement personnel and other rescue companies. Responders must obtain prior written consent from the municipality and PennDOT before they can do the road side solicitation. All participants are required to wear a PennDOT-approved safety vest.

The bill was enacted as Act 57 of 2015.

 

***

 

The Senate voted 47-1 in favor of House Bill 792, which amends the Housing Finance Agency Law to change how funding is acquired for the Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund (PHARE).

Previously, PHARE only received revenue from Act 13 Impact Fees; and that money was only allowed to be used in the county it was obtained in. House Bill 792 extends that revenue use to all counties.

This legislation also provides funds for the Housing Trust Fund (HTF) by using additional revenue from the Realty Transfer Tax. The additional revenue will be calculated by using 40 percent of the revenue that exceeds the amount budgeted for the HTF that fiscal year. The HTF is capped at $25 million a year.

PHARE funds assist in the reconstruction of blighted buildings to create affordable homes and apartments for lower income families. Proponents of this bill claim the additional funding will encourage home improvements and home ownership.

The bill was enacted as Act 58 of 2015.

 

***

 

In a nearly party-line vote, the Senate voted 30-18 in favor of House Bill 874, which amends Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) to do away with provisions that protected individuals involved in labor disputes from being charged with harassment, stalking and the threat to use weapons of mass destruction.

This legislation removes the section of the Crimes Code that exempts harassment, stalking and the threat to use a weapon of mass destruction as being crimes if the perpetrator is involved in a labor dispute defined in the Labor Anti-Injunction Act.

The bill includes a statement of legislative intent that the measure is meant to deter the listed crimes and not remove any rights held by union participants. However, parties that oppose this bill said the legislation will repress the rights of the workers.

The bill was enacted as Act 59 of 2015.

 

***

 

The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1275, which amends The Dental Law to allow dentists from other states and countries to take continuing education classes in Pennsylvania. The bill also allows licensed dentists from other countries to obtain a restricted faculty license to teach at Pennsylvania’s dental schools.

Dentists are required to participate in clinical continuing education courses and this measure would allow more qualified dentists to continue their degrees in Pennsylvania schools.

Previous law made faculty recruitment difficult because licensed dentists from other countries were not allowed to teach in Pennsylvania dental schools if they did not have a state license. Proponents said the bill enables institutions to hire the most qualified professional to teach in their schools.

The bill was enacted as Act 60 of 2015.

 

***

 

The Senate voted 47-1 in favor of Senate Bill 210, which amends Title 42 (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure) to add exemptions from jury duty.

This bill exempts judges, some elderly citizens, and mothers that are breastfeeding from jury duty. Under the bill, federal, state and district justices would be exempt from jury duty, along with citizens 75 or older who request to be excused.

The bill was enacted as Act 54 of 2015.

 

***

 

The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 411, which would make several changes to the Right-to-Know Law, including a provision that limits inmates’ access to open records by not allowing them to make requests under the Right-to-Know Law for information that is not related to their arrest.

Currently, individuals may appeal an agency’s decision to deny record requests. Inmates make up 40 percent of the appeals requested to the Office of Open Records. This legislation would save time and resources by decreasing the number of appeals.

The bill also changes the amount of time agencies have to reasonably respond to information requests. Under this legislation, officials would no longer need to process anonymous requests. The amendments would also allow agencies to add reasonable fees for the search and retrieval process for commercial requests of public information.

The bill clarifies if information is public or private, such as bank numbers and credit card numbers would be considered private passwords under this measure. This bill was amended to exempt the home addresses of state and local government employees as being public information.

The bill would also require the four state-related universities to provide greater financial transparency. Universities would be required to maintain records of additional revenue and expenditure details. All information required to be collected by the universities would need to be made available online on the institutions website.

Similar legislation was introduced last session as SB 444; however the bill was never acted upon in the House. The bill now goes to the House State Government Committee.

 

***

 

The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 751 which would amend Titles 18 (Crimes and Offenses) and 53 (Municipalities Generally) to prevent the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors.

Electronic cigarettes are a type of electronic device that deliver nicotine or other substances to a person inhaling from the device. This bill would add these devices to the list of tobacco products, and therefore, ban minors from purchasing them.

This legislation aims to deter children and teens from smoking electronic cigarettes. The number of users has increased over the last few years and a full research of the side effects of electronic cigarettes has not been agreed upon.

The bill now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

 

***

 

The Senate voted 26-20 in favor of Senate Bill 874, which would amend Cemetery and Funeral Merchandise Trust Fund Law to prevent the pre-delivery of funeral items, ensure consumers’ money is protected and require sellers to present a product pricing list.

Current law mandates that if a funeral-related product is being delivered at a future date, 70 percent of the purchase price must be deposited into a trust fund account. Sellers have misinterpreted this law by using a form of pre-delivery to deliver certain items ahead of time and retain the entire sales price. This interpretation allows for sellers to maintain 100 percent of the sales price rather than depositing the money into a trust fund.

This legislation would prohibit the pre-delivery funeral merchandise with the exception of a few items prior to the death of the person under contract. Preventing deliveries from being made ahead of time would ensure that the quality of the product is maintained when it is time for the product to be used. The bill would require sellers to provide a price list for all funeral merchandise being sold.

Proponents of this legislation said the bill protects consumers by assuring that they don’t end up with old and antiquated funeral merchandise such as vaults or caskets. Their money would also be protected if they decided to cancel their contract purchase.

Opponents claim the bill oversteps and would hinder competition between at-need sellers and pre-need sellers. Funeral directors tend to be at-need sellers while cemetery owners tend to sell funeral merchandise as a pre-need sale. They criticized the bill for potentially hindering competition, causing prices to rise or causing pre-need sales to decrease.

The bill now goes to the House Consumer Affairs Committee.

 

***

 

The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 931, which would amend Title 26 (Eminent Domain) to redefine the maximum allowable payment 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 redefines the estimated costs of the displacement of individual’s property. 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.

This legislation would bring Pennsylvania’s reimbursement caps in line with federal limits and therefore maintain $1.5 billion in federal funding.

The bill now goes to the House Urban Affairs Committee.

 

###