Senate Democratic Wrap-up for the Week of September 13, 2015

 

The Senate unanimously passed House Bill 75, which amends the Pharmacy Act to require out-of-state pharmacies to register with the State Board of Pharmacy to provide services to citizens of Pennsylvania.

The previous Pharmacy Act did not address out-of-state pharmacies. Until this measure was passed, Pennsylvania was the only state to not require out-of-state pharmacies to register with its state pharmacy board.

The amendment requires out-of-state pharmacies to maintain the same quality standards and licenses as Pennsylvania pharmacies. Nonresident pharmacies must provide information to the State Board of Pharmacies regarding contact information, location, and statements of compliance with the Board’s policies.

The bill was enacted as Act 43 of 2015.

 

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            The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 175, which extends the application deadline for the Persian Gulf Veterans’ Bonus Program to December 31, 2019.

The program provides financial compensation for veterans who served in the Persian Gulf War. An individual who served in this conflict may qualify for up to $525. An additional $5,000 is available if the soldier was a prisoner of war.

The application process ended on August 31, 2015. Without the extension legislation, the application deadline would have been August 31, 2015. There is $500,000 still available for this bonus program. The measure gives veterans more time to apply.

The bill was enacted as Act 50 of 2015.

 

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In a party-line vote, the Senate voted 30-19 in favor of House Bill 224, which would have amended the Public School Code to create the Public School Web Accountability and Transparency Act, SchoolWATCH. This bill would have accompanied the 2015-2016 budget as the Public School Code Bill.

This bill would have appropriated the same amount of funding as 2014015 to the basic education fund and special education funding, until appropriations from the 2015-2016 budget exceed last year’s funding. This funding was designated for up until Oct. 31, 2015.

SchoolWATCH would have required the Pennsylvania Department of Education to report public schools financial information on its website. This information would have included service costs, teacher salaries, per-student expenditures and other expenditures specifically listed in the bill. Schools would not have been required to disclose any data not mandated by this bill.

A portion of this bill provided a provision of $4.5 million to assist school districts in financial need. This bill would have also removed Pennsylvania’s requirement to contribute to PERS on behalf of charter schools and cyber schools.

The bill was vetoed as Veto No. 6 of 2015. The governor vetoed the General Appropriations Bill accompanying this bill and therefore vetoed this bill’s implementation of the budget. The Governor stated in his veto message that “The bill does not restore the harmful education cuts imposed on each school district over the last four years, not does it provide adequate funding to ensure Pennsylvanians have schools that teach our children.”

 

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 315, which amends Child Labor Law to allow children who are at least 12-years-old to work as a supervisor for a youth sporting event.

Under this legislation, a youngster at least 12 years of age would not be required to obtain a worker’s permit to participate in sporting events as umpires or referees. The same working restrictions that apply to 14 and 15 year-olds would apply to 12 and 13-year-olds.

The bill was enacted as Act 44 of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 290, which would amend Title 75 (Vehicles) to implement additional provisions for ignition interlock systems.

Current law requires drivers to install an ignition interlock system on their vehicle for a year after they regain driving privileges. This is required if the individual has received a second driving under the influence (DUI) offense within the last 10 years, if the person refused chemical testing, or if the individual illegally operated a vehicle that did not have the ignition interlock system.

This legislation would require first time DUI offenders eligible to immediately install ignition interlock systems in their vehicles. Individuals who have committed previous DUI violations or have refused chemical testing could apply for an ignition interlock limited license if they have served at least half of their driver’s license suspension. First-time offenders would be eligible to apply for the license immediately.

The license would allow individuals to only operate vehicles equipped with an ignition interlock system. A person would be eligible for the limited license if he or she had an existing Pennsylvania license, if the person is eligible under federal law, or if their driving privileges were not suspended due to a DUI-related homicide.

The bill is aimed at reducing and preventing drunk driving. Many drivers with suspended licenses continue to drive illegally. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention found ignition interlock laws have reduced repeat offenses by about 67 percent.

This legislation is similar to SB 1036 of the 2013-2014 session, which was never voted on by the Senate. The bill is now in the House Transportation Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 663, which amends the Domestic Relations Code to provide custody rights in the event of a child being conceived as a result of certain sexual offenses.

The sexual offenses included in this amendment are: rape, statutory sexual assault, sexual assault, institutional sexual assault and incest. Before the implementation of this bill, if a victim became pregnant from some form of sexual assault and chose to keep the child, there was the possibility that her perpetrator could win visitation rights. The previous law also enabled such offenders to avoid child support payments when their parental rights were terminated.

This legislation prevents offenders from interacting with the child conceived by any of the listed sexual offenses by ending their parental rights. Yet, the perpetrator is still required to pay child support.

Under the bill, the court may grant custody to the parent who committed the offense if three conditions are met: First, the victim must be given the opportunity to address the court. Second, the child must be of suitable age and consent to the request such custody. Third, the court must determine that the decision is in the best interest of the child.

The bill was enacted as Act 40 of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 678, which expands the jurisdiction of college police at state universities.

The bill allows college police to extend their patrol zone to include traffic ways and bicycle paths that run through college campuses. This legislation gives the police additional jurisdiction to act to assure the safety of the campus.

Amendments were made to require institutions to enter into an agreement with local law enforcement to coordinate safety efforts. The bill was also amended to remove extending jurisdiction to roadways that pass through campuses to, instead, only extending jurisdiction to traffic ways and bicycle paths that traverse the campus.

The bill was enacted as Act 41 of 2015.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 773, which would amend Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) that would ban minors from using palcohol (powdered alcohol).

Under this legislation, powdered alcohol would be added to the list of beverages that are prohibited to be sold to minors. This measure would add the definition of powdered alcohol as “alcohol sold in powdered or molecularly encapsulated form for either direct use or reconstitution.” The bill would also amends the definition of liquor to include powdered alcohol.

The bill now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 872, which would amend the Second Class Township Code to provide for the powers of Township Supervisors regarding appropriating money to buy commemorative items.

This legislation would allow Township Commissioners to purchase gifts to recognize and honor the service or passing of a township official, employee or volunteer. This bill would implement a $100 limit on all gifts. The bill specifies that money could not be used to buy flowers, plaques, or other tangible property. The legislation prohibits using the money as a cash gift or to buy a gift certificate.

The bill now goes to the House Local Government Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 879, which would establish the Pennsylvania ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) Savings Program and the ABLE Savings Program Fund to encourage the creation of savings accounts for disabled individuals.

The bill would help families save money for loved ones with disabilities. Money can be contributed into these saving accounts for an individual currently receiving benefits based on blindness or a disability. These savings accounts would be tax free and would help individuals prepare for disability costs later in life. Currently, individuals saving for disability costs run the risk of losing federal benefits if their savings exceed a certain limit. This bill would provide other savings options.

The bill now goes to the House Finance Committee.

 

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In a party-line vote, the Senate voted 30-19 in favor of Senate Bill 1000, which would have provided a stop-gap budget for Pennsylvania until October 31, 2015.

The bill would have appropriated four months of funding based on the spending plan in House Bill 1192 (this year’s previously vetoed GOP budget). Senate Bill 1000 would have provided funding and a partial plan for the operation of Pennsylvania’s Executive, Legislative, Judicial branches.

The legislation would have provided a third of the funding that last year’s budget appropriated. In addition, the bill would have funded debt service payments in full, agriculture research at 67 percent of last year’s funding, partially funded higher education costs, and partially funded the county child welfare line.

The bill was vetoed as Veto No. 7 of 2015. The governor, who previously vetoed House Bill 1192, stated that he considers Senate Bill 1000 to be “an avoidance maneuver that fails to adequately fund education and locks in the same damaging cuts to human service programs included in House Bill 1192.” The governor reiterated his demand that, “We need a budget that both invests in our future and fixes our deficit.”

 

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In a party-line vote, the Senate voted 30-19 in favor of Senate Bill 1001, which would have provided for a stop-gap Fiscal Code for a third of the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

This bill would have provided for a third of the funding from the previously suggested Fiscal Code. The bill establishes the appropriations formula for various funds, provides funds for existing state programs, and renews the expired annual funds. This bill is a companion bill to Senate Bill 1000, for implementation of the stop-gap appropriations.

The bill was vetoed as Veto No. 8 of 2015. The governor also vetoed the stopgap General Appropriations Bill associated with this bill. The governor refused to sign any part of the stop-gap budget and stated that “A partial budget fails to provide the long-term investment in Pennsylvania’s future.” The governor also expressed his concern that the repeated “irresponsible” funding strategies that have led Pennsylvania to the current financial situation. “The people of Pennsylvania deserve more than an incomplete and inadequate budget,” he added.

 

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