Below is a recap of this week’s legislative activity in the Senate. There were limited floor votes, but several pieces of legislation moved through committees.
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In this Issue...
The Senate Finance Committee held a public hearing Wednesday to gather testimony on a measure that would clarify the process for determining the tax-exempt status of public charities. Senate Bill 4 is now before the full Senate for consideration.
Auditor General Eugene A. DePasquale reviewed the status of the tax exemption program in Pennsylvania. Nicholas Cafardi of the Duquesne University School of Law and Katherine Pearson of the Penn State Dickinson School of Law discussed legal issues related to the bill and David Thompson from the National Council of Nonprofits discussed charitable tax exemptions in other states.
Senate Bill 4, which I am co-sponsoring, specifies that the General Assembly has the exclusive right to set the parameters for an organization to qualify as a purely public charity. Under current law, organizations that meet the criteria of a purely public charity are exempt from paying property taxes.
This proposal is necessary due to a 2012 Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling which returned to a vague standard, previously used from 1985-1997, that charitable organizations must meet in order to qualify as a purely public charity. The controversial ruling created a great deal of confusion among charities and led many municipalities to examine whether they could begin levying real estate taxes on charitable organizations who had previously been deemed exempt.
Since the bill would amend the state Constitution, it must pass in two consecutive legislative sessions before being decided by the voters via referendum. The proposal was already approved once by the General Assembly during the 2013-14 session. Click here to watch the public hearing and read testimony.
The Senate State Government Committee approved legislation on Wednesday that would ensure that illegal immigrants residing in Pennsylvania do not receive public benefits like Medicaid, welfare and unemployment compensation.
Senate Bill 9 would require anyone requesting public benefits in the Commonwealth to provide identification proving they are a legal resident. They would also be required to sign an affidavit stating they are a U.S. citizen or an immigrant lawfully present in the United States.
The Federation for Immigration Reform (FAIR) estimates the current local annual costs of illegal immigration amount to about $36 billion nationwide. In Pennsylvania, which has more than 100,000 illegal immigrants, the current estimated cost is $285 million. That cost is expected to grow to $812 million by the year 2020. Earlier this month, Pennsylvania agreed to pay the federal government $48.8 million to settle claims that it paid non-emergency Medicaid, family assistance and food stamp benefits to immigrants who did not qualify for them.
The Committee also approved Senate Bill 82,which would require county boards of elections to post election returns on election night on an Internet site, and Senate Bill 316, which would provide more accountability in the awarding of state (sole-source/no-bid and emergency) contracts. The bills now go to the full Senate for consideration.
The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee approved legislation on Tuesday that would provide essential protection of consumers’ rights and personal information under the federal health care act.
Senate Bill 293, also known as the Navigator Accessibility and Regulation Act, would require Healthcare Exchange Navigators be certified by the Department of Insurance and pass a criminal background check. The federal Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) relies on individuals, generally called “navigators,” to educate and enroll millions of uninsured Americans in either Medicaid or a private insurance plan. Although in many respects these navigators act like insurance agents, they have almost no qualifications or restrictions placed upon them.
The committee also approved legislation I am co-sponsoring, Senate Bill 397, which would privatize and regulate the Bail Bondsman industry in Pennsylvania. Both bills now go to the full Senate for consideration.
The Senate approved a measure on Wednesday that would provide an age exemption from jury duty.
Senate Bill 210 would exempt those persons 75 years of age or older who wish to be excused from jury duty. At least 26 states exempt elderly persons from serving on juries. Generally, states have set the age qualifying for the exemption at 65, 70 or 75. For example, in West Virginia the age is 65, in Maryland the age is 70, and in New Jersey the age is 75.
On Tuesday, the Senate approved Senate Bill 301, a measure that consolidates various statutes into the Administrative Procedure Code. Both bills now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.
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