I am pleased to send you my Session Wrap Up e-newsletter. This e-newsletter features events and legislative activities from the session week of January 20, 2015.
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Governor and Lieutenant Governor Sworn In, Committees Formed
The 2015-16 Legislative Session kicked off this week with the announcement of Senate committee assignments on Monday and the inauguration of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor on Tuesday.
Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack took his oath of office during a ceremony that started at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday in the Senate Chamber. As part of his duties, Lieutenant Governor Stack serves as the presiding officer of the Senate when it is in session.
Governor Tom Wolf’s inaugural ceremony started at noon and was held in the plaza area around the state Capitol’s East Wing.
With all of the ceremonial functions completed, the Senate started considering legislation as four committees held meetings this week. The formation of all of the Senate’s standing committees was finalized on Monday with Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati’s announcement of committee assignments.
Earlier this month, I was reappointed to serve as Chairman of the Senate Communications and Technology Committee. This week, Senator Scarnati reappointed me to serve as Vice Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and to serve as a member of the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, the Public Health & Welfare Committee and the Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.
I will also serve on the Senate Majority Policy Committee and continue to serve as the Chairman of the Joint Legislative Air and Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee.
Committee Approves Bill Promoting Conventional Oil Production in PA
I am pleased to report that the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee approved legislation I introduced that will protect and promote conventional oil production in Pennsylvania.
Senate Bill 279, legislation to protect the conventional oil production industry from state regulations intended for companies extracting Marcellus Shale gas, now goes to the full Senate for consideration.
SB 279 would establish the Penn Grade Crude Development Advisory Council, a panel empowered to study existing regulations and assist the Department of Environmental Protection in making changes that better address the differences between conventional and unconventional oil and gas production.
The conventional oil industry is an important part of the regional economy in northwestern Pennsylvania – an economy that is already struggling. It cannot afford to be stymied by excessive and unnecessary regulatory burdens.
The council created under my bill would work with the DEP to ensure that the differences between the operations are taken into account as these regulations and laws are developed and implemented.
I originally introduced the measure as Senate Bill 1310 last year. That bill was approved by the Senate on October 8, but didn’t clear the House of Representatives prior to the end of the 2013-14 Legislative Session on November 30.
Click here to hear my comments on the bill.
Committee Approves Oil and Gas Lease Protection bills
The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee approved two bills on Wednesday aimed at expanding the rights of landowners who currently hold leases with natural gas companies.
Senate Bill 147 would expand the Oil and Gas Lease Act by allowing royalty interest owners the opportunity to inspect records of natural gas companies to verify proper payments. The bill also requires all royalty payments to be made within 60 days of production unless otherwise stated in the contract. Any delinquent payments would be paid with interest.
Senate Bill 148 would prohibit a gas company from retaliating against any royalty interest owner by terminating their lease agreement or ceasing development on leased property because the owner questions the accuracy of royalty payments. Companies violating the provisions of this bill would face civil penalties of up to $1,000 per day.
The bills are now before the full Senate for consideration.
Bill Would Expand Ignition Interlock Requirement
The Senate Transportation Committee approved a measure on Wednesday aimed at reducing drunk driving offenses in Pennsylvania. Senate Bill 290 would make the ignition interlock program mandatory for first-time DUI offenders with high blood alcohol levels. Currently, the ignition interlock requirement only applies to second offenses.
SB 290 would allow some individuals to operate a vehicle while under suspension and license restriction provided that they have an approved interlock device and meet other requirements.
The committee also approved Senate Bill 286 and Senate Bill 287, measures that are part of a bi-state legislative package intended to bring greater transparency and accountability to the Delaware River Port Authority.
The bills are now before the full Senate for consideration.
Purely Public Charities Bill Sent to Senate
The Senate Finance Committee approved a measure on Thursday 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; however, Committee Chairman John Eichelberger indicated that public hearings on the topic will be held throughout the Commonwealth.
The bill 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.
However, a 2012 Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling created a vague new standard 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.
Committee Approves Age Exemption for Jury Duty
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a measure on Thursday 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.
Other bills approved by the committee and sent on to the full Senate for consideration include:
Senate Bill 161 would provide immunity from civil liability for hospitals that donate for humanitarian aid medical equipment and supplies which are in good condition.
Senate Bill 166 would allow courts to grant expungement if the crime is a misdemeanor of the third or second degree and the individual has not been arrested or prosecuted for seven to ten years following the completion of the sentence or judicial supervision.
Senate Bill 180 updates and revises state law relating to organ and tissue donations.
Senate Bill 283 continues the process to amend the state Constitution to eliminate the Philadelphia Traffic Court.
Senate Bill 301 consolidates various statutes into the Administrative Procedure Code.
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