Below is a recap of recent legislative activity in the Senate, topped off with the passage of a state budget that boosts education funding without raising taxes, sweeping public pension reform and legislation ending the government monopoly on liquor sales.
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In this Edition:
The state Senate passed a 2015-16 state budget Tuesday that boosts education funding without raising taxes.
The plan, House Bill 1192, was passed in advance of the June 30 constitutional deadline to enact a state budget. It also includes fundamental changes to the state’s pension and liquor systems.
The budget contains:
The budget includes savings that will be realized by privatizing the sale of wine and liquor, and by reforming the state pension systems. Pension costs are the number one cause of property tax hikes and school cutbacks.
Unfortunately, Governor Wolf vetoed this budget plan. He vetoed a plan that provides $370 million in new school funding so he can force the General Assembly to accept his plan for $12 billion in tax hikes over the next two years.
It is now up to him to produce a real budget, one that boosts support for schools without his reckless, unprecedented tax hikes.
Senate Sends Sweeping Public Pension Reform Measure to Governor
The Senate on Tuesday approved and sent to the governor legislation to reform Pennsylvania’s outdated government pension systems, which are the number one cause of property tax hikes cuts in school programs.
Senate Bill 1, which I co-sponsored, restructures the state’s two public employee pension systems – the State Employees’ Retirement System and the Public School Employees’ Retirement System – in order to make them viable in the long term.
The features of Senate Bill 1 include:
Doing nothing about this crisis is not an option. The governor needs to sign this historic reform measure into law.
Liquor Privatization Bill Approved Sent to Governor
A historic plan to privatize sales of wine and liquor was approved by the Senate on Tuesday.
House Bill 466 amends the Liquor Code to divest the Commonwealth’s wholesale and retail wine and spirits system. The bill provides for the closure of State Stores, wholesale permits for importers, wine and liquor to-go sales in grocery stores, restaurants, hotels and beer distributors, as well as educational assistance for displaced employees. The bill was sent to the governor for enactment.
The Senate also approved legislation that would allow the direct shipment of wines in Pennsylvania. House Bill 189 would allow all wineries to apply for a license to deliver wine directly to customers. Shippers would be required to verify the customer’s age and mark packaging to indicate its contents. The bill was returned to the House of Representatives for concurrence on Senate amendments.
Senate Approves Mensch’s Bill to Boot Prostate Cancer Detection
The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 609, the Prostate Cancer Surveillance, Education, Detection and Treatment Act, which I introduced.
The intent of the legislation is to provide the public with information on measures available to detect, diagnose and treat prostate cancer and related chronic prostate conditions. It is also intended to ensure that:
The legislation directs the Department of Health to establish a 19-member task force on prostate cancer and related chronic prostate conditions to investigate and make recommendations. Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in Pennsylvania men, which similar incidence and mortality numbers as breast cancer. In the past year, over 10,240 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer -- hat’s 28 men per day.
An additional four men will die from prostate cancer every day, adding up to almost 1,300 men per year. It’s time to take an aggressive approach to combatting this aggressive disease.
Emergency 911 Measure Signed into Law
Legislation reauthorizing the Emergency 9-1-1 System in Pennsylvania received final legislative approval last week and was signed into law.
The Senate concurred on House amendments to Act 12 of 2015 wrapping up an extensive process that involved several committee meetings and substantial changes to the bill in both chambers of the General Assembly.
The current fee on wireless devices is set to expire on June 30, 2015, unless the law is reauthorized. House Bill 911 would set the fee at $1.65 a month per device.
Also receiving final legislative approval were two bills intended to help needy veterans through the sales of a special motorcycle license plate.
Senate Bill 284 authorizes the special “Honoring Our Veterans” license plate for motorcycles and Senate Bill 285 allocates a portion of the funds raised through sales of the plate to the Veterans Trust Fund. The trust fund assists veterans in need of help with food, utilities, mortgage or rent payments, health care and other necessities of life.
Other Bills Sent to the Governor
Senate Bill 42 subjects those who falsely claim to be a veteran on their Pennsylvania driver’s license application to a summary offense with a $300 fine and possible imprisonment of between 30 and 90 days for those who fail to pay the fine.
House Bill 73 requires that providers of counseling services to sexually violent predators notify the district attorney of the county and the chief law enforcement officer of the municipality in the county and municipality where the provider is located that the provider is counseling sexually violent predators.
House Bill 131 provides in-state tuition rates at community colleges and state-related/state-owned institutions of higher learning for veterans, their spouses and dependent children. (Signed into law.)
House Bill 140 permits a carpool or vanpool operated by a private operator to be considered a ridesharing arrangement.
House Bill 157 ensures that a veteran’s military education and training are given strong consideration for the purpose of fulfilling requirements for professional credentials.
House Bill 164 amends the Crimes Code section concerning cruelty to animals by adding a new subsection on possession of animal fighting paraphernalia.
House Bill 221 amends the continuing education requirements for police officers and magisterial district judges regarding training on recognition and techniques to be used when interacting with individuals with mental illness or intellectual disabilities.
House Bill 229 creates the offense of cyber harassment of a child within the Crimes Code section on harassment.
House Bill 272 makes several changes to the Sexual Assault Testing and Evidence Collection Act.
Senate Bill 330 expedites the process for dealing with blighted properties.
Senate Bill 397 privatizes and regulate the Bail Bondsman industry in Pennsylvania. I am a co-sponsor of this measure.
Senate Bill 687 amends the Uniform Planned Community Act to correct a conflict which was created by a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision.
Senate Bill 688 amends the Uniform Condominium Act to correct a conflict which was created by a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision.
House Bill 762 includes the Public School Code component of the Fiscal Year 2015-16 budget.
House Bill 972 amends the Insurance Company Law concerning the delivery of individual insurance policies and annuities.
House Bill 1071 clarifies the definition of "Approval" of a contractual agreement between governmental agencies and private parties engaged in development.
House Bill 1276 clarifies certain requirements pertaining to criminal history background certifications for employees and volunteers.
Senate Passes Bills Supporting Emergency Responders
The Senate passed two bills last week to help Pennsylvania’s volunteer first responders.
The Senate approved Senate Bill 299 which gives municipalities the option to reduce or waive their local earned income tax for volunteer firefighters and volunteers at nonprofit emergency medical service agencies.
Under the legislation, municipalities would have the authority to set the amount of the tax credit and the guidelines of the program, including specifying the number of calls to which a volunteer must answer and the level of training they must have.
The Senate also approved legislation that would expand the timeframe restriction on state grants for local fire departments and ambulance services that merge operations.
Currently, if two or more fire and/or EMS companies merge, the newly formed entity is authorized to continue to receive an individual grant from the state Fire and EMS Grant Program for up to five years after the merger.
For example, if three fire companies merge and each received $12,000 from the grant program, the new entity would be entitled to receive the total amount of $36,000 for five years. At the end of the five-year period, the newly formed fire company would only receive $12,000.
Senate Bill 370 extends the sunset provision to 10 years. Both bills now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senate Passes Measure Supporting Rape Victims
The Senate approved legislation I am co-sponsoring to strengthen the rights of rape victims who have conceived a child as a result of the rape.
Under Senate Bill 663, also known as the Rape Survivor Child Custody and Support Act, courts could terminate the parental rights of a convicted rapist, thereby eliminating the abuser’s access to full, partial, or supervised custody of a child conceived by rape. The measure maintains an offender’s obligation to pay child support even if parental rights are terminated by court order.
Current law only allows for the termination of parental rights of convicted rapists pending adoption. Furthermore, if the parental rights of the offender are terminated, the obligation to pay child support is also terminated.
Senate Bill 663 is now before the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senate Approves Measure to Help Under-Performing Schools
Schools with the lowest academic performance will be given additional tools to help turn themselves around, under legislation I’m co-sponsoring that was passed by the Senate.
Known as The Educational Opportunity and Accountability Act, Senate Bill 6 allows districts to plan and adopt turnaround models for school improvement or contract with outside educational providers to deliver services.
Schools that continue to remain in the lowest-performing tier for years could be transferred to a new statewide entity called the Achievement School District (ASD). The ASD could manage the school directly or contract with other educational organizations to help close the achievement gap.
The bill also makes it easier to close low-performing charter schools, allowing the ASD to close the lowest-performing charters without a lengthy appeal process. The ASD would also be empowered to convert a building to a charter school or authorize new schools to serve families living in neighborhoods with schools in the bottom one percent.
Senate Bill 6 now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Bill Offering Greater Access to Oral Chemotherapy Drugs Sent to House
The Senate approved legislation I am co-sponsoring that would enable cancer patients to select their best treatment option, including oral chemotherapy.
Senate Bill 536 would require health insurers to provide coverage for orally administered chemotherapy on a basis that is at least as favorable as an insured’s co-pay; coinsurance or deductibles are for intravenous or injected chemotherapy treatment.
Because oral chemotherapy is typically covered as part of the prescription drug benefit, patients who choose this option in consultation with their doctor often experience significantly different out-of-pocket costs based on how their treatment is administered.
Other Bills Approved by the Senate and Sent to the House
Senate Bill 77 provides regulatory relief for the beagle trainers.
Senate Bill 95 addresses Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.
Senate Bill 129 amends the County Pension Law to clarify that county pension cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) need not be calculated retroactively.
Senate Bill 307 requires the appointment of an independent counsel to the Environmental Quality Board.
Senate Bill 352 makes substantial regulatory changes necessary to protect and bolster Pennsylvania’s horse racing industry.
Senate Bill 356 amends the Local Tax Enabling Act to further provide for filings and quarterly payments of the local earned income tax by persons who make their living from farming.
Senate Bill 398 redesigns driver’s license and identification card applications to include the question “Do you wish to have organ donor designation printed on your driver’s license?” It also requires the addition to all forms the following: “Pennsylvania strongly supports organ and tissue donation because of its life-saving and life-enhancing opportunities.”
Senate Bill 524 addresses the ongoing substance abuse problem in communities across the commonwealth by better utilizing FDA-approved medications for the prevention of relapse to opioid dependence.
Senate Bill 533 establishes a uniform procedure for the disposition of contraband left in the possession of probation and parole agencies.
Senate Bill 536 requires health insurers to provide coverage for orally administered chemotherapy on a basis that are as least as favorable as an insured’s co-pay; coinsurance or deductibles are for intravenous or injected chemotherapy treatment.
Senate Bill 566 provides additional funding for the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund.
Senate Bill 655 amends the Fiscal Code to extend the expiration date for the State Workers’ Insurance Fund to invest in equities to June 30, 2019.
Senate Bill 737 allows for the limited use of semi-automatic sporting rifles for hunting coyotes and woodchucks.
Senate Bill 747 requires the state Insurance Commissioner to investigate the awarding of punitive damages in cases brought within the health care industry over the past 10 years and caps punitive damages in cases against personal care homes, assisted living communities, long-term care nursing facilities and their employees and officials at 250 percent of the compensatory damages awarded in a lawsuit.
Senate Bill 748 eliminates the mandatory escort of super-sized loads by the Pennsylvania State Police and replaces them with certified pilot escorts.
Senate Bill 756 eliminates the sunset provisions of the Commonwealth’s First Industries Program.
Senate Bill 775 updates and revises the Third Class City Code.
Senate Bill 792 amends the First Class Township Code to further provide for property maintenance codes, reserved powers, and the Uniform Construction Code.
Senate Bill 793 amends the Second Class Township Code to further provide for property maintenance codes, reserved powers, and the Uniform Construction Code.
Senate Bill 862 amends the School Code to coordinate with child abuse clearance changes made in the Child Protective Services Law.
Senate Bill 871 amends the First Class Township Code to allow for small gifts to recognize the service or passing of township officials, employees or volunteers.
Senate Bill 875 promotes the beneficial use of treated mine water in oil and gas operations by clarifying liabilities associated with this water source.
Senate Bill 887 protects highway workers, first emergency responders and others from careless and reckless drivers traveling in work zones.
Senate Bill 928 increases the minimum financial responsibility requirements for use of a motor vehicle.
House Bill 972 amends the Insurance Company Law concerning the delivery of individual insurance policies and annuities. The bill returns to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.
House Bill 1071 clarifies the definition of "Approval" of a contractual agreement between governmental agencies and private parties engaged in development. The bill returns to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.
House Bill 1276 clarifies certain requirements pertaining to criminal history background certifications for employees and volunteers. The bill returns to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.
Senate Adopts Government Reform Resolution
The Senate adopted a Senate Resolution that would review the numerous state boards and commissions with an eye toward providing savings to the Commonwealth.
Senate Resolution 138 directs the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to study the Commonwealth’s board and commission members’ salaries, compensation, and fringe benefits, such as health care and pensions.
With more than 250 independent and departmental boards and commissions, Pennsylvania has panels in place to monitor a plethora of professional activities and a wide array of issues, yet the Commonwealth does not track the costs of running those various panels.
Senate Confirms State Treasurer
The Senate confirmed the nomination of Timothy Reese to serve as state Treasurer. Reese fills the vacancy created when Rob McCord resigned on January 30 before pleading guilty to federal extortion charges. The term runs through 2016.
Twitter and Facebook: I post regular updates on legislative action, committee developments, useful state-related information, happenings in the 24th Senatorial District and more on Twitter @SenatorMensch and on my Facebook page.
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