A report on the Legislative Session Week of March 22, 2021
I am pleased to send you my Session Wrap Up e-newsletter. This e-newsletter features events and legislative activities during the Session Week of March 22, 2021.
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Senate Appropriations Committee Budget Hearings on Corrections, DCED
I joined my colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee to continue our review of the Governor’s proposed Fiscal Year 2021-22 budget on Monday with hearings with the Department of Corrections/Board of Probation & Parole and the Department of Community & Economic Development.
Department of Corrections/Board of Probation & Parole
I asked for an update on a program I worked with Corrections Secretary John Wetzel to expanded vocational education options for inmates in state correctional institutions to include firefighter training. The program is currently on hold due to the pandemic.
Corrections, along with Education and Human Services, make up 85 percent of the state budget. Senate Republicans continue to look for ways to reduce prison facility costs without compromising public safety.
Dealing with the pandemic has driven many Corrections costs. Secretary John Wetzel said more than $58 million in overtime costs directly related to COVID-19 will be covered by funding from FEMA.
The number of inmates was reduced by more than 6,000 over the past year, which is the largest drop in Pennsylvania history, with an anticipated further reduction of 2,000 inmates next year. Another cost-saving move would be statutory consolidation of the Department of Corrections and the Board of Probation and Parole, which would be authorized by Senate Bill 411.
Click here for video of the hearing.
Department of Community & Economic Development (DCNR)
I stressed to DCNR Secretary Dennis Davin the need for the state to take action to help revitalize Erie, especially since we have the dubious distinction of having the poorest neighborhood in the nation. In particular, I repeated my call for the creation of a for City Revitalization & Improvement Zone (CRIZ) in the city.
Under the CRIZ program vacant, desolate, underutilized or abandoned space will be developed, thereby creating jobs, increasing personal incomes, growing state and local tax revenues, reviving local economies and improving the lives of city residents and visitors.
Stressing that many communities are struggling to survive, particularly during the pandemic, other Republican senators raised concerns about the effectiveness of the Department’s programs to aid areas where large employers have closed and municipalities have been declared financially distressed under Act 47.
Noting that Governor Wolf’s budget eliminated funding for a key program created last year to support broadband deployment in unserved and underserved communities, Senators raised concerns about the Department’s and Administration’s commitment to expanding broadband in rural area and stressing that it must be a funding priority.
Click here for video of the hearing.
Four Bills Sent to Governor
Four bills received final legislative approval this week and were sent to the Governor.
House Bill 11 renames several bridges and highways.
Senate Bill 84 amends the County Code to state the first assistant district attorney will become the district attorney in the event of a vacancy for Class 2A through Eighth-Class counties until the next municipal election.
Senate Bill 85 amends the Second-Class County Code to state the first assistant district attorney will become the district attorney in the event of a vacancy for Second-Class Counties until the next municipal election.
Senate Bill 86 amends Title 53 (Municipalities Generally) to require counties under a home rule charter to follow the procedures for succession under the county codes in the event of a vacancy in the office of district attorney.
Three Bills Sent to House of Representatives
The Senate approved three bills on Wednesday.
Senate Bill 89 repeals the Balanced Multimodal Transportation Policy Commission, a panel authorized by statute that was never established.
Senate Bill 191 provides an exemption from the Uniform Construction Code for barns and other structures that are occasionally used for weddings or special events, if certain requirements are satisfied.
Senate Bill 411 consolidates the Department of Corrections with the Board of Probation & Parole and transfers the supervision of offenders and certain administrative functions from the Board to the Department but preserves parole decision–making responsibilities within the Board.
The bills now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senate Approves Statute of Limitation Constitutional Amendment
The Senate started the process of correcting an error by the Wolf Administration by passing a proposed amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution on Tuesday that would allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits against their abusers even if the statute of limitations had expired.
The proposed Constitutional Amendment in House Bill 14 would create a two-year window for retroactive lawsuits for victims whose statute of limitations has already expired. The Senate action is the first step to fix the failure of the Wolf Administration to properly advertise the amendment in accordance with the Pennsylvania Constitution. As a result, sexual assault survivors must now wait until 2023 at the earliest for the measure to be considered by voters.
Aging & Youth
Senate Bill 190 allows for Designated Essential Family Caregivers in long-term care facilities.
Senate Bill 323 extends the PACE/PACENET Social Security COLA moratorium to December 31, 2023.
Agriculture & Rural Affairs
House Bill 101 establishes the Agritourism Activity Protection Act to provide limited liability protection for providers.
House Bill 110 changes the composition and terms of membership of the Hardwoods Development Council.
Senate Bill 251 amends the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes to set clear standards for the application of fertilizer to turf and provide for labels and labeling and the disposition of funds.
Senate Bill 434 provides for milk “sell by date” and “best by date” labeling.
Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure
Senate Bill 82 adds motorcycles to the Automobile Lemon Law.
Senate Bill 115 establishes the Nurse Licensure Compact Act.
Senate Bill 236 prohibits telemarketers from spoofing phone numbers so the call appears to originate from the same local area as the recipient.
Senate Bill 435 establishes the Pennsylvania Clean Transportation Infrastructure Act.
Senate Bill 83 creates grants to establish fire training programs for students in high school.
Senate Bill 224 simplifies the process for out-of-state teachers to obtain certification in Pennsylvania.
Senate Bill 247 repeals a provision of the Public School Code that prohibits teachers from wearing any garb, mark, emblem or insignia that would indicate he or she is a member of or adherent to any religious order or sect while in the performance of their duties.
Senate Bill 381 makes permanent a temporary program providing for substitute teachers.
Environmental Resources & Energy
The Senate Environmental Resources & Energy Committee heard “An Honest Conversation About Energy, Economy and the Environment,” a presentation on Tuesday by Dr. Scott Tinker, State Geologist of Texas and University of Texas Professor. Video
Senate Bill 74 would allow companies to apply for a tax credit after donating to a Pennsylvania pediatric cancer research hospital.
House Bill 230 increases the threshold from $10 million to $50 million for which the Independent Fiscal Office shall prepare a revenue estimate of changes proposed or considered as part of the state budget.
Senate Bill 286 would amend the state Constitution to establish the “Taxpayer Protection Act.”
Senate Bill 325 clarifies the sales tax exemption for multi-purpose agriculture vehicles.
Senate Bill 343 clarifies that Cervidae (deer) livestock operations are exempt from the Sales & Use Tax, regardless of whether the animals are marketed for game, recreational purposes, animal parts or products, or human consumption.
Health & Human Services
Senate Bill 108 dedicates additional Medicaid funding for ventilator and tracheostomy services.
Senate Bill 156 creates a new category under Medical Assistance for Workers with Disabilities.
House Bill 203 creates the Living Donor Protection Act.
Senate Bill 317 provides for the authority to prescribe or personally furnish antibiotics to treat sexually transmitted infections without having examined the individual for whom the drug is intended.
Senate Bill 420 addresses instances where a District Attorney’s law license is suspended, or they are disbarred.
Senate Bill 457 amends the state Constitution to require the Attorney General to have an active law license.
Rules & Executive Nominations
Special Committee on Election Integrity and Reform
The Senate Special Committee on Election Integrity and Reform held a public hearing on Tuesday on state and local insight on the administration of elections in Pennsylvania. Video
Senate Resolution 36 urges Congress to make daylight saving time permanent.
Senate Bill 423 allows State Employees’ Retirement System retirees to work part-time as a state-certified fire instructor without having their benefits stopped.
Senate Bill 441 sets qualification requirements for the Legislative Reapportionment Commission Chair.
Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness
Senate Bill 248 designates March 6 as Persian Gulf War Veterans Day and October 7 as Global War on Terrorism Veterans Day.
Senate Bill 433 creates a fund for the Keystone State Youth ChalleNGe Academy.
Senate Bill 455 directs the Department of Military & Veterans Affairs to create logos to promote veteran-owned businesses.
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