The 2011-2012 House session was one of the most productive years in recent memory. But the work is far from being done.
Continuing forward, we will remain focused on fiscal responsibility – crafting a responsible budget, paying down our debt and reforming the system – and improving Pennsylvania’s jobs climate.
What We’ve Done
Here’s the primary agenda that guides our efforts: protecting Pennsylvania taxpayers by keeping state government on sound fiscal ground and laying the foundation for Pennsylvania’s future by focusing on jobs.
While fiscal responsibility and jobs are our top priorities, we certainly have not ignored other major issues. In fact, we have a strong record of accomplishment, from tightening school property tax referendum requirements, to dealing with driving distractions, to enacting the Castle Doctrine.
Improving the Jobs Climate
Making PA Open For Business
Sprinkler Mandate Repeal (Act 1 of 2011) – Repeals a section of the Uniform Construction Code requiring sprinklers to be installed in the construction of all new homes.
- Requirement added anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 to the cost of construction (higher costs in rural areas).
- People should be educated about the availability and benefits of sprinklers and make their own decision about whether to install them.
- Law also ensures all updates to the state’s building code are thoroughly reviewed by the Uniform Construction Code Review and Advisory Council. Accepting the update requires a two-thirds majority vote by the council.
Unemployment Compensation Reforms (Act 6 of 2011) – Extends unemployment benefits and makes several reforms to the unemployment compensation system to control costs. The law requires an active job search to continue receiving benefits, as every other state does. It creates an offset for severance pay, as 40 other states do. Under the law, a person can receive a severance of up to $17,853 before unemployment comp benefits are affected.
- Average annual savings to Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund from 2012-18 will be $133 million, with the bulk of the savings in the last four years. The cumulative savings will be nearly $1 billion.
Unemployment Compensation Reform Part II (Act 60 of 2012) – Aims to improve the Commonwealth’s jobs climate by easing the burden of the state’s $3.9 billion unemployment compensation (UC) debt to the federal government by issuing bonds to repay the debt and restoring solvency to the UC trust fund by maintaining the annual maximum benefit at $573 through 2019 and changing financial eligibility requirements in base year earnings.
Fair Share Act (Act 17 of 2011) – Curbs lawsuit abuse by reforming the doctrine of joint and several liability to be fair to taxpayers and employers.
- Under the law, a person or entity found liable in a lawsuit will be responsible for paying only his or her share of the damages. Any person or entity found to be more than 60 percent at fault could be held responsible for 100 percent of the jury award.
- Under prior law, an entity found even 10 percent responsible could be forced to pay 100 percent of the jury award if other parties involved were unable to pay. This encouraged lawyers to seek out “deep pockets” in a lawsuit.
Additional lawsuit abuse reforms include: Benevolent Gesture (House Bill 495) and Limited Venue (House Bill 1976), which are in the Senate and House respectively.
Workers’ Compensation for Sole Proprietors (Act 20 of 2011) – Allows workers’ compensation insurers to provide sole proprietors, partners in partnerships and members of LLCs with workers’ compensation coverage. Coverage must be equivalent to normal workers’ compensation coverage.
- Addresses common disputes regarding the status of a worker the employer claims to be an independent contractor but whom the insurer believes to be an employee. In some cases, the insurer will assess increased premiums on the employer.
Infrastructure Upgrades (Act 11 of 2012) – Encourages utilities to upgrade their electric, natural gas and wastewater infrastructure that is severely aged and presents significant reliability and safety concerns.
- Pennsylvania’s aging infrastructure has been a top concern for job creators and was clearly highlighted during flooding in the state in early fall 2011.
- Economists project that for every $10 million invested in natural gas infrastructure alone, approximately 120 total jobs are created in the Commonwealth.
- It is expected that these family-sustaining jobs would continue for at least 20 years, as the 11,000 miles of older gas pipes get replaced, according to the Public Utility Commission.
- Similar results are expected as underground electric lines are replaced.
- In 20 states that have undertaken similar infrastructure replacement programs, paving, hardware, equipment rental, transportation and hospitality industries have benefited.
Marcellus Shale Impact Fee and Regulatory Changes (Act 13 of 2012) – Enables local communities to enact an impact fee on natural gas drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shale areas, outlines collection and distribution of impact fees collected, and makes a series of changes to the state’s Oil and Gas Act to ensure drilling is done safely.
- The law is supported by local government organizations, including the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs, and the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.
- The law is supported by environmental advocacy organizations, including the Growing Greener Coalition, the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
- To enhance growth in the industry, the law creates the Natural Gas Energy Development Program to provide grants to local transportation organizations to support conversions of vehicles to natural gas.
Keystone Opportunity Zones (Act 16 of 2012) – Expands areas designated to provide job creators with tax cuts, credits and exemptions to spur job growth. Employers that invest at least $1 billion and create at least 400 permanent, full-time jobs would get an extra five years of tax breaks, 15 years in all, with more breaks for manufacturing and processing businesses. The law also allows up to 15 additional Keystone Opportunity Expansion Zones.
- Business Facilities magazine has called KOZs “the number one economic development strategy in the nation.”
- According to the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), 37,420 jobs have been created since the inception of KOZs in 1999.
- DCED statistics show that over the past four years, 58 new businesses began operating in KOZs.
Regulatory Reform (Act 76 of 2012) – Ensures the small business community has input about proposed regulations and their impact on small employers. Agencies submitting regulatory proposals to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission would be required to provide an economic impact statement and alternatives to small businesses that would achieve the effect of the proposed regulation in a more cost effective manner.
- Nearly half of Pennsylvania’s workforce is employed by small businesses.
- It is estimated that the cost of regulations to a small business is as much as 60 percent more than the cost to a large employer.
Public-Private Partnerships (Act 88 of 2012) – Provides a broad-based legislative framework authorizing the implementation of transportation-specific public-private partnerships (P3) to help the Commonwealth meet its substantial transportation infrastructure needs. Under a P3, the public entity maintains ownership of the asset, but contracts with a private entity to develop, construct, manage, operate and/or finance a given project.
- A 2010 study by the State Transportation Advisory Committee states an additional $3.5 billion a year is needed to fully meet the state’s immediate transportation needs.
- Pennsylvania has the most structurally deficient bridges of any state in the nation – more than 5,000, or 26 percent of the state-owned inventory – and roughly 8,000 miles of roadway in very poor condition.
Keystone Works (Act 107 of 2012) – Creates the Keystone Works Program to promote the hiring of individuals on unemployment compensation. An employer must be able to provide the person with a maximum of 24 hours of unpaid training weekly for a maximum of eight weeks. At the end of the eight-week period, the employer must consider the trainee for the job opening or follow up his or her service with a constructive performance evaluation. The bill was modeled after a similar initiative in Georgia that has successfully helped more than 3,000 unemployed Georgians land permanent jobs.
Resource Manufacturing Tax Credit (2012-13 Tax Code Bill – Act 85 of 2012) – Aims to revive Pennsylvania’s manufacturing heritage by offering a tax credit aimed at securing the location of a multi-million dollar petrochemical plant complex in western Pennsylvania (though the credit would apply to any business that meets the eligibility criteria). The so-called “cracker” plant would receive a credit on its purchase of ethane from natural gas, which it then uses to produce ethylene, which is used for manufacturing products such as footwear, tires, diapers and detergent.
• The incentive requires no upfront money from taxpayers, and it would only be triggered by the company locating and operating in the Commonwealth.
• The project would bring at least 400-1,000 direct jobs at the ethane cracker plant and 15,000-17,000 jobs from associated industries that would grow as a result of the plant (Source: American Chemistry Council).
• Building the plant could mean up to 10,000 construction jobs.
E-Verify for Public Works (Act 127 of 2012) – Requires public works contractors and subcontractors to participate in the federal E-Verify Program (EVP) and federal Social Security Number Verification Service (NVS) to verify eligibility of new hires.
Job-Creating Angel Investor Tax Credit (HB 1503 – awaiting Senate action) – Improves the ability of small businesses to secure growth financing by creating a new angel investor tax credit to encourage investment in Pennsylvania’s emerging technology industry. The new tax credit would be paid for by repurposing unused credits from the existing Keystone Innovation Zone program, which now uses about $10 million of its $25 million in annual credits.
o More than 20 states, including Ohio and Maryland which compete with Pennsylvania to attract jobs, have similar successful programs.
Permitting Portal (HB 2022 – awaiting Senate action) – Creates a one-stop, online portal for business to easily submit and track needed permits and licenses. The portal would allow for electronic submission of permit applications and fees, as well as tracking the status of permits; provide access to a customized checklist specific to the individual business; and offer information about local permitting requirements.
- Streamlining the permitting process makes Pennsylvania more attractive to job creators by removing some of the red tape associated with job creation in the Commonwealth.
Employment for Veterans (HB 2321 – awaiting Senate action) – Requires Commonwealth agencies to consider a veteran’s military education, training and experience for the purpose of fulfilling requirements for professional credentials. The goal is to help veterans more quickly and easily transition to civilian life.
- A recently released U.S. Department of Labor report found that the unemployment rate of post Sept. 11, 2001, veterans in 2011 was about 12 percent, compared to the unemployment rate of 8.2 percent for non-veterans in Pennsylvania.
- Statistics also show young male veterans who served in conflicts after the Sept. 11 attacks had an unemployment rate of 29.1 percent in 2011, higher than that of young male non-veterans, whose unemployment rate was 17.6 percent.
Benefit Corporations (Act 152 of 2012) – Allows for creation of Benefit Corporations in Pennsylvania, which redefine the fiduciary duty of a corporation’s directors so they are permitted to take non-financial interests, such as fighting hunger or curing diseases, into consideration when making decisions for the corporation.
Remining and Reclamation (Act 157 of 2012) – Allows for the use of Land Reclamation Financial Guarantees (LRFGs) as an alternative to satisfy surface mine reclamation bonding obligations for mine operators. The change in law will boost opportunities for increased remining and reclamation at abandoned mine sites.
Steel Products Procurement Act (Act 159 of 2012) – Streamlines costs for both contractors and public agencies by allowing them to simply review the state Department of General Services’ list of exempt products rather than processing documentation for each public works project.
Promoting Employment Across Pennsylvania (HB 2626 – awaiting gov’s signature) – Establishes the PEP! (Promoting Employment across Pennsylvania) program to serve as an incentive for attracting new jobs to the Commonwealth. The law allows qualifying employers to keep 95 percent of the state Personal Income Tax revenue they would otherwise remit to the Commonwealth on behalf of their new workers. They are then able to use that money to create additional jobs.
- To qualify, an employer would have to create at least 250 new jobs in Pennsylvania within five years. At least 100 of those new jobs would have to be created within two years.
- The new employees would have to be paid wages that meet or exceed the average pay of workers in the county in which the jobs are being created. The company also would have to provide health care benefits for the new workers and cover at least 50 percent of the premium for that benefit.
- The employers would continue to pay other taxes – including the state Corporate Net Income Tax, Capital Stock and Franchise Tax and sales tax in addition to local taxes – that would help to fund state and local programs and services.
Community Pharmacy Access (SB 201 – awaiting gov’s signature) – Creates a level playing field to give consumers greater choice in using either retail community pharmacy or mail-order pharmacy services. The law prohibits the imposition on consumers using a retail pharmacy of any copays, deductibles or other conditions not otherwise imposed when using a mail-order pharmacy. Also requires a study by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to evaluate the impact of the law on both independent and chain retail pharmacies.
A Fiscally Responsible Act... finally
2012 General Fund Budget – A $27.7 billion spending plan for the 2012-13 fiscal year that returns the Commonwealth to pre-stimulus spending levels while working to ensure funding of core government services.
• It includes no new or increased taxes.
• It continues the phase-out of the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax and implements a “single sales factor” to ensure employers pay the Corporate Net Income Tax only based on sales and not on payroll or property.
• Despite stagnating revenues, it level funds higher education (restoring the 20 percent to 30 percent cuts proposed by the governor) and ensures public school districts are receiving at least the same level of funding as the prior year.
• It restores $84 million in funding for county human service programs (total 10 percent cut instead of the governor’s proposed 20 percent cut).
2011 General Fund Budget – A $27.15 billion spending plan that cuts overall spending by more than $1 billion compared to the prior fiscal year’s budget.
- It’s the first on-time state budget since 2003.
- It includes no new or increased taxes; in fact, it continues the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax phase-out to assist employers.
- It includes no new or additional borrowing.
- House Republicans led efforts to reduce Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed welfare spending and instead directed that money to K-12 and higher education.
Eliminating Waste, Fraud and Abuse; Improving Efficiency
Welfare Reform (Act 22 of 2011) – Makes several reforms to the state’s welfare system to help protect taxpayers by curbing waste, fraud and abuse within the system. The welfare system must be accountable to the people that fund it. The law:
- Requires the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) to use an electronic cross-reference system to provide a 19-point check on an applicant’s eligibility and create a standard fraud detection system to stop fraud before it starts.
- Requires the department to subject drug felons who are applying for benefits or already receiving benefits to random drug testing. This will ensure welfare benefits are not being used to subsidize drug abuse.
- Clarifies that people are only eligible for benefits based on the levels allowed in their county of residence, regardless of where they apply. This is important because cash benefit levels differ from county to county, which has prompted some to “shop around” for the highest benefit rates.
- Calls for an overhaul of the fraud-laden Special Allowance Program.
Additional welfare reforms being pursued by the House:
- Requires photo identification to make sure benefits aren’t misused.
- Strengthens legal penalties for those who commit welfare fraud.
- Reduces abuse in a welfare program that helps people truly in need get to and from doctor appointments, pharmacy visits, methadone clinics, dialyses treatments, physical therapy and other medical appointments.
- Prohibits the purchase of tobacco with welfare benefit cards.
LIHEAP Reform ( Act 164 of 2012) – Requires the Department of Public Welfare and Department of Community and Economic Development to verify the income eligibility of recipients of funds through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP) and Weatherization Assistance programs. It also contains whistleblower protections for anyone who reports suspected fraud within the programs and requires employees, contractors and recipients of the programs to report suspected misconduct to the Office of Inspector General.
- An auditor general’s report identified several examples of fraud in the LIHEAP program, including more than 500 households that received $162,000 in benefits using the Social Security numbers of people who were deceased.
Caring for our most vulnerable citizens
Human Services Block Grants (2012-13 Welfare Code – Act 80 of 2012) – Creates a pilot program in which up to 20 Pennsylvania counties may choose to deliver human services through a more flexible block grant program. The pilot will allow participating counties to implement innovative solutions to continue providing critical services while making adjustments for local need and maximizing administrative efficiencies.
Addressing the Waiting List (General Fund Budget – Act 9A of 2012) – Invests $17.8 million to provide services to more than 1,100 Pennsylvanians with intellectual disabilities currently on the state’s waiting list. The funding will support services for 700 special education graduates and 430 individuals with elderly caregivers.
Creating the Methadone Death and Incident Review Act - (Act 148 of 2012) – Establishes within the Department of Drug and Alcohol the Methadone Death and Incident Review Team to conduct a review and examine the circumstances surrounding methadone-related deaths and methadone-related incidents for the purpose of promoting safety, reducing these types of death/incidents and improving treatment practices.
Responsible stewardship of your money
PennWATCH (Act 18 of 2011) – Creates a comprehensive, searchable online database of state budgeting and spending information.
- Within the first year, the website must include: annual appropriations and expenditure information for Commonwealth agencies, identifying information of vendors receiving payment and the amount of each expenditure and the funding source.
- By the end of 2013, the site would also incorporate hyperlinks to state contracts, a description of the program under which an expenditure is made and the expected outcomes of the expenditure.
- The House also adopted several other reform measures that are awaiting action in the Senate, including bills to:
• Increase penalties for lobbyists who violate the state’s Lobbyist Disclosure Act. (House Bill 103)
• Extend whistleblower protections to employees of nonprofits and private sector companies with state contracts who report waste of public money obtained by their employer for services or work. (House Bills 104, 105)
• Enhance the state contracting process by allowing for public review of a contract not awarded by a competitive bid process prior to execution of the agreement and by prohibiting an employee of the administration who previously worked for a company bidding on a state contract from participating in the evaluation of that proposal. (House Bills 107, 108)
• Prohibit lawmakers from creating nonprofit organizations that receive public funds. (House Bill 109)
School Property Tax Referendum Requirements (Act 25 of 2011) – Limits the circumstances by which a school district, under Special Session Act 1 of 2006, may increase property taxes without referendum approval by voters.
- School districts are permitted under the law to increase property taxes by a state-set inflationary index without voter approval. Tax increases beyond the index would be subject to referendum.
- The original law outlined 10 exceptions under which school districts could avoid the referendum process. The new law maintains only the following exceptions: special education expenses, grandfathered/electoral debt or pension costs.
- The new law also requires school districts to meet certain financial criteria before gaining approval for the exceptions.
Business Improvement District Assessments (Act 8 of 2012) – Reduces tax assessments for residential properties in Business Improvement Districts (BID) to make those properties more attractive to people considering moving to these transitional communities.
- Assessments on residences in BIDS would be reduced by 50 percent.
- Assessments on condominiums would be restructured to ensure individual unit owners receive the reduced assessment.
Reducing Size of the Legislature (HB 153 – awaiting Senate action) – Proposes a constitutional amendment to reduce the size of the state House of Representatives from 203 members to 153 and the Senate from 50 to 38.
- Pennsylvania’s General Assembly has 253 members, making it the second largest in the country.
- Under the bill, each House member would represent about 83,022 people; currently, each representative serves approximately 62,573.
- The measure must be passed by both the House and Senate in two consecutive sessions, and subsequently approved by referendum vote of the people of Pennsylvania.
Debt Reform (HB 2175 – awaiting Senate action) – Reforms and redefines the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Project (RACP) program by decreasing the program’s debt ceiling and creating a more stringent review and approval process within the Office of the Budget.
- The state’s debt has climbed by almost 300 percent under the RACP over the last several years.
- Created in 1999, the program’s initial debt ceiling was $1.2 billion. It has been raised six times and now sits at $4.05 billion.
- Approximately 8,000 projects have been added to the program’s list since 1999.
- The measure would reduce to the debt ceiling to $3.5 billion immediately and then incrementally until it reaches $1.5 billion.
No Triple-Dipping (HB 2346 – awaiting Senate action) – Prevents public retirees who are collecting a pension and then return to work for 95 days or less from later collecting unemployment compensation.
- Current law offers no clear prohibition against an individual collecting unemployment if he or she leaves a job to continue retirement or annuity benefits. The law does stipulate an offset of pension benefits against unemployment benefits, meaning those individuals who have participated in these activities did not receive full unemployment benefits.
- In 2011, 239 state annuitants received unemployment compensation benefits after temporarily re-employing and collected a total of more than $1.1 million in benefits.
Inheritance Tax (HB 1780 – awaiting Senate action) – Eliminates Pennsylvania’s inheritance tax for property transfers from a natural parent, adoptive parent or step-parent to or for the use of their child if the child is under the age of 21. Currently, such transfers are taxed at a rate of 4.5 percent.
Constitutional Amendment: Property Tax Relief (HB 2300 – awaiting Senate action) – Proposes to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to allow 100 percent of a homestead property’s value to be excluded from property taxation.
- The bill must be passed twice by the General Assembly in two consecutive legislative sessions and be approved by voters in a referendum.
No Public Benefits to Non-Citizens (SB 9 – awaiting concurrence vote in House) – Requires individuals requesting public benefits in the Commonwealth to provide identification proving they are legal residents and to sign an affidavit stating that they are a U.S. citizen or an alien lawfully present in the United States.
Building Educational Opportunity
The School Code (Act 82 of 2012) – Provides funding to Pennsylvania school districts equal to or greater than funding offered in the 2011-12 state budget. The state House once again led the effort to restore $100 million in funding for Accountability Block Grants, which provide flexible funds to school districts to be used for programs of their choice, such as pre-kindergarten or full-day kindergarten.
The School Code (Act 24 of 2011) – Relieves school districts of several state mandates in recognition of financial challenges.
- School building construction projects that do not involve state money will not have to go through the state’s PLANCON process for approval.
- A moratorium is placed on the collection of personal data by the departments of Public Welfare and Education.
- School districts are permitted to hire district superintendents and assistant superintendents with a master’s degree in business or finance.
- “Residency” teaching certificates are created to provide a new avenue for non-traditional educators to teach in the classroom. This provides a streamlined process for professionals with expertise in key fields such as science and mathematics.
- A moratorium is placed on Act 48 and Act 45 continuing education requirements.
New Teacher Evaluation Process (2012-13 School Code – Act 82 of 2012) – Establishes a statewide, comprehensive rating system for teachers, principals and non-teaching professional employees in Pennsylvania. The system calls for 50 percent of an educator’s overall evaluation score to be based on student achievement, with the remaining portion based on traditional teacher practices, such as classroom observations.
- Student achievement would be calculated using data from statewide assessments, student growth data through the Pennsylvania Value-Added Assessment System, and elective measures of student achievement chosen at the local level.
- The bill provides a framework based on an ongoing pilot program in more than 100 school districts, charter schools, career and technical centers, and intermediate units across the state.
Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) Expansion/EITC 2.0 (2012-13 School Code – Act 85 of 2012) – Expands the state’s EITC program, which provides tax credits to businesses that partner with parents, public schools and other educational institutions to provide scholarships to students to attend the schools of their choice. Funding for the program is increased from $75 million to $100 million. Income limits for eligible students are increased starting next year, and the maximum credit a business may receive is increased as well. The legislation also creates EITC 2.0, a new school choice program that makes an additional $50 million in opportunity scholarships available to children living within the state’s lowest-achieving public school districts.
- The EITC program has been in place for more than a decade and is among the most successful education tax credit programs in the nation.
- More than 40,000 students benefit from EITC scholarships each year, and countless other students in traditional public schools also benefit through the Education Improvement Organizations portion of the tax credits.
Higher Education Modernization Act (Acts 104, 132 and 134 of 2012) – Updates laws governing the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) universities to enhance economic development opportunities for PASSHE universities, faculty and students. The bill clarifies permitted activities between PASSHE universities and private-affiliated entities and allows all PASSHE universities to offer applied doctorate programs.
- Under current law, state-owned universities are unable to contract with their faculty, who have developed valuable and potentially marketable intellectual property and services that could be leveraged for the benefit of students, universities and the Commonwealth. The new law would level the playing field across sectors of higher education.
Library Code (SB 1225 - awaiting gov's signature) – Makes a variety of updates to the Commownealth’s Library Code to help state and local libraries better respond to changing technology and community needs. ng methadone-related deaths and methadone-related incidents for the purpose of promoting safety, reducing these types of death/incidents and improving treatment practices.
Public Safety/Public Protection
Always a Priority
Bath Salts Ban (Act 7 of 2011) – Bans so-called “bath salts” and other chemical compounds being abused by drug users. Banned substances include: Salvia Divinorum, Salvinorin A, Divinorin A, synthetic marijuana, synthetic cocaine/heroin (also known as concentrated bath salts) and psychedelic phenethylamines (referred to collectively as 2C or the 2C family).
- When smoked, snorted or injected into the body, the banned chemicals produce a high similar to that experienced when using cocaine.
Castle Doctrine (Act 10 of 2011) – Reinforces a person’s right to defend himself or herself in the face of an attacker without first having a duty to retreat.
- The measure creates in law the presumption that an attacker or intruder intends to do great bodily harm and therefore force, including deadly force, may be used to protect oneself, one’s family and others in the face of an attack while at home, in an occupied vehicle or anywhere a person has a legal right to be.
- The bill also offers specific protection against civil liability for the lawful use of force in self-defense.
Homicide by Watercraft (Act 33 of 2011) – Increases the grading and penalty for the offense of homicide by watercraft while operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- The offense would be graded a second-degree felony, increasing the maximum penalty to a fine of not less than $5,000 or more than $25,000, or imprisonment not exceeding 10 years, or both.
- The bill also calls for a consecutive three-year term of imprisonment for each victim whose death is a result of a violation of operating a watercraft under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Teen Driver Safety Improvements (Act 81 of 2011) – Seeks to improve highway safety by upgrading Pennsylvania’s Graduated Driver License (GDL) law for teens 16 ½ to 18 years old. The law increases behind-the-wheel training requirements from 50 hours to 65 hours, 10 of which must be at night and five during inclement weather. It also limits to one the number of teen passengers in a vehicle driven by the holder of a junior driver’s license for the first six months.
- National data shows that teen driver and peer passenger deaths account for one-quarter of total teen deaths nationwide, and teen drivers have fatal crashes at four times the rate of adult drivers.
- The greatest chance of crashing occurs in the first six months after licensure, and inexperience and distractions are the two greatest risks when teen drivers are behind the wheel.
- Numerous studies have shown lower teen crash rates after implementing a passenger restriction for teen drivers.
- According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, fatalities in crashes that involved a 16- or 17-year-old driver in 2010 increased from 40 in 2009 to 57, a 43 percent increase.
Texting Ban (Act 98 of 2011) – Makes it illegal for drivers to text while behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. An individual who reads, selects or enters a phone number or name in an interactive wireless communications device for the purpose of making a phone call will not be in violation of the texting ban.
- More than 30 other states already have a texting while driving ban.
- A study by Virginia Tech Driving Institute revealed that those who resort to texting while driving are 23 times more likely to meet with an accident.
- According to a report by the National Safety Council, 28 percent of car accidents are caused by talking or texting while driving.
- In another recent survey, 26 percent of cell phone users said that they have texted while driving.
Megan’s Law Reforms (Act 111 of 2011) – Closes loopholes in the state’s sex offender registry law to better protect children in our communities.
- Out-of-state and homeless sex offenders are required to register under Megan’s Law. Homeless sex offenders are required to register as “transients” every 30 days with the state police at approved registration sites, be photographed and provide information about where he/she may be located, such as parks, public buildings, restaurants and libraries.
- Sex offenders are placed into a three-tiered system depending on the severity of the offense committed. The worst offenders would be required to register for life, while those found guilty of less serious offenses would register for 15 years.
- Offenders in the various categories would be required to appear regularly in person, be photographed and update his or her registration information. The registry information would then be shared with law enforcement, probation and parole offices, schools and social service agencies responsible for protecting children. It also would authorize the state police to release information on its website for the public to search for sex offenders in a given ZIP code or geographic radius.
Abortion Regulation (Act 122 of 2011) – Holds abortion facilities to the same personnel and equipment requirements, quality assurance procedures, and fire and safety standards as freestanding ambulatory surgical facilities.
- The increased standards are a result of a grand jury report charging a Philadelphia abortion clinic director, Dr. Kermit Gosnell, with eight counts of murder – including seven newborns and one woman. The report alleged that the atrocities were permitted to occur for so long due to a lack of oversight by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
- The House originally passed legislation to improve the standards at abortion facilities, House Bill 574, on May 11.
- The House also passed (awaiting Senate consideration) House Bill 1977, prohibiting qualified plans offered through a health insurance exchange to include abortion coverage.
Pipeline Safety (Act 127 of 2011) – This bill deals with safety related to transporting natural gas; it provides for gas and hazardous liquids pipelines and for powers and duties of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, and imposes civil penalties.
Voter Identification (Act 18 of 2012) – Requires voters to show photo identification before casting their ballots. Accepted forms of identification include a driver’s license or ID card issued by PennDOT, military ID cards (including ones from the PA National Guard), and ID cards issued by an accredited Pennsylvania university or a licensed nursing home, so long as they include a name, photo and expiration date.
- People without one of the accepted forms of identification may obtain a PennDOT non-driver ID at no cost.
- The goal of this legislation is to prevent fraud, ensure the sanctity of each person’s vote and restore confidence in our electoral system.
Accountability in the Juvenile Justice System (Acts 22, 23 and 42 of 2012) – Responds to the “Cash for Kids” scandal in Luzerne County by requiring judges to state for the record their reasons for each juvenile disposition and the goals, terms and conditions of the sentence. The laws also require appointment of legal counsel for any child appearing without one at any hearing. Additionally, the Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission (JCJC) is required to gather and analyze data from the Commonwealth’s juvenile courts to identify trends and evidence-based programs and practices to ensure reasonable and efficient administration of the juvenile justice system.
Expert Testimony in Sexual Assault Cases (Act 75 of 2012) – Allows expert witnesses to testify about the dynamics of sexual violence, victim responses to sexual violence and the impact of sexual violence on victims during and after being assaulted.
o Pennsylvania was the only state in the nation that did not allow such testimony.
Criminal Justice System Reform (Act 122 of 2012) – Reforms the state’s Criminal Justice System by establishing the safe community re-entry program; making more nonviolent offenders eligible for alternative sentencing programs; and establishing a county probation program providing for swift, predictable and immediate sanctions on offenders who violate probation.
Fire and Ambulance Grants (Act 78 of 2012) – Extends the Volunteer Fire Company and Volunteer Ambulance Service Grant program for an additional four years. Funding is increased from $25 million to $30 million annually, and some paid municipal departments also will be eligible for the grants that may be used for training, equipment, facility maintenance or repair, and debt reduction.
Turn Around, Don’t Drown (Act 114 of 2012) – Establishes driving past, around, or through a sign or traffic control device closing a road or highway due to either existing or potentially hazardous conditions as a summary offense. Anyone who requires rescue, towing or medical care after ignoring a barricade would be fined $250-$500 and have to pay the costs of being rescued and have points assessed to his or her driving record.
Mandatory Minimum Sentence for Felons Illegally Possessing Firearms (HB 2331 – passed in House) – Imposes a five-year mandatory minimum sentence without parole for felons who illegally possess firearms. It also defines the offense as a “crime of violence,” which triggers Pennsylvania’s three-strikes law that requires a 10-year sentence for a second offense and 25 years for a third offense.
Selling Drugs in Presence of a Minor (HB 1289 – passed in House) – Creates a sentencing enhancement if a person over the age of 18 is convicted of selling controlled substances in the presence of a minor and the person convicted is the minor’s parent, guardian, or a person responsible for the child’s welfare.
Human Trafficking (Act 197 of 2012) – Requires designated establishments to post a sign with the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline number and notice that victims of human trafficking are protected under both federal and state laws.
Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Fund (Act 196 of 2012) – Establishes the Justice Reinvestment Fund to support programs and activities to improve the delivery of criminal justice services in the Commonwealth. The law also changes the composition of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and emphasizes the importance of its Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Committee in collaborating with state agencies regarding delinquency prevention and reduction of violence by and against children.
Sexting (Act 198 of 2012) – Creates a new offense for minors caught transmitting sexually explicit photos of themselves or their peers and outlines penalties for the offense. Under previous law, these images would be classified as child pornography, and anyone caught transmitting, viewing or possessing them could be charged with a felony.
Straw Purchases (Act 199 of 2012) – Restores a five-year minimum sentence for people convicted of making repeat straw purchases of firearms. Under previous law, there was no enhanced penalty for second and subsequent straw purchase offenses.
Assault of Game, Fish Commission Officer (Act 150 of 2012) – Increases the penalty for assaulting a Waterways Conservation Officer or Wildlife Conservation Officer. Assaulting and causing bodily injury to conservation officers would be graded a second-degree felony, and causing serious bodily injury or discharging a firearm during assault of an officer would be a first-degree felony.
Gang Recruitment (Act 200 of 2012) – Establishes the offense of recruiting gang members and outlines penalties. The offense would be graded one degree higher when the crime is committed against a person under the age of 16.
Child Labor Laws (Act 151 of 2012) – Aims to protect the health and financial well-being of children taking part in film and television production by: limiting the hours the child can work to no more than eight hours a day or 48 hours per week; requiring minors to finish work by 10 p.m. on school nights; requiring children under 16 to be accompanied by a parent or guardian; requiring a studio teacher to be on set; and requiring that trust accounts be established for minor actors in which the employer must deposit 15 percent of the child’s gross earnings.
HIV-Related Testing (Act 201 of 2012) – Creates a statutory mechanism for victims of certain sex crimes to request that a court order the defendant to submit to HIV testing. The law helps the Commonwealth comply with the federal Violence Against Women Act, which ensures the state can access funding provided by the act to states.
Wiretap Act Updates (Act 202 of 2012) – Updates the state’s wiretap laws to address changes in technology and unnecessary evidentiary restrictions. Changes include:
• Permitting a law enforcement officer to pose as an intended recipient of a communication where he has legally come into possession of a criminal’s cell phone and the attorney general or district attorney determines the communication involves suspected criminal activity and approves.
• Allowing law enforcement officers to have access to properly obtained inmate recordings.
• Allowing recordings by victims and witnesses where there is reason to believe the person recorded is involved in a crime of violence or felony of the first degree.
• Permitting law enforcement to obtain a court order for target-specific wiretaps when additional specificity, such as location or a precise phone number, is lacking because of the criminals’ intention to thwart interception by changing locations and phones.
• Permitting SWAT teams to intercept a communication from a person holding a hostage or who has barricaded himself and may resist with the use of weapons or is threatening harm to himself or others.
Long-Term Care Facilities Background Checks (Act 175 of 2012) – Enables the Department of Aging to use a more efficient fingerprinting method for background checks for job applicants at long-term care facilities.
Juvenile Justice Reforms (Act 204 of 2012) – Outlines sentencing options for juveniles convicted of murder; ensures greater protections for juvenile offenders regarding legal representation; streamlines the expungement of records; and defines the crime of cyber bullying by minors.
Public Drunkeness (Act 205 of 2012) – Increases possible fines for public drunkenness and similar misconduct from up to $300 to up to $1,000 and increases possible fines for underage purchase, consumption, possession or transportation of liquor or malt or brewed beverage from up to $300 to up to $1,000.
Health Care & Health Care Access
PACE/PACENET (Act 21 of 2011) – Ensures PACE and PACENET recipients remain eligible for the prescription drug benefit despite a minimal increase in their Social Security income that may put them just above the income limits for the programs. The law ensures nearly 30,000 senior citizens retain their benefits.
Family Caregiver Support Act (Act 112 of 2011) – Changes the name of the law to the Pennsylvania Caregiver Support Act, addresses approved out-of-pocket expenses incurred by caregivers, allows reimbursement of non-relative caregivers and adult family members, and makes other changes.
Cancer as Occupational Disease for Firefighters (Act 46 of 2011) – Designates cancer as an occupational disease for firefighters for the purposes of workers’ compensation.
Management of Sport-Related Concussions (Act 101 of 2011) – Raises awareness of the danger of concussion by calling for the removal from play of an athlete who shows symptoms of a concussion, such as confusion, headache, nausea, blurred vision or memory loss. The athlete would not be eligible to return to action until examined and cleared by a doctor. Under the Safety in Youth Sports Act, student athletes and parents are required to read and sign a concussion awareness sheet annually before the student is allowed to participate in a sport, including cheerleading and club sports like rugby and hockey. In addition, coaches must complete a concussion certification course every year.
Long-Term Care Nursing Facility Independent Informal Dispute Resolution Act (Act 128 of 2011) – Establishes an independent informal dispute resolution process for long-term care nursing facilities to dispute Department of Health survey deficiencies; and provides for the powers and duties of the Department of Health.
Primary Stroke Center Recognition Act (Act 54 of 2012) – Establishes a statewide stroke system of care by recognizing primary stroke centers and directing the creation of emergency medical services training and transport protocol.
- Stroke is the third-leading cause of death in the nation and in Pennsylvania. It is also one of the leading causes of long-term disability. Rapid response can save lives and minimize the long-term effects of stroke.
Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act (Act 59 of 2012) – Requires the Departments of Health and Education to provide educational materials regarding the risk, nature and warning signs of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). Also, a student who exhibits signs or symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest during athletic participation must immediately be removed from the activity and cannot return to participation until cleared by an appropriate medical professional.
- SCA occurs when the heart stops beating suddenly and unexpectedly. Warning signs include fainting, shortness of breath, unexplained family death and a family history of abnormal heart or seizures.
- SCA is the No. 1 killer of student athletes and is responsible for up to 30 percent of all sudden infant deaths. It affects an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 children annually.
UPMC/Highmark Legislation (HB 2052 – awaiting Senate action) – Empowers the Pennsylvania Insurance Department with an effective means of assisting in the resolution of disputes between health care providers and insurers. The bill would:
- Require the department to hold investigative public hearings should a dispute arise.
- Call for the parties in a dispute to participate in mediation if the department finds that the contract would substantially affect public health in the area serviced by the insurer.
- Submit the parties to binding arbitration if mediation fails and the secretary of health finds that termination or expiration of the contract would substantially disrupt the delivery of health care services in the area serviced by the insurer and that continuation of the contract is in the public interest.
Improving Quality of Life
Liquor Code changes (Act 113 of 2011) – Expands Sunday sales hours for alcoholic beverages, addresses “happy hour” sales and makes other changes.
Small Games of Chance (Act 2 of 2012) – Improves fundraising abilities of charitable organizations by increasing prize limits for small games of chance from $500 to $1,000 for daily drawings, from $5,000 to $30,000 for weekly drawings, and from $5,000 to $10,000 for raffles per calendar month.
- Fire and emergency service organizations also will be permitted to hold a raffle with a $50,000 limit.
- Organizations also are permitted to use up to 30 percent of the money raised for the entity’s general operating expenses.
Small Games of Chance Part II (Act 184 of 2012) – Defines a 50/50 drawing as a small game of chance now permissible under the law; permits an eligible organization to use proceeds from games of chance for license fees and background check fees; exempts eligible organizations whose proceeds are less than $2,500 in a calendar year from submitting annual reports or obtaining background checks; and allows an eligible organization that is unable to conduct games at the location listed on the application and license to use another eligible organization’s premises for the small games.
Supporting Those Who Have So Bravely Served
Honor and Remember Flag (Act 19 of 2011) – Establishes the Honor and Remember Flag as an official flag recognized by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Civil Service Representation (Act 76 of 2011) – Amends the Civil Service Act to require that one member of the Civil Service Commission be a veteran.
Pennsylvania Veterans Trust Fund (Act 87 of 2012) – Establishes the Veterans Trust Fund and directs the sum of $1.7 million to be transferred from the General Fund into the fund upon the sale of lands, buildings or other real estate used for veteran’s services or programs under the jurisdiction of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. The sum of $700,000 is appropriated for veterans’ services.
Unclaimed Remains (Act 101 of 2012) – Amends the Vital Statistics Law to allow funeral directors and crematoriums to legally turn over the unclaimed cremated remains of a veteran to an official veterans service organization for burial in a National Veterans Cemetery.
Educational Leave (Act 128 of 2012) – Allows for an educational leave of absence for the spouse of a deployed military reservist, thereby allowing the spouse to temporarily put their college course work on hold without any financial or academic credit penalty.
Veteran’s Designation (Act 176 of 2012) – Requires the Department of Transportation to place a U.S. military veteran’s designation on driver’s licenses and/or ID cards to aid veterans in obtaining the benefits available to them.
Military Pensions (Act 181 of 2012) – Brings the State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS) into compliance with the Federal Heroes Earning Assistance and Relief Act of 2008 (HEART) and conforms Pennsylvania law regarding pension credit for military leave for state employees and SERS members with federal law.
Veteran-Owned Small Business (Act 185 of 2012) – Encourages state agencies to contract with veteran-owned small businesses by establishing an annual statewide goal of not less than 3 percent participation in statewide contracts entered into by the Department of General Services. The law also requires training to help veteran-owned businesses learn how to apply for state contracts.
Pennsylvania Veterans Trust Fund (Act 194 of 2012) – Identifies additional funding for the newly created Pennsylvania Veterans Trust Fund (PVTF). The law creates a voluntary check-off mechanism on driver’s license renewals and vehicle registrations for motorists to donate to the fund and offers a special veterans’ license plate for both veterans and motorists who wish to honor veterans.
Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act (Act 189 of 2012) – Enacts the Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act (UMOVA) to simplify and provide uniformity to the registration and absentee ballot process for uniformed service voters and overseas civilian voters for all elections in the Commonwealth.
Pennsylvania Code of Military Justice (Act 192 of 2012) – Updates the Pennsylvania Code of Military Justice (PCMJ) for the first time in nearly 40 years. PCMJ enforces order and discipline upon the Pennsylvania National Guardsmen who are not in active federal service. The law also establishes a State Military Justice Fund to pay expenses incurred in the administration of military justice and funded by fees and other monies paid to the Commonwealth under the PCMJ.
Supporting the state’s top industry
Tax Reform for Family Farms (2012-13 Tax Code Bill – Act 85 of 2012) – Aims to protect family farms by making changes to the state’s inheritance tax and realty transfer tax laws. The law exempts the transfer of certain agricultural real estate and property to a surviving child or sibling from the state’s inheritance tax. It also exempts from the realty transfer tax a transfer of real estate used for agriculture by a family member to family farm business controlled by the same members of the same family.
- Previously, excessive inheritance tax obligations forced family farmers to sell off parcels of the farm to pay inheritance taxes.
Implements of Husbandry Regulations (Acts 173 and 174 of 2012) – Changes state laws regarding multipurpose agricultural vehicles and implements of husbandry. Under the law:
o Implements of husbandry and vehicles not exceeding 12 feet in width can be used to transport an agricultural commodity on highways during the day and implements of husbandry and vehicles not exceeding 14 feet 6 inches may be used to transport or harvest an agricultural commodity at any time during the day or night.
- The definition of a “multipurpose agricultural vehicle” is revised to increase the width and weight to reflect the type of equipment now being manufactured. The law also increases the distance any multipurpose agricultural vehicle exempt from registration can travel between farms from two to five miles.
- The definition of a “commercial implement of husbandry” is revised to clarify that the use must be on farms other than the one owned or operated by the owner of the commercial implement, and remove the 180 days per year use limitation.
- An exemption from registration requirements is granted for implements of husbandry (other than commercial implements of husbandry) used exclusively for agricultural operations when operated within 50 miles of the farm or farms owned or operated by the vehicle owner. Also exempt is any implement of husbandry, trailer or semitrailer being towed or hauled by a registration-exempt implement of husbandry or farm vehicle.
Honey Producers (Act 180 of 2012) – Exempts certain honey producers from food establishment registration.
Clean and Green (SB 1298 Act 190 of 2012) – Makes composting an eligible activity under Clean and Green. At least 50 percent of the material included in “compost” must be derived from products commonly produced on farms. The law allows for reimbursement of roll-back taxes by a county for composting activities that occurred on land enrolled in Clean and Green prior to the effective date of the law and for which an active appeal of the roll-back tax payment is under way. The law includes an exemption from roll-back taxes for the activity of direct commercial sales of agriculturally related products when all of the following are true: the direct sales activity is limited to one half of an acre; the direct sales are of at least 50 percent of products produced on the tract; and the direct sales activity requires no new utilities or buildings.
Mentored Youth Hunting Program Improvements (Act 9 of 2011) – Enhances the Mentored Youth Hunting Program (MYHP) by allowing the Pennsylvania Game Commission to enact regulations to enable the transfer of certain tags or permits from a licensed mentor hunter to a youth hunter participating in the MYHP. The law limits young hunters to one antlerless deer license in each license year. Also, the law reduces the age requirement for an individual to receive a falconry permit from 16 to 12 years of age.
- The MYHP was created in 2006 to expand youth hunting opportunities and promote hunting safety for hunters under the age of 12.
- The goal is to instill a love of the outdoors, to increase interest in hunting and to provide hunting experience at an early age.
Easier Access for Military-Specific Licenses (Act 64 of 2011) – Allows various military-specific hunting licenses to be sold by all licensing agents, rather than just at commission offices and county treasurers’ offices.
- This law ensures that the men and women who have served our country with such commitment and dedication can more easily obtain the license they need to enjoy hunting in the Commonwealth.
Back Tags No Longer Required (Act 107 of 2011) – Removes the requirement that sportsmen and sportswomen must wear back tags while hunting. Hunters still must carry a license on their person at all times while hunting and may choose to continue displaying it on their backs. Any landowner needing to question a hunter about his or her carrying a hunting license has the right to ask for proof that must be produced and can easily be carried in a wallet.
o Pennsylvania now joins 48 other states in doing away with the back tag requirement.
o The change was initiated by the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC), noting that sportsmen often lose the tags while crawling through the brush or coming in contact with trees in the process of hunting.
New Packaging for Fish/Boat Licenses (Act 66 of 2012) – Allows the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to make available licenses and permits that cover multiple years, licenses and permits that cover a group of individuals who meet certain criteria as established by the commission, and allows for promotional discounts in an effort to better market the sporting activities in PA.
Serious Poaching Offenses (Act 167 of 2012) – Aims to stop poaching of high-value fish and other aquatic life by creating a new category of offenses titled “Serious Unlawful Take.” It also increases penalties for such violations. Previously, a person convicted of poaching was fined $50. The law also:
- Increases from two years to five years the duration for which the Fish and Boat Commission can revoke a person’s fishing and boating privileges.
- Increases summary offense fines for the first time in more than a decade.
- Increases the discretionary penalty for each fish taken, caught, killed, possessed or sold in violation of the Fish and Boat Code for the first time since 1980.
- Allows the commission to start periods of suspension after an individual is released from prison.
- Increases the severity of offenses for performing certain acts while a license, permit or privilege is suspended or revoked.
Fish and Boat Code Updates (SB 1402 - awaiting gov's signature) – Makes numerous substantive and technical changes to update the Fish and Boat Code to be consistent with similar language in the Game Code, Crimes Code and Vehicle Code.
Helping Local Governments
Project Bid Requirements (Acts 84-97 of 2011) – Increases project bid limits to help control costs and streamline operations for local governments.
- The dollar amount requiring full advertising and bidding of contracts is increased from $10,000 to $18,500.
- The range of a contract requiring written or telephonic quotes is set at $10,000 to $18,500.
- The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry is authorized to raise bid limits based on the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) each calendar year. The department must give notice of the annual percentage change in the CPI-U and the new amounts for advertising and bidding each Jan. 1.
Local Tax Collection Law (Act 116 of 2011) – Allows the county tax collector in third- through eighth-class counties to collect municipal taxes in the event of a vacancy in the office of municipal tax collector when a suitable replacement cannot be found.
Borough Code Overhaul (Act 43 of 2012) – Rewrites the state’s borough code to modernize it and make it easier for borough officials to use and understand. The law removes obsolete and redundant references or provisions from the code, incorporates updated language, consolidates common subject matter and removes antiquated laws pertaining to boroughs that have been superseded by other statutes.
Land Banks to Fight Blight (Act 153 of 2012) – Allows municipalities with a population exceeding 10,000 to create public land bank authorities in order to efficiently acquire, manage and develop tax-foreclosed properties.
- Pennsylvania has about 300,000 vacant and abandoned properties. Of these properties, 35,000 are in Philadelphia, 19,000 are in Pittsburgh and the remainder are scattered throughout the state.
- In Pennsylvania, one abandoned property can cause the value of neighboring properties to depreciate by nearly $6,500 each.
- The properties cost municipalities and taxpayers money in terms of municipal services, and the need to secure, maintain and sometimes demolish these structures when they become hazardous to the public.
Uniform Construction Code Appeals (Act 179 of 2012) – Allows a municipality that adopted a uniform construction code ordinance to establish a joint board of appeals with other such municipalities.
- The congressional maps were approved by the House and Senate and have been signed by the governor. Pennsylvania lost one seat, bringing the number of districts to 18.
- Act 130 meets all constitutional and statutory requirements. After a historically fair and open process, the statewide perspective of Senate Bill 1249 is a significantly better alternative than the one offered by the House Democrats (A7954).
- The bipartisan nature of the vote, with 136 “yes” votes shows the strength of the Pennsylvania congressional redistricting plan.
- Final maps of state House and Senate districts are pending.
Many of these bills and issues have been talked about for years, some for more than a decade. We have not been just talk. We have been and will continue to be proactive. We have been and will continue to be solution-oriented. We have been and will continue to be true to our word, exacting positive change and not just being nay-sayers.
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