In this Edition:
Senate Approves Mensch Measure Authorizing a Review of Untested Rape Kits
The Senate on Wednesday unanimously adopted a measure I sponsored authorizing a formal study of rape kit accountability in the Commonwealth.
I was informed by the “Rape Kit Action Project” that there is a backlog of unanalyzed forensic kits across the nation and in Pennsylvania. This resolution will help take the steps necessary to ensure that all rape kits are tested in a timely manner. This is the first step in ensuring that all rape victims for whom a rape kit was collected will have a better opportunity for justice.
According to a study that the Rape Kit Action Project has done, there are at least 100,000 forensic evidence kits that are sitting untested or unaccounted for across the United States. I believe this is inexcusable. I will not have Pennsylvania be part of that statistic.
I hope this study will measure the depth of this problem in the Commonwealth and outline the steps necessary to address the matter accordingly. I plan to introduce further legislation if the results indicate that there is a backlog and kits are not being tested in a timely matter.
Senate Approves Gaming, Local Share Assessments Bill
The Senate approved legislation on Wednesday that would expand gaming options and provide for the continuation of Local Share Assessments (LSA) from casinos to support their host communities.
House Bill 271 was returned to the House of Representatives for concurrence on Senate amendments.
The bill would allow online gaming, such as poker, black jack, roulette and slots, as well as lottery ticket sales over the internet. The measure also addresses fantasy sports wagering and gaming in airports.
Last September, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the state’s current LSA provision was unconstitutional and gave the Legislature and Administration until May 26 to find a legislative solution that would meet conditions set by its ruling.
Under House Bill 271, all casinos would pay an annual fee of $10 million. Since the fee structure in the bill is uniform for all casinos regardless of annual net revenue it should meet the conditions set by the Supreme Court ruling.
Senate Approves Optional Real ID Compliant Cards
Working to meet an upcoming deadline to address issues from the federal Real ID Act of 2005, the Senate on Tuesday passed legislation I am co-sponsoring that would give residents the option to get a state driver’s license or photo ID card that meets security requirements imposed by the national law.
Senate Bill 133 provides for issuance of voluntary travel IDs and repeals the state Real ID Nonparticipation Act of 2012, which prohibits Pennsylvania from complying with the Federal Real ID Act.
The House concurred on the Senate’s amendments and sent the measure to the Governor for his signature and enactment into law.
Pennsylvania faces a June 6 deadline set by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to show that it is complying with the federal law or residents could be barred from entering federal buildings and military installations as early as next month and from commercial air travel next year without a passport or military ID.
Senate Bill 133 does not require residents to obtain the Real ID compliant license or ID card, but only makes it an option for those who want them.
The federal government has approved the use of the two-tiered system by other states.
Finance Committee Approves Public Pension Reform Measure
The Senate Finance Committee took the first step toward the enactment of essential pension reform with its passage of Senate Bill 1 on Tuesday.
The measure contains the same provisions as the October 2016 Conference Committee Report for Senate Bill 1071, which did not receive final approval prior to the end of the 2015-16 Legislative Session.
Senate Bill 1 would provide three options for new employees and teachers. They could opt for a defined benefit plan, similar to a 401k, or one of two hybrid defined benefit/defined contribution plans, with different levels of employee contributions and benefits.
One difference between Senate Bill 1 from the previous measure is that current state employees and teachers will be able to opt-in to the new plan. Senate Bill 1 now moves to the full Senate for consideration.
Bill to Improve Stoke Care Sent to the Governor
The Senate gave final approval on Tuesday to legislation that will improve care for stroke victims and sent the bill to the Governor for enactment into law. House Bill 23 adds acute stroke-ready hospitals and comprehensive stroke centers to the provisions of the Primary Stroke Center Recognition Act.
The bill allows Pennsylvania to take advantage of new federal guidelines that create three specific levels of certified stroke centers to treat patients based on their individual needs. The three levels of certification are primary stroke centers, acute stroke-ready hospitals, and comprehensive stroke centers. Emergency responders will use this information when deciding where to take stroke victims for treatment, so they receive the best care possible for the severity and type of stroke occurring.
Senate Strengthens Penalties for Threatening Law Enforcement Officers
The Senate on Tuesday approved legislation I’m co-sponsoring that would help to protect members of law enforcement by increasing the penalty for threating law enforcement officers, sheriffs or members of their family.
Under Senate Bill 510, anyone who threatens death or serious bodily injury to a law enforcement officer, a sheriff or deputy sheriff, or a member of their family or household would commit a felony of the third degree. A second or subsequent offense would constitute a felony of the second degree. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Other Bills Approved by the Senate and Sent to the House of Representatives
Senate Bill 108 prohibits the discrimination of any potential organ transplant recipient on the basis of a physical or mental disability.
House Bill 151 defines “agent” related to Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority financial assistance.
Senate Bill 269 amends the Pennsylvania Uniform Construction Code.
Senate Bill 288 would increase fines and suspend the licenses of repeat offenders of Pennsylvania’s “Steer Clear” law.
Senate Bill 522 amends Title 42 and Title 61 to merge the Department of Corrections and the Board of Probation and Parole as the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Senate Bill 523 amends the Crime Victims Act to merge the Department of Corrections and the Board of Probation and Parole as the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Senate Bill 651 is the Capital Budget Project Itemization Act of Fiscal year 2017-18.
Senate Confirms McDonnell as Environmental Protection Secretary
The Senate confirmed Patrick McDonnell to serve as Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection on Monday. McDonnell served as Acting Secretary since last May, replacing John Quigley who resigned. Prior to that, McDonnell served as director of policy for DEP, ran the State Energy Office and worked for the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved six bills this week.
House Bill 23 adds acute stroke-ready hospitals and comprehensive stroke centers to the provisions of the Primary Stroke Center Recognition Act.
Senate Bill 144 amends Act 537 (Pennsylvania Sewage Facilities Act) to allow the use of “alternative systems” for planning purposes.
House Bill 151 amends Title 12 (Commerce and Trade) to define “agent.”
House Bill 271 provides for new gaming options in the Commonwealth and provides for county local share assessments.
Senate Bill 592 gives taxpayers an opportunity to examine the terms of employment contracts that the local school board extends to key district employees.
Senate Bill 651 is the Capital Budget Project Itemization Act of Fiscal year 2017-18.
Community, Economic & Recreational Development
The Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee approved House Bill 271 on Tuesday after amending the measure to provide for new gaming options in the Commonwealth and for county local share assessments.
Environmental Resources & Energy
The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee approved two bills on Monday.
Senate Bill 624 amends the Bituminous Mine Subsidence and Land Conservation Act, providing for planned subsidence and for retroactivity.
Senate Bill 649 extends the Underground Storage Tank Environmental Cleanup Program and the Pollution Prevention Program which are set to terminate on June 30.
The Senate Education Committee approved three bills on Tuesday.
Senate Bill 53 would permanently allow for distance education inclusion in the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency State Grant Program.
Senate Bill 634 expands on the Transfer and Articulation Program.
Senate Bill 725 requires Department of Education to submit any proposed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan to the Education Committees of the General Assembly prior to its submission to the federal government and would require legislation to be enacted prior to its implementation.
On Wednesday, the committee held a public hearing on how parents and students can take advantage of Education Savings Accounts. Hearing Video & Written Testimony
Environmental Resources & Energy
The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee and the Senate Majority Policy Committee on Wednesday held a public hearing on the current status of natural gas development in Pennsylvania. Hearing Video & Written Testimony
The Senate Finance Committee approved six bills on Wednesday.
House Bill 46 would allow taxpayers to designate a portion of their state income tax refund for pediatric cancer research beginning with tax year 2018 filings.
Senate Bill 430 provides for a Realty Transfer Tax exemption for nationally recognized veterans’ organizations.
Senate Bill 469 provides for a tax credit to encourage businesses to support non-profit animal shelters.
Senate Bill 594 would provide a sales tax exemption for firefighters when purchasing accessory equipment, protective equipment, or communications equipment using personal funds.
House Bill 674 requires the Department of Revenue to determine whether lottery winners of $2,500 or more owe court-ordered obligations and to deduct any amounts owed before paying out the prize. In cases where the winner is receiving public assistance, the bill directs the Department of Human Services to determine whether the winner should remain eligible to receive public assistance.
Senate Bill 677 provides that contributions into a PA ABLE account may be deducted annually from taxable income up to a maximum of the annual federal gift tax exclusion (currently $14,000) per beneficiary. It also provides that any distributions from or changes to a PA ABLE account that are not subject to federal income tax will not be subject to Pennsylvania state income tax. The ABLE savings program allows individuals with qualifying disabilities and their families to save tax-free for a wide range of disability-related expenses.
Law & Justice Committee
The Senate Transportation Committee approved five bills on Tuesday.
House Bill 269 renames several highways and bridges.
House Bill 303 renames a bridge.
Senate Bill 564 requires PENNDOT to include protective fencing in the construction of new bridges and major renovations of existing bridges over interstate highways.
Senate Bill 669 renames a bridge.
Senate Bill 724 amends Title 75 (Vehicles), in motor carrier safety, repealing findings and declaration of policy and further providing for definitions and for Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee.
Urban Affairs & Housing
The Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee approved four bills on Wednesday.
Senate Bill 586 bans spot appeals of property assessments.
House Bill 595 provides for complaints that can be filed with the Bureau of Consumer Protection regarding planned communities, cooperatives and condominiums.
Senate Bill 667 gives redevelopment authorities the same powers currently allotted to land banks through the Pennsylvania Land Bank Act.
House Bill 758 creates the Tax Exemption and Mixed-Use Incentive Program, which will allow for tax exemption incentives for developers that improve certain deteriorated areas, with a special emphasis on promoting mixed-use housing and development.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, June 5 at 1 p.m. You can watch session live at PASenateGOP.com.
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.If you find this e-newsletter useful, I invite you to visit my website www.senatormensch.com for more information about your state government.
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