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The Senate unanimously passed House Bill 1913, which would allow local taxing bodies to decrease real estate taxes for properties substantially affected by the September, 2011, flooding.

This bill would allow a county assessment office to decrease, credit or refund up to $30,000 in real estate taxes due to a decrease in property value caused by Hurricane Irene or Tropical Storm Lee. The bill would also create a real estate tax exemption on the assessed value of houses affected by the storms to encourage communities to reconstruct and rebuild flood damaged properties.

The bill is now on the governor’s desk.

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The Senate unanimously passed an amended version of House Bill 1916, which would authorize state funding for a list of highways, bridges, and flood control and hazard mitigation projects.

This bill would authorize $150 million in borrowing in the form of bonds for the rehabilitation of areas damaged by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in September 2011. The bill would allocate 75 percent of the funds for Pennsylvania’s share of projects funded by the federal government; the remaining 25 percent would be allocated for projects with either an insufficient federal share or that are ineligible for federal funding.

The bill was returned to the House.

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The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 1255, which would create the Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act. The bill is designed to make it easier for military personnel and overseas civilians to vote.

The bill would extend some of the accommodations given for Federal elections by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act and the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act to military and overseas civilian voters in state elections.

The bill would include federal and state primary elections, and also municipal, general and special elections. The bill would allow all covered voters to use the federal postcard application to register to vote and apply for an absentee ballot at the same time. It would also allow uniformed service members, their spouses and dependents, and bedridden veterans to use the federal write-in absentee ballot to register to vote, apply for an absentee ballot or vote at the same time.

Under the bill, an application for an absentee ballot for a primary election would be considered a standing request for an absentee ballot for a special election, general election, or municipal election occurring in the same calendar year as the primary.

El proyecto de ley está ahora en la Cámara.

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By a unanimous vote, the Senate passed legislation that would draw down federal money to create a health information partnership intended to make the health-care system more efficient through the electronic sharing of information.

Senate Bill 8  would establish a hybrid model to electronically share health records and other patient information by establishing a Pennsylvania Health Information Partnership Authority comprised of a 19-member board.

The authority would be required to establish an information sharing system while assuring confidentiality.  The bill now goes to the House.

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By a unanimous vote, the Senate passed a measure that would extend the sunset provision of the Volunteer Fire Company and Volunteer Ambulance Service Grant Act.

The act provides grants for volunteer fire companies and ambulance services for facilities, equipment, debt reduction and training.  The $25 million per year cost comes from casino gaming taxes.  The program is facilitated through the Office of the State Fire Commissioner under PEMA.

Senate Bill 866 would extend the program until 2016.  The bill now goes to the House.

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By a unanimous vote, the Senate concurred in House amendments to legislation that will use part of the $25 billion nationwide settlement with mortgage companies to restore the Homeowners Emergency Mortgage Assistance program (HEMAP).  The program had been cut from the budget. Democrats have consistently fought to restore the program that protects low income families from foreclosure.

Senate Bill 1433  also provides money to the Attorney General for consumer mortgage protection programs and to the Access to Justice Account for civil legal assistance for housing issues.  The bill is now awaiting the governor’s signature

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The Senate voted 46 to 1 in favor of Senate Bill 1528, which would make alterations to the state Board of Occupational Therapy Education and Licensure and allow the board to impose civil penalties similar to what other state licensing boards can do.

The measure would also require occupational therapists to carry $1 million in professional liability insurance, and establish an impaired professionals program. Felons would be barred from participating in the program.

El proyecto de ley pasa ahora a la Cámara.

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The Senate unanimously approved legislation that would allow for the use of expert testimony in cases where a conviction would result in the requirement to register under Megan’s Law and in cases relating to statutory sexual assault.

House Bill 1264 would permit an expert to provide testimony on the counterintuitive behavior indicative of a rape victim, as well as any recognized form of post-traumatic stress disorder in sexual assault cases.

If qualified as an expert, the witness may testify to facts and opinions regarding specific types of victim response and victim behaviors. The witness’ opinion regarding the credibility of any other witness, including the victim, would not be admissible.

El proyecto de ley se encuentra ahora en el Comité de Normas de la Cámara.

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The Senate unanimously passed Democratic-sponsored legislation that would raise revenue for State Police training classes while creating a fairer fine-distribution system.

Senate Bill 237 would deny distribution of traffic-fine revenue from the Motor License Fund to any municipality that does not provide locally for at least 40 hours of coverage per week through its own police force or a regional contract.  Municipalities with fewer than 3,000 residents would be exempt. The portion of the fine that currently goes to the municipality would be used to fund State Police cadet classes.

Under current law, half of the traffic-enforcement fines collected through state police patrols in a local municipality are returned to the municipality through a Motor License Fund formula – even if the municipality solely relies on the state for police protection.

The bill is expected to raise as much as $4 million for cadet training. Municipalities that provide less than 40 hours of local police coverage would lose their share of fines collected through State Police traffic stops.

El proyecto de ley se encuentra ahora en la Comisión Judicial de la Cámara de Representantes.

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By a 39-8 vote, the Senate passed legislation that would ensure that school districts quickly reimburse each other for certain regular education and special education costs.

Senate Bill 1129 would update an antiquated state law to allow school districts and other facilities providing services for non-resident students to directly bill the home school district. In addition, the legislation would provide the school district where the institution is located with immunity from lawsuits.

Under current law, school districts must pay for the education of any students who temporarily reside at educational facilities inside their districts, even if those students normally live outside their districts. Those districts then seek reimbursement from the home school district. This process often has not occurred in a timely manner and millions of dollars in reimbursements are left outstanding, sometimes resulting in legal battles.

The bill is now in the House Education Committee.

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1545, which would transfer the duties of the Pennsylvania Securities Commission to what would be a newly named “Department of Banking and Securities.”

The measure would establish a securities division within the department and enable the Secretary of Banking to appoint a deputy secretary.  The following provisions, fees, and functions currently administered by the Securities commission would be transferred to the department including: Investment Business Licensing Law; Administrative Code fees; Pennsylvania Securities Act; and the Takeover Disclosure Law.

It is estimated that the state could save approximately $1 million annually through this merger.

El proyecto de ley pasa ahora a la Cámara.

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1546, which would merge the State Tax Equalization Board Law into the Department of Community and Economic Development.

The State Tax Equalization Board Law, established in 1947, compensates for the lack of assessment uniformity statewide in distributing school subsidies.  The board determines the aggregate market value of taxable real property in each municipality and school district statewide.

The measure would transfer the board, its responsibilities and costs to the department.

The bill is now in the house.

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The Senate unanimously passed an amended version of Senate Bill 375, which would restrict municipal authorities from using any funds for purposes not related to their mission or stated purpose of the authority.

The bill was previously amended in the House to add certain exemptions for charitable donations, in-kind donations, for the joint purchase and use of equipment, and for sharing equipment during an emergency.

The House concurred in Senate amendments and the bill will now be sent to the governor.

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