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The Senate voted 26-23 in favor of House Bill 97, which would make changes to the state’s cyber and charter school law.

The bill would:

  • require public and charter school advertisements to clearly indicate the use of public funds for tuition and transportation costs;
  • allow students attending public, charter and vocational schools to enroll and earn credits in post-secondary courses simultaneously;
  • require charter schools to participate in the same assessments as public schools;
  • impose higher standards on charter schools and their boards, including meeting the State Board of Education’s performance matrix, disclosing potential conflicts of interest, meeting academic quality benchmarks and developing a teacher evaluation system;
  • provide for a system of payment and recuperation of unpaid or overpaid funds for public school districts and charter and cyber charter schools;
  • require school boards to have access to charter and regional charter school’s records and facilities to ensure compliance with the law; and
  • allow charter schools to consolidate into organizations with multiple charter schools with approval by the department and each charter authorizer.

Unassigned funds accrued by charter schools over the set limits would be returned to the public school districts that paid charter school tuition the previous year.

El proyecto pasa ahora a la Comisión de Reglamento de la Cámara.

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 176, which amends the Pennsylvania Construction Code Act to exempt roadside farm stand structures, maple sugar houses and structures used to load, unload or sort livestock at auction facilities from the Uniform Construction Code (UCC).

The bill exempts certain structures from the UCC, if the structure is used for the sale of seasonal agriculture products.  Certain restricts remain on these structures such as size, length of time the structure is erected and that it must be operated by an agriculture producer.

The bill was enacted as Act 35 of 2017.

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 290, which amends the Storage Tank and Spill Prevention Act to make changes to the Underground Storage Tank Indemnification Board.

The legislation would remove a representative from the Middle Atlantic Truck Stop Operators (MATSO) from the board and add a member from the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association. MATSO dissolved in 2006 and has relinquished its seat on the board.

The legislation also alters the appointment process for an additional four members on the board and transfers the authority to the state legislature.

This bill extends the Underground Storage Tank Environmental Cleanup Program and the Underground Storage Tank Pollution Prevention Program to June 30, 2022.

It also increases the total annual allocation from the Underground Storage Tank Indemnification Fund from $500,000 to $750,000.   The Underground Storage Tank Pollution Prevention Program is also amended to reduce the annual allocation from $1 million to $350,000.

The bill was enacted as Act 61 of 2017.

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 785, which would amend the Capital Facilities Debt Enabling Act and adjust the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Project (RACP) debt ceiling to provide for the implementation of the capital budget for 2017-18. This legislation would change the debt structure amounts for capital projects financed by debt.

The bill would provide for the maximum outstanding obligations for redevelopment assistance.  The maximum debt would be set to $2.95 billion, $500 million less than last year.  This maximum outstanding debt will be reduced by $50 million every year for the next 10 years.

El proyecto pasa ahora a la Comisión de Reglamento de la Cámara.

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The Senate voted 46-2 in favor of House Bill 1285, which amends the Pennsylvania Constitution to double the authority to grant homestead exclusions, from 50 percent to 100 percent of one’s assessed property value.

Previously, the General Assembly could only authorize a tax exemption for up to 50 percent of a property’s medium assessed value. This bill empowers municipalities to provide greater property tax relief.

Last session, House Bill 147, was passed as Pamphlet Laws Resolution No. 2 of 2016.  The enactment of House Bill 1285 satisfies the requirement to have any bill amending the Pennsylvania Constitution passed in two consecutive sessions.

House Bill 1285 was enacted as Pamphlet Laws Resolution No. 1 of 2017.  Voters approved the resolution, which amended the constitution, by referendum in November of 2017.

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1494, which allows the governor to enter into a “Good Neighbor Agreement” with the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to help harvest and sell timber, promoting forest regeneration and to improve other types of forest habitats.

A Good Neighbor Agreement is a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and the governor to carry out authorized restoration services.  These agreements provide the cooperative framework between a state and the federal government as they try and restore forest lands.  All money received from the sale of timber on federal land under this type of agreement will be used to pay for federal costs associated with this agreement.

The bill was enacted as Act 14 of 2017.

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The Senate voted 40-9 in favor of Senate Bill 6, which would create the Public Assistance Integrity Act and toughen penalties for welfare fraud.

The legislation would limit the use of “access devices,” which are electronic benefit transfer cards used by an individual to access benefits issued by the state Department of Human Services. Additional fees would be charged to those who continue to lose their access device.  Anyone abusing access to additional access devices would face a fine of up to $1,000.

The bill would add provisions for consideration of accessible income in determining eligibility for public assistance. This bill would exempt motor vehicles with a fair market value of less than $40,000.  Lottery winnings over $600 would be considered accessible income when considering eligibility.

Additional eligibility restrictions would be placed on people convicted of drug distribution while utilizing public assistance. Certain exemptions would be applicable to individuals who are currently completing court-ordered obligations.  The bill would also suspend someone from receiving public assistance for 10 years if they fail a second drug test.

The legislation would increase penalties for people fraudulently receiving funds.  If the amount fraudulently received is over $1,000, the recipient would be charged with a third-degree felony.

The bill now goes to the House Health Committee.

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The Senate voted 48-1 in favor of Senate Bill 144, which requires proposals for new land development to have a plan approved for an on-lot sewage system by a sewage enforcement officer.

The measure charges the Department of Environmental Resources, in consultation with the Sewage Advisory Committee, to develop standards for all alternate on-lot systems.

The department and committee are required to reclassify systems as alternate or conventional based on their findings – and will remove a classification if the data shows insufficient or inadequate findings.

The bill was enacted as Act 26 of 2017.

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The Senate voted 45-3 in favor of Senate Bill 172, which would provide a three-year pilot program for automated speed enforcement systems in active work zones.

The devices would detect vehicles exceeding the speed limit and record an image of the offender’s license plate, the time, location, and the vehicle’s speed. The program would only be conducted within active work zones. Two warning signs would be required to indicate that a speed enforcement device is in use.

The device would record motorists who are speeding by at least 11 miles-per-hour over the speed limit in active work zones. All fines would be $100; and 45 percent of revenue would go to the State Police to recruit, train and equip state police cadets and bolster state trooper patrols in work zones. Fifteen percent would be given to PennDOT or the Turnpike Commission to enhance work zone safety and public awareness.  The remaining 40 percent of fines would be deposited into the Motor License Fund.

PennDOT and the Turnpike Commission would be required to submit an annual report that includes the number of vehicular accidents, injuries and deaths in work zones. The report would include speed data, the amount of notices, violations, fines and the number of police hours provided in work zones.

El proyecto pasa ahora a la Comisión de Transportes de la Cámara de Representantes.

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 403, which makes changes to the composition of the Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission (MPOETC).

Currently, the MOEPTC has 20 members.  This legislation would replace one of members, the appointed FBI special agent, with a member from the Pennsylvania Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police.

El proyecto de ley pasa ahora a la Comisión de Administración Local de la Cámara de Representantes.

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The Senate voted 47-2 in favor of Senate Bill 527, which amends the Administrative Code to officially create the office of the State Inspector General.

This office will conduct investigations, inspections and other reviews to prevent waste, fraud, abuse and corruption in the state government.

The governor will appoint and remove a State Inspector General. The bill was amended in the House to allow the governor to remove the State Inspector General for other reasons than “cause.”

The State Inspector General will have the following powers:

  • Make investigations into executive agencies and make a report if deemed necessary. The Inspector General may consult with the Office of General Counsel or Attorney General to avoid interfering with any existing law enforcement proceedings.
  • May request information or assistance as needed from other federal, state and local government agencies.
  • May use written notice to obtain any information from an officer or employee of an executive agency.
  • May have direct and prompt access to the heads of executive agencies if necessary.
  • May employ individuals necessary to carry out the functions, powers and duties of the office.

The State Inspector General will have the following duties:

  • Investigate executive agencies for fraud, waste, misconduct or abuse
  • Conduct civil and administrative investigations
  • Make referrals to the Auditor General for audits of executive agencies
  • Review the reliability and validity of executive agencies performance standards
  • Turn over any information and evidence of criminal acts to law enforcement
  • Investigate complaints concerning alleged abuses, frauds, and service deficiencies of executive agencies
  • Engage in prevention activities
  • Conduct joint investigations with other oversight or law enforcement agencies
  • Recommend remedial actions to an executive agency to overcome and correct deficiencies and monitor implementation of these recommendations.
  • Issue public reports
  • Maintain information on the cost of investigations and work with agencies to recover costs from non-governmental entities involved in willful misconduct.
  • Issue an annual report to the General Assembly

The bill was enacted as Act 29 of 2017.

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The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 553 which makes changes to drivers’ license suspensions within the Vehicle Code.

This legislation allows an individual enrolled in the Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition (ARD) to serve their license suspension with an ignition interlock license. An individual would not be eligible for an ignition interlock license if they are in violation of their ARD agreement

This legislation also mandates that licenses surrendered to PennDOT may be destroyed. Once the person has driving privileges again, he or she may apply for a replacement license.

Any police officer, or designated state employee can confiscate a suspended license. The license must be returned to PennDOT, unless it is needed as evidence of an offense.

A person whose driving privileges have been suspended must pay a restoration fee of $500, unless PennDOT previously suspended the person’s license on two or more occasions. In that case, the restoration fee is $2,000.

The bill was enacted as Act 30 of 2017.

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The Senate voted 28-11 in favor of Senate Bill 624, which exempts planned mining subsidence from being legally considered pollution if the mining company has a plan approved by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The measure creates a new subsection for permit applications for bituminous coal mining operations. If the planned subsidence results from bituminous coal mining, the subsidence will not be considered “pollution” as outlined in the Clean Streams Law. This only applies if the subsidence occurs in a predictable and controlled manner and does not cause permanent disruption of surface waters.

The provision will only apply if the mine has an approved plan with the DEP to alleviate impacts of predicted subsidence. Under that scenario, the measure takes precedence over standards in the Clean Streams Law.

Bill proponents claimed it will make it easier to mine and create jobs. Opponents argued that the bill will weaken environmental protections and endanger streams.

The bill was enacted as Act 32 of 2017, without the governor’s signature.

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 677, creating the Pennsylvania ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) Savings Program Tax Exemption Act.

Last session, Act 17 of 2016 created the 529-ABLE Plan to encourage families to save money for disabled family members in tax-exempt savings accounts. This bill would exempt undistributed earnings on an account and a rollover distribution that is tax-excluded under section 529(c) of the Internal Revenue Code and from state and local taxation. The bill would also make account contributions deductible from the state personal income tax.

The bill now goes to the House Finance Committee.

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