By a narrow 26-24 vote, the Senate passed the Republican-crafted Congressional redistricting map contained in Senate Bill 1249.

This legislation redraws the boundary lines for Pennsylvania’s 18 Congressional districts.

Senate Democrats, who unsuccessfully tried to amend the legislation with their own proposed redistricting map, blasted the Republican’s map for being gerrymandered and contorted to protect incumbent Republicans. They also criticized Republicans for unveiling their redistricting plan at the last minute to all but eliminate public input and review.

The bill was signed into law as Act 131 of 2011.

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By a 28-22 vote, the Senate passed an amended version House Bill 1950. This bill was gutted in committee and replaced with the language from Senate Bill 1100, which passed the Senate by a party-line 29-20 vote on November 15, 2011.

The amended version of House Bill 1950 would establish an impact fee on Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.  Under this legislation, the fee would be $50,000 the first year, reducing in $10,000 increments each year.  In years four through 10, the fee would hold at $20,000 and in years 11 through 20, it would hold at $10,000.

Revenue from the proposed impact fee would be distributed as follows:

  • County Conservation Districts would receive $2.5 million in 2011 and $5 million in 2012 and every year following.
  • Office of the State Fire Commissioner would receive $1.5 million in 2011 and every year after to be used for training programs for emergency responders in the Marcellus Shale region and purchasing special equipment.
  • PA Fish and Boat Commission would receive $1.5 million in 2011 and every year after for the costs related to reviewing applications for drilling permits.
  • Local governments would receive 55 percent of tax revenues to be distributed as follows:
  • 36 percent to counties in the shale region with producing wells;
  • 37 percent to municipalities in the shale region with producing wells; and
  • 27 percent to municipalities in counties in the shale region with producing wells (based on population and highway miles).
  • Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund would receive $2.5 million in 2011 and $5 million in 2012 and each year after.  These funds would be used to increase availability of quality housing for low- to moderate-income individuals and increase rental availability for low-income individuals.

The remaining 45 percent of the impact fee revenues would be distributed as follows:

  • The Commonwealth Financing Authority would receive 25 percent for grants;
  • The Highway Bridge Improvement Restricted Account would receive 25 percent;
  • Water and sewer projects would receive 25 percent (50 percent to the PA Infrastructure Investment Authority and 50 percent to the H2O PA Program); and
  • Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund would receive 5 percent.

Additionally, this bill would establish the Natural Gas Energy Development Program and require wells to be 500 feet away from an existing building or water well and 300 feet from any stream, spring or body of water and 1,000 feet from a public water supply source. Senate Democrats tried several times to amend Senate Bill 1100, both in committee and on the Senate floor, but were unsuccessful.  The Democratic plan would have:

  • Provided a higher impact fee of $75,000 per well in the first year, raising to $150 million in 2011, $260 million in 2012, $380 million in 2013 and $491 million in 2014;
  • Toughened setback requirements to measure distances from the edge of the well pad, rather than from the well head; and
  • Totally preserved local zoning power as it relates to natural gas drilling so that no state agency could override a municipality’s power to provide for appropriate placement of wells.

The amended bill was returned to the House.

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The Senate voted 34-16 for legislation that would toughen fines against Maryland truck drivers whose rigs are insufficiently licensed for use in Pennsylvania.

Current law requires out-of-state operators driving their tri-axle dump trucks into Pennsylvania to purchase a Class 20 license at a cost of $1,251. Failure to do so is considered a summary offense with a $25 fine.

House Bill 1458 would provide a specific penalty of $500-$1,000 per offense.  The violation would remain a summary offense.

The bill was amended in the Senate to include Senate Bill 595, which would allow traffic enforcement through the use automated red light cameras at intersections in Pittsburgh, Scranton and 17 third-class cities, if approved by the local city council. Philadelphia already has red light enforcement cameras.

A warning would be sent to violators during the first 60 days of automated enforcement at the initial intersection; and for the first 45 days at any subsequent intersections. After that time, the penalty would be $100. However, a lesser amount could be set by local ordinance.

The violation would not be made part of the driver record; no points would be assessed; and the violation could not be used against the individual for insurance purposes.

Signage would be in place to make motorists aware of the devices at designated intersections.

Half of the fines collected would go toward funding transportation enhancement grants in the city in which the violation was prosecuted. The other half would go toward funding transportation enhancement grants to eligible sponsors in other communities across the state.

House Bill 1458 is currently in the House Rules Committee.

Senate Bill 595 is now in the House Transportation Committee.

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By a 36-14 vote, the Senate approved House Bill 1399, which would change the definition of “motorcycle.”

Current law says that a motorcycle must have a seat or saddle for the use of the rider and is designed to travel on not more than three wheels.

House Bill 1399 would add to the definition of motorcycle to allow the cycle to travel on two wheels and modified by the addition of two stabilizing wheels on the rear of the vehicle.

The bill was amended in the Senate to extend the Automated Red Light Enforcement Systems in Philadelphia until June 30, 2012.  The system was due to expire December 31, 2011.

The bill is now in the House Rules Committee.

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The Senate voted 49-1 for legislation that would authorize public-private partnerships as defined by federal law within Pennsylvania.

Under Senate Bill 344, these public-private partnerships would be for transportation facilities of the Department of Transportation or of proprietary public entities.

A public-private transportation partnership would constitute a binding agreement transferring the rights for use or control of a transportation facility to a development entity. The development entity would be entitled to receive all or a portion of the revenue of the transportation facility in return for providing transportation-related services.

The bill would also establish the Public-Private Transportation Partnership Board to evaluate and approve or deny requests by PennDOT and proprietary public entities to enter into public-private transportation partnerships.

The bill is now in the House Transportation Committee.

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The Senate unanimously approved legislation that would allow spouses of active duty National Guard and Reserves to receive an educational leave of absence.

Currently, members of the National Guard (and reserve components) are allowed to receive educational leave of absence, no loss of tuition, credits, fees, etc., during times of deployment.

Senate Bill 707 would expand the leave of absence benefit to the spouse of deployed/active duty service members. Because of the hardship placed on families when a service member is deployed, there are circumstances when a spouse has no choice but to abandon their educational pursuits.  This would allow them to do so without suffering any long term educational or financial loss.

The bill is now in the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.

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By a vote of 48-2, the Senate updated Pennsylvania’s Megan’s Law, bringing it into compliance with the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), which is part of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006.

Senate Bill 1183 establishes a comprehensive system in Pennsylvania for managing the sex offender population.

Also, a person who is subject to registration would have a DNA sample taken and forwarded to the Pennsylvania State Police for inclusion in the state DNA database.

The bill also prohibits group-based homes from providing concurrent residency to multiple individuals who are required to register as sexually violent predators, unless the individuals are spouses, siblings, or parent and child to each other.

The bill also includes penalties for failure to register and establishes mandatory sentences for failure to register.

The bill was signed into law as Act 111 of 2011.

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The Senate unanimously passed House Bill 210, which updated Pennsylvania’s Family Caregiver Support Program to include non-relative caregivers and brought the state program in line with its federal counterpart.

Pennsylvania’s Caregiver Support Act provides benefits and services for eligible caregivers who care for functionally dependent relatives 60 years of age and older, as well as adults with chronic dementia such as Alzheimer’s who are 18 and older.

This bill increases the maximum amount allowable under the program for out-of-pocket expenses from $200 per month to $500 per month. In addition to out-of-pocket expenses, the program provides grants of up to $2,000 for home modifications such as ramps and chair lifts.

This bill was signed into law as Act 112 of 2011.

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The Senate unanimously passed two bills that establish licensing requirements and regulations for genetic counselors in Pennsylvania.

House Bills 332 and 333 require that any genetic counselor or anyone practicing genetic counseling be licensed by the State Board of Medicine or the State Board of Osteopathic Medicine.

To become a licensed genetic counselor, a person must be at least 21 years of age, hold a Masters’ or Doctoral Degree in human genetics or genetics counseling or have met the requirements for certification by the American Board of Genetic Counselors (ABGC) or the American Board of Medical Genetics (ABMG), have passed the ABGC or ABMG certification examination, and complete an application and pay the appropriate fee.

Under these bills, a licensee practicing in Pennsylvania will have to maintain a level of professional liability insurance coverage of at least $1 million per occurrence or claims made.

Senate Bills 332 and 333 were signed into law as Acts 125 and 126 of 2011, respectively.

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The Senate unanimously passed House Bill 344, the Gas and Hazardous Liquids Pipelines Act, which will help protect local communities by ensuring the safety of natural gas lines.

This bill permits the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) to have regulatory oversight of natural gas lines and gives it the power to inspect and investigate natural gas pipelines in coordination with the US Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration.

The PUC was also given the authority to hire more inspectors and to regulate the pipelines without having to deem them a public utility, protecting the rights of private property owners.

This bill was signed into law as Act 127 of 2011.

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The Senate unanimously passed House Bill 715, allowing county treasurers within third through eighth class counties to collect municipal taxes if the office of municipal tax collector is vacant.

The bill was signed into law as Act 115 of 2011.

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The Senate unanimously passed House Bill 755, increasing the annual meeting and dues expenses allowed for county directors of veterans’ affairs, in third through eighth class counties, from a maximum of $100 to a maximum of $400.

The bill was signed into law as Act 116 of 2011.

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The Senate unanimously passed House Bill 1052, establishing an informal review process for long-term care nursing facilities that will enable the facilities to use an independent agent to dispute allegations of noncompliance with federal and state regulations.

Under this bill, long-term care facilities and nursing homes have the opportunity to dispute any allegations of noncompliance that may arise during the survey process before the findings are entered into the federal data systems, saving them the expense of litigation.

The bill also gives long-term care facilities the option to use the current review process through the Department of Health, or choose an independent Quality Improvement Organization at their own expense.

The bill was signed into law as Act 128 of 2011.

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The Senate unanimously passed 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 sent to the House for consideration.

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The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 638, limiting taxpayer-funded transportation for methadone clients.

Under Senate Bill 638, the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) will require that individuals who receive methadone treatment services, covered by Medicaid under the Medical Assistance Transportation Program, receive treatment at the clinic closest to their residence if they are using para-transit services by taxi or bus, or being reimbursed mileage for using their own vehicles.

Previously, methadone recipients chose their preferred service location with the cost of the transportation paid by tax dollars. The transportation costs totaled $32.5 million in 2009-10, an increase of 26 percent from 2007-08. According to DPW, this legislation will save millions.

More than one in three trips paid for through the Medical Assistance Transportation Program (MATP) is for methadone maintenance. The state Medical Assistance Transportation Program (MATP) provides transportation to individuals who are receiving methadone treatments by either reimbursing those with private vehicles at a rate of 25 cents per mile or by providing rides in vans and taxis. There was little accountability regarding the most cost-effective mode of transportation to the clinic.

The bill was signed into law as Act 121 of 2011.

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The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 730, which would permit Second Class townships to transfer property to a council of government without competitive bidding or advertising.

The Second Class Township Code currently permits the transfer of real and personal property to 17 types of governmental, utility, and non-profit agencies without requiring notification and bidding.  This legislation would expand this exemption to the transfer of real property valued at over $1,500, personal property valued at over $1,000 and for letting contracts to include councils of governments and other entities formed through an intergovernmental cooperation agreement.

Currently, only the Borough Code permits these types of property transfers.

The bill is currently in the House.

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By a 32-18 vote, the Senate passed Senate Bill 732, which requires the state Department of Health to regulate abortion facilities as ambulatory surgical facilities and requires that the department must perform at least one unannounced inspection of each abortion facility annually.

This bill also establishes a $250 licensing fee that will be assessed to abortion facilities for either the application for a license or a license renewal.

The governor signed this bill into law as Act 122 of 2011.

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The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 894, which would make township supervisors and their dependents over 65 years of age — in Second Class Townships — eligible for inclusion in supplemental Medicare insurance coverage.

The coverage would be paid for in full or partly by the township.

The bill is now in the House.

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The Senate unanimously concurred in House amendments to companion bills, Senate Bills 957 and 967, which establishes a state license for athletic trainers.  Athletic trainers are the only health care provider group that are certified by the PA State Boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine, but not currently licensed.

Senate Bills 957 and 967 were signed into law as Act 123 and 124 of 2011, respectively.

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