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By a vote of 40-9, the Senate passed House Bill 242, which makes a number of changes to the state Liquor Code, including granting small distilleries (producing less than 100,000 gallons of spirits) the right to sell their products directly to the public from on-site tasting rooms like Pennsylvania’s wineries and breweries.

In addition, this legislation allows establishments offering meals to begin serving alcohol at 9 a.m. on Sundays, instead of 11 a.m.; enables beer distributors to be open from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. on Sundays, instead of noon to 5 p.m.; allows wineries to receive permits for 100 days during a year and 30 consecutive days to participate in festivals, up from 40 days during a year and 5 consecutive days; and loosens the restrictions on the time frame that bars can offer “Happy Hour.”

The bill was signed into law as Act 113 of 2011.

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 539, which would make it a first-degree misdemeanor to drive under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance with a minor.

An individual would pay a fine of $1,000 and complete 100 hours of community service for the first offense; pay a fine of $2,500 and go to prison for up to six months for the second offense; and go to prison for six months to two years for the third offense.

The bill is now in the House.

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The Senate voted 42 to 6 for legislation that would require individuals arrested for serious crimes to submit DNA samples.

Senate Bill 775 expands the list of eligible criminal offenses for which DNA testing is required to include the following felonies: simple assault against a child under 12 by an adult at least 21 years of age, unlawful restraint, defiant criminal trespass on school grounds, concealing the death of a child, endangering the welfare of a child, and dealing in infant children.

The bill also would require pre-conviction DNA testing for those arrested for a felony sex offense or other specified offense.

The bill prohibits DNA samples from being used for anything other than legitimate law enforcement identification purposes and requires the immediate destruction of DNA records of exonerated individuals.

The bill would also authorize the state police to use modified DNA searches to help investigators identify unknown DNA samples taken at crime scenes.

The bill would also codify accreditation requirements for forensic DNA testing laboratories and require continuing education for forensic DNA testing personnel.

The bill is now in the House Judiciary Committee.

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The Senate unanimously approved legislation that would clarify the use of bank names to reduce the expenses associated with rebranding.

Senate Bill 1335 would clarify that the name must be in English, and specifies the use of the words “bank,” “banking,” “savings” and “trust.”

The bill also forbids deception in the bank name, and certain specific words such as “federal” and “national.”

The bill is now in the House Commerce Committee.

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The Senate voted 48 to 1 for legislation that would require the state Department of Insurance to review and approve small group (50 or fewer people) insurance policy rate increases of 10 percent or more.

Under current law, the department can review rate increases for individual policies and for large nonprofit health insurance plans, but not the smaller commercial carriers.

Under Senate Bill 1336, the Insurance Department would have 45 days to review and approve the rate requests and may retain experts at the insurance company’s expense to review these rate increases. Rate increases of less than 10 percent for small group policies would be filed with the Insurance Department.

The bill is now in the House Insurance Committee.

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The Senate unanimously passed legislation to expand the size of Philadelphia’s Housing Authority board and allow the mayor of Philadelphia to appoint all members.

Currently, the Philadelphia Housing Authority is comprised of five members – two are appointed by the mayor, two are appointed by the city controller, and those four appointed members select the fifth member.

Senate Bill 1174 would expand the board to nine members whose terms would run concurrently with the mayor’s.

The bill now goes to the House.

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By a vote of 47-2, the Senate passed legislation that would extend tax breaks available in Keystone Opportunity Zones (KOZs) and Keystone Opportunity Expansion Zones and allow for the designation of up to 15 additional KOZs.

Originally created in 1998, many KOZ tax breaks were set to expire.  Senate Bill 1237 would extend those breaks and provide new KOZs on properties adjacent to already existing zones.

The bill now goes to the House.

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By a vote of 46-3, the Senate passed legislation to expand dedicated funding for the Philadelphia Housing Trust Fund.  House Bill 639 allows the city to implement a local ordinance approved in 2009 to raise the city’s Deed and Mortgage Recording Fee by $30 to generate as much as $3.5 million per year to boost housing efforts.

The governor signed the bill into law as Act 114 of 2011.

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