In a 30-19 party line vote, the Senate approved Senate Bill 4, which would amend the state’s Constitution to give the General Assembly the power to determine whether an institution is a purely public charity and exempted from paying local property taxes.
The bill specifies that the General Assembly, not the judiciary, has the exclusive right to set the parameters for an organization to qualify as a purely public charity. The measure was prompted by 2012 state Supreme Court ruling that used a judicially-created test to define public charities.
Democrats contend that there is no need to fast-track the legislation, arguing that more study and hearings should be held on this prospective constitutional amendment before the legislature acts. Some also said that time should be provided for the state’s new governor to study and weigh in on the issue.
They also argued that the bill can potentially cause serious problems for bona fide charities, cash-strapped local governments and struggling property owners who are continually shouldering a greater share of the local tax burden.
Because the bill, which now goes to the House, would amend the state Constitution, the proposal must pass in two consecutive legislative sessions before being decided by the voters via referendum. The proposal was already approved once by the General Assembly during the 2013-14 session.
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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 397, which would modernize the licensing of bail bondsmen by combining the licensure of “professional” and “surety” bondsmen.
Currently, surety (issues bonds on behalf of licensed surety company) and professional (uses their own assets as collateral) bondsmen are licensed separately.
The bill would require every bondsman to be licensed as an insurance producer with a casualty line of authority and to issue bonds only under a power of authority granted by a qualified insurance company.
The measure would also provide greater tools and resources for county officials to enforce and collect unpaid bail forfeitures. It also enables law enforcement personnel to assist bail bondsmen in fugitive recovery, provided it is done on their own time, they are separately compensated, and they are neither “in uniform” nor show their badge during such activity.
The bill now goes to the House.
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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 279, which would protect and promote the production of both conventional oil and natural gas in Pennsylvania.
The legislation would establish the Pennsylvania Grade Crude Development Advisory Council, which would work with the state Department of Environmental Protection to better address differences in the production process for conventional and unconventional oil and gas.
The bill was originally introduced last session (Senate Bill 1310). The measure passed the Senate, but died in the House.
Senate Bill 279 has been referred to the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee in the House of Representatives.
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