By a vote of 43-7, the Senate approved a measure that allowed 17,000 Pennsylvanians to continue to receive extended unemployment benefits. 

 The legislation, Senate Bill 1375, was needed for the state to draw down federal money that would pay for the extension.  The bill sat in the House as the Feb. 4 deadline for the workers passed, effectively ending benefits for effected workers.  However, once the bill was signed on February 8, 2012, the benefits were paid retroactively.

 The bill was signed into law as Act 10 of 2012

* * *

The Senate unanimously passed an amended version of House Bill 1294, making it easier for public utilities to make infrastructure improvements by providing them with the ability to recover their capital investments in a timely manner.

This bill permits utilities, subject to PUC approval, to gradually recover infrastructure investment costs from consumers, rather than impose large increases in customer bills following general rate cases. In order for a utility to be eligible to recover these costs, they must submit a long-term infrastructure improvement plan to the PUC that includes a schedule for repairs and replacements, project descriptions, expenditures, etc.

Beginning in 2013, a utility can petition the PUC to approve the establishment of a distribution charge to recover costs related to repairs and improvements. Consumers are required to receive notice of a distribution system improvement charge filing.

The bill was signed into law as Act 11 of 2012.

* * *

The Senate unanimously passed House Bill 1582, reducing tax assessments for residential properties in Business Improvement Districts (BIDs).

Under the law, assessments on residences in the BIDs would be reduced by 50 percent. The bill also changed the way assessments are made on condominiums to make sure individual unit owners receive the reduced assessment.

The bill was signed into law as Act 12 of 2012.

* * *

The Senate voted 45 to 5 for House Bill 170, which allows a vehicle to pass a bicycle in a no-passing zone as long as the vehicle establishes a four-foot minimum passing distance when it is passing to the left of a bicycle going in the same direction.

The bill also prohibits motorists from making sudden turns when a bicycle is proceeding straight in the same direction. Lastly, the bill requires a bicyclist to use reasonable efforts to not impede normal and reasonable traffic movement.

The bill was signed into law as Act 3 of 2012

* * *

The Senate voted 48 to 1 in favor of 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 also states that any person whose commercial driver’s license designation has been removed would have the right to appeal to the court vested with jurisdiction of such appeal.

Under this legislation, an employee of a county emergency management organization who holds of a Class C license and has a certificate of authorization from the head of the county emergency management organization while operating an emergency vehicle equipped with audible and visual signals would not be required to obtain a commercial driver’s license. Lastly, the bill outlines the self-certification requirements for an applicant for a commercial driver learner’s permit.

The bill was signed into law as Act 1 of 2012.

* * *

The Senate passed Senate Bill 52 by a vote of 41 to 9. This bill would allow the use of neighborhood electric vehicles (NEV) on certain highways. 

Under Senate Bill 52, a NEV would be considered a four-wheeled electric vehicle with a maximum design speed between 20 and 25 mph, which is certified to comply with federal low-speed vehicle safety standards. 

This bill would authorize travel in NEVs on roadways with a posted speed limit of no more than 25 mph and would authorize the NEV to cross roadways with a maximum speed of 35 mph unless there is a traffic signal at the intersection. 

NEVs would be required to be equipped with most basic safety equipment, such as brakes, mirrors, seatbelts, lights, and windshield wipers among other federal requirements. NEVs would also be required to show a slow moving vehicle emblem placed in the rear of the vehicle which shall prominently display the lettering “25 MPH Vehicle.”

NEVs would be classified as a passenger vehicle for the purposes of titling and registration, but would not be subject to annual safety or emissions inspections.

The bill is now in the House Transportation Committee.

* * *

By a vote of 45-5, the Senate passed legislation that would outline the salaries of corrections managers in the Department of Corrections.

Under Senate Bill 1019, a corrections manager would receive not less than the same annual percentage salary and fringe benefit increase as received by the highest ranking corrections officer participating in collective bargaining.

The bill is now in the House Judiciary Committee.

# # #