The Senate unanimously concurred in House amendments to Senate Bill 1030, a compromise that enabled more than 130,000 laid off workers to continue to collect unemployment benefits. The measure also makes key reforms to the unemployment compensation system.

The bill allows Pennsylvania to adopt a “three-year lookback,” to qualify for federal help that will provide federally subsidized extended benefits through the end of the year.

Federally subsidized extended benefits are triggered by a state’s unemployment rate over a defined period of time, called a “look-back” period.  Using a two-year look-back, Pennsylvania did not qualify on May 21, and 45,000 Pennsylvanians could have lost their benefits as of June 11.  An estimated 90,000 more would have lost regular benefits and not qualify for extended benefits through the end of the year.

With Pennsylvania’s Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund more than $3 billion in debt to the federal government, additional provisions in the bill are intended to slow the growth of benefit costs by capping increases in the maximum weekly benefit, and limiting the amount of severance pay a claimant can receive without affecting benefits.

The bill also requires claimants to actively search for work, and allows a “shared work” program through which employers would be able to reduce work hours of employees as an alternative to layoffs. It would also allow affected employees to receive prorated unemployment compensation for lost wages.

The bill was signed into law by the governor as Act 6 of 2011.

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The Senate unanimously approved legislation that would add certain synthetically produced drugs to the list of Schedule I controlled substances under the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act.

Schedule I drugs are substances that are unsafe, have a high potential for abuse and have no currently accepted medical use.

Senate Bill 1006 adds Salvia Divinorum, Salvinorin A, Divinorin A, synthetic marijuana, a hallucinogenic compound called 2C, and synthetic amphetamine/heroin, more commonly referred to as concentrated bath salts, to the list of Schedule I controlled substances. The bill also outlaws chemical compounds that are similar to the listed substances so that the ingredients or manufacturing process cannot be altered slightly in an effort to bypass the law.

Those committing offenses with these drugs would be subject to the same penalties as other non-narcotic Schedule I offenses.

In recent years, law enforcement officials have seen a dramatic increase in use of these substances.  The chemicals found within are very powerful and can have life threatening consequences for users and those around them.  Salvia Divinorum has been shown to be a powerful hallucinogen. Bath salts and synthetic marijuana mimic the effects of powerful drugs and recent media reports and academic studies indicate a growing problem within our communities.

The bill is now on the governor’s desk.

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By a vote of 38-12, the Senate passed legislation that would impose stricter standards on abortion clinics in Pennsylvania.

Prompted by a grand jury’s report exposing horrific conditions at a Philadelphia abortion clinic operated by Dr. Kermit Gosnell, Senate Bill 732 would increase inspections, space, staffing, and other requirements for the 20 clinics operating throughout the state.

The bill would also require clinics that perform abortions after nine weeks’ pregnancy to be licensed as so-called “ambulatory” surgical facilities like those that offer outpatient knee, eye, and other surgeries.

The bill now goes to the House.

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The Senate unanimously passed a bill that increases the number of members on the State Tax Equalization Board (STEB) from three members to five.  Currently, the STEB consists of three members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate.  Two members constitute a quorum.

Senate Bill 704 would keep the three public members to be appointed by the Governor but would add two members, the Secretary of Education and the Secretary of Revenue, or their designees.  Three members would constitute a quorum.

The bill now goes to the House.

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The Senate unanimously passed legislation to prohibit the future use of private transfer fees.

A private transfer fee is also known as a resale fee or a capital recovery fee and allows the developer or builder of a home to collect 1 percent (or more) of the sales price from the seller every time the property changes hands for the next 99 years. To date, private transfer fees have been seen in 43 states, with 18 states acting to ban the practice, one acting to require additional disclosure requirements while six other states are considering similar bills. 

House Bill 442 would ban all new private transfer fees, allow for remedies if private transfer fees are imposed, require the full disclosure of existing private transfer fees, establish a process to free the property of an obligation and require persons entitled to such a fee to register with the county Recorder of Deeds. 

The bill now awaits the governor’s signature.

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1062, which would appropriate $66.189 million from the state Gaming Fund to the Gaming Control Board, Department of Revenue, State Police, and Office of Attorney General for gaming industry oversight.

The bill now goes to the House.

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The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 1086, which would establish the formula for the distribution and allocation of state library aid among individual libraries for fiscal year 2011-2012.

The distribution formula would allow each library to receive an equal percentage increase or decrease in funding over the current year depending on the amount of funds provided in the General Appropriations Act. The bill would also authorize the state librarian to distribute any unallocated funds.

The legislation would also move this formula into the Library Code. In previous years, the formula was either in the Public School Code or the Fiscal Code. 

The bill now goes to the House.

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The Senate unanimously approved legislation that would amend the Insurance Company Law and Title 72 (Taxation and Fiscal Affairs) to implement insurance premium tax changes required by federal law.

In July 2010, Congress enacted the “Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act.” The law prohibits states from collecting surplus lines insurance premium taxes unless the state is the home state of the policyholder. 

In order to comply with the Dodd-Frank Act, Senate Bill 1096 would amend the Insurance Company Law to state that surplus lines insurance premium taxes can only be collected by Pennsylvania when Pennsylvania is the home state of the insured. 

Similarly, Senate Bill 1097 would amend Title 72 (Taxation and Fiscal Affairs) to state that surplus lines insurance premium taxes can only be collected by Pennsylvania when Pennsylvania is the home state of the insured. 

Surplus lines insurance provides coverage for unique risks that do not fit the guidelines of traditional property and casualty insurance coverage, such as traveling amusement parks.

Pennsylvania levies a 2 percent premium tax on all insurance policies sold here, which go into the General Fund.  If the legislation is not passed by July 21, the state could lose $1.9 million in premium tax revenue.

The bill is now in the House.

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The Senate unanimously passed a package of five bills recommended by the Local Government Commission.

Senate Bills 828, 829, and 832 would create the position of township manager in the first class township code, second class township code and Act 566 of 1955 regarding incorporated towns, respectively.  Under the legislation, the township manager would serve at the pleasure of the board of commissioners and the powers and duties of the position would be regulated by ordinance.

Senate Bill 830 would create the office of City Administrator or Manager in the third class city code.  Under this bill, the administrator or manager would serve at the discretion of city council and would be appointed by a majority vote of the council.  The powers and duties of the newly created position would be laid out under city ordinance.

Lastly, Senate Bill 831 would create the office of borough manger in the Borough Code. 

The package of bills is now in the House.

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