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In a largely party line 27-21 vote, the Senate approved legislation aimed at helping the growing number of school districts in fiscal distress.

Under House Bill 1307, the Secretary of Education could declare a school district to be in financial recovery status if one of a number of triggering events occurs. At that point, a Chief Recovery Officer (CRO) would be appointed to design and implement a financial recovery plan.  The last step of the recovery process would give authority to the Secretary of Education to petition the court for receivership appointment if the elected school board does not cooperate with the CRO on the financial recovery plan.

The bill would also allow the Department of Education to award a long-term, interest free loan to a financial recovery school district that approves and implements a recovery plan. Numerous Democrats criticized the bill for offering inadequate loans to districts that have no ability to pay the money back.

In struggling districts, the amended bill would set the stage for labor contracts to be renegotiated, conversion to charter schools, and privatization of some services.

The bill would also limit severance payments and provide for greater accountability and transparency in superintendent contracts.

It would cost an estimated $5.8 million to implement the legislation. The amended bill now returns to the House.

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By a vote of 46-1, the Senate passed a bill intended to clarify the definition of a “purely public charity,” and which branch of government is empowered to make the definition.

Senate Bill 161 is intended to address a recent decision by the state Supreme Court that overturned the 1997 Institutions of Purely Public Charity Act, saying that the definition of a charity, and the tax exemption that comes with the definition, is subject to legal review.

The bill would amend the state constitution to give the General Assembly the sole authority to define a charity and authorize tax exemption.  It must pass in two separate sessions of the legislature before facing a voter referendum.

It now goes to the House.

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By a unanimous vote, the Senate passed legislation that would require carbon monoxide detectors in multi-family buildings where fossil fuels are burned.

Senate Bill 920  would require detectors be installed in each apartment unit and that all home owners disclose whether a carbon monoxide detector has been installed in a home prior to any sale.

The bill would require that the owner of each apartment in a multifamily dwelling that uses a fossil-fuel burning heater, appliance, fireplace or attached garage, have a carbon monoxide alarm installed within one year.   In multi-family dwellings, alarms must be installed in the vicinity of each sleeping area and fossil-fuel burning heater in the unit.  Tenants would be responsible for maintenance of the alarm. Failure to install or maintain a carbon monoxide alarm would be a summary offense and carry a fine of up to $50. 

The bill now goes to the House.

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By a vote of 34-13, the Senate passed legislation that would prevent school districts and municipalities from appealing individual property assessments.  Current law prevents such “spot reassessments” but taxing districts are permitted to appeal the assessments of individual properties to the county assessment appeals offices or, eventually, the county court.  Local taxing districts have used the practice to challenge individual properties when a sale price reflects a much higher value than the assessed price.

Senate Bill 1309  would prohibit the practice of spot reassessment by appeal by giving the taxpayer the right to appeal such a reassessment and have the value returned to the base year value.  Opponents say the measure would foster gross imbalances of property values in the absence of countywide reassessment.

The bill now goes to the House.

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The Senate unanimously approved legislation that would amend the Prescribed Pediatric Extended Care Centers Act by defining the term “child.” 

The Prescribed Pediatric Extended Care Centers Act ensures licensure and health and safety standards for pediatric extended care centers (PECC) in order to assure that the centers provide appropriate care.  

House Bill 1960 adds the definition of a child as a person less than 21 years of age. The bill also removes the language “8 years of age or younger” from the term “medically dependent or technologically dependent child.” 

The bill also clarifies that PECCs are to consider the components of an individualized education plan for any child under the age of 21 when developing the child’s required individualized care plan.

The bill now heads to the governor’s desk.

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By a 45 to 3 vote, the Senate approved legislation that would strengthens underage drinking and public drunkenness penalties.

Senate Bill 941 would raise the fine for underage drinking and public drunkenness to a maximum fine of $1,000. Currently, it’s $300 for all offenses, and $500 for second and subsequent offenses. 

The bill is now in the House Judiciary Committee.

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By a 46 to 2 vote, the Senate approved legislation that would give municipalities where colleges are located the ability to set a $100 court fee for all alcohol violations in their jurisdiction. 

Senate Bill 943 would allow these municipalities to create a local law enforcement alcohol offense prevention unit to collect a fee from the courts to be used for the prevention of alcohol violations. The funds must be used for the prevention of alcohol violations through the law enforcement unit.

The bill is now in the House Judiciary Committee.

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The Senate unanimously approved legislation that would amend the Medical Records Act (MRA) to provide for the rates charged for copying medical records when a subpoena is served upon a health care provider or a health care facility.

Senate Bill 1535 would also remove the requirement to provide “the estimated actual and reasonable expenses” because an estimate of the actual expenses cannot be determined until the correct records are identified and a page count is performed. Records responsive to a single request may reside in several different systems.

The bill also provides a specific schedule of rates for copying medical records. The bill would update the schedule of rates to reflect the rates actually in effect for 2012. 

The bill also references the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) to make it clear that the schedule of rates would apply to requests by subpoena or authorized through HIPAA. 

The MRA was enacted prior to HIPPA and this bill would specify that the rates apply to both types of requests. In addition, the bill recognizes the fact that since the MRA was written, new electronic systems have been put in place for storing records and delivering copies of records and the schedule of rates applies regardless of the medium.

The bill is now in the House.

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 244, which would save lives by requiring all schools to have at least one person on hand who is certified to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

The Democratic-sponsored bill would also provide legal immunity to those who do provide cardiopulmonary resuscitation in schools. The CPR requirement would apply during school hours to all schools, including area vocational-technical schools, charter schools, cyber-charter schools, intermediate units, nonpublic schools and school districts.

The measure now goes to the House for consideration.

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The Senate voted 45-2 in favor of the capital budget for fiscal 2012-13.

Under Senate Bill 1480, the state would be authorized to incur a maximum of $1.675 billion in bond indebtedness for the 2012-13 fiscal year — $13 million more than the previous year.

The bill now goes to the House.

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The Senate unanimously passed House Bill 608, which will authorize the Department of Environmental Protection to encourage the planting of switchgrass or other fast-growing crops to revegetate lands affected by surface mining. 

If a mine operator uses switchgrass, camelina, canola or other bioenergy crops in reclamation, the department will make available, at no cost to the surface mining permittee of a remining sit, sum-certain guarantees to cover Stage III reclamation liability under the reclamation bond.

The bill is now on the governor’s desk.

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The Senate unanimously passed an amended version of House Bill 807, which will require that each of the biodiesel blends meet certain standards established by the American Society for Testing and Materials International.

The bill will require that a biodiesel blend be created using an approved biodiesel blending method and that any person selling biodiesel to consumers is registered with the Department of Agriculture. In addition, the bill will require that a shipping manifest is created and provided to the person receiving biodiesel each time it is sold or transferred and the biodiesel that is sold must have a certification stating that it meets the quality standards set forth under the Biofuel Development and In-State Production Incentive Act.

The Department of Agriculture will be given the authority to enforce the provisions of the act by conducting inspections and taking samples of biodiesel for testing. Lastly, the bill will create the Biofuel Development Account where all federal and state funds, and fines and penalties will be deposited for use by the department for the administration and enforcement of the act.

The House concurred in Senate amendments and the bill is now before the governor.

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The Senate unanimously passed an amended version of House Bill 1349, which will ensure that government agencies consider the impact new regulations could have on small business when new state regulations are being created – allowing the small business community to have input on the proposed regulations and communicate to state regulators about any potential negative impacts.

The bill will only apply to new regulations and not those that have already started through the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) process or those dealing with public health and safety.

Under House Bill 1349, when submitting regulatory proposals agencies must inform the IRRC the type of small business that would be affected by the proposed regulation; any financial, economic or social impacts on small businesses; an economic impact statement that includes an estimated number of small businesses affected, cost of compliance to the regulation, probable effect on impacted small businesses, and a description of any less intrusive or less costly alternative; and offer alternatives to small businesses that would still achieve the effect of the proposed regulation.

This legislation also brings Pennsylvania in line with other states that are giving small businesses greater input in terms of regulatory changes. Forty-five other states have implemented similar measures in the past decade.

The House concurred in Senate amendments and the bill is now before the governor.

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The Senate unanimously passed an amended version of House Bill 2151, which will allow the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to issue a $20 vintage snowmobile permit.

The permit will exempt vintage snowmobiles from the department’s usual registration for snowmobiles and ATVs (all terrain vehicles). The fees will be deposited into a restricted account for training, education, enforcement activities, construction and maintenance of snowmobile and ATV trails. 

Under the bill, a vintage snowmobile is defined as a snowmobile that is at least 25 years of age and not operated in Pennsylvania except at vintage snowmobile events.

The bill is now on the governor’s desk.

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