By a unanimous vote, the Senate approved Senate Bill 379, which would allow health care professionals to apologize for an error without fear of legal reprisal.

Under the bill, any sympathetic gesture or apology made prior to a medical liability action by a health care provider, assisted-living or personal-care home official would be inadmissible as evidence of liability.

Proponents said simple explanations and apologies often prevent medical malpractice lawsuits. Thirty-six states have similar laws.

The bill now goes to the House.


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            The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 579, which would increase the maximum legally allowable number of enlisted Pennsylvania State Police officers from 3,940 to 4,310.

The need to increase the complement is attributed to the department’s expanding law enforcement responsibilities.

The measure would also remove the requirement that the state police provide underwater search teams in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Senate Bill 579 now goes to the governor.


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After widespread complaints about system failures and tied-up phone lines, the Senate unanimously passed legislation intended to improve services in Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation system.

House Bill 26 creates the Service and Infrastructure Improvement Fund through the Department of Labor and Industry. It will take a portion of employee contributions into the unemployment system to be used to upgrade services and avoid long delays for unemployed workers seeking benefits.

The bill was signed into law as Act 34 of 2013


* * *

            The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 643, which would amend the Race Horse Industry Reform Act to prohibit more than two of the three commissioners for either the horse or harness racing commissions from residing in the same county at the time of appointment.

The bill is aimed at assuring geographic diversity on the commissions.

The measure now goes to the House.


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The Senate unanimously approved the following non-preferred appropriations bills. The bills are all now in the House:

  • Senate Bill 725, which appropriates $227.1 million to Penn State University for fiscal 2013-14 – a $13 million increase compared to fiscal 2012-13. However, the measure specifies that $13 million of the appropriation go to the school’s affiliate Pennsylvania College of Technology.
  • Senate Bill 726, which appropriates $136.076 million to the University of Pittsburgh for fiscal 2013-14. The amount is the same appropriated in fiscal 2012-13. However, the legislation specifies that $2.083 million of the school’s appropriation be allocated for rural outreach programs.
  • Senate Bill 727, which appropriates $139.917 million to Temple University for fiscal 2013-14. The amount is the same appropriated in fiscal 2012-13.
  •  Senate Bill 728, which appropriates $11.163 million to Lincoln University for fiscal 2013-14. The amount is the same appropriated in fiscal 2012-13.
  • Senate Bill 729, which appropriates $28.137 million to the University of Pennsylvania for fiscal 2013-14. Of that amount, the legislation specifies that $27.8 million be allocated for veterinary activities and $248,000 for the school’s Center for Infectious Diseases. The school’s appropriation is the same as fiscal 2012-13.


* * *


The Senate voted 49 to 1 in favor of House Bill 515, which would amend the Municipalities Planning Code to modify the notification requirements when meetings are held to discuss changes to ordinances.

The legislation applies to meetings involving changes to zoning ordinances, zoning maps as well as sub-division and land development ordinances. The bill would add a requirement to mail a notice of the meeting to anyone requesting a notice, provided the request was made in writing, and the necessary self-addressed stamped envelopes are provided. The notice can also be mailed electronically.

The bill would benefit absentee land and mineral owners who may not be aware of proposed actions that could affect their property.

The measure now goes to the Governor for enactment.


* * *


The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 602, which would add Pennsylvania to the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) program, a multi-state electronic sales blocking system funded by the manufacturers of medicines containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine (PSE).

State and federal law limit the amount of non-prescription ephedrine and pseudoephedrine consumers can buy to prevent the diversion of these substances for meth production. States, however, need an effective way to enforce those limits statewide and across state borders. NPLEx is available to any state that mandates real time, statewide electronic blocking of illegal PSE sales.

The bill would also require that nonprescription products containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine are kept behind the counter or in a location where customers do not have direct access. To purchase these products, customers would need to show a valid government-issued photo ID. The retailer would be required to keep record of the customer’s identity and submit the information to the NPLEx program.

The bill now goes to the House.


* * *


The Senate unanimously passed House Bill 1172, which would amend the Local Tax Enabling Act to change limitations of rates of specific taxes.

Under current law, political subdivisions formed by a merger levy a mercantile or business tax if the tax was already in place in at least one of the political subdivisions participating in the merger. A provision was added to the existing law that required the tax to be revenue neutral, meaning the subdivision was prohibited from collecting more funds than the year before the merger even if the post-merger revenues would have increased because of an expansion in the tax base.

This bill would limit the revenue neutral provision to the first year following the merger. After the first year, political subdivisions would be able to tap into the revenues generated from the mercantile privilege tax. The tax rate would be locked in at the revenue neutral rate, but if the rate generates more revenues, the political subdivision would be permitted to collect those revenues.

The bill now goes to the House.


* * *


The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 586, which would require the state to recognize the wishes of a military service member regarding the handling of his or her remains if they die during service.

The legislation would require decisions about remains to be consistent with the wishes of the person in military service as authorized on their DD Form 93, which is a valid document or a successor form provided by the Department of Defense that is signed by a member of the armed services forces and designates a person to make choices about his or her remains.

The bill now goes to the Governor for enactment.


* * *


The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 784, which would amend the Fiscal Code concerning permit extensions that directly deal with development or construction projects.

If enacted, this legislation would automatically extend permits approved by the date of July 2, 2013 by a state agency, until July 2, 2016. It also covers exceptions, fees, and notice requirements.

In addition, the measure would suspend the timeframe of already approved permits. The bill allows for a different set of suspension requirements for Philadelphia and provides for limitations on the suspension power . The intent of this legisation is to aid in the recovery of residential construction and Pennsylvania’s economy by coordinating permit approval timeframes with available financing during difficult economic conditions. Similar legislation passed last year.

The bill now goes back to the House for concurrence.


* * *


The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1122, which would amend the Uniform Condominium Act and the Uniform Planned Communities Act to extend the current seven-year time limitation on withdrawal or conversion of real estate within flexible planned communities to 10-year limitation for projects that are not built in phases.

This provides developers additional time to complete planned communities that, due to new lending restrictions established in response to the economic downturn, have been stalled or delayed. The bill now goes back to the House for concurrence.


* * *


The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1217, which would amend the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act adding “Bath Salts” to the list of Schedule 1 substances.

The bill would also update language pertaining to synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic marijuana, defining them on a molecular level to better assist in prosecuting the use of these controlled substances since the formulas continue to change.

The bill now goes to the governor.


* * *

The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 914, which would provide the state Insurance Department with a dedicated funding structured through the newly-enacted Insurance Regulation and Oversight Fund Act. Pennsylvania, which is currently funded through a General Fund appropriation, is one of only two states that do not have a dedicated funding source for its Insurance Department.

Bill supporters claim the funding change is necessary because the department has had numerous budget cuts and a 35 percent reduction in employees. They claim that a dedicated funding source would enable the department to maintain a consistent, professional and apolitical regulation of the state’s insurance market. They also argue that the change would enable the department to reduce its reliance on outside consultants who perform regulatory duties at a greater cost.

The legislation would establish this dedicated funding source for the department’s regulation, management, development and oversight of the insurance industry. The funding for the Insurance Regulation and Oversight Fund would consist of 50 percent of all license and fees collected, received, or derived by the department and 100 percent of all penalties, fines assessments, augmentations, or settlements received by the department.

Under the bill, the department would annually submit a proposal for its budget. The General Assembly would then annually appropriate money for the fund. If revenue were to exceed that appropriation, the excess amount would be re-directed to the General Fund.

Should the annual appropriation be insufficient to meet the department’s expenses, the state treasurer could transfer from the General Fund, Workers’ Compensation Security Fund or Underground Storage Tank Indemnification Fund to the fund as directed by the governor. The secretary of the budget would need to notify the General Assembly within 15 days of such a transfer. The governor would then set the reimbursement deadline for the transfer of funds back to the appropriate source.

The bill now goes to the House.


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The Senate updated Pennsylvania’s Nonprofit Corporation and Uniform Unincorporated Nonprofit Association laws with its 49-0 approval of House amendments made to Senate Bill 304.

The legislation is designed to make the state’s business law governing for-profit and not-for-profit organizations more consistent with each other. It also adds a new chapter to the Associations Code to govern unincorporated nonprofit associations that are formed or operate in Pennsylvania.

The bill moves to the governor’s office for consideration.


* * *

            The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 601, which defines “electronic records” and provides uniformity in the areas of designation, authentication, preservation and access.

Electronic records – or entities that work with electronic records – named in the bill include exclusive publications, publishers that put out legal material in electronic records, authenticated state documents and other states’ authentic electronic records.

Publishers of legal electronic records must ensure their integrity, provide for backup and disaster recovery and make sure they are always usable.

The bill moves to the House Judiciary Committee to be considered.


* * *


The Senate voted 49-0 to approve House Bill 22, which would amend part of the state’s commercial code dealing with funds transfers. It would also bring Pennsylvania into conformity with recent federal changes to the Electronic Fund Transfer Act.

The  measure focuses on highly technical language, but would change the section of state law called “Division 41 Funds Transfers of Pennsylvania’s Commercial Code.”

The bill went to the governor for his consideration.


* * *


The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1124, which would update Pennsylvania’s mortgage licensing act.

The changes deal with:

  • Restoring a person’s ability to originate, offer, negotiate, or service less than four mortgages loans in a calendar year;
  • Clarifying that someone using an installment sales contract to sell a dwelling or tract must be a licensed mortgage lender and their employees must be licensed as mortgage loan originators;
  • Exempting non-profit organizations from mortgage loan originator licensing requirements, as the Department of Banking and Securities now has oversight; and
  • Eliminating the requirement that mortgage loan originators be W-2 employees.

The bill is now with the governor for his consideration.


* * *


The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 513, which increases the amount constituting a small estate from $25,000 to $50,000.

This bill allows estates valued at up to $50,000 to be settled by petition. The bill also increases from $3,500 to $10,000 the amount banks are authorized to close out a small account without formal estate administration to release money for funeral expenses.

The bill was signed into law as Act 53 of 2013.

* * *

The Senate voted 41 to 8 in favor of House Bill 1325, which amends the Pennsylvania Sewage Facilities Act to satisfy anti-degradation requirements of the state’s 1937 Clean Streams Law.

Under the bill, official plans and revisions for individual on-lot sewage systems and community on-lot sewage systems satisfy the anti-degradation requirements. The measure also stipulates that permits for individual on-lot sewage systems and community on-lot sewage systems — when designed and approved in accordance with regulations — satisfy the anti-degradation requirements

The measure was enacted as Act 41 of 2013.


* * *

The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 526, which removes the requirement for animal exhibitors at livestock shows to fill out a veterinarian-client-patient relationship forms.

Bill proponents claim the form is no longer necessary since most, if not all, exhibitors already have a signed “animal health certificate.”

This bill was signed into law as Act 31 of 2013.


* * *

            The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1010, which would increase weight limits for trucks carrying certain milk products.

Currently, Pennsylvania dairy operations are at a competitive disadvantage because neighboring New York allows skim and condensed milk in 95,000 pound gross weight trucks, yielding a 60,000 pounds net loads.  Without an overload permit, Pennsylvania diary operations are limited to 80,000 gross weight trucks. The weight differential between states forces Pennsylvania diary operations to use smaller loads, which results in higher cumulative costs for hauling and unloading.

This competitive disadvantage has prevented Pennsylvania dairy farmers from obtaining contracts at New York yogurt plants because it takes 16 trucks as opposed to 13.

The bill now goes to the House.


* * *

By a vote of 49-1, the Senate passed legislation that would allow two Southeastern Pennsylvania school districts to continue to receive payments in lieu of taxes for Evansburg State Park.

Under the current Forest Reserves Municipal Financial Relief Law, Pennsylvania is required to make payments in lieu of taxes, as long as state-owned forest lands are leased at 90 percent or more of their fair market value for residential or commercial purposes, and consist of 75 or more leased portions of land. Agricultural operations are not included under this law.

In recent years, the number of leased parcels at Evansburg State Park was reduced to 65, ending payments to Perkiomen Valley and Methacton school districts.

House Bill 1359 reduces the park’s compliance threshold.

The bill now sits on the governor’s desk.


* * *


By a vote of 48-0, the Senate concurred in House amendments to Senate Bill 583, increasing the bid threshold for local Economic Development Authorities.

The bill raises, from $10,000 to $18,000, the size of contract authorities can enter into without accepting bids under the Economic Development Financing Law.

It was signed into law as Act 44 of 2013.


* * *


By a vote of 48-1, the Senate approved legislation requiring carbon monoxide detectors in multi-family dwellings that use fossil fuel appliances.

Senate Bill 607 , similar to Senate Bill 920 of the 2011-2012 session, now goes to the House.


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