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In a 30-20 party line vote, the Senate passed a controversial fiscal 2011-12 spending plan that imposes massive cuts on schools, health care services, job creations programs and critical services for many of the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

The state’s $27.15 billion budget cuts state spending by 3.4 percent ($962 million), closes the state’s $4 billion structural deficit, lowers corporate taxes and squirrels away nearly $800 million in surplus revenue in the Rainy Day Fund. While House Bill 1485 holds the line on state taxes, many Democrats pointed out that the Republican education cuts were far more harsh than they needed to be and will spur huge local property tax hikes, teacher furloughs and other school cutbacks.

Democrats, who were excluded from the secretive budget negotiations, also criticized the plan for balancing the budget on the backs of working families, students, the jobless and sickly. They also attacked Republicans for refusing to impose any severance tax or fee on the booming natural gas drilling industry; and allowing major corporations to continue shielding taxable income and assets in other states.

Despite funding restorations inserted by both the House and Senate, the final Republican spending plan still cut college funding by nearly $500 million (approximately 20 percent), and public school district funding by nearly a billion (10 percent). Republicans argued that the huge education cuts were prompted by the loss of federal stimulus dollars. No funding was provided for job creation programs. Despite an alarming increase in uncompensated care costs, the budget slashed hospital funding.

The budget was signed into law at 11:45 p.m. on June 30 as Act1A of 2011.

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1727, which appropriates $136 million to the University of Pittsburgh for fiscal 2011-12. The non-preferred appropriation represents a $31.9 million (19 percent) cut compared to last year. The bill was enacted as Act 10A of 2011.

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1728, which appropriates $139.9 million to Temple University for fiscal 2011-12. The non-preferred appropriation represents a $32.8 million (19 percent) cut compared to last year. The bill was enacted as Act 11A of 2011.

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1729, which appropriates $28.1 million to the University of Pennsylvania for fiscal 2011-12. The non-preferred appropriation represents a $1.8 million (6.2 percent) cut compared to last year. The bill was enacted as Act 12A of 2011.

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1730, which appropriates $11.1 million to Lincoln University for fiscal 2011-12. The non-preferred appropriation represents a $2.6 million (19 percent) cut compared to last year. The bill was enacted as Act 13A of 2011.

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1731, which appropriates $272.4 million to Penn State University for fiscal 2011-12. The non-preferred appropriation represents a $61.4 million (18.4 percent) cut compared to last year. The bill was enacted as Act 14A of 2011.

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1062, which 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 was enacted as Act 9A of 2011

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1122, which would have appropriated $285.8 million to Penn State University for fiscal 2011-12. The non-preferred appropriation would have represented a $47.9 million (14.4 percent) cut compared to last year. The measure died in the House. In the end, House Bill 1731 was the vehicle used to provide the final appropriation.         

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1123, which would have appropriated $142.7 million to the University of Pittsburgh for fiscal 2011-12. The non-preferred appropriation would have represented a $25.2 million (15 percent) cut compared to last year. The measure died in the House. In the end, House Bill 1727 was the vehicle used to provide the school’s appropriation.

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1124, which would have appropriated $146.8 million to Temple University for fiscal 2011-12. The non-preferred appropriation would have represented a $25.9 million (15 percent) cut compared to last year. The measure died in the House. In the end, House Bill 1728 was the vehicle used to provide the school’s appropriation.

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1125, which would have appropriated $11.7 million to Lincoln University for fiscal 2011-12. The non-preferred appropriation would have represented a $2 million (15 percent) cut compared to last year. The measure died in the House. In the end, House Bill 1730 was the vehicle used to provide the school’s appropriation.

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1126, which would have appropriated $29 million to the University of Pennsylvania for fiscal 2011-12. The non-preferred appropriation would have represented a $1 million (3.3 percent) cut compared to last year. The measure died in the House. In the end, House Bill 1729 was the vehicle used to provide the school’s appropriation.

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In a move that threatened to derail the on-time budget, the House of Representatives amended the relatively innocuous Senate Bill 330 with new restrictions on local school districts regarding property tax increases and required referenda.

Originally, Senate Bill 330, allowed small businesses to pay local school taxes in installments, but House Republican amendments took aim at the 2006 Taxpayer Relief Act (Act 1), which requires school districts to put tax increases in front of local voters if the increase went beyond a state calculated inflation index.  Act 1 allowed for a number of exceptions to the referenda requirement, and the House amendments to Senate Bill 330 eliminated most of them and altered two others.

Among the repealed exemptions were:

  • Responding to or recovering from a disaster declared by the Governor;
  • Implementing a court order or administrative order from a federal or state agency;
  • Responding to conditions that pose an immediate threat of serious physical harm or injury to students, staff and school district residents;
  • Implementing a school improvement plan under the federal No Child Left Behind Act;
  • Maintaining the per student local tax revenue or the actual instruction expense per average daily membership;
  • Maintaining revenue derived from property taxes, earned income and net profit taxes, personal income taxes, basic education funding allocations and special education funding allocations;
  • Health care-related benefits directly attributable to collective bargaining agreements

The exception for interest and principal on school construction was sharply curbed, but not eliminated.  It maintains the exception for grandfathered debt and debt incurred by construction approved in a voter referendum.

The bill also modifies the Act 1 special education and pension cost provisions, implementing complicated formulae to calculate what costs would require voter approval.

The bill was signed into law as Act 25 of 2011.

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The Senate approved (41-9) legislation that increases the jurisdictional money limits for civil cases heard by the Philadelphia Municipal Court and for other actions before magisterial district judges.

Under House Bill 38, the limit for magisterial district judges increases from $8,000 to $12,000 and for the Philadelphia Municipal Court from $10,000 to $12,000.

The bill also extends the $11.25 surcharge added to certain court filings for the Access to Justice Account and judicial computerization until December 31, 2014.

The bill was signed into law as Act 30 of 2011.

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 345, which authorizes the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to arrange for burial details at the Washington Cross National Cemetery in Bucks County.

The details may receive reimbursement as they are allowed at the Commonwealth’s two other national cemeteries, Fort Indiantown Gap National Cemetery or the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies.

The DMVA contracts with nonprofit veterans’ service organizations to provide for the burial details.  There is currently $74,000 in the general fund appropriated for these services.

The bill was signed into law as Act 38 of 2011.

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The Senate unanimously approved legislation that reduces the crime of drug delivery resulting in death from third-degree murder to a first-degree felony.

House Bill 396 makes it a first-degree felony if a person intentionally administers, dispenses, delivers, gives, prescribes, sells or distributes a controlled substance in violation of law and another person dies as a result of using the substance.

A person convicted of this crime can be sentenced to a term of imprisonment up to 40 years.

The bill also adds the crime of drug delivery resulting in death to the definition of “crime of violence.”

The bill was signed into law as Act 40 of 2011.

* * *

The Senate unanimously approved legislation that amends the Agriculture Security Law of 1981 to provide the definition of contiguous acreage and nullifies the existing definition.

Previously under law, landowners can elect to enroll their farmland into the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program if they have a certain amount of “contiguous” acreage. Regulations allow land to be considered contiguous if it is divided by streams, public roads, and bridges but does not include land divided by railroads.

House Bill 562 adds the definition of “contiguous acreage” to the Agricultural Security Law and includes railroads in the list of permissible reasons of why acreage can be divided.

The bill also repeals the provisions that permit easements to expire after 25 years, thereby making all easements perpetual.

The bill also adds underground mining of noncoal minerals as an authorized activity on preserved farmland.

The bill was signed into law as Act 44 of 2011.

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The Senate unanimously approved legislation that will help public transit agencies generate additional revenue by allowing advertising on the exterior of railcars.

Previously under law, railcars were the only transit vehicles prohibited from exhibiting ads.

House Bill 1173 allows the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) and the Port Authority of Allegheny County to generate revenue by selling ad space on railcars.

The bill was signed into law as Act 49 of 2011.

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The Senate unanimously approved legislation that provides immunity from prosecution for minors if they call 911 to help an intoxicated friend in an emergency situation.

Senate Bill 448 grants immunity to the first person to call 911 to report that another person needs medical attention when underage drinking is involved.  The caller must provide their name to the 911 operator and must remain with the person until paramedics arrive.

Additionally, the bill grants immunity if alcohol is found in possession of the individual calling for emergency assistance.

The bill was signed into law as Act 66 of 2011.

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By a vote of 33-17, the Senate passed House Bill 1352, which included an omnibus school code amendment that included provisions relating to annual education funding, transfer of education-related provisions in the Fiscal Code, technical clarifications, and other policy provisions.

This bill was a part of the Republican crafted 2011-12 budget that cut nearly $1 billion from public education funding.

One of the bills amended into the final version of House Bill 1352 was Sen. Andy Dinniman’s Senate Bill 202, which expands certification for principals and teachers, including college certificates, “normal” school diplomas or certificates, residency certificates, and intern certificates.

Other bills amended into House Bill 1352 repeal a portion of the school code requiring increases in basic-education funding from the year previous be used only for new programs and the expansion of existing programs (SB857); permit school districts to hire certified superintendents or candidates with a graduate degree in business or finance (SB858); suspend the requirement for schools to establish a Concurrent Enrollment Committee, though districts would still be allowed to keep them (SB872); establish a lifetime employment ban in schools for those who have been convicted of serious violent offenses and prohibits anyone convicted of any other felony from working in a school setting for at least 10 years (SB224); and permit the Department of Education to collect information that could identify individual college students for the Pennsylvania Information Management System (SB343).

This legislation was signed into law as Act 24 of 2011.

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The Senate unanimously approved legislation that would provide for emergency plans, GPS mapping, and signage for oil and gas wells.

Senate Bill 995 would require gas well operators to adopt emergency regulations for gas and oil wells, including GPS mapping coordinates for each well, an emergency response plan for each site, registering plans with the county emergency organizations, and the posting of reflective signs at each well site. Emergency response plans must also be developed and shared with state, county and local officials.

The bill would also more accurately define “unconventional oil or gas well” and the process by which the gas is extracted, hydraulic fracturing, to align these definitions with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

The bill is now in the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

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The Senate passed House Bill 78 by a 49-1 vote, increasing the grading and penalties for the offense of homicide-by-watercraft while operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Previously, this offense was graded as a third degree felony with a penalty of $2,500 to $15,000, up to seven years in prison, or both, with a mandatory minimum sentence of 3 years imprisonment.

This bill increases the penalties for homicide-by-watercraft while operating under the influence to a second degree felony.  The maximum penalty is now a fine of not less than $5,000 nor more than $25,000, or imprisonment not exceeding 10 years, or both.  Additionally, the bill requires that a consecutive three-year term of imprisonment be imposed for each victim whose death is a result of the offense.

The bill was signed into law as Act 33 of 2011.

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The Senate unanimously passed House Bill 463, extending the expiration of the Social Security cost-of-living increase exemption date for the PACE and PACENET programs to December 31, 2010.

These extensions are made under the State Lottery Law so that certain PACE and PACENET recipients were not disqualified based on Social Security cost-of-living increases.  These recipients will now remain qualified for the programs until December 31, 2013.  Additionally, the bill provides for the reenactment to apply retroactively to December 31, 2010.

The bill was signed into law as Act 21 of 2011.

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The Senate unanimously passed House Bills 1448 and 1449, clarifying the process of creating and hiring for local government management positions.

House Bills 1448 and 1449 apply to manager positions in incorporated towns and boroughs, respectively.

The laws state that the manager serves at the pleasure of the governing body, subject to an employment agreement, the terms of which may be negotiated. The employment agreement may include provisions relating to severance compensation but don’t guarantee employment through the term of the contract. The law limits the length of any contract to the term of the existing board or council, ensuring that future elected officials will not be saddled with an employment contract they did not negotiate.

The bills were signed into law as Act 53 and Act 54 of 2011.

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The Senate passed House Bill 1549 by a 49-0 vote, adjusting the population thresholds of fifth and sixth class counties.

In fifth class counties, the bill changes the threshold from a population of 95,000 and more but less than 145,000 to 90,000 and more but less than 145,000 inhabitants.  In sixth class counties, the bill changes the threshold from a population of 45,000 and more but less than 95,000 inhabitants to 45,000 and more but less than 90,000 inhabitants.

The bill also states that when counties advance from fifth to fourth class; and when the census figures are certified after the primary election in the year of a municipal election, the county will maintain the current configuration of row offices in effect in the county until the year in which the offices are next up for election.

The bill was signed into law as Act 55 of 2011.

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The Senate passed House Bill 1696 by a 38-11 vote.  This bill would have imposed a temporary moratorium on court-ordered countywide reassessments.  This moratorium would have only applied to Washington County.

Governor Tom Corbett vetoed the measure because after an extensive legal review, he believes the legislation, as enacted, would violate Pennsylvania’s Constitution.

Corbett said the Constitution prohibits the legislature from passing “any local or special law…regulating the affairs of counties, cities, townships, wards boroughs, or school districts…” By limiting a property tax moratorium to counties of the fourth class, with a population between 185,000 and 210,000 as of the 2010 census, the bill has restricted its application to Washington County.

The bill was vetoed as Veto 1 of 2011.

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The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 638, limiting taxpayer-funded transportation for methadone clients.

Under Senate Bill 638, the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) will require that individuals who receive methadone treatment services, covered by Medicaid under the Medical Assistance Transportation Program, receive treatment at the clinic closest to their residence if they are using para-transit services by taxi or bus, or being reimbursed mileage for using their own vehicles.

Previously, methadone recipients chose their preferred service location with the cost of the transportation paid by tax dollars. The transportation costs totaled $32.5 million in 2009-10, an increase of 26 percent from 2007-08. According to DPW, this legislation will save millions.

More than one in three trips paid for through the Medical Assistance Transportation Program (MATP) is for methadone maintenance. The state Medical Assistance Transportation Program (MATP) provides transportation to individuals who are receiving methadone treatments by either reimbursing those with private vehicles at a rate of 25 cents per mile or by providing rides in vans and taxis. There was little accountability regarding the most cost-effective mode of transportation to the clinic.

The bill was signed into law as Act 121 of 2011.

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By a vote of 29-21, the Senate passed a bill giving the governor broad powers to take over the finances of the City of Harrisburg after the city’s refusal to accept a state-advised Act 47 recovery plan.

Senate Bill 1151 allows the governor to declare a fiscal emergency and appoint a receiver to implement a fiscal recovery plan if a distressed city fails to do so.  The bill gives the distressed city a final chance to adopt a plan that is acceptable to the secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).

The measure creates a four-member advisory committee that will include the mayor, city council president, and an appointee of the affected county, but it gives the DCED secretary the power to develop an Emergency Action Plan to direct nearly all city services and gives the receiver control over city financial matters.  It also prohibits the levying of a commuter tax on non-residents.

In October, the Senate concurred with House amendments to Senate Bill 1151, sending the bill to the governor where it became Act 79 of 2011.

* * *

The Senate unanimously passed House Bill 870, which adds recreational noncommercial aircraft operations and noncommercial ultralight operation on private airstrips to the list of recreational activities landowners can allow the public to perform on their land with limited liability.

The bill was signed into law as Act 47 of 2011.

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By a vote of 35-15, the Senate passed House Bill 960, which included numerous reforms to the state welfare system.

Among other reforms, this bill requires the Department of Public Welfare to check the Social Security number of an ap plicant for public assistance against 19 different electronic databases to determine welfare eligibility. The Income Eligibility Verification System was designed to prevent waste, fraud and abuse by pre-determining whether someone is eligible to receive public assistance.

A majority of Senate Democrats opposed this legislation because it could potentially allow the Department of Public Welfare to cut cash assistance, Medicaid, and welfare-to-work supports.

The Senate amended the bill and returned it to the House, which sent the bill to the governor where it became law as Act 22 of 2011.

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The Senate unanimously passed House Bill 1336, which updates the state’s Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act by establishing an account where all of the various fees paid by home improvement contractors will be deposited.

This money, along with interest, may go to the Office of the Attorney General to administer and enforce the act, promote hiring of reputable contractors, and to protect and educate consumers about the home improvement law.

Prior to this legislation, state law required a driver’s license and a copy of a state-issued ID card in order to register with the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. This bill allows other types of identification to be accepted so that individuals, for religious purposes, can properly register.

Additionally, this bill sets a one-third maximum deposit for home improvement contracts valued above $5,000, rather than the $1,000 threshold under prior law.

This bill was signed into law as Act 52 of 2011.

* * *

The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 101, which increases penalties for violations of the Sunshine Act.

This legislation increases the penalty to $1,000 for a first offense and $2,000 for a second and subsequent offenses plus the cost of prosecution. The Sunshine Act requires that any time a government body holds a meeting in which “deliberation” or “official action” by a quorum of its members takes place.  The meeting must also be open to the public after public notice of the meeting.

The bill was signed into law as Act 56 of 2011.

* * *

The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 151, which gives local communities a share of air pollution fines that can be used to fund environmental projects.

This bill provides one-quarter of any fine under PA’s Clean Air Act above $50,000 to the municipality in which the violation occurred for local projects designed to reduce air pollution, improve parks and trails, or to create open space. Under prior law, all fines levied under the Clean Air Act went to the state.

This bill also requires that the Department of Environmental Protection notifies the municipality in which a violation occurs within five business days.

The bill was signed into law as Act 57 of 2011.

* * *

The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 260, which will update state law so it is consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 should be tested for HIV as part of routine care.

Under this legislation, physicians may offer opt-out HIV testing, as long as the patient is informed that they will be tested for HIV, unless the patient refuses. Physicians must document the provision of informed consent, including pre-test information, and whether the patient declined the offer of HIV-testing.

Written “opt out” consent will still be required for those individuals who do not wish to be tested for HIV. Those who do not oppose HIV screening as part of their routine care will no longer required to sign a consent for such screening, nor will the physician be required to provide pre-test counseling.

The bill was signed into law as Act 59 of 2011.

* * *

The Senate unanimously concurred in House amendments to Senate Bill 326, which allows a parent to request a “Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth” from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

At the option of the parent, the name of the child, names of the parents and birth place can be included on the certificate.  The cost of a certificate would be covered by the parent and would be the same as a death certificate.

The bill was signed into law Act 62 of 2011.

* * *

The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 419, allowing for the sale of motorcycles on Sundays in Pennsylvania.

Prior to this legislation, many Pennsylvania motorcycle dealerships were already open on Sundays to sell merchandise and were able to sell all of the parts to build a motorcycle, but they were not allowed to sell the actual bike.

This bill was signed into law as Act 65 of 2011.

* * *

The Senate unanimously passed a bill that outlaws simulcasting of greyhound races to Pennsylvania audiences.  Live greyhound racing is already prohibited in Pennsylvania.

House Bill 67 expands the prohibition to include television broadcasting of the races for the purposes of wagering.  The bill is identical to Senate Bill 71 , which passed the Senate in March.  It was signed into law as Act 32 of 2011.

* * *

The Senate unanimously passed legislation requiring the administration to create a website to track state spending.  House Bill 15 requires the Office of Administration to create and maintain the publicly available single, searchable public website known as the Pennsylvania Web Accountability, Transparency and Contract Hub, or PennWATCH.

The website would provide revenue and expenditure information for state agencies, in all three branches of government along with independent agencies and state-affiliated entities.

PennWATCH will allow the public to get the information at no cost.   The bill was signed into law as Act 18 of 2011.

* * *

The Senate unanimously approved legislation that requires the Department of Labor and Industry work with state and regional workforce and economic development agencies to identify industry clusters that will be targeted for workforce and economic development grants.

Under Senate Bill 552, an industry cluster is a group of employers closely linked by common product or services, workforce needs, similar technologies, supply chains or other economic ties.

The Department of Labor and Industry would work with businesses, industry associations, career and technical associations to identify the clusters and steer grants toward employment training and development.  The bill was signed into law as Act 67 of 2011.

* * *

The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 907, which would extend the authority of the State Workers’ Insurance Board to invest money. These provisions expired on June 30, 2010 and the legislation would reenact them and extend the expiration date to June 30, 2015.  The State Workers’ Insurance Board is required to establish a policy for investments must meet once a year to develop a schedule for rebalancing investments.  The bill now goes to the House.

* * *

The Senate unanimously passed a bill intended to protect firefighters and their families from the unseen hazards of duty.

House Bill 797 specifically adds cancer to the Workers’ Compensation Act as a work-related illness if no other obvious cause for the disease is present and amends the law to include cancer suffered by firefighters and caused a group of known carcinogens recognized by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

The measure covers professional and volunteer firefighters in Pennsylvania that have been on the job for more than four years and have been exposed to known carcinogens.  There are provisions in the bill that allow the presumption of job-related cancer to be rebutted by evidence of cancer-causing activity – such as smoking —  during a firefighter’s non-duty hours.  Both the Senate and the House passed similar legislation last session, but the measure was vetoed by Gov. Rendell.  The bill is identical to Senate Bill 654 , which passed the Senate in May.

There are more than 3,500 professional and 60,000 volunteer firefighters in Pennsylvania.  The bill was signed into law as Act 46 of 2011.

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After the Pennsylvania Conservation Corps was eliminated in Gov. Corbett’s 2011-12 budget, the Senate unanimously passed a bill transferring the line item from the Department of Labor and Industry to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.  Senate Bill 1128 allows the PCC to be funded through the Oil and Gas Lease Fund.

The bill was sent to the House.

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