In a largely party line vote, the Senate voted 26-24 in favor of House Bill 2328, the state’s $29.1 billion budget for fiscal 2014-15.
Many Senate Democrats sharply criticized the spending plan, calling it a sham that underfunds schools, job creation and human services while being balanced by unsustainable budget gimmicks, rosy revenue projections, accounting tricks and fund transfers. Democrats attempted to amend the plan to add $275 million in education funding, $40 million for job creation programs and $28 million to restore human services that had been cut by Corbett in previous budgets. Those efforts were turned aside by the Republican majority.
Facing a $1.5 billion budget deficit, many Democrats favored raising additional revenues through a Marcellus Shale extraction tax and other efficiencies.
Republicans argued that the budget held the line on taxes, only increased overall spending by 2.5 percent and still managed to make substantive investments in education and other key areas.
The spending plan provides $100 million in new money for the governor’s proposed “Ready to Learn” block grant program, and hiked special education funding by $20 million.
The budget also increased aid to county welfare offices by $40 million, increased funding for mental health services by $41 million, and hiked both state police ($15 million) and corrections ($97 million) funding.
Gov. Tom Corbett line item vetoed the bill, slashing $72 million in legislative operating funds. House Bill 2328 was enacted as Act 1A of 2014.
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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 927, whichre-starts the Community Services Block Grant program. The program had expired on Dec. 31, 2011.
The program allows community action agencies that are established under federal and state law to once again deliver services to low-income individuals so they can learn new skills for employment and receive subsidies for housing and education.
Following unanimous House approval, the governor enacted the bill as Act 90 of 2014.
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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 2242, which removes the state licensing requirement for pharmacies and companies that want to sell diabetic shoes and inserts. The licensing requirement would have taken effect in July of 2014 if the change had not been made.
The governor approved the bill as Act 104 of 2014.
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The Senate unanimously approved an amended Senate Bill 137, which updatesPennsylvania’s Speech Language and Hearing Act.
The new law updates the scope of practice for audiologists to reflect changes in education and practice over the past 25 years. It also changes the composition of the State Board of Examiners in Speech Language and Hearing, updates licensing requirements to reflect national standards, and provides for the proper use of titles.
The change deals with audiologists and deletes references to teachers of the hearing impaired.
The governor enacted Senate Bill 137 as Act 106 of 2014.
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The Senate unanimously approved an amended Senate Bill 622, which would change state law to better cover how the state Department of Banking licenses and regulates the commonwealth’s debt-settlement industry.
A loophole in current law allows debt-settlement providers to operate without a license. It also does not prescribe how the Department of Banking should investigate, license or regulate these companies.
The new law would adopt changes made at the federal level to the Federal Telemarketing Sales Rule to prohibit debt settlement companies from collecting advance fees when negotiating agreements with creditors. That rule, adopted in 2010, also requires debt relief companies to make specific disclosures to consumers, prohibits them from making misrepresentations, and extends the telemarketing sales rule to cover calls consumers make to these firms in response to debt relief advertising.
The bill was presented to the governor for his consideration July 1.
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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 922, which would reform the state’s public pension systems.
If approved, the proposal would rebalance obligations to PSERS (Public School Employees’ Retirement System) and SERS (State Employees’ Retirement System) by reducing the increase allowed in the collars. It would also place new hires into a defined contribution plan.
Additionally, Senate Bill 922 would not affect the retirement benefits already earned by state employees, but it would change future benefits for employment not yet earned, including reducing the multiplier, capping pensionable compensation to 110 percent of the average salary of the prior four years during final average earnings calculations, capping pensionable income at the Social Security wage base of $113,700 (for 2013), and determining an employee’s final salary by averaging their highest five years of compensation — whether earned before or after the effective date of the legislation.
Senate Bill 922 is now before the House Finance Committee.
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The Senate unanimously approved an amended Senate Bill 1187, which creates a combat infantry badge license plate for soldiers who have earned that distinction.
Since 1943, the combat infantry badge has been awarded to officers and enlisted men and women who have served in combat with the U.S. Army.
The governor signed the bill into law as Act 109 of 2014.
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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1266, which would change the state’s Emergency and Law Enforcement Personnel Death Benefits Act to provide more time for survivors to apply for benefits when their family members — emergency and law enforcement personnel – die in the line of duty.
Currently, if law enforcement officers, ambulance service or rescue squad members, firefighters, certified hazardous material response team members, or National Guard members die while on the job, benefits must be sought within 90 days of a death.
Senate Bill 1266, which would extend that deadline to three years, is awaiting consideration by the House Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee.
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The Senate voted 49-1 in favor of Senate Bill 1443, which would change Act 147 of 2012 as it relates to the development of indigenous mineral resources.
Senate Bill 1443 would change the definitions of “state-owned land” and “state system land” to cover surface and subsurface land, as well as coal, oil, natural gas, coal bed methane, limestone and other mineral rights owned by the commonwealth.
The bill is awaiting consideration by the House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee.
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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 272, which would allow dentists from other states or countries to obtain a license to teach in dental schools in Pennsylvania.
Current law allows dentists who are licensed in other states or countries to teach at Pennsylvania dental schools without obtaining a state dentist’s license, but only for a maximum of four years. With this bill, they could obtain a license that can be renewed every two years indefinitely, as long as their practice does not go beyond the scope of teaching.
The bill was signed by the governor as Act 89 of 2014.
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The Senate voted 49-1 for House Bill 1337, which would amend the Judicial Code to increase funding to the Access to Justice Account.
Under current law, there is a surcharge on all court filings of $11.25. Of that amount, $10.25 is deposited in the Judicial Computer System Augmentation Account, and one dollar is deposited into the Access to Justice Account. This bill would reduce this surcharge to $10.25, and permanently dedicate a separate $2 surcharge to the Access to Justice Account. The net effect on the court’s computer augmentation fund is zero, while increasing funding for the Access to Justice Account.
The Access to Justice Account is used to fund the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network, which provides civil case legal services to the poor.
The bill would also allow permanent court records to be copied using the latest technology, including electronic or digital means of copying.
Following House approval, the bill was enacted as Act 113 of 2014.
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The Senate unanimously passed House Bill 2107, which would amend the Crimes Code to add a provision banning so called revenge porn (spreading an intimate image without consent).
This bill defines the offender as someone with an intent to harass, annoy or alarm a current or former sexual or intimate partner by spreading a visual depiction of that person nude or engaged in sexual conduct.
The bill would make the offense a second degree misdemeanor. If the victim is a minor, the offense escalates to a first degree misdemeanor.
The bill would also amend the Judicial Code to add a civil cause of action for the offense. The court may award actual damages or $500, whichever is greater; reasonable attorney fees and court costs; and any additional relief it deems necessary.
Following House approval, the bill was enacted as Act 115 of 2014.
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The Senate voted unanimously for House Bill 2334, which appropriates $229.7 million to Penn State University.
It specifies that $214 million is for general support and $15 million is for the Pennsylvania College of Technology. The bill also directs the appropriation of the moneys of the restricted account within the Agricultural College Land Scrip Fund for the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
Following House approval, the bill was enacted as Act 11A of 2014.
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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 2335, which appropriates $136.2 million to the University of Pittsburgh. It specifies $133.9 million is for general support and $2.3 million is for Rural Outreach Programs. These are the same amounts that were appropriated for fiscal year 2013-2014.
The bill was enacted as Act 12A of 2014.
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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 2336, which appropriates $139.9 million to Temple University for general support. This is the same amount appropriated for fiscal 2013-2014.
The bill was enacted as Act 13A of 2014.
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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 2337, which appropriates $13.1 million to Lincoln University for general support. This is the same amount appropriated for fiscal year 2013-2014.
The bill was signed into law as Act 14A of 2014.
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The Senate voted unanimously to approve House Bill 2338, which appropriates a total of $28.2 million to the University of Pennsylvania. It specifies $28 million for veterinary activities and $261,000 for the Center for Infectious Diseases. This is the same amount appropriated for fiscal year 2013-2014.
The bill was enacted as Act 15A of 2014.
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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 75, which makes multiple changes to the Crimes Code and Judiciary Code in relation to human trafficking.
The charge of trafficking individuals would now be a second degree felony. If the victim is a minor, it is escalated to first degree. This charge would be focused more on those who transport or house the victims. Forcing someone into labor or sexual servitude, by virtually any means, would be a first degree charge. This charge focuses more on those who are directly involved in the trafficking. In addition, someone who knowingly has sexual contact with a victim of trafficking would be committing a second degree felony.
Another crime described is non-payment of wages. This crime is a third degree misdemeanor if the amount is less than $2,000. It escalates to a second degree felony if it is $2,000 or more.
The bill would also allow many charges related to prostitution and drug abuse to be expunged if the offender was being victimized by human trafficking.
The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency will provide grants to state agencies, local government and non-government organizations to develop programs for victims of human trafficking and the prevention of human trafficking. Funding for these grants would come from fines taken from perpetrators of human trafficking.
Lastly, the bill authorizes a victim of human trafficking to bring a civil action against any person who participated. Where the acts are deemed to be willful and malicious, the amounts claimed can be tripled.
The bill was signed by the governor as Act 105 of 2014.
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The Senate voted 37-13 to approve Senate Bill 1085, which makes multiple changes to charter schools.
This bill is very broad in scope, but main pieces are as follows:
- Upon approval of a charter application, a written charter containing the provisions of the standardized application will be developed and signed. The initial charter will be for 5 years and will be renewed for 10 year periods.
- The requirement that a charter school receive 1,000 resident signatures supporting their petition would be removed, and the bill would solidify what must be on an application to establish a charter school.
- Charter school employee health care benefits are required to be the same as the collective bargained benefits of the school district.
- This bill would also allow students attending the charter school to concurrently attend institutions of higher education. Previously, only public schools were allowed to do this.
- At the end of each fiscal year, every charter school is required to form an independent audit committee of its board members to review a complete certified audit of its operations.
The bill also outlines a limit on the amount of funds in a charter school budget that are unassigned. If the total budget is less than $12 million, no more than 12 percent of the budget may be unassigned. With each $1 million above that, the percentage goes down by 0.5 percent. A budget equal to or larger than $19 million may not have more than 8 percent unassigned revenue in their budget.
The bill now goes to the House for consideration.
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The Senate voted unanimously to approve Senate Bill 1135, which would amend the Public Housing Authorities Law to require local housing authorities to give preference to veterans and families of active duty military when leasing public housing
First preference would be given to homeless veterans, second to disabled veterans or families of disabled veterans, third to families of deceased veterans and servicemen, and fourth preference to other veterans or servicemen and their families.
The bill now goes to the House for consideration.
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The Senate voted unanimously to approve Senate Bill 1194, which would make amendments to the public school code in relation to police service and sale of unused buildings.
Under this legislation, schools located in a municipality without a police force can enter into an agreement with a police force from an adjacent municipality, given they notify the municipality the school is within and the State Police first. Previously, school districts could only contract with police forces within their municipality.
In addition, non-public schools can now apply to the Office for Grant Funding for monies to obtain a school police officer.
This bill also grants school boards for second, third, and fourth class school districts the power and authority to sell unused and unnecessary lands and buildings to a municipal or municipal authority with the approval of two-thirds of the school board.
The bill was enacted as Act 122 of 2014.
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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1255, which would allow local storm water authorities to establish programs relating to storm water best management practices.
The local storm water authorities were established two years ago to comply with state regulations in dealing with flooding and pollution problems.
The bill was signed into law as Act 123 of 2014.
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The Senate voted 49-1 for Senate Bill 1312, which makes multiple amendments to the Vehicle Code.
First, drivers caught texting or calling with a handheld cell phone while driving a commercial motor vehicle or motor carrier vehicle would face a $100 fine. Any employer who violates these provisions would receive a summary offense and a $500 fine.
Second, if a person causes an accident that results in a death and flees, they must serve a minimum of three years in jail. (Currently they must serve only one year). The provision would close a loophole that compelled some drunk drivers to flee accident scenes.
Also, a tax clearance is required from the county when a person sells or transfers ownership of a manufactured home if it was anchored to the ground and previously titled to a person using the manufactured home as a residence.
The bill also allows school districts to use busses up to 45 feet in length (previously 40 feet).
The bill allows for one pilot car for vehicles greater than 13 feet but not greater than 14 feet in body width.
The bill also allows a permitted oversized vehicle to travel within 1,000 feet of another permitted oversized vehicle in the same direction if it’s a military vehicle, a vehicle traveling in a construction zone, or a vehicle traveling within 2,500 feet of a stop sign, traffic light or and other traffic-control signal or event that would cause either vehicle to come to a stop.
Finally, the bill removes restricted travel periods for permitted manufactured housing transport.
The bill was approved by the governor as Act 85 of 2014.
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The Senate voted unanimously for Senate Bill 1405, which would penalize those who falsely claim to be a veteran when claiming a Veteran’s Designation on a driver’s license.
Under the bill, those falsely claiming to be a veteran could be charged $300 or imprisoned for between 30 and 90 days.
Act 176 of 2014, in effect since March, allows military veterans to apply for a Veteran designation on his or her driver’s license.
The bill now goes to the House.
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In a narrow 26-24 vote, the Senate approved House Bill 278, the state’s Fiscal Code.
Originally enacted in 1929. The fiscal code defines the powers and duties of the various departments, boards, commissions and row offices as to the collection of taxes and money due to the state as well as disbursement of state dollars.
Senate Democrats, who also opposed the fiscal 2014-15 budget, criticized Republicans for combining all of the various code bills this year.
Some of the key provisions in the legislation would:
- Suspended the transfer to the Rainy Day Fund;
- Transfer $225 million of tobacco venture assets to PSERS (Public School Employees’ Retirement System);
- Horseman transfers of $17 million from the governor’s budget;
- Legislative intent language for state forest leases; transfers of $95 million;
- Transfers from Gaming Capital Money and excess law enforcement grants;
- Reduce Small Games of Chance licenses from $2,000 to $500; and
- increase the judicial surcharge by $10.
The amended bill was sent to the House, amended, and sent back to the Senate.
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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1772, which requires that all sheriffs receive and maintain education and training equivalent to that of deputy sheriffs. Newly elected sheriffs must satisfy the training requirement during their first term in office.
The Board of the Sheriff and Deputy Sheriff Education and Training will have the authority to revoke or reinstate certification. The board can reduce training hours for sheriffs who have previous training or experience. Current sheriffs are grandfathered in for certification, but must satisfy continuing education requirements.
The bill was enacted at Act 114 of 2014.
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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 2111, which requires health care practitioners to provide up-to-date information on Downs Syndrome to expectant parents of a child who tests positive for the genetic disorder.
Under the bill, called “Chloe’s Law,” information provided would include: physical, developmental, educational and psychosocial outcomes, life expectancy, clinical course, intellectual and functional development, treatment options and contact information for supportive services and other parental resources.
The information would also be made available by the Department of Health on its website.
The bill is now in the governor’s hands.
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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 2169, which reauthorizes the Elk Special Conservation License that had sunsetted on July 1, 2013.
Under this program, the Game Commission awards an Elk License to a sporting organization of its choice for auction. The group auctioning off the license retains administrative costs of the auction while the remaining proceeds are returned to the commission.
The bill also creates an elk hunting license for the Keystone Elk County Alliance. It provides the opportunity to hunt one elk.
The measure was enacted as Act 116 of 2014.
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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 2244, a supplementto the 2014-15 Highway-Railroad and Highway-Bridge Capital Budget Act that authorizes money to build, rehabilitate and replace bridges.
The total authorization for state-owned bridges is $4.929 billion. The total for bridges owned by counties and municipalities is $1.586 billion.
The bill was signed into law as Act 127 of 2014.
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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1384, the Highway Capital Budget Project Itemization Act.
The bill that authorizes $19.153 billion on state and local highway projects itemized in the legislation.
The measure was enacted as Act 129 of 2014.
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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 2280, which appropriates $48.777 million from the General Fund to the Department of State to fund the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs ($39.2 million); State Board of Medicine ($7.5 million); State Board of Osteopathic Medicine ($1.2 million); State Board of Podiatry ($225,000); and State Athletic Commission ($536,000). The bill was enacted as Act 2A of 2014.
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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 2281, which appropriate a total of $70.860 million from the Workmen’s Compensation Administrative Fund to administer the Workmen’s Compensation law, Pennsylvania Occupational Disease Act and Office of Small Business Advocate for 2014-15. The bill was enacted as Act 3A of 2014.
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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 2282, which appropriates $1.163 million to the Office of Small Business Advocate in the Department of Community and Economic Development for fiscal 2014-15. The amount would be $71,000 more than last year’s total. The bill was enacted as Act 4A of 2014.
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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 2283, which appropriates $5.165 million from the General Fund to the Office of Consumer Advocate in the Office of Attorney General for fiscal 2014-15. The amount equals what was appropriated last year. The bill was enacted as Act 5A of 2014.
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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 2284, which appropriates $41.689 million for the general government operations of the Public School Retirement System (PSERS) for the 2014-15 fiscal year. The amount is the same that was appropriated last year. The bill was enacted as Act 6A of 2014.
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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 2285, which appropriates $22.3 million for the general government operations of the State Employees Retirement System (SERS) for the 2014-15 fiscal year. The appropriation would be $1.3 million higher than last year. The bill was enacted as Act 7A of 2014.
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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 2286, which appropriates $7.072 million from the Philadelphia Taxicab and Limousine Regulatory Fund and $500,000 from the Philadelphia Taxicab Medallion Fund to the Philadelphia Parking Authority for fiscal 2014-15. The bill was enacted as Act 8A of 2014.
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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 2287, which appropriate $64.571 million from the state General Fund; and $3.785 million in federal funds to the Public Utility Commission. The appropriation is $1.481 million above what was appropriated for 2013-14. The bill was enacted as Act 9A of 2014.
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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 2288, which appropriates $71.069 million from the state Gaming Fund to the Gaming Control Board ($37.990 million), Department of Revenue ($9.513 million), State Police ($22.995 million, and Office of Attorney General ($1.141 million) for gaming industry oversight in fiscal 2014-15. The total appropriation is an increase of $1.616 million over last year’s amount. The bill was enacted as Act 10A of 2014.
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By a vote of 43-5 the Senate sent back to the House a bill that contains authorization for the City Philadelphia to levy a $2-per-pack on cigarettes as well as designations for tax-relief zones intended to promote redevelopment in small cities.
House Bill 1177 started out as a bill dealing with referenda to form commissions to study consolidation or merger of municipalities. As it passed hands across the Capitol, the bill was amended to allow increases in hotel room excise taxes, the cigarette tax for the school district of Philadelphia, regulating the type of investments permitted by certain airport authorities and establishing certain City Revitalization and Improvement zones (CRIZ program).
The House of Representatives further amended the bill to include a Charter School Appeal Process for charter school applicants in a school district of the first class; and technical corrective language to the collection and distribution of the hotel excise tax.
In the latest Senate version, the cigarette tax would sunset in five years. The bill now sits in the House, where leaders have indicated they will convene on August 4, 2014, to consider it. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said critical school funding was caught in a “political vortex of hell.”
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By a unanimous vote, the Senate passed House Bill 2275, extending for five years a telephone surcharge to fund 911 emergency centers. The bill is a one-year reauthorization of the law. Lawmakers intend to update the entire 911 act sometime in 2015. The bill was signed into law as Act 84 of 2014.
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The Senate unanimously passed House Bill 2355, the Capital Budget, which contains a list of $1.2 billion in projects, reflecting an overall $40 million decrease in what the governor had requested. The bill was signed into law as Act 128 of 2014.
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The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 193, requiring that all school nurses be certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) by July 1, 2015. The bill passed unanimously in the House and was signed into law as Act 107 of 2014.
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By a vote of 48-2, the Senate passed Senate Bill 1001, eliminating the need for a state senator to endorse a constituent’s application to become a notary public. Pennsylvania was one of only three states that had such a requirement. The bill was signed into law as Act 119 of 2014.
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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1185, allowing the Allegheny County Medical Examiner to use funds collected from autopsy, inquisition, or coroner’s reports to defray the expenses of staff, equipment and supplies used to determine the cause and manner of death. They can also use the funds for other specified administrative expenses.
The House amended the bill to clarify that the bill is only applicable to Allegheny County. The bill was signed into law as Act 121 of 2014.
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The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 1423, adjusting provisions of the Farm Safety and Occupational Health Act to account for inflation in the Emergency Vehicle Loan Program. The bill would increase the maximum loan for heavy duty rescue trucks along with aerial apparatus to $300,000. The bill now goes to the House.
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