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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 334, which would eliminate the Philadelphia Traffic Court from the Judicial Code and transfer its duties to the Philadelphia Municipal Court.

The legislation was prompted by a 2011 ticket-fixing scandal in which nine current and former judges were indicted.

Under the bill, the municipal court would have a traffic division, which would get two more judge positions. In addition, the president judge would have the authority to appoint hearing officers to hear traffic cases. Philadelphia has over 158,000 ticket cases every year.

Philadelphia currently has a total of 122 judges, seven of whom are Traffic Court judges who are not required to be attorneys. No other county has a separate traffic court.

A companion joint resolution, Senate Bill 333 (Pamphlet Laws Resolution #1), would formally abolish the traffic court from the state’s constitution.

Senate Bill 334 now goes to the governor.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 731, which would close a loophole in the state’s crimes code regarding retail thieves.

Currently, people convicted the second time for a retail theft that is classified as, at least, a 2nd degree misdemeanor are treated under the law as having just one conviction — if they have participated in an ARD (Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition) program.

The legislation is a response to a state Supreme Court ruling that said because a defendant participates in ARD – and state law does not specifically include ARD participation as counting towards prior offenses – the new offense should be handled as a first offense.

The bill would amend state law to treat retail theft offenders the same, regardless of whether they participated in ARD.

The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 40 to bring Pennsylvania’s certified public accountants law in line with the Uniform Accountancy Act regarding “attest activity.”

Specifically, the bill eliminates the requirement for a specific number of hours of experience to be completed before a CPA can earn his or her license – the “attest activity.” The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy and the American Institute of CPAs support one year of broad-based experience, but have said required experience in attest activity is no longer needed for initial licensure.

Twenty-five states and Washington D.C. have already adopted the change.

The bill went to the governor for his consideration.

 

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            The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 928, which would establish a Service and Infrastructure Improvement Fund over the next four years to improve the infrastructure of and services provided by the state’s Unemployment Compensation Service Centers.

The bill would redistribute a portion of employee wage contributions to the new restricted account administered by the state Treasury. Contributions to the new fund over the next four years could total over $100 million. Currently, 95 percent of the wage contributions go to the Unemployment Compensation Fund, and 5 percent to the Reemployment Fund.

Under the bill, none of the funds could be used to contract out unemployment services. The department would have the discretion on how much of the $100 million to redirect.

Money in the new fund could be used to improve the quality, efficiency and timeliness of unemployment compensation service centers, improve management and communications technology and pay the costs of collecting contributions to the fund.

The bill now goes to the House.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 145, which would amend the Mechanic’s Lien law to eliminate mechanic’s lien rights for subcontractors who perform work on residential property if the property owner has already paid the prime contractor in full.

The legislation would protect property owners from corrupt business practices. If a subcontractor files a lien, the homeowner or tenant can file a petition or motion with the court to throw it out if the homeowner or tenant has paid the full contract price to the contractor. When the homeowner or tenant has only paid part of the contract to the contractor, the measure would direct the court to reduce the amount of lien to the amount still owed on the contract.

The bill was referred to the House for consideration.

 

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 802, which would update the inspection standards applied to boilers while strengthening safety requirements. The bill would also allow for private inspections of boilers and unfired pressure vessels.

The legislation would require a boiler or unfired pressure vessel to be inspected before being placed into service and to be subject to regular inspection on a periodic basis. Specific inspection requirements and exceptions are provided for power boilers and process boilers. Also, the bill does not apply to boilers in one-family and two-family dwellings or agricultural buildings.

The bill was referred to the House.

 

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The Senate passed a pair of bills intended to create a larger in-state market for Pennsylvania’s growing supply of natural gas, especially in underserved rural areas.

Senate Bill 738, called the Natural Gas Consumer Access Act, would require natural gas distribution utilities to submit analysis of natural gas use in Pennsylvania and plans for future expansion including costs to consumers. The Public Utility Commission would review the plans. The bill passed by a vote of 48-2.

Senate Bill 739 would amend the Alternative Energy Investment Act to provide for $20 million for grants to schools, hospitals and small businesses to obtain access to natural gas service. The funding would come from existing, under-utilized programs. Grants made under the bill would provide up to half of the cost of a project. The bill passed 38-12.

Opposition to both bills centered on recent natural gas explosions in urban areas caused by aging and under-maintained gas lines. Opponents said gas distribution utilities should be required to assure safety of existing gas lines before focusing on expansion.

Both bills are now headed toward the House.

 

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