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By a 40-9 vote, the Senate passed legislation designed to make it more difficult for illegal aliens to receive public benefits, such as Medicaid, welfare and in-state college tuition.

Senate Bill 9 would require individuals requesting public benefits in the Commonwealth to provide identification proving they are legal residents.  Additionally, they would be required to sign an affidavit stating they are a U.S. citizen or an alien lawfully present in the United States. 

Any applicant signing the affidavit stating they are a legal resident would have their immigration status verified through the Federal Systematic Alien Verification of Entitlement Program (SAVE), operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Under current federal law, illegal aliens are prohibited from receiving federal, state or local public benefits with the exception of emergency medical care, necessary immunizations and disaster relief.  However, proponents of this bill believe that Pennsylvania law is too lenient in enforcing those provisions.

The bill is now in the House.

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By a unanimous vote, the Senate passed a compromise bill that would extend unemployment benefits and makes changes that would help shore up the Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund.   Senate Bill 1030 includes provisions that would allow Pennsylvania to qualify for federal unemployment extension funding and alters benefit calculations to save money for the beleaguered trust fund.

Thousands of unemployed Pennsylvanians will lose their extended federal benefits on June 11, 2011 unless the state makes changes to its unemployment law required for a federal extension. 

Federally subsidized extended benefits are triggered by a state’s unemployment rate over a defined period of time, called a “look-back” period.  Using a two-year look-back, Pennsylvania will not qualify after May 21, and 45,000 Pennsylvanians would lose benefits on June 11.  An estimated 90,000 more would lose regular benefits and not qualify for extended benefits through the end of the year.  Senate Bill 1030 contains provisions that were included in legislation (SB 994) that would extend the look-back period to three years.

The bill also includes a Democratic proposal that would authorize “shared-work” programs, through which employers would be able to reduce work hours of employees as an alternative to layoffs and allow affected employees to receive prorated unemployment compensation for lost wages.

Additionally, the bill would require unemployment beneficiaries to conduct an active search for employment.   The bill now goes to the House.

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The Senate passed Senate Bill 637 by a 42-7 vote.  This bill would require that all contractors and subcontractors performing work on a publicly funded project verify that their employees are legally permitted to work in Pennsylvania by checking their status on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s online E-Verify system. 

This bill mirrors the regulation that the Department of Homeland Security put into effect in 2009 which requires all federal government  contractors to verify the legality of their entire work force through E-Verify.

The bill would also require that a public works contractor provide a verification statement that ensures the employees on the job are legally permitted to be in our country prior to the execution of the work.

If enacted, this bill would require the Department of Labor and Industry to hire additional staff to set up a new enforcement office to investigate credible complaints of violations and conduct both complaint-based and random audits of contractors using the NVS and the E-Verify program. The estimated cost to the Department of Labor and Industry is $633,000.

The bill is now in the House State Government Committee.

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The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 27, which would strengthen the “Puppy Lemon Law” enacted in 1997 in a number of ways to better help consumers recover losses from a seller of a sick dog. 

This legislation would extend a consumer’s right to seek reimbursement under the Puppy Lemon Law for incurable as well as curable illnesses.  Medical conditions such as hip dysplasia would be covered. 

The bill would also extend from 30 to 90 days the time period in which a congenital condition may be certified by a vet in order to recover any losses from a seller.  Also, the time period for a veterinarian to certify an illness would be extended from 10 to 14 days. 

This bill addresses issues that have been identified by the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General in responding to consumer complaints under the Puppy Lemon Law. 

The bill is now in the House.

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The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 151, which would dedicate 25 percent of any fine above $50,000 under the Air Pollution Control act to the local municipalities where the violation occurred.  Local municipalities would be able to use this money to fund environmental projects to reduce air pollution, improve parks and trails, or create open space.

This bill would also require the Department of Environmental Protection to notify a municipality within five business days if a violation occurs. Within 180 days of the department’s notification to the municipality, the municipality would be required to submit a project proposal for approval on how they plan to use the funding.  If the cost of the project exceeds 25 percent of the fine or civil penalty, the department could award additional money to the municipality.  

Lastly, the bill states that if all fines and civil penalties deposited into the Clean Air Fund are less than $1.850 million, then there will not be any money distributed to the municipalities. 

The bill is now in the House.

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The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 326, which would allow a parent to request a “Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth” from the Pennsylvania Department of Health when a child is stillborn.

The certificate would include the name of the child, the names of the parents and the birth place. The cost of a certificate would be covered by the parent and would be the same as a death certificate. 

The bill is now in the House.

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The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 104, which would require that the Department of General Services post and maintain a list of vehicles assigned to agency motor pools, state employees, contract employees, independent contractors and the temporary fleet on its website.

The Department of General Services and other state and judicial agencies currently maintain this information and would be able to post the registry information on their websites without encountering any additional costs.

The bill is now in the House.

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

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

The bill is now in the House Judiciary Committee.

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The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 328, which would add a section to the Public School Code to describe the requirements needed to restore a suspended drivers’ license to a student convicted of truancy prior to the expiration of the suspension.

Under current law, a first conviction of truancy requires a 90-day suspension of a student’s driver’s license; subsequent convictions require a 6-month suspension.  There is currently no mechanism for the restoration of a drivers’ license for a student convicted of truancy.

This bill would allow PennDOT to restore a drivers’ license prior to the expiration of the suspension period with proof from the court that the student has completed high school, obtained a general educational development (GED) diploma or reached 21 years of age.

The bill is now in the House.

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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, and must meet once a year to develop a schedule for rebalancing investments. 

The bill now goes to the House.

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The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 450, which would allow a sitting commissioner on the Fish and Boat Commission to continue his term beyond eight years until a successor is appointed.

Currently, a member of the Fish and Boat Commission can hold a seat for the term of eight years.  After which, the commissioner can serve up to six months until a successor is appointed.  This bill would remove the six month language.

The bill is now in the House.