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The Senate unanimously approved legislation that would add certain synthetically produced drugs to the list of Schedule I controlled substances under the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act.

Schedule I drugs are substances that are unsafe, have a high potential for abuse and have no currently accepted medical use.

Senate Bill 1006 adds to the list Salvia Divinorum and the compounds used to make this drug, Salvinorin A, Divinorin A, as well as the chemical compounds for synthetic marijuana and synthetic cocaine and heroin (also known as concentrated bath salts). These drugs would be subject to the same penalties as other non-narcotic Schedule I offenses.

In recent years, law enforcement officials have seen a dramatic increase in use of these substances.  The chemicals found within are very powerful and can have life threatening consequences for users and those around them.  Salvia Divinorum has been shown to be a powerful hallucinogen.  Bath salts and synthetic marijuana mimic the effects of powerful drugs and recent media reports and academic studies indicate a growing problem within our communities.

The bill is now in the House Judiciary Committee.

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The Senate unanimously approved legislation that would allow for special registration plates for recipients of certain medals.

Under Senate Bill 468, recipients of the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and the Bronze Star with Valor would be able to apply for special registration plates for these distinguished medals. The fee would be $20. The registration plates would be allowed on passenger car or trucks with a registered gross weight not exceeding 10,000 pounds.

The bill is now in the House Transportation Committee.

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By a 47-2 vote, the Senate passed Senate Bill 224, which would establish tougher school hiring polices by preventing any individual with a serious criminal history from educating children. 

Under Senate Bill 224, a lifetime employment ban would be established for those who have been convicted of serious violent offenses, including sexual violence and crimes against children.  The bill would also prohibit anyone convicted of any other felony crime from working in a school setting for at least 10 years.

The bill is now in the House.

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The Senate unanimously passed legislation that would require the Department of Labor and Industry to work with state and regional workforce and economic development agencies to identify industry clusters that would 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 is now in the House Labor and Industry Committee.

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The Senate passed Senate Bill 612 by a 38-12 vote.  This bill would add economic reasons as part of a plan to reduce or control school district costs as a permitted reason for furloughing teachers. However, costs alone could not be the sole factor when determining which employees to suspend. 

The bill would also require that the position of a professional employee that is suspended must remain vacant for at least one year, unless the school entity reinstates the employee that was suspended.

Additionally, the bill would require the school board to adopt a resolution and hold a public hearing where public comment can be made prior to suspending professional employees.

The bill now goes to the House.

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By a 48-2 vote, the Senate passed Senate Bill 857.  This bill would remove a requirement restricting the use of basic education funding increases to new or expanded programs. 

This bill would repeal a section of the Public School Code that applied to the 2008-2009 basic education funding increases. The section required any increases to basic education funding above the 2008-2009 index be used for specific purposes.

The bill now goes to the House.

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By a unanimous vote, the Senate passed Senate Bill 330, which would allow small businesses to pay local school taxes in installments.  

The Taxpayer Relief Act already allows homeowners to pay school tax bills in at least three installments a month apart.

The bill now goes to the House.        

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The Senate passed Senate Bill 858 by a 35-15 vote.  This bill would allow school districts to hire “non-educator” professionals as superintendents. 

Under current law, school districts may only consider candidates who have at least six years of teaching experience and have completed a graduate program that includes Pennsylvania school leadership standards. Senate Bill 858 would relax this restriction by giving school districts the option to hire superintendents who have a graduate degree in business or finance. 

The legislation would require a new superintendent to complete a leadership development program that meets Pennsylvania school leadership standards. However, the current teaching experience requirements would no longer be a prerequisite for a superintendent candidate under the proposal. 

Senate Bill 858 is part of a bipartisan package of education mandate reforms that are designed to give school districts the financial flexibility they need to continue to provide educational opportunities for students without resorting to property tax increases. 

The bill is now in the House.

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The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 872, which would remove the requirement that schools establish a concurrent enrollment committee in order to receive grants under the Department of Education’s Concurrent Enrollment Program.

Concurrent or dual enrollment allows high school students to enroll in and earn credit for college courses. Under current law, schools must form a concurrent enrollment committee and conform to a number of other state mandates to participate in the program. 

Senate Bill 872 would remove the requirement for school districts to establish a concurrent enrollment committee and relax some state mandates for participating schools. The legislation would also require the school district to work with colleges to develop a mutual agreement on concurrent course selection. 

The bill is now in the House.