The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1496, which would toughen penalties against felons who illegally possess guns.
Under the bill, it would be a first degree felony (10-20 years) rather than a second degree felony (5-10 years) if it is a second offense; or the felon has the firearm within their immediate control. The bill authorizes the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing to create a sentencing enhancement for this offense.
The bill was enacted as Act 134 of 2016.
The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1699, which sets limits on dispensing opioid drugs in hospital emergency rooms and urgent care centers.
Under the “Safe Emergency Prescribing Act,” a health care practitioner may not prescribe more than seven days of opioid drug treatment to a patient seeking treatment in an emergency department or an urgent care center.
The practitioner may prescribe more than a seven-day supply if the acute medical condition requires it or if the patient has pain associated with cancer. The condition that triggered the prescription must be documented in the patient’s medical record. Also, the doctor must conclude that a non-opioid drug product was not appropriate to treat the medical condition.
If the health care practitioner believes the patient has a drug abuse issue, they are required to refer the individual for treatment. They must also check to see if the patient is under treatment with an opioid drug product by another health care practitioner (in accordance with the Achieving Better Care by Monitoring All Prescriptions Program Act).
The measure bans a doctor from authorizing the refill of an opioid prescription if the prescription has been lost, stolen or destroyed. Legal and disciplinary action can be taken against medical practitioners who violate the law.
The bill was enacted as Act 122 of 2016.
The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1785, which would require the Department of Health to prepare and publicize information on the influenza vaccine for people who reside in assisted living and personal care homes.
The Department must publicly post on its website printable information on:
- how vaccination can help prevent influenza;
- the availability and efficacy of the influenza vaccine;
- a recommendation that people consult with their doctor about the influenza vaccine; and
- how the vaccine is beneficial to individuals and their community.
Each facility must ensure that influenza information is posted in a public place year round. The bill was enacted as Act 173 of 2016.
In a 34-14 vote, the Senate approved House Bill 1885, which would have pressured municipalities to cooperate with federal authorities on dealing with illegal aliens.
This measure would have required all law enforcement officers to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement whenever they have “reasonable cause to believe” that someone under arrest is not lawfully in the United States. The bill would have also banned municipalities from placing restrictions on employees’ ability to share information with federal immigration authorities about someone’s immigration status; and impose strict liability on “sanctuary municipalities” for any injuries caused in crimes committed by offenders who do not have legal status in the United States.
Bill opponents argued the proposal would make it even more difficult to solve and prevent crimes by discouraging undocumented residents from reporting crimes or cooperating with police. They also claim the non-compliance penalties would have hurt municipalities. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney added that the bill would “weaken the trust between police and the communities they serve.”
The measure died when it returned to the House.
The Senate voted 36 to 12 for House Bill 1998, which would have altered the residency requirement for those who serve on the Philadelphia Parking Authority board.
Under the bill, only four of the board’s six members would have been required to reside in Philadelphia. The other two members could have been non-residents as long as they work or maintain business in the city.
The governor vetoed the bill (veto #4 of 2016), claiming he was opposed to adding nonresidents to the board when the legislation failed to deal with the authority’s mismanagement record. Republicans argued that city parking involves thousands of regional commuters and that such non-residents should have a voice on the agency’s board.
The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 613, which expands the Human Services Block program statewide.
The program, established in 2013, was previously a pilot program that only allowed 30 counties to participate. In addition to making the program available to all counties, the legislation makes the following changes:
- A timeframe (30 days prior to the end of the fiscal year) was added for counties that wish to opt-out of the program;
- The Department of Human Services (DHS) must set dates for the submission of county plans/reports and instructions on how they must be submitted;
- The date for the release of the annual Block Grant Report was changed from November 30 to December 15;
- The reinvestment percentage was increased from 3 percent to 5 percent;
- When a county is awaiting approval for a program application, DHS is permitted to evaluate the county’s fiscal management history when making its determination;
- County leadership must express support for a county to participate;
- Counties must share their plans with local advisory groups who represent various human service areas to ensure all populations are being represented in the programs;
- DHS may withhold, recover, or reduce the allocation for counties that do not file complete reports or plans by 5 percent. The funds will be held until a complete form is submitted.
- Counties must submit plans to DHS if they shift more than 10 percent from the original plan — and the revised plan must also be approved by DHS;
- DHS must collaborate with the County Commissioners Association to develop outcomes measures and date elements to collect and show the effectiveness of the block grant program;
- Plans of correction will be added to hold counties accountable for compliance; and
- The child welfare special grants are eliminated
The bill was enacted as Act 153 of 2016.
The Senate voted 35 to 13 in favor of Senate Bill 805, which would have allowed larger industrial companies to opt out of the provisions of Act 129.
Aimed at enhancing energy efficiency and conservancy, portions of Act 129 of 2008 require electric users to contribute funding for various projects around the state. Larger industrial users claim the program has been unfair and has hurt their competitiveness. From 2012 to 2015, eight Pennsylvania manufacturers invested $1.6 billion in energy efficiency projects and received zero in Act 129 grants. Bill proponents also claim that large manufacturers have already embraced efficiency and conservation because it impacts their bottom line.
The legislation would have:
- required opt outs to occur before an Act 129 phase (pre-phase) by a date determined by the omission in the phase implementation order;
- Since phase 3 is already underway, it is too hard to craft language that lets larger users opt out during the phase. Therefore, they would have been allowed to opt-out at the start of the next phase, which would be June 1, 2021;
- adjusted power reduction goals for the next phase if any large industrial customers opt out;
- removed the mandatory 10 percent reduction requirement for units of federal, state and local government, as well as school districts, universities and nonprofit entities;
- allowed over or under payments to be made by a commission order in the subsequent phase; and
- allowed an affiliate of an EDC to serve as a conservation service provider.
The bill died in the House.
The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1367, which limits the amount of opioids that may be prescribed for minors.
Under the bill, a prescriber can only prescribe a seven-day supply of a controlled substance containing an opioid to a minor unless there is a medical emergency that puts the child’s health or safety at risk. It also requires a health care professional to obtain written consent from a minor’s parent or legal guardian to prescribe a treatment containing opioids. Medical practitioners would also be required to provide information on the risks of addiction and dangers of overdose associated with the medication.
Aimed at addressing the state’s opioid crisis, the measure allows exceptions for cases involving chronic pain, cancer treatment or for palliative care or hospice care.
The bill was enacted as Act 125 of 2016.
The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1368, which implements the “Safe Opioid Prescribing Curriculum” in all of Pennsylvania’s medical schools.
Part of a package of bills aimed at addressing the state’s opioid abuse crisis, the measure calls for a focus in four key areas including:
- pain management;
- multimodal treatments for chronic pain that minimize the use of opioids, or when opioids are indicated, to prescribe them in a safe;
- focusing on patients who have been identified as at-risk for developing problems or addiction with prescription opioids; and
- teaching medical students how to manage substance abuse disorders as a chronic disease.
The bill was enacted as Act 126 of 2016.
The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 192, which is designed to raise public awareness of veterans’ preference on civil service exams.
Signed into law as Act 167 of 2016, the new law requires the Civil Service Commission to advertise the fact that veterans’ preference is available to veterans- as well as spouses of deceased or disabled veterans – who take a civil service exam. Advertisements will specify that the law allows that 10 points be applied to a veteran’s final score.
The measure also provides for a uniform job application method when applying for state jobs; and makes ineligible anyone who holds or campaigns for a political office to serve on the Civil Service Commission.
The Senate voted 39-8 in favor of House Bill 319, which makes more seasonal workers eligible for unemployment benefits.
A priority of Senate Democrats, the bill fixed the previous law (Act 60 of 2012) by readjusting how eligibility is determined for seasonal workers- such as those in the construction trades – seeking unemployment compensation. The bill reduced the percentage of income, from 49.5 percent to 37 percent, which has to be earned outside of an employee’s high quarter of earnings to be eligible for benefits.
To offset additional compensation flowing to employees, the bill implements a number of cost saving measures. The bill also increases existing fines on employers and others who violate the Unemployment Compensation Law.
The measure was signed into law as Act 144 of 2016.
The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 568, which would have revised the process for reviewing and approving changes to construction codes.
The bill proposed new criteria that the Uniform Construction Code Review and Advisory Council must consider when it meets to evaluate and adopt building code updates. It would have created special subcommittees to make recommendations to the council. The legislation would have also added two more members to the council, which currently stands at 19.
The bill underwent several changes while being passed between the House and Senate. It was not taken up by the House after the Senate passed and made changes to it in October of 2016.
The Senate voted 29-18 in favor of House Bill 1618, which would have created the independent Office of Inspector General.
The purpose of this independent Office of Inspector General would have been to deter, detect, prevent and eradicate fraud, waste misconduct and abuse in a program, operation and in contracting by an executive agency. The Senate amended the bill to direct the office to use additional personnel specifically to investigate fraud, waste and abuse within the Department of Health over a two-year period.
The office was created in 1987 by Governor Robert Casey via executive order and is still in existence today. This bill would have placed the office in statute and made it independent of the governor. The Inspector General would have been nominated by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.
The bill made its way to the governor but was vetoed (Veto #3 of 2016) on October 28, 2016. The governor cited wasteful spending as the cause for his veto since both the Auditor General and Office of Attorney General already perform similar functions that an independent Office of Inspector General would do.
The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 2290, which allows the Navigation Commission for the Delaware River and its navigable tributaries to increase fees for pilot licenses.
Signed into law as Act 147 of 2016, the legislation sets fees for river pilots at $400 annually. Currently, pilot license fees cannot exceed $250. The commission may raise the fee up to $525 annually through regulation.
The Senate unanimously passed House Bill 2291, which increases rates for river pilots that navigate trade vessels along the Delaware River and its tributaries.
Under the measure, the rate adjustments are 0 percent in 2017, 1 percent in 2018 and 2 percent in 2019. The bill also increases transport charges for vessels traveling the Delaware River by $50. Revenues are used to help to maintain traffic control and safety equipment in the Delaware River and bay, and provide for pilots’ salaries.
The bill was signed into law as Act 148 of 2016.
The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 356, which makes numerous minor changes to local tax filing requirements.
Signed Act 150 of 2016, the bill changes due dates for taxpayers earning net profits that file quarterly as well as employers filing local withholding taxes. It also places restrictions on local governments and tax officers. For example, local tax officials are prohibited from penalizing a taxpayer without first sending a letter of notification, and may not disallow a taxpayer from using forms available on the Department of Community and Economic Development website.
Ultimately, the measure’s changes to the law governing reporting and payment will be more consistent with state rules.
The Senate voted 31 to 16 for Senate Bill 562.
Opponents claimed the bill would have severely hampered the regulatory rulemaking process.
The bill would have given the General Assembly more ability to prevent or delay vetted regulations from going into effect. Specifically, legislative committees would have been able to delay actions by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission throughout the rule-making process.
In his veto (Veto #6 of 2016) message, Governor Tom Wolf noted that “this stoppage would have prevented all agencies from promulgating rules to benefit the citizens of the commonwealth.”
The Senate voted 47-1 in favor of Senate Bill 984, which regulates Uber, Lyft and other Transportation Network Companies operating in Pennsylvania.
The companies connect passengers and drivers via a smart phone app.
The legislation gives these companies permanent authority to provide transportation throughout the state. Previously, Uber and Lyft were operating under temporary authority granted by the Public Utility Commission (PUC). In Philadelphia only, the Philadelphia Parking Authority will have the regulatory authority over transportation network companies operating there. The PUC will oversee companies in the rest of Pennsylvania.
All of the rules, requirements, prohibitions, fees and licenses required of companies and/or drivers are laid out in the new law.
The measure was enacted as Act 164 of 2016.
The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 516, which makes it unlawful for anyone to use the title of “naturopathic doctor” unless they are registered as a naturopathic doctor with the board.
Naturopathic medicine is a primary health care profession, emphasizing prevention, treatment and optimal health through the use of therapeutic methods and substances that encourage the person’s inherent self-healing process.
An applicant registering as a naturopathic doctor must meet all the following requirements:
- Have a bachelor’s degree from a regionally-accredited college.
- Complete a minimum of 4,100 total hours in basic and clinical sciences, naturopathic philosophy, naturopathic modalities and naturopathic medicine.
- Pass a competency-based national naturopathic licensing examination administered by the North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners.
- Be certified to administer CPR.
- Be of good moral character.
The bill was enacted as Act 128 of 2016.
The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1087, which provides veto power to the Governor of Pennsylvania over the actions of Pennsylvania’s commissioners on the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) board.
Under the measure, the governor may veto the action of a commissioner for Pennsylvania within 10 business days of receiving the minutes.
The bill was enacted as Act 130 of 2016.
The Senate voted 44-3 in favor of House Bill 1196, which amends the Liquor Code to redefine contiguous areas and provide for the temporary import distribution permit for the 2016 Democratic National Committee Convention (DNCC) in Philadelphia.
The bill requires distribution territories “to be within two contiguous counties.” The bill also allows the Liquor Control Board (LCB) to work with the DNCC at unlicensed locations during the event. A national political party would be allowed to apply for a National Event Permit to allow for alcohol at their convention. The permit would be similar to a Special Occasion Permit currently offered by the LCB.
This bill also:
- increases the carbonation in alcohol cider from .392 gram/100mls to 6.4 grams/liter;
- adds a definition for “mead;”
- removes the requirement from the definition of “mug club” that a certain mug or glass must be used by the member;
- allows the board to access a handling fee;
- removes the requirement that a licensee offer a meal when serving alcohol on Sundays between 9 a.m. and11a.m.;
- Information collected as part of a customer’s relations management program or consumer’s purchasing habits shall not be sold or given to the public, including in response to a request made in accordance to the Right-To-Know Law;
- removes the language that money collected from the sale of lottery tickets be deposited into the General Fund;
- wine expanded permits – wine sales will be made at register that also sells beer and food and must be staffed at all times when patrons are on the premises;
- casino liquor license fees and renewal fees are adjusted;
- Application fees for a non-primary location (Off-track-betting parlors):
- $1 million in counties of the 1st – 3rd
- $600,000 in counties of 4th – 5th.
- $200,000 in counties of 6th – 8th.
- A non-primary location holding a casino liquor license will be subject to an annual renewal fee of $10,000;
- casino liquor license fee is reduced from $1 million to $500,000;
- annual renewal fee for the first four years is reduced from $1 million to $250,000. After that it will be reduced from $250,000 to $25,000;
- requires a wholesaler or retailer of beer to report to the board the volumes of beer sold. The board then must post the reports on its website;
- allows the board to regulate how a licensee infuse, store and sell flavored distilled spirits;
- permits a Pennsylvania resident to purchase liquor outside of the state as long as they pay state taxes and do not bring in more than 5 gallons in volume;
- beer taps no longer are required to have legible lettering on them;
- repeals the Wine and Spirits Wholesale and Retail Privatization Commission; and
- Permits the board to promulgate temporary regulations for implementation of Act 39 for up to 2 years;
The bill was enacted as Act 166 of 2016.