The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 444, which would change Pennsylvania’s Right to Know law to, among other things, give the public greater access to information associated with the commonwealth’s four state-related universities.

Senate Bill 444 would expand the information available from state-related universities, improve the appeals process for requestors, establish a new fee structure for commercial requests and make other important changes.

If approved, Temple, Penn State, Pitt and Lincoln would be required to create searchable, sortable and downloadable online databases covering budget, revenue and expenditure data; the number of employees and aggregated, non-personal employee data; and the number of students and aggregated, non-personal student data.

The state-relateds would also be required to post information about contracts on their websites if their value is greater than $5,000. Most universities would also have to report their top 200 employee salaries.

The bill has been sent to the House.


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The Senate voted 43-7 for Senate Bill 1182, which would allow physicians in Pennsylvania to recommend medicinal cannabis to patients who need it for medical treatment.

The so-called medical marijuana bill would make the drug legally available in certain forms at licensed care centers for patients who have a recommendation from their doctor.

The entire regulatory process, which would be overseen by the departments of Health and Agriculture, starts at the growth of plants to the administration of the medicine to the patient.

Proponents argue that the drug can be beneficial to many patients and that the decision on its use should be between the patient and their doctor. Opponents argue that federal FDA approval and more research on the medical value of the drug should come before its legalization.

Research funded by the National Institute of Health is actively researching the possible therapeutic uses of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids to treat autoimmune diseases, cancer, inflammation, pain, seizures, substance use disorders and other psychiatric disorders.

The bill now goes to the House.

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The Senate voted 39-11 for House Bill 1177, which clarifies how votes on the consolidation or merger of municipalities are decided. It also gives Philadelphia the power to levy a $2 tax on a pack of cigarettes.

Philadelphia City Council had voted to approve the tax in 2013 but needed the legislature’s approval to do so. The estimated $49 million generated by the tax will help pay for Philadelphia schools.

The new statute also prescribes how a charter school applicant can appeal the decision of a school reform commission if it denies its application.

And, before House Bill 1177, ambiguities in the law made it difficult to determine if a vote on a referendum question to merge or consolidate was affirmative. The new law says the referendum and the formation of a commission to study the merger or consolidation will be decided by the whole of all the affected municipalities.

The governor signed the bill into law as Act 131 of 2014.


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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1358, which would change the way the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) operates and make it more open to the public.

Specifically, the bill would: prohibit DRPA from engaging in economic development activity; require an open records policy; order a 30-day public notice for any vote concerning a contract; disallow DRPA from negotiating, extending, amending or otherwise altering the terms of a contract or entering into a contract, unless the action is taken by the DRPA board at a public meeting; and require biennial budget audits, biennial performance audits and a biennial review of compensation for all DRPA employees.

The bill would also limit DRPA board member, officer and employee “perks” by prohibiting vehicle allowances, toll exemptions and lump sum expense allowances; prohibiting any personal lines of credit from DRPA; prohibiting the acceptance of any gifts that could affect the conduct of DRPA business; and prohibiting salaries to be higher than those of the governors of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Senate Bill 1358 has been sent to the House.


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A companion of Senate Bill 1358, the Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1373 to give the governor veto power over Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) decisions.

The federal compact that serves as the enabling law for DRPA gives PA and New Jersey the option to provide veto power to their respective governors. New Jersey has done this. Pennsylvania has not.

Senate Bill 1373 is now in the House.


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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 473, which would amend the Mechanics’ Lien Law to create a “State Construction Notices Directory” to serve as a central statewide system for filing construction notices.

The measure would apply to any project costing at least $1.5 million.  The filing of a Notice of Commencement (NOC) on a project would not be mandatory by the property owner. Each NOC filed with the directory would be searchable by owner name, contractor name, property address and unique ID number.

A subcontractor’s failure to file a Notice of Furnishing would result in the loss of lien rights.

The bill now returns to the House.


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The Senate voted 45-5 for Senate Bill 838, which would amend thestate’s County Code to allow a 3 to 5 percent hotel tax in seven counties to promote tourism.

The hotel tax would be allowable in Armstrong, Butler, Franklin, Indiana, Schuylkill, Washington and York counties.

Under the bill, 75 percent of the proceeds would go to tourism, and the remaining 25 percent would be split between grants to local law enforcement and local economic development, historic preservation and arts programs.

The measure would also allow Bensalem Township in Bucks County to levy a 3 percent hotel room rental tax for police and emergency services.

The bill now goes to the House.


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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1129, which would change the name of the “Paralyzed Veterans’ Pension” to the “Amputee and Paralyzed Veterans’ Pension.”

Current law defines paralyzed veterans, but does not include a definition of amputees.

It would rectify that by defining an amputee veteran as having the “loss or permanent damage or paralysis of two or more limbs” – and having a disability compensation of 40 percent or higher in each limb as defined by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The bill now goes to the House.


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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1197, which would strengthen the state’s juvenile justice system.

The legislation would give juveniles the same protections in the Philadelphia Municipal Court or county courts of common pleas as those who appear in juvenile court. The bill would also clarify provisions of Juvenile Act on record expungement; transfer juvenile case dispositions from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts to the State Police; and require certain juvenile sex offenders to register in accordance with the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.

Lawmakers said the wider latitude on expungement would give more juveniles a “clean record” and greater opportunity as they apply for jobs, college or the military.

The bill now goes to the governor.


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The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 241, which would expand the definition of “fire department vehicle” in the state Vehicle Code to include a vehicle owned or leased by a fire relief association.

Currently, PennDOT will not issue an emergency vehicle tag to a tanker truck or other fire apparatus that is owned by a fire relief association. PennDOT has insisted that to qualify for emergency vehicle plate the vehicle must be in the fire company’s name.             This bill would allow a fire department vehicle owned by a fire relief association to receive an “emergency vehicle” plate.

The amended bill now returns to the House.

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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 720, which would establish a State Disaster Assistance Program. This program would help victims of natural and manmade disasters who fall below the federal threshold for aid.

Currently, victims of large-scale emergencies are eligible for federal disaster assistance, while those victimized by smaller-scale emergencies do not qualify.

State assistance would be limited to grants to help repair damage to primary residences, personal property and public facilities.

The legislation now goes to the House


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The Senate voted 47-3 for Senate Bill 850, which would update the “Donate Life PA Act,” which governs organ and tissue donations.

The bill would establish a comprehensive framework for public education about organ and tissue donations; clarify the methods for making anatomical donations; and update the law to reflect the best clinical practices to support anatomical donations for transplantations.

The bill now goes to the House.


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The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1432, which would amend the Insurance Company Law of 1921 to make access to mammographic examinations and mastectomy and breast cancer reconstruction more affordable.

While Pennsylvania law requires individual and group insurance policies to cover mammograms, it does not prohibit co-pays, co-insurance or deductibles from being applied to these life-saving procedures.

The Democratic-sponsored proposal makes Pennsylvania consistent with the Affordable Care Act as it relates to mammogram services. Current law also does not require mastectomies to be covered under these policies.

The bill would also increase insurance coverage to include mastectomy surgery and would also prohibit co-payments, co-insurance or deductibles from being applied.  The proposal would place limits on co-payments and co-insurances for insured medical services from a physical therapist, chiropractor or occupational therapist.

The bill would also provide limits on co-payments and co-insurances for insured medical services provided by a physical therapist, chiropractor or occupational therapist.

The measure now goes to the House.


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By unanimous vote, the Senate passed a bill containing the first significant reform of Pennsylvania’s program for financially distressed municipalities.


House Bill 1773 addresses shortcomings in Act 47 of 1987, under which many municipalities have failed to emerge from distressed status.

The measure would limit municipalities’ participation in the program to five years and give the Department of Community and Economic Development more authority in enforcing a recovery plan. When the law goes into effect, municipalities in the program would be allowed one three-year extension after their first five-year program expires.

The bill would also deliver fairer taxing options that local governments can consider to quicken their exit from Act 47 financial distress.

Currently, 20 municipalities are operating under Act 47. The bill now returns to the House.


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The Senate unanimously concurred in House amendments to a bill intended to reduce the number of fatal drug overdoses in Pennsylvania.

By granting immunity to the caller, Senate Bill 1164  encourages those who witness a drug overdose to call for emergency medical attention.

The bill was amended in the House to allow police and firefighters to be trained to carry naloxone, an anti-overdose drug also known as Narcan.

The bill awaits the governor’s signature.


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The Senate unanimously passed a bill that would allow Pennsylvania insurance companies to receive better terms when borrowing from Federal Home Loan banks (FHLBanks), specifically the FHLBank of Pittsburgh.

FHLBanks are a popular source of long-term, low-cost funding for insurance companies, but because Pennsylvania law governing FHLBank lending to insurance companies differs from federal banking law, state insurance companies borrow from FHLBanks on less advantageous terms (including collateral requirements) than do similarly rated depository institutions.              Senate Bill 1415 makes changes to align Pennsylvania law with federal law.

The bill now goes to the House.


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