The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 991, which would require those who sell a service contract that includes an automatic renewal provision to disclose that provision to the consumer.

Under the bill, notification must be provided to the consumer not less than 30 days, but not more than 60 days, before the contract cancellation deadline.  The notification must clearly disclose that the service contract will renew automatically if it is not cancelled.  The notice must also include contact information and directions on how the consumer can cancel the contract. Violators would be cited under the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.

The bill now goes to the House.

* * *

The Senate voted 43 to 5 in favor of Senate Bill 1303, which would give the Philadelphia School District more flexibility in setting tax rates.

Currently, Philadelphia residents pay property taxes, part of which goes to the city and part of which goes to the school district. Under the bill, which is in response to a change in how the city will assess property, the city would be permitted to lower the tax rate for the district portion of the property tax. However, a rate must be established that yields at least as much as the highest one-year yield of property tax revenue based on the assessed values of real estate. This provision would remain as long as the district is under the fiscal distress designation.

The bill would also alter the statutory “maintenance of effort” requirement to prevent the tax rates from being too high.

The bill now goes to the House.

* * *

The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1352, which would change the definition of “audiologist” to any person who is qualified by education, training and clinical experience and is licensed under this act to engage in the practice of audiology.

The audiologist is an independent practitioner providing services in hospitals, clinics, schools, private practices and other settings. The “practice of audiology” would be defined as the application of principles, methods and procedures related to disorders of the auditory and vestibular systems.

The bill requires all new applicants for an audiologist license to obtain a doctoral degree in audiology, effective January 1, 2014. Existing licensees must have an audiology degree from a school approved by the eight-member state Board of Examiners in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology. The board could issue provisional licenses under certain circumstances.

The measure now goes to the House.

* * *

The Senate again amended and unanimously approved Senate Bill 1546, which would merge the State Tax Equalization Board Law into the Department of Community and Economic Development.

The State Tax Equalization Board Law, established in 1947, compensates for the lack of assessment uniformity statewide in distributing school subsidies. The board determines the aggregate market value of taxable real property in each municipality and school district statewide.

The measure would transfer the board, its responsibilities and costs to the department. On two separate occasions, the Senate amended the bill to remove a provision inserted by the House that would have placed a temporary moratorium on court-ordered countywide reassessments. This moratorium would have remained in effect until the General Assembly had enacted property tax reassessment reform legislation or until December 31, 2013, whichever came first.

The bill is now back in the House.

* * *

The Senate approved 45-3 legislation that would further criminalize street gang activity.

House Bill 1121 would make recruiting criminal street gang members a crime and would increase sentences for crimes committed in association with a criminal street gang.

The bill is now in the House Rules Committee.

* * *

The Senate voted 46-3 for legislation that provides for suspension of operating privileges when a driver fails to pay restitution for vehicle-related fines.

Currently, a driver receives an indefinite suspension of a driver’s license if he or she fails to pay fines and cost. House Bill 1617 adds restitution to what must be paid.

The bill was signed into law as Act 146 of 2012.

* * *

The Senate voted 29-20 for legislation that would remove certain employee positions with the State Veterans Homes under the state Department of Military and Veterans Affair from being classified under the Civil Service Commission.

Currently, employees providing medical, nursing, therapeutic, recreational or other care or service for residents at state veterans’ homes operated under the auspices of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs fall under the Civil Service Act/Civil Service Commission.

Senate Bill 819 would remove these employees that work at state veterans’ homes from under the rules and administration of the State’s Civil Service Commission. The department claims measure would enable it to expedite the hiring and administering of medical, and related, professionals at with the state veteran home system.

The bill is now in the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.

* * *

The Senate voted 47-2 for legislation that would further criminalize arson and arson-related offenses.

Senate Bill 903 adds the crime of “aggravated arson.” Under the bill, a person would be committing a first-degree felony if they intentionally cause a fire or explosion, or aids or agrees to pay another to cause a fire or explosion, with the intension of causing bodily injury or knowing that a person was present inside the property at the time.

The bill also toughens sentencing if bodily injury results to any firefighter, police officer or other person actively engaged in fighting the fire; serious bodily injury results to any civilian; more than three people were present inside the property at the time of the offense; or the fire caused more than $1 million in property damage.

The bill is in now in the House Judiciary Committee.

* * *

The Senate unanimously approved legislation that would amend provisions of the Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code relating to the validity of powers of attorney and the good faith reliance on powers of attorney by third parties.

Currently, two witnesses are only required when the power of attorney is executed by mark or by another individual. Senate Bill 1092 would require two witnesses when any power of attorney is executed. These requirements do not apply to a power of attorney contained in an instrument used in a commercial transaction or a power of attorney that exclusively provides for health care decision making.

The bill also requires that any person who is given instructions by a person claiming to be an agent acting under a document appearing to be a valid power of attorney must comply with the instructions if the action requested is authorized under the terms of the document.

Reasonable cause for failing to comply would include a reasonable good faith belief that the document presented is void, invalid or terminated; the agent’s apparent authority is void, invalid or terminated; or the agent is exceeding or improperly exercising the agent’s apparent authority.

Reasonable cause would also include a good faith report having been made by the person to whom the instructions have been given by the agent to the local protective services agency.

The bill would also require that any person who reasonably acts in good faith reliance on a document appearing to be a valid power of attorney would not incur liability as a result of acting in accordance with the instructions of the person claiming to be the agent.

The bill is now in the House Judiciary Committee.

* * *

The Senate unanimously approved legislation that would establish the Uniform Child Abduction Prevention Act.

Senate Bill 1449 would provide courts with guidelines to follow during custody disputes and divorce proceedings.

Under the bill, a court on its own motion would be able to order abduction prevention measures in a child custody proceeding if the court finds that the evidence establishes a credible risk of abduction of the child. A party to a child custody determination would be able to file a petition seeking abduction prevention measures to protect the child. Also, a prosecutor would be able to seek a warrant to take physical custody of a child or other appropriate prevention measures.

The bill also requires the court to consider certain evidence in determining whether there is a credible risk of abduction of a child.

The bill also includes abduction prevention restrictions and duration measures.

Also under the bill, a petition may be filed only in a court that has jurisdiction to make a child custody determination and must contain the name, date of birth and gender of the child; the customary address and current physical location of the child; the identity, customary address and current physical location of the respondent; a statement of whether a prior action to prevent abduction or domestic violence has been filed by a party and the date, location and disposition of the action; a statement of whether a party to the proceeding has been arrested for a crime related to domestic violence, stalking or child abuse or neglect and the date, location and disposition of the case; and any other information required to the court for a child custody determination under the law.

The bill is now in the House Judiciary Committee.

* * *

The Senate unanimously passed House Bill 2293, which increased the maximum fine from $200 to $5,000 for illegally harvesting fish and extends the period the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) can revoke fishing and boating privileges from two to five years.

The bill also creates a new section in the Fish and Boat code for “serious unlawful take,” which increases the penalty from a first degree summary offense to a second degree misdemeanor for harvesting more than the legal daily limit of fish. It also allows the PFBC to collect from violators the costs to replace the poached fish, and it increases the amount of time a violator can be sentenced to prison from a maximum of 90 days to two years.

Lastly, the measure increases the penalties for those who fish while their license is suspended. Previously, that violation was a summary offense, subject to a $200 fine. The penalty is now a third degree misdemeanor, subject to a fine up to $5,000.

The bill was signed into law as Act 167 of 2012.

* * *

The Senate unanimously passed House Bill 2324, which requires that all construction, reconstruction, repairs or work of any nature made by any authority be advertised and bid out if it exceeds the base amount of $18,500.

The $18,500 base amount will be subject to yearly adjustments tied to the percentage change in the Consumer Price Index. Under previous law, the base amount was $10,000.

The bill was signed into law as Act 168 of 2012.

* * *

The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 657, which would have added the Westmoreland County Parks Police Force to the list of police officers who must receive training from the Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission.

The bill died in the House.

* * *


The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 1185, which established the elective office of tax collector and changed the township treasurer from an elected position to an appointed position in First Class Townships.

Under this measure, tax collectors will serve four year terms and must live in the township from which they are elected continuously for at least one year immediately before their election.

Prior to this law, a single individual was elected as township treasurer who performed the functions of treasurer and collected certain taxes. Township commissioners will now appoint the township treasurer – who may be the elected tax collector or an employee of the township.

The bill was signed into law as Act 188 of 2012.

* * *

The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 1402, which made numerous updates and revisions throughout Title 30 (Fish) that incorporated past regulatory practice, court decisions, and removed obsolete provisions.

Some of the changes include:

  • Requiring a majority vote of the Senate to approve Fish and Boat Commissioners;
  • Clarifying which boating safety certificates are acceptable for non-resident boaters;
  • Allowing certain minor violations to be dealt with through the issuance of a citation for a summary violation;
  • Eliminating the need to provide an affidavit to prove that someone had a fishing license; and
  • Creating an exemption for fishing licenses to participants in a structured education program involving fishing

The bill was signed into law as Act 211 of 2012.

* * *

The Senate passed Senate Bill 1572 by a vote of 48-1. This bill removed the state requirement that a police officer employed by the city of Pittsburgh maintain a residence in the city during their entire period of employment.

The bill does, however, still allow the city to have an ordinance requiring residency. The Pittsburgh Code of Ordinances currently requires that all city employees, including police and fire personnel, reside in the city.

The bill was signed into law as Act 195 of 2012.

* * *

By a vote of 47-2, the Senate passed Senate Bill 1591. This bill would have repealed the requirement that medical malpractice insurers – including private insurance companies, risk retention groups, and self-insured hospitals and doctors – file annual reports with the state Insurance Department.

The bill would have also repealed the requirement that the department compile an annual report based on the information and submit it to the chairs of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee and the House Insurance Committee.

The bill died in the House.

* * *

The Senate unanimously passed House Bill 1548, which reforms the state’s child labor laws related to children in entertainment and provides the same protections to reality TV child actors that are given to child movie actors.

Under the legislation, children are allowed to be on television, but can only work a limited number of hours.  Children under age 16 on a film set must be accompanied by a parent or guardian, cannot work more than eight hours a day, and must finish by 10 p.m. on school nights.  This legislation also requires that trust accounts be created for child actors into which their employer must put at least 15 percent of the child’s gross earnings.

The House unanimously concurred in Senate amendments and the bill was signed into law as Act 151 of 2012.

* * *

The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 201, allowing consumers to use retail community pharmacies if those pharmacies accept the same pricing and conditions as mail-order pharmacies.

Under the legislation, health insurers and government programs cannot impose a copayment, deductible fee, or limit benefits for a covered individual using a retail pharmacy.  A study will be done every 18 months to study the impact of this law on the access and cost of prescription drugs.

The House unanimously passed the bill and it was signed into law as Act 207 of 2012.

* * *

By a vote of 46 to 3, the Senate passed legislation intended to fix problems with an earlier small games of chance bill.  Under Senate Bill 444, more games of chance are permitted, including 50/50 drawings and major league sports drawings. The promotion of these games is meant to help local nonprofit organizations raise revenue to promote their charitable or civic work.

The bill also clarifies certain enforcement and regulatory provisions recently enacted by Act 2 of 2012, including where an eligible organization may conduct small games. It provides an exemption from reporting requirements for small organizations if they bring in less than $2,500 a year from small games of chance or are a school-sponsored club or non-profit sports team.

By a vote of 182 to 12, the House concurred on Senate amendments and the bill was signed into law as Act 184 of 2012.

* * *

The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 1442, updating Pennsylvania’s Code of Military Justice, which had not seen significant change since 1975.  Key revisions include maximum penalties and punishments, court-martials, military offenses, review and appeal process, and other legal issues.

The legislation is based on similar laws passed in 14 states.

The House unanimously passed the bill and it was signed into law as Act 192 of 2012.

* * *

The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 1531, creating the Pennsylvania Veterans Trust Fund (PVTF). The fund was created to strengthen programs and benefits for Pennsylvania’s veterans.  Proceeds from PennDOT’s drivers’ license registration and special license plates will help fund the PVTF.  The fund will receive $1.7 million from the sale of the Scotland School for Veterans’ Children as well as through an “Honor our Veterans” license plate to be created by PennDOT.

The House unanimously passed the bill and it was signed into law as Act 194 of 2012.

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