The Senate voted 45-2 in favor of House Bill 147, which would make amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution with respect to homestead property.

This legislation extends the General Assembly’s authority to grant homestead exclusions, which cannot exceed 100 percent of the assessed value of the property.

Currently, the General Assembly is allowed to authorize a tax exemption for up to 50 percent of a property’s medium assessed value. The bill aims to provide greater property tax relief by excluding certain homesteads so that property taxes would be calculated at a lower rate.

The bill was enacted as Pamphlet Laws Resolution No. 2 of 2016 and is required to be passed again next session. If this legislation is approved during the next legislative session the bill would go to the voters in a referendum.

The Senate voted 48-1 in favor of House Bill 1325, which amends the Second Class Township Code to allow townships to impose a fee to recover costs from storm water management facilities.

The revenue would be used for maintaining and implementing storm water management facilities. This change aims to provide townships with the opportunity to recover costs from state and federal mandates. The bill limits the amount of money townships are allowed to receive with this fee to be no more than the minimum requirement of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act.

The bill was enacted as Act 62 of 2016.

The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1766, which allows insurance companies to use principle-based reserving policies when calculating the amount of funds they are required to have available.

Principle-based reserving is a valuation method used to calculate the cost obligations to policy holders if they were to make a claim. This method assesses risk factors to require more money to be withheld for certain insurance policies and less money to be reserved for other policies. By changing the calculation method, risk liability can be more accurately projected to ensure companies have funds available to cover their life insurance policies and to allow them to better utilize funds.

This method is approved by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. The bill was enacted as Act 59 of 2016.

The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 163, which enables incarcerated people to maintain parental rights under certain conditions.

In 2011 the Joint State Government Commission published a report entitled “The Effects of Parental Incarceration on Children: Needs and Responsive Services.” This legislation includes the three legislative proposals that were in the report.

The bill adds a provision to the Domestic Relations Code to prevent the termination of parental rights solely due to a parent’s incarceration. The measure also amends the Judicial Code to allow judges to determine if parental rights should be terminated while the parent is incarcerated. Parents would still need to comply with the family service plan requirements and would need to maintain “a meaningful role in the child’s life during the time of incarceration.”

The measure also requires child safety training for police officers in situations where a child’s parent or guardian is arrested.

Similar legislation (SB 112 of 2013) was introduced last session, but was never acted upon. The bill now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

The Senate voted 37-12 in favor of Senate Bill 279, which protects and promotes the production of both conventional oil and natural gas in Pennsylvania.

The legislation establishes the Pennsylvania Grade Crude Development Advisory Council, which would work with the state Department of Environmental Protection to better address differences in the production process for conventional and unconventional oil and gas. The bill places specific responsibilities on the council to make recommendations in response to water management regulations, state Department of Environmental Protection policies and to develop crude oil production.

The bill was enacted as Act 52 of 2016.

The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 772, which expands the role of psychologists under the Professional Psychologists Practice Act.

The bill expands the psychologist practice to include the diagnoses and treatment of mental, emotional or nervous illnesses, alcoholism, psychological aspects of physical illness and psychoeducational evaluation, therapy, remediation and consultation.

Under the measure, the State Board of Psychology can issue temporary practice licenses for licensed psychologists from other states with substantially equivalent licensing standards. The bill also removes the six month wait period to retake a licensing exam.

The bill also allows school psychologists to work in private practice under certain conditions. The measure requires that they need to be certified or attempting certification as an Educational Specialist I or II in school psychology to work in private practice.

The bill was enacted as Act 53 of 2016.

The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 983, which amends the Vehicle Code to allow a primary caretaker of disabled adult children to receive a special disability plate.

The bill allows such parents to obtain a vehicle disability license plate if their adult child has a special disability need. The bill was amended to also allow the spouse of a disabled adult child to receive the license plate. The bill was enacted as Act 55 of 2016.

The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1109¸ which would extend the property tax exemption to an unmarried surviving spouse of a soldier killed during active service.

This legislation would add spouses of soldiers killed in action to the property tax exemption available to disabled veterans.

The bill would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution and require a second passage next legislative session, as well as voter approval via referendum.

The bill now goes to the House Finance Committee.

The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1113, which amends the Crime Victims Act to expand the advisory committee that advises the Services Advisory Committee.

The Crime Victims Act created an advisory committee that advises the Services Advisory Committee. The advisory committee was created to assist in the planning, creating and monitoring of victims’ services. This advisory committee was previously comprised of the secretaries of Aging, Corrections, Public Welfare, and the commissioner of the State Police. This legislation adds the following classes of individuals to the law and requires the governor to appoint one from each class to the committee:

  • A direct victim of crime representing female victims
  • A direct victim of crime representing male victims
  • An area agency on aging
  • The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence
  • The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape
  • The Pennsylvania Chapter of Children’s Advocacy Centers and Multidisciplinary Teams
  • The Pennsylvania Court Appointed Special Advocates Association
  • A county children and youth agency
  • A prosecution-based victim witness program
  • A victims’ service or advocacy organization
  • The courts
  • County government
  • A children’s advocacy center or victims’ services agency working directly with children
  • Local law enforcement
  • A mental health treatment provider
  • A victims’ services agency working directly with victims of human trafficking
  • Two residents of this Commonwealth appointed by the chairman of the commission

The bill now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

The Senate voted 38-11 in favor of Senate Bill 1195, which extends the amount of time Pennsylvania has to review and approve the state’s proposed Clean Power Plan compliance.

This legislation amends the Pennsylvania Greenhouse Gas Regulation Implementation Act to give the General Assembly more time to submit its plan to reduce carbon emission to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  The state Department of Environmental Protection must submit its proposed plan to the General Assembly at least 100 days prior to the General Assembly submitting the plan to the EPA.

The bill gives both the House and Senate standing committees 10 legislative days to approve the plan and then 20 legislative days for each chamber to approve the plan.  If the measure does not pass both chambers, the plan will be modified and be made available for public comment for the next 180 days. Pennsylvania’s plan is required to be submitted to the EPA by September 6, 2016 or the General Assembly is required to request a two-year extension before then.

The bill was enacted as Act 57 of 2016.

Responding to the state’s worsening opioid crisis, the Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1202, which amends the “Achieving Better Care by Monitoring All Prescriptions Program” by adding continued education requirements for professionals licensed to prescribe opioids.

Medical professionals licensed to prescribe opioids would be required to take additional education classes related to “pain management and dispensing and prescribing practices of opioids.” Currently, these licensed individuals are required to complete two hours of training in each subject.

The bill now goes to the House Professional Licensure Committee.