October 15, 2013 – Weekly Session Wrap

Enacted into Law:

Governor Signs CHIP Reauthorization, Extension

Governor Corbett signed House Bill 108 into law on October 16th. The legislation reauthorizes and extends the life of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) through December 31, 2015. As part of his HealthyPA initiative, Governor Corbett called on the Legislature to reauthorize the CHIP program and remove the current requirement for children to go six months without insurance before becoming eligible.

Senate Action:

Senate Passes Child Protection Bill

The Senate continued its work strengthening Pennsylvania’s child protection laws, passing five more bills on October 16th aimed at protecting children from abuse.

Senate Bill 28, which I sponsored, lowers the age of a perpetrator for simple assault from age 21 to 18; amends categories to what constitutes aggravated assault to include (1) causing bodily injury to a child under the age of 6 as a felony of the second degree and (2) causing serious bodily injury to a child under the age of 13 as a felony of the first degree; creates new offenses of “false reports of child abuse” and “intimidation or retaliation in child abuse cases” to protect any reporter, victim or witness from reporting child abuse.

This bill strengthens Pennsylvania’s child abuse laws by holding perpetrators accountable for their actions and by increasing the criminal penalties for any person who injures a child. In addition, this legislation creates the new offense of ‘intimidation or retaliation in child abuse cases’ which not only protects the victim, but also the reporter or witness who acts on behalf of the abused child. These changes are important steps to increase the safety of Pennsylvania’s young people, fully prosecute those who prey on children and to protect those who have a responsibility to report cases of child abuse.

The other bills approved by the Senate on Wednesday include:

Senate Bill 24 – Would establish a statewide database for protective services. The database will include reports of child abuse and children in need of general protective services.  Reports include information relating to the subject of the report, the nature of the occurrence, information on the family, services provided, legal actions initiated and other details required by the Department of Public Welfare.

Senate Bill 29Requires health care providers to immediately report if a newborn is identified as being affected by prenatal exposure to illegal substances. Upon receipt of the report, the county agency shall perform an assessment and determine whether child protective services or general protective services are warranted.

Senate Bill 31Amends the Child Protective Services Law to eliminate the separate system for reporting abuse by school employees. Currently, Pennsylvania law provides that if there is a case of suspected child abuse in which the alleged perpetrator is a school employee, there is no requirement to report that abuse unless it rises to the level of a “serious bodily injury.”

Senate Bill 1116Provides for a multidisciplinary investigative team to be used to coordinate child-abuse investigations between county agencies and law enforcement. The county agency and the district attorney shall develop a protocol for convening multidisciplinary investigative teams for any case of child abuse involving crimes against children that include responses to direct reports by individuals, reports by county agencies, for investigations and plans for services.

The votes on October 16th follow the Senate’s passage two weeks ago of six measures to provide sweeping improvements to Pennsylvania’s child protection laws. The package was based on the recommendations of the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection, created by the passage of Senate Resolution 250 in 2011.

The bills are now before the House of Representatives for consideration.

Legislation Toughens Arson Penalties

Legislation strengthening Pennsylvania’s arson laws and creating the new crime of “aggravated arson” was approved by the Senate the week of October 15th. Each year, more than 267,000 fires nationally are attributed to arson. Arson results in $1.4 billion in property loss annually and causes more than 2,000 injuries and 475 deaths.

Senate Bill 1024 creates a new class of crime known as aggravated arson and sets tougher sentencing guidelines in cases where the crime is intended to cause bodily injury or when the perpetrator knows that someone was inside the property at the time. It also hikes penalties when a firefighter, police officer, emergency responder or civilian sustained injuries as a result of the crime. In addition, stronger sentences could be imposed if more than three people were inside the property at the time of the crime or if the arson resulted in more than $1 million in property damage.

The legislation also clarifies that a convicted arsonist could be charged with second degree murder if the fire or explosion unintentionally caused a person’s death and first degree murder if the cause was intentional.

Senate Bill 1024 now goes to the House of Representatives.

Senate Approves Amendment to Raise Judicial Retirement Age Mandate

The Senate approved legislation to amend the state’s Constitution to increase the mandatory retirement age for judges. House Bill 79 increases the mandatory retirement age for justices, judges and justices of the peace from 70 to 75. Because it is a constitutional amendment, the legislation must be adopted in two consecutive sessions of the General Assembly and then be approved in a statewide referendum.

Senate Approves Bill Expanding Expungement Parameters

The Senate approved legislation the week of October 15th that would allow individuals convicted of certain misdemeanors to apply to have the record expunged if they keep a clean record for at least seven years

Senate Bill 391 would allow courts to grant expungement if the crime is a misdemeanor of the third or second degree and the individual has not been arrested or prosecuted for seven to 10 years following the completion of the sentence or judicial supervision.  It would not apply to offenses punishable by more than one year in prison or pertaining to certain forms of assault, sex offense, cruelty to animals, firearms offenses and certain other crimes. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Other bills approved by the Senate the week of October 15th include:

Senate Bill 1042 addresses an inequitable business practice involving the placement of phlebotomists or specimen collectors in physician and other health care provider offices in the Commonwealth. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

House Bill 493 amends the Capital Facilities Debt Enabling Act to provide for guidelines of the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Project (RACP) provisions of the act, outline procedures for capital project itemization bills and procedures and fiscal limitations for debt-authorizing legislation. The bill returns to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.

House Bill 1481 amends the Insurance Company Law by adding a new Article concerning risk management and risk solvency assessments.  The bill returns to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.

Committee Action:

Finance Committee Reviews IFO Report on Property Tax Elimination

The Senate Finance Committee held a public hearing on October 15th to review the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) analysis of Senate Bill 76 and House Bill 76 (property tax elimination legislation).  More information and video from the hearing is available at https://finance.pasenategop.com/.   The IFO report can be found at www.ifo.state.pa.us.