December 9, 2013 – Weekly Session Wrap

Senate Weekly Session Wrap

A Report on the Legislative Session Week of December 9, 2013

Harrisburg Happenings:

Special Education Funding Commission Issues Final Report

The Special Education Funding Formula Commission, which I co-chaired, met on December11th to consider final recommendations and release its final report. Created by Act 3 of 2013, the 15-member commission was tasked with developing a new formula for distributing state funding to Pennsylvania school districts for special education. More information about the final report and the commission is available here.

Click here for video and audio coverage of the hearing.

Legislation to Protect Children Headed to Governor

The Senate concurred on December 11th on House amendments to a bill I introduced to strengthen Pennsylvania’s child protection laws and sent the measure to the Governor for his signature.

Senate Bill 28 lowers the age of a perpetrator for simple assault from age 21 to 18; amends 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 who reports child abuse.

This bill holds perpetrators accountable for their actions by increasing the criminal penalties for any person who injures a child. In addition, it 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.

Other Child Protection Measures Sent to Governor

Senate Bill 23 updates the definition of “perpetrator” and expands the definition of “person responsible for a child’s welfare.”

Senate Bill 30 establishes accountability and due process protections for individuals working with delinquent children in juvenile detention facilities and residential rehabilitative institutions.

Senate Bill 34 establishes a comprehensive system for professional educators who are investigated and disciplined for misconduct in Pennsylvania.

Senate Bill 1116 provides for a multidisciplinary investigative team to be used to coordinate child-abuse investigations between county agencies and law enforcement.

House Bill 1201 amends the Judicial Code concerning child victims and witnesses and also reporting by district attorneys.

Several other bills were approved by the Senate and returned to the House for concurrence votes.

House Bill 321 directs the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing provide for a sentencing enhancement for child pornography, based upon the age of the child victimized, the number of images possessed and the nature and character of the abuse.

House Bill 414 requires the court, in a custody proceeding, to consider factors related to child abuse and involvement with child protective services.

House Bill 726 amends the definitions of “child abuse” and related terms in the Child Protective Services Law.

The bills are part of a bipartisan package of legislation introduced following the recommendations of the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection, created by the passage of Senate Resolution 250 in December 2011. The panel held a series of public meetings and released its report in November 2012.

Several Bills Receive Final Legislative Approval

Several bills received final legislative approval the week of December 9th and were sent to the Governor:

House Bill 1274 will allow counties that operate their own crime labs to receive the money generated by the criminal laboratory user fee imposed on defendants within that county. In counties that do not operate their own criminal laboratory, the fees imposed on defendants will be used to support Pennsylvania State Police criminal laboratories.

House Bill 1523 amends the Open Space Law to authorize a local government unit, other than a county or county authority, to use open space tax revenue for additional purposes such as improvements to trails and parks.

House Bill 1644 amends the Municipal Authorities Act to permit additional adjustments in the assessment imposed by a business improvement district authority.

House Bill 1706  increases loan amounts available for volunteer fire and ambulance companies under the Volunteer Loan Assistance Program (VLAP).

Senate Action:

Senate Approves Bill Targeting Human Trafficking

The Senate approved legislation on December 10th intended to help law enforcement arrest and prosecute human traffickers.

Human trafficking is already illegal in Pennsylvania. However, there has only been one conviction under Pennsylvania’s current statute. Advocates and prosecutors say this is because the current law contains vague definitions and lacks the teeth necessary for the effective arrest and prosecution of criminals.

Senate Bill 75 will:

  • More clearly define “sex trafficking” and “labor trafficking;”
  • Increase fines and penalties for trafficking and involuntary servitude;
  • Add penalties for business entities involved in this crime (e.g., license revocation and forfeiture of contracts);
  • Create the Pennsylvania Council for the Prevention of Human Trafficking;
  • Increase training for first responders; and
  • Expand resources available to victim service providers.

The measure now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Other bills approved the week of December 9th and sent to the House include:

House Bill 546 enacts changes for the Allegheny County Pension Fund supported by the Allegheny County Retirement Board for future employees. The bill was returned to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.

Senate Bill 622 corrects a flaw in the Debt Management Services Act which resulted in a lawsuit against the Department of Banking regarding its ability to license and regulate the debt settlement industry in Pennsylvania.

Senate Bill 731 closes a loophole in current law that enables repeat offenders to avoid more serious penalties if they take part in an Accelerated Rehabilitation Program (ARD).  Offenders will still be able to have the first offense expunged from their record if they complete ARD, but they would be held accountable for potential increased penalties if they repeat the offense.  The bill was returned to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.

Senate Bill 814 amends the Board of Vehicles Act pertaining to the sale of recreational vehicles at shows and other events in the Commonwealth by defining out-of-state recreational vehicle dealers and clarifying requirements for an entity to exhibit in Pennsylvania.

Senate Bill 885 designates the River City Brass Band as the Official Brass Band of Pennsylvania.

House Bill 892 amends Title 75 to provide that motorcycle learners’ permits shall be non-renewable. The legislation would also allow a person to reapply for a motorcycle learner’s permit no more than three times in a five-year period from when that person first applies. The bill was returned to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.

Senate Bill 1164 provides immunity from prosecution for certain drug crimes to an individual responding to an occurrence of drug overdose. The measure is intended to encourage those who are with someone experiencing a potential drug overdose to contact the appropriate authorities to help prevent serious injury or death.  There are documented cases where such actions were not taken due to fear of arrest.

Senate Bill 1181 directs that an amount not to exceed $5 million be transferred from the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development Fund to the State Racing Fund to be used for enforcement of the Race Horse Industry Reform Act.  

Committee Action:

Senate Republicans and Democrats Join to Discuss Property Tax Relief

Homeowners and community members discussed the current property tax system on December 10th with a bipartisan state Senate panel, focusing on alternatives to better meet the needs of property owners, seniors and school districts.

The state Senate Majority Policy Committee and Democratic Policy Committee hosted a joint roundtable discussion at the Capitol to examine ways to reform the state’s property tax system to provide relief for those facing tax increases.

The discussion featured input from several groups, including the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, Pennsylvania Coalition of Taxpayer Associations, Pennsylvania Association of Realtors, Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce and Industry, National Federation of Independent Businesses, Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, Pennsylvania Institute of CPAs and the Anderson Economic Group.

Video from the hearing is available by clicking here.