View in browser
The 2015-16 Legislative Session kicked off this week with the announcement of Senate committee assignments on Monday and the inauguration of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor on Tuesday.
Committees have begun vetting bills and sending them to the full Senate for votes, which should begin happening next week. Below is a recap of this week’s action in the Capitol.
Scott R. Wagner
In this Edition:
On Tuesday we returned to session, and Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack took his oath of office in the Senate Chamber. As part of his duties, Lieutenant Governor Stack serves as the presiding officer of the Senate when we are in session.
Following the swearing-in service, the House and Senate processed to Gov. Tom Wolf’s inaugural ceremony, which was held on the plaza outside of the Capitol’s East Wing.
By Wednesday, the Senate started considering legislation, as four committees held meetings this week. In case you missed it, committee assignments were finalized and announced by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati on Monday, and I am very pleased with my committee line-up.
This week, I circulated a co-sponsorship memo asking my Senate colleagues to sign onto two Constitutional amendments that would end the taxpayer-funded collection of money that is used for politics.
Currently, money is collected through taxpayer-funded payroll deductions that ends up being used in political campaigns and for lobbying efforts. These two Constitutional amendments, one covering state payroll systems and the other covering local government payroll systems, would end that practice permanently.
We tried to end this process for government unions statutorily last session, but unfortunately we fell short in votes. After a lot of thought, I decided that the best way to clean up this process and make it more ethical is to amend the Constitution. This way, we stop paying to collect political money for all organizations, not just the government unions. It’s wrong to use taxpayer resources for political purposes, and the use of our payroll systems as the collection agents for political causes is a violation of that principle.
Constitutional amendments must pass the legislature in two consecutive legislative sessions and are then put before voters as a referendum.
Below is a recap of recent activity by the Senate committees I serve on:
The Senate Transportation Committee on Wednesday approved four bills, including Senate Bill 290, which is intended to reduce drunk driving offenses by making ignition interlock requirements mandatory for certain first-time offenders with high blood alcohol levels.
Currently, the ignition interlock requirement only applies to second offenses.
Senate Bill 290 would allow some individuals to operate a vehicle while under suspension and license restriction, provided that they have an approved interlock device and meet other requirements.
The committee also approved two bills Senate Bill 286 and Senate Bill 287, which are part of a bi-state legislative package intended to bring greater transparency and accountability to the Delaware River Port Authority.
The bills are now before the full Senate for consideration.
Additional Committee Action:
The Senate Finance Committee approved a proposed Constitutional amendment on Thursday that would clarify the process for determining the tax-exempt status of public charities. Senate Bill 4 is now before the full Senate for consideration.
The bill specifies that the General Assembly has the exclusive right to set the parameters for an organization to qualify as a purely public charity, and in turn for exemption from property taxes.
The legislature established criteria under Act 55 of 1997. However, a 2012 Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling utilized a court-created standard from 1987 called the HUP test to deny an organization status as a purely public charity. The ruling led many municipalities to examine whether they could begin levying real estate taxes on charitable organizations who had previously been deemed exempt.
Since the bill would amend the state Constitution, it must pass in two consecutive legislative sessions before being decided by the voters via referendum. The proposal was already approved once by the General Assembly during the 2013-14 session.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a measure on Thursday that would provide an age exemption from jury duty.
Senate Bill 210 would exempt those persons 75 years of age or older who wish to be excused from jury duty. At least 26 states exempt elderly persons from serving on juries. Generally, states have set the age qualifying for the exemption at 65, 70 or 75. For example, in West Virginia the age is 65, in Maryland the age is 70, and in New Jersey the age is 75.
Other bills approved by the committee and sent on to the full Senate for consideration include:
Senate Bill 161 would provide immunity from civil liability for hospitals that donate for humanitarian aid medical equipment and supplies which are in good condition.
Senate Bill 166 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 ten years following the completion of the sentence or judicial supervision.
Senate Bill 180 updates and revises state law relating to organ and tissue donations.
Senate Bill 283 continues the process to amend the state Constitution to eliminate the Philadelphia Traffic Court.
Senate Bill 301 consolidates various statutes into the Administrative Procedure Code.
The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee approved two bills on Wednesday aimed at expanding the rights of landowners who currently hold leases with natural gas companies.
Senate Bill 147 would expand the Oil and Gas Lease Act by allowing royalty interest owners the opportunity to inspect records of natural gas companies to verify proper payments. The bill also requires all royalty payments to be made within 60 days of production unless otherwise stated in the contract. Any delinquent payments would be paid with interest.
Senate Bill 148 would prohibit a gas company from retaliating against any royalty interest owner by terminating their lease agreement or ceasing development on leased property because the owner questions the accuracy of royalty payments. Companies violating the provisions of this bill would face civil penalties of up to $1,000 per day.
The committee also approved Senate Bill 279, legislation establishing the Penn Grade Crude Development Advisory Council, which would study existing regulations and assist the Department of Environmental Protection in making changes that better address the differences between conventional and unconventional oil and gas production.
All three bills are now before the full Senate for consideration.
The Senate returns to session on Monday at 1 p.m. You can watch session live at PASenateGOP.com.