2015 Legislative Accomplishments
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be highlighting legislation that I either sponsored, co-sponsored, or voted for that were approved by the Senate. Some were passed into law, some still await consideration by the House of Representatives, but all are things that I believe are positive steps forward for our state government.
- Constitutional Amendment to Eliminate the Philadelphia Traffic Court (Senate Bill 283)
In 2013, legislation was passed into law abolishing the Philadelphia Traffic Court; this constitutional amendment makes sure that it will never exist again. No other county in Pennsylvania had a separate traffic court and there was no evidence that this court served the public interest. It consisted of 122 judges, most of which made well over $100,000 a year and many have been the subject of FBI raids and criminal investigations for corruption. This constitutional amendment is the final nail in the coffin of this corrupt, expensive government bureaucracy.
This constitutional amendment was approved by the legislature in consecutive sessions, and is now in the hands of voters.
- The Taxpayer-Funded Advertising Transparency Act (Act 90 of 2015)
All advertising made by a Commonwealth agency will include the statement “Paid for with Pennsylvania taxpayer dollars.”
The state budget is tighter than ever and I believe we must squeeze every department budget for savings. Taxpayers should know what their tax dollars are being used for. Advertising and promotion is for the private sector, not government. Act 90 was signed into law on Dec. 20, 2015.
- Consolidation of the Department of Corrections & Board of Probation & Parole (Senate Bill 859)
Waste, inefficiencies, and duplication of duties is far too often a hallmark of government bureaucracies. It’s the duty of legislators to identify these inefficiencies and correct them through changes in law. These two departments perform critical duties in the incarceration and rehabilitation of criminal offenders, but, oftentimes, their duties overlap. It is estimated that cutting down on these overlapping services will save tens of millions of taxpayer dollars. At least 40 states already have their parole boards within the department of corrections and have realized significant savings as a result.
Senate Bill 859 was approved by the Senate in November and awaits consideration by the House of Representatives.
- Legislative Oversight of the Regulatory Review Process (Senate Bill 562)
Oftentimes, laws passed by the General Assembly are implemented by regulations initiated by the affected department (e.g. PA Gaming Control Board proposes a new type of table game to be available in PA casinos, Three Card Prime) and approved by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IIRC). These regulations oftentimes have a more profound impact on the public than the laws themselves.
Senate Bill 562 empowers the citizens, through their elected officials, to have the final say on regulations by authorizing legislative committees to hold public hearings on proposed regulations, adopt official comments, and have regulations removed from the IIRC agenda that don’t conform to legislative intent. Senate Bill 562 was approved in April and awaits consideration by the House of Representatives.
- Proof of Citizenship for Receipt of Public Benefits Act (Senate Bill 9)
It’s estimated that state and federal governments throughout the United States have spent billions of dollars giving benefits (Medicaid, welfare, unemployment) to illegal immigrants. Frankly, this is appalling. Taxpayers cannot be expected to foot the bill for welfare benefits for folks that have no legal right to be in the United States; that’s just common sense.
Senate Bill 9 requires an individual to provide identification of lawful presence in the United States prior to the receipt of public benefits. An executed affidavit that the person is a U.S. citizen, legal permanent resident or otherwise lawfully present in the U.S. is also required. Senate Bill 9 also establishes violations, including for unlawful possession of the access device used to receive benefits, and for false statements in an affidavit. Senate Bill 9 awaits consideration by the House State Government Committee.
- Outlaw the Purchase of Gift Cards in Lieu of Community Service (Act 72 of 2015)
Recently, it was brought to the attention of the legislature that a county Office of Probation and Parole in central Pennsylvania was allowing defendants sentenced to community service to purchase credit towards that service by giving gift cards to the Office. The Office would then donate these gift cards to local nonprofits. Unfortunately, there was nothing in the law that specifically prohibited this activity, effectively allowing folks to buy their way out of community service.
Act 72 put an end to this practice and ensured that you cannot buy yourself out of community service for crimes you committed.
- Strengthening the Open Records Law (Senate Bill 411)
In 2008, Pennsylvania enacted a completely rewritten Open Records Law (Act 3) which provided the public with access to tens of thousands of government documents that were previously unavailable to the public. Government documents were presumed to be public and the burden of proof was transferred to the government in order to deny access to the records. State government is here to serve taxpayers; it only makes sense that taxpayers should have access to their government’s records.
That law was not perfect, and Senate bill 411 makes some very important changes to our Open Records law that increases transparency and efficiency in the process. One glaring issue was the abuse of the Open Records Law by inmates; at times, 40% of the entire workload of the Office of Open Records was devoted to requests by incarcerated criminals. Senate Bill 411 limits inmate request to documents that relate to themselves and their incarceration only. This legislation also expands the Open Records Law to the PIAA, state-affiliated universities, campus police departments, and many other quasi-governmental agencies.
Taxpayers deserve an open, honest government and I believe these reforms take important steps to increase that transparency. Senate Bill 411 awaits consideration by the House of Representatives.
- Penalties for Falsely Claiming to be a Veteran (Act 32 of 2015)
In 2012, Pennsylvanians were first permitted to secure the “veteran” designation on their driver’s license as a way to demonstrate their service and more easily enjoy the benefits and services that veterans deserve. Unfortunately, some have falsely claimed that veteran status in recent years for a variety of reasons. Act 32 imposes penalties criminal penalties on those that commit “stolen valor” in hopes of deterring this fraudulent act.
Act 32 was signed into law on July 10, 2015.
- Legalization & Regulation of Ridesharing Networks, such as Uber & Lyft (Senate Bill 984)
Ridesharing networks provide an alternative to traditional taxi service through a smart phone application that connects willing drivers with passengers that pay a toll. The drivers are able to make money in their downtime—driving their own vehicle—while passengers have ready access to transportation options, especially in areas where taxicabs are not always available. This readily accessible, affordable transportation alternative has the potential to cut-down on drunk driving by a significant amount.
Uber & Lyft are the most prominent examples of ridesharing companies operating in Pennsylvania right now and they operate under temporary authority granted by the Public Utility Commission (PUC). Senate Bill 984 makes this authority permanent and provides for consumer protections such as driver background checks and insurance coverage.
The entrepreneurial spirit is the heart of the American Dream and these innovative companies are a shining example of it. We should encourage competition in the private sector, not hinder it. Senate Bill 984 awaits consideration by the House of Representatives.
- Anti-tethering Legislation (Senate Bill 373)
The tethering of dogs is cruel and inhumane. To a dog, being constantly tethered is akin to solitary confinement of a human being. Currently, over 120 cities, counties, and towns in over 30 states have legislation prohibiting or restricting perpetual tethering of dogs. Texas has a state-wide law restricting tethering to no more than three hours a day.
Senate Bill 373 imposes restrictions on the amount of time a dog can be tethered, the weather in which it can be tethered outside, and prohibits choke-type collars as a means of tethering. Violating these provisions will be a summary offense, subsequent offenses will be a misdemeanor. Senate Bill 373 awaits consideration by the House of Representatives.
- Treated Mine Water Act (Act 47 of 2015)
It takes millions of gallons of water to drill, complete, and hydraulically fracture conventional and unconventional oil and gas wells. Rather than devoting fresh water sources to this process, it is possible to use treated mine water from coal mines instead. This conserves fresh water sources and recycles water that was already used in an unrelated mining operation and—a win/win for the environment and industry.
In the past, the use of treated mine water was deterred by a lack of clearly defined liabilities. Act 47 of 2015 promotes the reuse of treated mine water by ensuring mine operators providing treated water are not held liable for the offsite use of that water by oil and gas wells. Additionally, oil and gas well drillers are not held liable for the treatment or abatement of mine pool water. This bill does not relieve a mine operator or an oil and gas operator from any of their respective environmental obligations under the law.
Act 47 was signed into law on October 8, 2015.
- Eliminate Mandatory State Police Escort of Super Load Vehicles (Act 55 of 2015)
Under current law, any tractor transporting a load greater than 201,000 lbs, over 160 feet, and/or 16 feet wide requires a police escort. Act 55 of 2012 permits certified escort vehicles to accompany super loads in lieu of the State Police. There’s no reason why law enforcement should have to devote resources and time to vehicle escorts when there are other options that are just as safe to the motoring public.
Act 55 was signed into law on October 30, 2015.
- Fairness in Multiple Copayment Act (Act 39 of 2015)
Prior to the enactment of this law, folks receiving physical therapy, chiropractic, or occupational therapy services could be charged multiple copayments for just one appointment. For example, if a chiropractor performed three different services during one appointment, one could possibly be hit with three copayment bills. Furthermore, consumers were finding that each individual service provided by the healthcare professional was being billed as a “visit” on their healthcare plan as a result of this. Act 39 reestablishes the obligation of health plans to cover the expense of medical services by limiting co-payments to one per visit.
Act 39 was signed into law on July 31, 2015.
- Electronic Filing of Lobbyist Disclosure Documents (Senate Bill 695)
In the past, it has taken months after lobbyist disclosure documents were completed and filed via paper before they were posted for public viewing on the Department of State’s website. Senate Bill 695 requires lobbyists to promptly file electronically using the Department of State’s website. This ensures easy, fast access for the public, increases transparency in government, and cuts down on bureaucratic paperwork.
Senate Bill 695 was approved by the Senate in June and awaits consideration by the House of Representatives.
- Oil and Gas Lease Protection Package (Senate Bills 147 & 148)
As former President Ronald Reagan once said: Trust, but verify. The Oil and Gas Lease Protection Package takes steps to allow landowners to trust the gas company they lease their land to by verifying that their royalty payments are paid-in-full.
Senate Bill 147 legally permits any lessor (landowner) to inspect supporting documentation of a lessee (gas company) for any property for which the lessor has been paid royalties at any time in the past three years. Furthermore, this legislation requires royalty payments to be made within 90 days of production.
The companion bill, Senate Bill 148, protects landowners from retaliation by prohibiting the gas company from ceasing development or production because the landowner requested to inspect their records pertaining to their royalty payments. This would prevent any intimidation discouraging landowners from rightfully inspecting the documents that they are entitled to see.
The gas industry provides many tangible, economic benefits to our region that are mutually beneficial to all parties involved. I believe that landowners deserve the right to verify that everything is above-board when they lease their land for gas development. Senate Bills 147 and 148 await consideration by the House of Representatives.
- Navigator and Exchange Assister Accessibility and Regulation Act (Act 7 of 2015)
The Affordable Care Act depends on individuals, generally called “navigators,” to educate and enroll uninsured Americans in either Medicaid or a private insurance plan. According to federal law, there are very few qualifications or restrictions in place on individuals working as navigators—this is concerning because these folks will have access to confidential personal information of the people they are assisting and they are being relied upon to give correct information to consumers.
Act 7 of 2015 imposes commonsense regulations on these navigators, including a requirement that navigators must register with the PA Department of Insurance and pass a criminal background check. Furthermore, consumers will be able to search a list of all registered navigators in Pennsylvania on the Department of Insurance website.
Act 7 of 2015 was signed into law on June 19, 2015.
- Requiring Counselors of Sexually Violent Predators to Notify Law Enforcement (Act 20 of 2015)
Under Pennsylvania law, sexually violent predators must receive at least monthly counseling sessions. The existence of these counselors and their offices is oftentimes unknown to local police and the county district attorney’s office. Act 20 of 2015 requires these providers to give written notice every year to the district attorney and to law enforcement that sexually violent predators are being treated at their offices.
Act 20 of 2015 was signed into law on July 10, 2015.
- Waive Local Earned Income Tax for Volunteer Firefighters & Emergency Medical Service (EMS) Technicians (Senate Bill 299)
First responders are the folks who roll out of bed at 3 a.m. when the emergency alarm rings, they are the first on the scene when someone’s life is in danger, and they play a critical role in keeping our communities safe. All Pennsylvanians benefit greatly from the services they bravely and selflessly provide.
Unfortunately, evidence shows that the numbers of individuals volunteering as first responders is on the decline. Senate Bill 299 was prompted by a hearing on firefighter & EMS Technician retention and recruitment by the Senate Veteran Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee as a way to incentivize more folks to consider volunteering. This legislation allows municipalities to waive all or a portion of the local income tax on volunteer firefighters as well as volunteers at EMS agencies—a small token of appreciation from local governments extended to the first responders that serve their community.
Senate Bill 299 was approved by the Senate in June and awaits consideration by the House of Representatives.
- Increased Openness & Transparency in Procurement Code (Senate Bill 316)
It’s your tax money; you deserve to know how every last penny of it is spent. Senate Bill 316 affirms that procurement records are subject to the Right-To-Know Law and requires posting of various procurement records on the Department of General Services’ website, or, in the case of an independent agency, on that agency’s website. Request for proposals must be placed on the website, as well as bidder information, notices of contract awards, requests to award a contract under a sole source (no-bid) method, and much more information. Furthermore, this legislation establishes limits on contracts for legal services, including compensation and fees.
Senate Bill 316 was approved by the Senate in February and awaits final consideration by the House of Representatives.
- Public Notice Prior to Signing Collective Bargaining Agreements (Senate Bill 645)
Public employers across the commonwealth currently negotiate contracts totaling billions of dollars’ worth of compensation without any public review or oversight. I believe Pennsylvania taxpayers have the right to know the costs of these agreements before they’re enacted—especially considering that the taxpayers are the ones footing the bill. Senate Bill 645 requires any proposed collective bargaining agreement to me made available on the public employer’s website for public review at least two weeks prior to the signing of the agreement.
Good governance starts with transparency and this legislation shines a light on a process that can, ultimately, have large implications for the state budget and overall fiscal health of our Commonwealth.
Senate Bill 645 was approved by the Senate in May and awaits consideration by the House of Representatives.
- PACE/PACENET Eligibility Extension Social Security COLA (Act 91 of 2015)
Approximately 300,000 older Pennsylvanians benefit from PACE and PACENET, Pennsylvania’s prescription drug assistance programs. Unfortunately, it’s estimated that 16,500 PACE/PACENET card holders would lose their eligibility as a result of the 1.7% Social Security COLA for 2015—effectively cancelling out any benefit gained by the COLA due to the increased cost of medication. Act 91 of 2015 allows thousands of older Pennsylvanians to continue to be enrolled in PACE/PACENET in the event that their Social Security COLA would have caused them to exceed the income limit for the program.
Act 91 of 2015 was signed into law on December 28, 2015.
- Cruelty to Horses Law Amendments “Cordelia’s Law” (Senate Bill 294)
This issue was brought to the legislature’s attention when a horse, known as Cordelia, was discovered in a mid-state salvage yard. She could barely stand, had no shelter, and was severely starved. The horse could not be saved; but her death was the catalyst for changes to state law regarding horses.
Senate Bill 294 adds “equine animal” to the animal cruelty statutes and makes it a first degree misdemeanor if any individual willfully or maliciously kills, maims, mutilates, tortures, disfigures any animal covered under the statute. Additionally, the definition of “torture” is widened to include prolonged deprivation of food or sustenance that causes the animal to lose more than 1/3 of its body mass without veterinary care.
I strongly believe that horses deserve the same protection under our animal cruelty laws that many other animals enjoy.
Senate Bill 294 was approved by the Senate in June and awaits consideration by the House of Representatives.
- EMS Insurance Payment Amendments & Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Reauthorization (Act 84 of 2015)
CHIP was designed to provide insurance coverage to uninsured children and teens (up to age 19) whose families earn too much to qualify for Medical Assistance, but cannot afford to purchase private insurance. The program is supported by both state and federal funds. It was slated to expire on December 31, 2015 and would’ve meant over 145,000 children enrolled in the program would have lost their coverage.
Additionally, Act 84 makes some changes to the way EMS agencies are reimbursed for services provided. Previously, if an individual required the services of an emergency service provider and that provider is “out of network,” that individual would get the insurance reimbursement money sent directly to them and they’d be responsible to pay the EMS agency with that money. Unfortunately, sometimes the EMS wouldn’t ever see the money—costing consumers in the long run. Act 84 requires insurers to pay directly to the EMS agency for a claim covered under that insurance policy, whether or not they’re “in network.”
Act 84 2015 was signed into law on December 20, 2015.
- Permit Out-Of-State Team Physicians to treat Athletes (Act 73 of 2015)
Many teams in Pennsylvania and around the country employ medical personnel who travel with the team and coaches for the purpose of providing medical care. These team physicians have established medical relationships with the athletes and are well suited to provide care while teams are competing. 21 states currently allow for visiting team physicians to practice in their state without meeting home state licensing requirements.
Act 73 of 2015 permits travelling team physicians that are licensed in their home state to provide care for their team while travelling in Pennsylvania. It’s just common sense that team physicians shouldn’t have any reason to hesitate to provide care for their team members when the need arises.
Act 73 of 2015 was signed into law on December 6, 2015.
- Ready to Succeed Scholarship (Act 33 of 2015)
The Ready to Succeed Scholarship Program was created by Act 126 of 2014 and provides awards to high-achieving students with a minimum 3.25 GPA whose family income does not exceed $110,000. Students must be nominated by their post-secondary institutions after they have completed one academic year.
The scholarship awards up to $2,000 for a full-time student and $1,000 for part-time students and can be used to cover tuition, books, fees, supplies, and living expenses. It was authorized on a one-year trial basis and was tremendously successful—Act 33 of 2015 will ensure that Ready to Succeed scholarships may continue to be awarded if funding is available in future fiscal years. Parents and students interested in the Ready to Succeed Scholarship Program can click here for more information.
Act 33 of 2015 was signed into law on July 10, 2015.