Harrisburg Happenings

A report on the Legislative Session of June 24 – July 3, 2013


FY 2013-14 budget restores Ag, Fairs, Farm Show funding

As Chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, I am pleased to report that state funding for several key agricultural programs as well as local fairs and the Pennsylvania Farm Show were restored or increased in the FY 2013-14 General Fund budget that we finalized on June 30.

This budget recognizes the importance of agriculture as Pennsylvania’s number one industry by providing money for a number of key programs and services that were defunded in the Governor’s budget request in February. I am pleased that House Bill 1437 allocates $3 million for fairs and $4 million for the Pennsylvania Farm Show and that funding is restored for several other programs that benefit Pennsylvania’s farming families.

Among the agricultural line items restored or increased in the budget were: Agricultural Excellence, $600,000; Agricultural Research, $787,000; Agricultural Promotion, Education and Exports, $196,000; hardwoods Research and Promotion, $350,000; and, Food Marketing and Research, $494,000.

In addition, $300,000 was appropriated to create Agricultural Resource Centers which will be a joint venture between the Department of Agriculture and Penn State University to focus research and programs in three core areas: animal welfare, food safety and plant industry.

Overall General Fund spending as proposed in House Bill 1437 is $28.375 billion, a modest $645 million (2.3 percent) increase over current year spending and $64 million less than the Governor’s budget request in February.

House Bill 1437 reaffirms Senate Republicans’ commitment to providing Pennsylvania’s young people with a quality education from the youngest ages through their college years. Basic Education Funding for Pennsylvania’s public schools will see a 2.4 percent increase ($129.9 million) to $5.52 billion in FY 2013-14. That total is $40.4 million above the Governor’s request.

The budget substantially increases state support for early childhood education programs as funding for the Pre-K Counts program will go up by $5 million ($87.2 million) and Head Start Assistance will receive an additional $2 million ($39.17 million). House Bill 1437 maintains state support for Pennsylvania’s state-related universities and State System of Higher Education schools at current levels.

Overall funding for the Attorney General’s Office will increase by more than $9 million, with a $3 million increase for the Child Predator Interceptor Unit ($4.35 million) and $2.5 million for a new Mobile Street Crimes Unit. The budget increases funding for the State Police by nearly $15 million and funds three new State Police training classes, which will enroll 290 new cadets.  Advancing efforts to ensure Pennsylvania’s young people can learn in a safe environment, the budget provides an additional $6.5 million for Safe School Initiatives, bringing that total to $8.5 million.

General Assembly sends bills to the Governor

            A number of other non-budget related bills recently received final legislative approval and were sent to the Governor for enactment into law including:

Senate Bill 10 expands and enhances the Safe Schools Grant program in the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

House Bill 22  amends state law regarding funds transfers.

House Bill 26 authorizes the Department of Labor & Industry to supplement federal funding for administration of the Unemployment Compensation (UC) system with a portion of employees’ UC tax contributions.

House Bill 82 addresses the cost of care for seized animals.

Senate Bill 155 provides an exemption from annual rabies vaccination requirement in cases where it would be harmful to vaccinate a dog or cat due to an infirmity or other physical condition.

House Bill 163 allows the county commissioners of a county advancing from a fifth class designation to a fourth class designation to adopt a resolution providing that one person can continue to hold the offices of prothonotary and clerk of courts, rather than separating the offices. The bill returns to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.

Senate Bill 259 requires companies producing natural gas to show on each royalty check stub, attachment to a payment form, or other remittance advice a detailed itemization of all royalty deductions from royalties paid to a leaseholder.

Senate Bill 304 updates and finishes the codification of the state Nonprofit Corporation Law and makes it consistent with the Business Corporation Law.

Senate Bill 351 permits the establishment of municipal stormwater authorities.

Senate Bill 492 requires the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to distribute the liquid fuel tax funds to individual municipalities on the first day of March each year. Current law provides for these funds to be distributed on the first day of April each year.

House Bill 513  raises the cap on the parameters of a small estate from $25,000 to $50,000. Small estates are ones which can be settled without a formal accounting.

House Bill 515 amends the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code with regard to notices required in advance of public hearings.

Senate Bill 526 clarifies that an animal health certificate can be accepted in lieu of a veterinarian-client-patient relationship form as acceptable documentation required to exhibit animals at livestock shows, including county fairs and the Pennsylvania Farm Show.

Senate Bill 579 updates state law regarding the Pennsylvania State Police to include gender neutral references, name changes and to clarify that troopers assigned to Delaware River Toll Bridge Commission, Gaming Enforcement and Liquor Control Enforcement are not counted against the overall State Police complement.

Senate Bill 583 increases the dollar amount requiring full advertising and bidding of contracts from $10,000 to $18,500 in the Economic Development Financing Law.

Senate Bill 586 would require Pennsylvania to recognize a service member’s wishes for disposition of their remains in the event they die while on duty.

House Bill 602 adds Pennsylvania to the 24 states currently linked through the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) program, which is a multi-state electronic sales blocking system funded by the manufacturers of medicines containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine (PSE).

Senate Bill 700 restructures the composition of the Port Authority Board to provide state government oversight.

House Bill 784 repeals Article XVI-I of the Fiscal Code and creates a freestanding act to be known as the Development Permit Extension Act.

Senate Bill 797 amends the Public School Employees’ Retirement Code and the Pennsylvania Military and Veterans Code and Senate Bill 798 amends the Public School Code to comply with federal law governing military leaves of absence.

Senate Bill 914 moves the Pennsylvania Insurance Department to a dedicated funding structure.

House Bill 1122 amends the Uniform Planned Community Act to replace the current 7-year limitation on withdrawal or conversion of real estate within flexible planned communities with either a 10-year limitation (for projects that do not have a phasing plan) or a limitation based on the approved phasing that is submitted by the developer to the municipality.

House Bill 1124  changes state law to reflect current federal regulatory guidance concerning owner financing by restoring a person’s ability to originate, offer, negotiate or service less than four mortgage loans in a calendar year.

House Bill 1172 addresses mercantile or business privilege taxes imposed by merged political subdivisions.

House Bill 1190 amends the Health Care Facilities Act (HCFA) to permit the application of national accrediting standards for hospital licensure.

House Bill 1217 amends the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act concerning what is considered a controlled substance, specifically under the categories of bath salts and synthetic marihuana.

House Bill 1325 would sanction on-lot septic systems approved by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) as having met anti-degradation requirements in order to protect Pennsylvania waterways by meeting the state’s Clean Streams Law.

House Bill 1490 preserves enforcement of taxicab and limousine regulations in Philadelphia.

Benevolent gesture bill clears Senate

Health care professionals may again be able to say “I’m sorry” without fear of legal consequences under legislation approved by the Senate on June 25.

Senate Bill 379 makes any benevolent gesture made prior to the commencement of a medical liability action by certain health care workers inadmissible as evidence of liability or an admission against interest. A benevolent gesture is defined in the bill as any action that conveys a sense of apology, condolence, explanation, compassion, or commiseration emanating from humane impulses. The bill would apply to health care providers and assisted living residence workers who make a benevolent gesture regarding a patient’s discomfort, pain, suffering, injury or death.

The bill is now before the House of Representatives for consideration. Thirty-six states, the District of Columbia and Guam have provisions allowing medical professionals to make apologies or sympathetic gestures.

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