Harrisburg Happenings

A report on the Legislative Session Week of December 3, 2013

Working to reduces a tax burden on farm families

In April the Senate passed legislation I introduced that would provide a tax break for Pennsylvania farmers. Senate Bill 638 would ensure that high tunnel greenhouses are not considered permanent structures and categorized as real estate for tax purposes.

On Wednesday, the Senate passed House Bill 1439, the House version of the bill.

High tunnels, also known as hoop houses, are steel pipe frames covered by plastic that have a variety of agricultural purposes including plant protection, livestock housing, and storage. These structures extend their growing season so farming families can improve the profitability of their farms. Growers can start their season 4 to 8 weeks earlier in the spring and extend the season 2 to 5 weeks later in the fall.

Subjecting these temporary structures to taxation places an onerous financial burden on farming families that can more than erase any profits they may realize from using high tunnels in the first place.

Senate Bill 638 is now before the House for final passage and House Bill 1439 returns to the House for concurrence on senate amendments. I hope that final legislative approve on one of the bills will come soon and Pennsylvania can act to help our farming families.

Senate approves expansion of military family support program

I was pleased to support passage of a bill on Tuesday that supports a special program to assist members of the military and their families who have immediate financial needs.

Senate Bill 923 preserves and expands the Military Family Relief Assistance Program (MFRAP). The program provides grants of up to $3,500 to Pennsylvania service members and their families. It is funded through a voluntary check-off on the Pennsylvania Personal Income Tax refund.

Senate Bill 923 now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

MFRAP was created in 2005 as part of the “Support our Soldiers” initiative, recognizing that military service sometimes leads to an unexpected financial burden for military families, ranging from child care costs to travel, medical and funeral costs. Almost $115,000 in MFRAP grants were approved in 2012.

SB 923 expands the eligibility requirements to allow service members to receive aid for any pressing financial need beyond their control, not just those directly resulting from military service.

The measure also extends the time limit during which service members can apply from one year to three years after release from active duty for reservists and for former members of the armed forces, its reserve, or Guard. It extends the time limit from two years to four years if the member was injured in the line of duty and received a medical discharge.

Other bills approved by the Senate and sent to the House this week include:

Senate Bill 990 amends the Acupuncture Registration Act of 1986 relating to medical diagnosis and liability insurance.

Senate Bill 1040 amends Title 75 (Vehicles) of the Pennsylvania Consolidate Statutes, regarding proof of financial responsibility, availability of uninsured, underinsured, bodily injury liability and property damage coverage and mandatory deductibles.

 Senate Bill 1077 restricts scrap processors and recycling facilities from purchasing railroad property from individuals. Railroad materials, as defined in the bill, include crossing signals, spikes, track and other materials specifically used by railroads.

Senate Bill 1168 amends the Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act to remove the limitation that the recorder must be mounted in the law enforcement officer’s vehicle.

House Bill 1425 requires institutions offering cosmetology education to have a licensing process that complies with Federal regulations. The bill returns to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.

Carbon monoxide detector measure goes to governor

The Senate concurred Wednesday on House amendments to Senate Bill 607 and sent the measure to the Governor for his signature and enactment into law.

The Pennsylvania Building Code requires all newly constructed homes and certain existing homes that have fossil fuel-burning heaters or appliances and/or an attached garage to install a carbon monoxide detector. SB 607 adds the following standards:

  • For residential buildings, seller must disclose information regarding the installation of carbon monoxide detectors on the property disclosure statement.
  • For multi-family dwellings, each apartment in a dwelling with a fossil fuel-burning heater/appliance, fireplace, or an attached garage must have an operational, centrally located and approved carbon monoxide alarm.
  • For rental properties, the owner of dwellings with a fossil fuel-burning heater or appliance, fireplace or an attached garage must ensure that working carbon monoxide alarms are located in the vicinity of the bedrooms and the heater or fireplace.

Other bills receiving final legislative approval and sent to the Governor this week 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.

Senate Bill 1131 would allow potato packagers to package potatoes without any weight restrictions. Currently, state law requires potatoes be packaged in containers for sale weighing 3, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 50, 100 and multiples of 100 pounds.

House Bill 1225 provides for the electronic publishing of municipal codes.

House Bill 1594 increases penalties for luring a young child into a motor vehicle or structure. The law currently makes luring a child under the age of 13 into a motor vehicle or structure a first-degree misdemeanor with a fine of $10,000. The legislation would make that crime a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.

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