A report on the Legislative Session Week of December 9, 2013
“Hoop house” bill sent to Governor
I am pleased to report that the Senate concurred Wednesday on House amendments to legislation I introduced that will remove an undue burden on Pennsylvania farmers. Senate Bill 638, which would ensure that high tunnel greenhouses are not considered permanent structures and categorized as real estate for tax purposes, now goes to the Governor for his signature and enactment into law.
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.
I am pleased that we are taking this step to help Pennsylvania’s farmers. Hoop houses 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.
Child protection measures sent to the Governor
Several bills targeting child abuse received final legislative approval this week and were sent on to the Governor for his signature and enactment into law.
Senate Bill 23 updates the definition of “perpetrator” and expands the definition of “person responsible for a child’s welfare.”
Senate Bill 28 amends Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) to comprehensively strengthen Pennsylvania’s child abuse laws.
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 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, sent to Governor
Several bills received final legislative approval this week 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.
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 Republicans and Democrats join to discuss property tax relief
I participated in a bipartisan panel on Tuesday that heard from homeowners and community members discussing the current property tax system and 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.
Senate approves bill targeting human trafficking
The Senate approved legislation on Tuesday 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.
Tragically, human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world. This is a major problem across the nation. In fact, many young people are forcibly being trafficked up and down the east coast for purposes of prostitution and are not able to get out of these situations. In some cases, traffickers approach very vulnerable women (including underage girls) to offer them ‘legitimate’ work or the promise of an opportunity for education and then use violence, threats, and lies to suppress their victims. I believe this bill will make great strides in prosecuting these 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 this week 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 in 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 sales 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 the 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, which I introduced, 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.
Special Education Funding Commission issues final report
The Special Education Funding Formula Commission met on Wednesday 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 for video and audio coverage of the hearing.