Harrisburg Happenings

A report on the Legislative Session Week of April 7, 2014

Senate approves cash gift ban measures

The Senate unanimously approved legislation on Wednesday that would impose an absolute ban on legislators accepting cash gifts from lobbyists, principals, consultants and others who seek to influence the legislative process.

Senate Bill 1327 now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. The Senate also approved Senate Resolution 339 on Wednesday which sets a new Senate Rule immediately imposing the same ban on cash gifts to Senators and Senate staff.

The ban would apply to all U.S. and foreign currency, checks, money orders, prepaid gift cards and debit cards. Exceptions are provided for gifts or prizes offered to the general public, commercial loans made in the normal course of business, gifts from family members who are not linked to official action and properly reported campaign contributions.

Violators who accept a cash gift of $250 or more would face a fine of up to $10,000 and a prison sentence of up to five years.

 “Kelsey Smith Act” sent to House of Representatives

The Senate approved a measure on Tuesday intended to save lives by speeding up a process for using technology to locate missing people.

Senate Bill 1290 would require wireless providers to “ping” the cell phone of a missing person at the request of law enforcement officials when there is sufficient information to believe there is a risk or threat of death or serious physical harm.

The measure, also known as the “Kelsey Smith Act,” now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. The bill is named after an 18-year old Kansas woman who was abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered in 2007.  The tragedy resulted in a movement by her parents to ensure that law enforcement authorities can receive assistance from cell phone providers to help find missing people.

Since 2005, the FCC has required cell phone manufacturers to include GPS receivers in all devices.  This has allowed first-responders to pinpoint the location of 911 callers in an emergency.  While Pennsylvania law enforcement officials can request this information from cell phone providers, in most cases a subpoena is required.  SB 1290 would expedite the process when there is the threat of imminent danger to the victim.

Five states — Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire and North Dakota — have passed similar legislation.

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

Senate Bill 1096 clarifies language in Title 26 (Eminent Domain) related to the limited reimbursement of appraisal, attorney and engineering fees.

Senate Bill 1254 updates Pennsylvania’s Plumbing System Lead Ban and Notification Act to comply with recent changes in federal law.

Senate Bill 1267 reauthorizes the Health Care Cost Containment Council and extends its expiration date from June 30, 2014, to June 30, 2017. 

Bill ends exemption for stalking, harassment, threats

The Senate approved legislation that would eliminate a provision that permits intimidation and threats of violence during labor disputes. House Bill 1154 amends the Crimes Code concerning harassment, stalking, and threating to use weapons of mass destruction.

Under current law the crimes of harassment, stalking, and threatening to use weapons of mass destruction each contain an exemption for conduct by a party to a labor dispute. This legislation would remove this exemption, allowing these offenses to be applied to a party to an organized labor dispute.

This Criminal Code exception was highlighted in February when the FBI arrested 10 members of Philadelphia Ironworkers Local 401, including union leadership, for aiding racketeering and arson, and indicted them under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

According to the indictment, union members repeatedly threatened non-union construction employers with violence unless they hired a certain amount of union members. The indictment noted, violence is “deeply ingrained in the structure of their organization.”

Senate approves Oil and Gas Lease Protection Package

The Senate approved three bills on Monday aimed at expanding the rights of landowners who currently hold leases with natural gas companies. The legislation, known as the Oil and Gas Lease Protection Package, now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senate Bill 1236 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 1237 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.

Senate Bill 1238 would require a gas company to record a surrender document in the county Recorder of Deeds office where the oil and gas well is located within 30 days upon expiration, termination, or forfeiture of an oil and gas lease. The surrender document would release the gas company’s interests in the oil and gas. This is similar to what a mortgage company would be required to do after a mortgage is paid in full. 

Child protection measures sent to the Governor

Three bills targeting child abuse received final legislative approval this week and were sent to the Governor for his signature and enactment into law.

Senate Bill 21 clarifies who is a “mandatory reporter” of child abuse.

Senate Bill 33 provides employee whistleblower protection for child abuse reporting.

House Bill 436 expands the list of mandated reporters of suspected child abuse and clarifies reporting procedures. Businesses associated with computer repairs and photo processing would be required to post signage with Child Line and Abuse Registry’s contact information for reporting abuse. The bill returns to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.

The bills are the latest legislative actions based on the recommendations of the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection, created by the passage of Senate Resolution 250 in December 2011 following the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State. The panel held a series of public meetings and released its report in November 2012.

Other bills sent to the Governor’s desk this week include:

Senate Bill 267 amends the Public School Code to add participation in an educational tour or trip not sponsored by the school district to the list of acceptable excuses for a student not attending school.

Senate Bill 1181, which I introduced, provides for the transfer of $300,000 each week from the Race Horse Development Fund to the State Racing Fund to be used exclusively for the enforcement of the Race Horse Industry Reform Act. The transfer shall occur each week from the effective date over a period of 14 weeks for a total amount of $4.2 million.

House Bill 1263 requires a seller of a mobile or manufactured home that has been anchored to the ground to obtain a tax status certification prior to transferring ownership of the home.  

Committee hears presentation on recycled tires for road projects

The Joint Legislative Air and Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee heard a presentation on Monday on the benefits of using recycled ground tire rubber (GTR) in asphalt road paving and GTR’s potential role in furthering highway infrastructure improvements in Pennsylvania.

GTR – which was recently employed in a pilot paving project in central Pennsylvania – was touted as a way add durability and extended life to roads.  Technology improvements are expected to lessen the cost of GTR in asphalt mixes and could profoundly stretch how far tax dollars will go in highway construction.

Click here to watch the presentation.


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