Harrisburg Happenings

A report on the Legislative Session Week of June 1, 2015

Senate Approves Animal Cruelty Prevention Bills

The Senate approved a package of bills on Wednesday intended to help prevent animal cruelty.

Senate Bill 78 targets kennel owners who lose their license due to violations of the Dog Law. The legislation would prevent violators from continuing to operate a kennel at the same location by having a license issued to an immediate family member or another individual who resides at the same address.

Senate Bill 294 addresses the enforcement and application of Pennsylvania’s cruelty laws, particularly as they pertain to horses. It better defines “torture” and provides appropriate penalties based on language drafted with the assistance of the Farm Bureau.  The bill also provides for the seizure of animals in extreme instances of torture or cruelty.

Senate Bill 373 strengthens laws regarding the tethering of dogs. It also adds a provision regarding shelter for dogs and cats to ensure that they are protected against inclement weather, kept dry and allowed to maintain their normal body temperatures.

Senate Bill 594 adds a section to Pennsylvania’s Animal Cruelty Law to specifically address when it happens in a domestic-violence situation. Under the legislation, if a person with a protection-from-abuse order against them commits animal cruelty against the pet of their spouse or partner, they would face a minimum monetary fine of $2,000 and a maximum fine of $15,000.

Other bills approved by the Senate this week and sent to the House of Representatives for consideration include:

Senate Bill 305, which allows pharmacists who have met certain requirements and follow certain protocols to provide influenza immunizations to children.

Senate Bill 695, which requires lobbyists and lobbying firms to register and file reports electronically through the computerized system developed by the Pennsylvania Department of State.

Senate Bill 490, which includes the PEMA Director as a position subject to review and confirmation by the Senate. Currently, the post is filled by appointment by the Governor.

Committee Sends 911 Reauthorization Measure to Senate

The Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee unanimously approved House Bill 911, which would reauthorize the Emergency 9-1-1 System in Pennsylvania, on Tuesday.

The current fee on wireless devices is set to expire on June 30, 2015, unless the law is reauthorized. House Bill 911 would set the fee at $1.65 a month per device. The bill was amended by the Committee to include:

*Establishing an advisory board consisting of public and nonpublic stakeholders.

*Ensuring a higher percentage of funding is distributed to counties.

*Requiring PEMA to conduct a thorough audit and inventory of all county 911 centers and equipment.

*Requiring PEMA and the advisory board to study future methods of funding the 911 system.

*Establishing a county buy-in provision.

The changes were the result of the two hearings the Committee held on the bill and input provided by a number of individuals and organizations.

The Committee also approved Senate Bill 299, legislation that would allow municipalities to provide tax credits to volunteer firefighters and nonprofit EMS providers, and Senate Bill 370, legislation that allows volunteer fire companies that merge and receive funds through the Fire and EMS Grant Program for up to ten years.

House Bill 911 and Senate Bills 299 and 370 now go to the full Senate for consideration.

Committee Approves Caps on Punitive Damages Against Care Facilities

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee approved legislation on Tuesday that would place caps on punitive damages against personal care facilities.

The caps were amended into Senate Bill 747, a bill I introduced that would require the state insurance Commissioner to investigate the awarding of punitive damages in cases brought within the health care industry over the past 10 years.

The amendment caps punitive damages in cases against personal care homes, assisted living communities, long-term care nursing facilities and their employees and officials at 200 percent of the compensatory damages awarded in a lawsuit. This provision would be consistent with the cap currently placed on punitive damages awarded against physicians.

The amendment was sparked by the actions of a Florida-based law firm that placed ads in newspapers listing Pennsylvania care facilities that had been cited for “violations.” The Pennsylvania Health Care Association has tracked 33 full-page advertisements attacking over 40 nursing facilities just since the beginning of 2015. Resulting lawsuits from these ads drained more than $91 million from the state in 2013.

The committee also approved Senate Bill 861, a measure that clarifies liability issues in cases involving auto dealership loaner vehicles.

Both bills now go to the full Senate for consideration.

Senate Confirms Cabinet Secretaries

The Senate confirmed seven cabinet nominations this week.

On Tuesday, the Senate approved the nominations of Pedro Cortes as Secretary of Department of State, Ted Dallas as Secretary of Human Services, Cindy Dunn as Secretary of Conservation and Natural Resources and Robin Wiessmann as Secretary of Banking and Securities.

On Wednesday, the Senate approved the nominations of Teresa Miller as Insurance Commissioner, Pedro Rivera as Secretary of Education and John Quigley as Secretary of Environmental Protection.

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