A Report on the Legislative Session Week
I am pleased to send you my Session Wrap Up e-newsletter. This
e-newsletter features events and legislative activities during the Session Week
of January 20, 2015.
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Governor and Lieutenant Governor Sworn In, Committees Formed
The 2015-16 Legislative Session kicked off this week with the announcement of
Senate committee assignments on Monday and the inauguration of the Governor and
Lieutenant Governor on Tuesday.
Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack took his oath of office during a ceremony that
started at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday in the Senate Chamber. As part of his duties,
Lieutenant Governor Stack serves as the presiding officer of the Senate when it
is in session.
Governor Tom Wolf’s inaugural ceremony started at noon and was held in the plaza
area around the state Capitol’s East Wing.
With all of the ceremonial functions completed, the Senate started considering
legislation as four committees held meetings this week. The formation of all of
the Senate’s standing committees was finalized on Monday with Senate President
Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati’s announcement of committee assignments.
Earlier this month, Senator Scarnati reappointed me to serve as Chairman
of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee for the 2015-16 Legislative
I expect the committee will again be extremely active over the upcoming
two years. We have closely monitored the implementation of the federal Patient
Protection and Affordable Care Act as well as the Healthy PA program and will
continue to do so. A top priority will be to enact legislation to monitor and
set responsible standards for healthcare navigators under the Affordable Care
Act to protect consumers. It is our job as legislators to ensure the basic
rights of Pennsylvanians are not trampled by the federal law.
During the 2013-14 Legislative Session, the Senate passed
Senate Bill 1268, legislation that would require Healthcare Exchange
Navigators be certified by the Department of Insurance and pass a criminal
background check, but the measure was not approved by the House before the
session concluded at the end of November.
I also expect the Banking and Insurance Committee will continue to monitor the
results of the ending of the contract between UPMC and Highmark in the coming
This week, Senator Scarnati appointed me to serve as a member of five
other Senate committees: Community, Economic & Recreational Development;
Environmental Resources & Energy; Law & Justice; Rules & Executive Nominations;
and State Government.
I am extremely pleased with my committee assignments for this session.
These committees have a major impact in shaping policies and enacting laws that
will have a significant impact in our region. Environmental Resources and Energy
monitors the coal and Marcellus Shale industries and the legislation that
Right off the bat, the committee will be reviewing Governor Wolf’s
nominations of Cindy Dunn as Secretary of Conservation and Natural Resources and
John Quigley as Secretary of Environmental Protection. I know we will have many
serious questions about their governing philosophies and the impact they could
have on Pennsylvania’s energy producers and related businesses, which are a
critical part of our local economy.
here to hear my comments on my committee assignments.
Committee Approves Oil and Gas Lease Protection bills
The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee approved two bills on
Wednesday aimed at expanding the rights of landowners who currently hold leases
with natural gas companies.
Senate Bill 147 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 148 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.
The committee also approved
Senate Bill 279, legislation establishing the Penn Grade Crude Development
Advisory Council, which would study existing regulations and assist the
Department of Environmental Protection in making changes that better address the
differences between conventional and unconventional oil and gas production.
All three bills are now before the full Senate for consideration.
Bill Would Expand Ignition Interlock Requirement
The Senate Transportation Committee approved a measure on Wednesday aimed
at reducing drunk driving offenses in Pennsylvania.
Senate Bill 290 would make the ignition interlock program mandatory for
first-time DUI offenders with high blood alcohol levels. Currently, the ignition
interlock requirement only applies to second offenses.
SB 290 would allow some individuals to operate a vehicle while under
suspension and license restriction provided that they have an approved interlock
device and meet other requirements.
The committee also approved
Senate Bill 286 and
Senate Bill 287, measures that are part of a bi-state legislative
package intended to bring greater transparency and accountability to the
Delaware River Port Authority.
The bills are now before the full Senate for consideration.
Purely Public Charities Bill Sent to Senate
The Senate Finance Committee approved a measure on Thursday that would
clarify the process for determining the tax-exempt status of public charities.
Senate Bill 4 is now before the full Senate for consideration.
The bill specifies that the General Assembly has the exclusive right to
set the parameters for an organization to qualify as a purely public charity.
Under current law, organizations that meet the criteria of a purely public
charity are exempt from paying property taxes.
However, a 2012 Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling created a vague new
standard that charitable organizations must meet in order to qualify as a purely
public charity. The controversial ruling created a great deal of confusion among
charities and led many municipalities to examine whether they could begin
levying real estate taxes on charitable organizations who had previously been
Since the bill would amend the state Constitution, it must pass in two
consecutive legislative sessions before being decided by the voters via
referendum. The proposal was already approved once by the General Assembly
during the 2013-14 session.
Committee Approves Age Exemption for Jury Duty
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a measure on Thursday that would provide
an age exemption from jury duty.
Senate Bill 210 would exempt those persons 75 years of age or older who wish
to be excused from jury duty. At least 26 states exempt elderly persons from
serving on juries. Generally, states have set the age qualifying for the
exemption at 65, 70 or 75. For example, in West Virginia the age is 65, in
Maryland the age is 70, and in New Jersey the age is 75.
Other bills approved by the committee and sent on to the full Senate for
Senate Bill 161 would provide immunity from civil liability for hospitals
that donate for humanitarian aid medical equipment and supplies which are in
Senate Bill 166 would allow courts to grant expungement if the crime is a
misdemeanor of the third or second degree and the individual has not been
arrested or prosecuted for seven to ten years following the completion of the
sentence or judicial supervision.
Senate Bill 180 updates and revises state law relating to organ and tissue
Senate Bill 283 continues the process to amend the state Constitution to
eliminate the Philadelphia Traffic Court.
Senate Bill 301 consolidates various statutes into the Administrative