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Senator Don White

Harrisburg Happenings
A Report on the Legislative Session Week
June 22, 2015

Dear Friend,

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 June 22, 2015.

If you find this e-newsletter useful, I invite you to visit my website for more information about your state government. If you do not wish to receive these e-newsletters, please click the "unsubscribe" button at the bottom of the page. If you would like to contact my office, please go to my web page and click the "contact" button. Please do not "reply" directly to this e-mail.


Don White

Local Student Recognized by State Senate

A local student’s proposal to establish a program to hire qualified military veterans to protect schools earned him the opportunity to visit the state Capitol and be honored by the state Senate on Tuesday. Brent Johnson, a student from Indiana Area High School, submitted the winning entry in the recent “There Ought to be a Law” essay competition sponsored by Senator White.

Brent proposal was V.A.P.S., which stands for Veterans Association Protective Services. He suggested that returning veterans who qualify mentally and physically have the privilege of protecting the schools as government officials, keeping their rank from the military and maintaining government employee status.

By keeping their government status, they would be fully funded and insured through the United States government, so as to not burden local taxpayers for a salary through the school district. These employees, under service to the United States government, would have the right to bear arms for the protection and safety of the student body and educators.

Brent’s entry is certainly topical and worthy of legislative consideration. I am always encouraged by the thoughts and proposals submitted by the students. I’ve read some great suggestions over the years. I am pleased to add Brent Johnson to the list of students who have presented excellent proposals for new state laws.

Brent was joined in the Capitol by his parents, Frank and Sherri Johnson. In addition to being recognized by the Senate, the group toured the state Capitol and had lunch with Senator White during their visit to Harrisburg.

This is the 13th year that I have held this essay competition. Previous winning essays have included proposals for children’s health care, giving veterans’ a day off on Veterans Day, mandatory seat belts on school buses and mini license plates for bicycles and drug tests for welfare and medical assistance recipients – a proposal that was incorporated into legislation that was enacted into law last year.

Click here to watch me introduce Brent Johnson to the Senate.

Click here to hear me introduce Brent Johnson to the Senate.

Senate Approves Bill Promoting Organ Donation

The Senate approved my bill to promote organ donation efforts and donor designations on Pennsylvania driver’s licenses and identification cards on Tuesday.

My bill provides for easier organ donor designation by altering driver’s license and identification card application forms. My hope is that this will lead to a thoughtful discussion on how Pennsylvania can provide more options that will help save lives.

Senate Bill 398 would redesign driver’s license and identification card applications to include the question “Do you wish to have organ donor designation printed on your driver’s license?”

This question, although it is required to be asked, is not printed on all driver’s license/identification forms. My bill would also require a phrase to be added to all forms stating that Pennsylvania strongly supports organ and tissue donation because of its life-saving and life-enhancing opportunities.

According to the Donate Life America website, more than 117,000 men, women and children currently need organ transplants. Every 10 minutes another name is added to the national organ transplant waiting list and an average of 18 people die each day due to the lack of available organs for transplant. While 90 percent of Americans say they support donation, only about half of eligible Pennsylvanians have organ donation designated on their driver’s license.

Senate Passes Bills Supporting Emergency Responders

The Senate passed two bills this week intended to help Pennsylvania’s volunteer first responders.

On Tuesday, the Senate approved Senate Bill 299 which gives municipalities the option to reduce or waive their local earned income tax for volunteer firefighters and volunteers at nonprofit emergency medical service agencies.

Under the legislation, municipalities would have the authority to set the amount of the tax credit and the guidelines of the program, including specifying the number of calls to which a volunteer must answer and the level of training they must have.

On Wednesday, the Senate approved legislation I introduced that would expand the timeframe restriction on state grants for local fire departments and ambulance services that merge operations.

Currently, if two or more fire and/or EMS companies merge, the newly formed entity is authorized to continue to receive an individual grant from the state Fire and EMS Grant Program for up to five years after the merger. For example, if three fire companies merge and each received $12,000 from the grant program, the new entity would be entitled to receive the total amount of $36,000 for five years. At the end of the five-year period, the newly formed fire company would only receive $12,000.

Senate Bill 370 extends the sunset provision to 10 years.

I believe the loss of state funding serves as a disincentive for companies who are planning to merge operations. My legislation extends the provision so that fire companies and ambulance services can continue to receive the higher amount to 10 years. In doing so, companies will continue to have the necessary funding to not only address the cost of consolidating, but to maintain operations into the future.

Both bills now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.

911 Reauthorization Measure Sent to Governor

Legislation reauthorizing the Emergency 9-1-1 System in Pennsylvania received final legislative approval this week and was sent to the Governor for enactment into law.

The Senate concurred on House amendments to House Bill 911 on Thursday wrapping up an extensive process that involved several committee meetings and substantial changes to the bill in both chambers of the General Assembly.

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.

Also receiving final legislative approval this week were two bills intended to help needy veterans through the sales of a special motorcycle license plate.

Senate Bill 284 authorizes the special “Honoring Our Veterans” license plate for motorcycles and Senate Bill 285 allocates a portion of the funds raised through sales of the plate to the Veterans Trust Fund. The trust fund assists veterans in need of help with food, utilities, mortgage or rent payments, health care and other necessities of life.

Other bills sent to the Governor this week include:

House Bill 131, a measure that provides in-state tuition rates at community colleges and state-related/state-owned institutions of higher learning for veterans, their spouses and dependent children.

Senate Bill 397, a measure that would privatize and regulate the Bail Bondsman industry in Pennsylvania.

Senate Approves Direct Wine Shipments to Consumers

The Senate approved legislation on Wednesday that would allow the direct shipment of wines in Pennsylvania. House Bill 189 would allow all wineries to apply for a license to deliver wine directly to customers. Shippers would be required to verify the customer’s age and mark packaging to indicate its contents.

Currently, out-of-state wine retailers may obtain a direct shipper's permit through the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. However, the permit limits the amount of wine to be shipped and excludes any wines currently available for sale through state-owned stores. In addition, wine cannot be shipped directly to a resident's home, but must be picked up at a state-owned store by the purchaser.

The bill returns to the House of Representatives for concurrence on Senate amendments.

Senate Passes Measure Supporting Rape Victims

The Senate approved legislation on Wednesday that will strengthen the rights of rape victims who have conceived a child as a result of the rape.

Under Senate Bill 663 , also known as the Rape Survivor Child Custody and Support Act, courts could terminate the parental rights of a convicted rapist, thereby eliminating the abuser’s access to full, partial, or supervised custody of a child conceived by rape. The measure maintains an offender’s obligation to pay child support even if parental rights are terminated by court order.

Current law only allows for the termination of parental rights of convicted rapists pending adoption. Furthermore, if the parental rights of the offender are terminated, the obligation to pay child support is also terminated.

Senate Bill 663 now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.


Senate Approves Bill Addressing Punitive Damages Against Care Facilities

The Senate approved legislation addressing punitive damages awards against personal care facilities on Thursday.

Senate Bill 747 requires the state Insurance Commissioner to investigate the awarding of punitive damages in cases brought within the health care industry over the past 10 years and caps punitive damages in cases against personal care homes, assisted living communities, long-term care nursing facilities and their employees and officials at 250 percent of the compensatory damages awarded in a lawsuit.

The cap on punitive damages was sparked by the actions of a Florida-based law firm which placed ads in newspapers, targeting Pennsylvania care facilities. 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 similar ads drained more than $91 million from the state in 2013, money that could have been better utilized for patient care.

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

Senate Bill 77 provides regulatory relief for the beagle trainers.

Senate Bill 129amends the County Pension Law to clarify that county pension cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) need not be calculated retroactively.

Senate Bill 307, which requires the appointment of an independent counsel to the Environmental Quality Board.

Senate Bill 352, which makes substantial regulatory changes necessary to protect and bolster Pennsylvania’s horse racing industry.

Senate Bill 356, which amends the Local Tax Enabling Act to further provide for filings and quarterly payments of the local earned income tax by persons who make their living from farming.

Senate Bill 524 addresses the ongoing substance abuse problem in communities across the Commonwealth by better utilizing FDA-approved medications for the prevention of relapse to opioid dependence.

Senate Bill 609, which creates the Prostate Cancer Surveillance, Education, Detection and Treatment Act.

Senate Bill 655, which amends the Fiscal Code to extend the expiration date for the State Workers’ Insurance Fund to invest in equities to June 30, 2019.

Senate Bill 737, which allows for the limited use of semi-automatic sporting rifles for hunting coyotes and woodchucks.

Senate Bill 775, which updates and revises the Third Class City Code.

Senate Bill 792, which amends the First Class Township Code to further provide for property maintenance codes, reserved powers, and the Uniform Construction Code.

Senate Bill 793, which amends the Second Class Township Code to further provide for property maintenance codes, reserved powers, and the Uniform Construction Code.

Senate Bill 875, which promotes the beneficial use of treated mine water in oil and gas operations by clarifying liabilities associated with this water source.

Senate Adopts Government Reform Resolution

The Senate adopted a Senate Resolution on Wednesday that would review the numerous state boards and commissions with an eye toward providing savings to the Commonwealth.

Senate Resolution 138 directs the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to study the Commonwealth’s board and commission members’ salaries, compensation, and fringe benefits, such as health care and pensions.

With more than 250 independent and departmental boards and commissions, Pennsylvania has panels in place to monitor a plethora of professional activities and a wide array of issues, yet the Commonwealth does not track the costs of running those various panels.

Senate Confirms State Treasurer

The Senate confirmed the nomination of Timothy Reese to serve as state Treasurer on Friday. Reese fills the vacancy created when Rob McCord resigned on January 30 before pleading guilty to federal extortion charges. The term runs through 2016.

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