“By moving to this more efficient infrastructure funding plan, customers will avoid costly rate cases and receive better, more reliable service. Our utilities will save money and avoid expensive delays, expediting critical projects and saving consumers money.”

Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee Chairman Tommy Tomlinson (R-Bucks) on passage of legislation to accelerate the replacement of aging natural gas, electric and wastewater systems in Pennsylvania.


Preview

Gov. Corbett to Unveil Budget Proposal Before Joint Session

The Senate will receive Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed 2012-13 state budget during a joint session of the legislature on Tuesday. The Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre), will hold three weeks of public hearings on the plan beginning Monday, February 13. For an overview of the budget hearing schedule, please see Fast Facts, below.

Homeless Veterans, Oil Refinery Closures, School Employment History Reviews

The Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, chaired by Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne), will hold a public hearing Monday to examine homelessness among veterans. (9:30 a.m. Room 1, N. Office Bldg.)

The Senate Majority Policy Committee, chaired by Sen. Ted Erickson (R-Delaware), will hold a public hearing Monday on the impact that three planned oil refinery closures will have on statewide fuel supplies. (10 a.m. Senate Majority Caucus Room)

On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Jeffrey Piccola (R-Dauphin), will hold a public hearing on Senate Bill 1181, which would require employment history reviews for all prospective school employees as it relates to any investigation concerning sexual misconduct. (10 a.m. Room 1 N. Office Bldg.)

Review

Senate Approves Bill to Accelerate Critical Utility Infrastructure Improvements

The Senate unanimously approved legislation Jan. 25 that will provide a critical tool to accelerate the replacement of aging natural gas, electric and wastewater systems in the Commonwealth, create new jobs and increase public safety.

The Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee, chaired by Sen. Tommy Tomlinson (R-Bucks), previously amended an approved House Bill 1294. The measure would establish a new financing method – known as a distribution system improvement charge process (DSIC) – to expedite utility infrastructure projects.

House Bill 1294 was returned to the House for concurrence in Senate amendments. Gov. Corbett has indicated his support for the legislation.

Senator Tomlinson: “All consumers will benefit from a utility infrastructure that is safer, modern and more efficient. This isn’t something we should do, it’s something we must do for the sake of public safety. It will also allow us to create good family-sustaining jobs to improve our economy.”
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For more on this legislation, please see In the Spotlight, below.

Senate Bill Aiding Students in Military Families Signed Into Law

Legislation sponsored by Sen. Bob Robbins (R-Mercer) to help students of military families cope with the frequent and stressful relocations associated with active duty service has been signed into law.

The House of Representatives approved the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children legislation on Jan. 24. The Senate approved the legislation in March. Currently, 35 states have already passed similar legislation and joined the compact.

Act 6 of 2012 authorizes Pennsylvania to enter into the Interstate Compact as a way to make education more accessible to children of military families and make school transfers and transitions more uniform and less stressful.

The average student in a military family faces transition challenges more than twice during high school, and most military children will attend six to nine different school systems from kindergarten through graduation. The Compact provides a comprehensive approach to address the major areas of education that are affected, such as the transferring of education records, course sequencing, graduation requirements and power of custodial parents and guardianships during deployments.

Senate Acts to Extend Unemployment Compensation

The Senate approved legislation on Jan. 23 that will enable about 17,000 Pennsylvanians to continue receiving unemployment compensation benefits.

Senate Bill 1375, sponsored by Senate Labor and Industry Committee Chairman John Gordner (R-Columbia), is now before the House Labor and Industry Committee for consideration.

Congress approved a 60-day extension of federal funding for the benefits in late December, but Pennsylvania must amend the state’s Unemployment Compensation Law in order to take advantage of the extension.

Senate Passes Neighborhood Electric Vehicle Bill

The Senate approved legislation Jan. 24 that would allow the use of low-speed electric vehicles, also known as Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEV), on certain roadways.

NEVs are four-wheeled electric vehicles with a maximum top speed of 20 to 25 miles per hour. NEVs must be equipped with headlights, turn signals, windshields, and seat belts. These environmentally-friendly vehicles can be a useful transportation alternative for local travel.

Senate Bill 52, sponsored by Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery), would allow the operation of NEVs on roads with a posted speed limit of 25 miles per hour or less. The bill was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

In the Spotlight

House Bill 1294 would enable natural gas distribution companies, electric distribution companies and wastewater companies to accelerate the replacement of existing corroded, brittle or other at-risk lines, funded by a small surcharge. Currently, these utilities must wait for the completion of a rate case to begin receiving a return on their investment – a time-consuming process that delays projects and leads to higher costs for consumers.

Senator Tomlinson noted the Legislature provided a similar financing mechanism to water companies in 1996 and it has been extremely effective – increasing the rate of replacement of aging infrastructure by more than 200 percent. He added that the bulk of Pennsylvania’s current utility infrastructure was originally built in the 1940s. Today, many systems are simply unsafe and must be replaced.

The bill was amended in the Senate to include important safeguards for consumers. Utilities would be required to file a long-term infrastructure plan with the Public Utility Commission, be subject to additional audits and face penalties for overcharging consumers under the DSIC.

Fast Facts

Senate Appropriations Committee Budget Hearings

Monday, Feb. 13
Governor’s, Budget & Executive Offices
Independent Fiscal Office
Treasury

Tuesday, Feb. 14
General Services
Public Utility Commission
Insurance

Wednesday, Feb. 15
Auditor General
Attorney General
Military & Veterans Affairs

Thursday, Feb. 16
Liquor Control Board
State Police/Homeland Security
Conservation & Natural Resources

Tuesday, Feb. 21
Revenue
Health
Aging

Wednesday, Feb. 22
Environmental Protection
Transportation
Banking

Thursday, Feb. 23
State Employees’ Retirement System/Public School Employees Retirement System
Labor & Industry

Monday, Feb. 27
Education
Corrections/Probation & Parole
Community & Economic Development/PA Housing Finance Agency

Tuesday, Feb. 28
Public Welfare
Agriculture
Gaming Control Board

Wednesday, Feb. 29
Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency
Dept. of State