“Charlie will be remembered for numerous accomplishments, including helping community organizations, reforming elder laws to protect the dignity of senior citizens, and championing living will legislation. He was a dedicated public servant, a true friend and a delight to have served with.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) on the passing of former Senator Charles Lemmond.
Senate Session: Monday 1 p.m.
The Senate is in session this week as work continues toward the goal of passing a 2012-13 state budget by June 13.
Senate Bill 1115 – Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh) — special education
Senate Bill 1321 – Sen. Jane Earll (R-Erie) — municipal debt and collective bargaining agreements
Senate Bill 1464 – Sen. Don White (R-Indiana) — insurance law regarding mergers and acquisitions
Senate Bill 155 – Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon) — securing loads in vehicles
Senate Resolution 268 – Sen. John Pippy (R-Allegheny) — study of museums
The Legislation Reapportionment Commission will meet on Friday to adopt a final plan for General Assembly redistricting. (2 p.m. North Office Bldg. Room 1)
Republican Senators Announce Plan for Pension Reform Legislation
Senate Majority Whip Pat Browne (R-Lehigh), Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware), Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman (R-Centre) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Mike Brubaker (R-Lancaster) announced Tuesday that they are drafting legislation to overhaul Pennsylvania’s pension system for government employees.
The reform would change the current system from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan, similar to a 401(k) or 403(b) plan.
The new defined contribution retirement system will be provided for all state employees and public school employees hired on or after December 1, 2012. For more information, please see In the Spotlight, below.
Listen – Senator Pileggi
No “Lame Duck” Session in 2012
Legislative leaders, including Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) and Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware) announced that the Pennsylvania General Assembly will not convene in “lame duck” session this year.
The days between the November election and November 30 are known as a lame-duck session because if the General Assembly convened during that period of time, some members would be able to vote on legislation despite the fact that their successors have already been elected.
This will be the third consecutive legislative session in which the Senate does not convene for a lame-duck session.
Senate Approves Good Samaritan Protection
The Senate unanimously approved legislation May 21 to protect innocent bystanders from liability when they render aid to someone in distress.
Senate Bill 351, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne), expands the state’s Good Samaritan law to cover people who, in good faith, use CPR, first aid or an automated external defibrillator (AED) to aid victims during an emergency. It also releases from liability business and property owners who place an AED on their premises.
Current law provides uneven legal protections for bystanders and emergency response providers, according to the American Heart Association. Bystanders are currently protected from liability if they use an AED, but not if they render CPR or first aid. Conversely, emergency response providers are protected if they render CPR or first aid, but not if they use an AED.
SB 351 is strongly supported by the American Heart Association, the American Red Cross, the Emergency Health Services Council, the Hospital Association of PA, and the Ambulance Association of PA. The measure now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senate Passes “Open Campus” School Legislation
The Senate approved legislation May 23 that would allow the “open campus” to proceed as an education demonstration project.
Senate Bill 1492, sponsored by Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster), would lay the groundwork for school districts to participate in cooperative agreements to share resources and broaden educational opportunities for students without adding costs to taxpayers. Courses would be available to students in multiple school districts through the use of videoconferencing, online instruction and other electronic communications.
SB 1492 is now before the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senate Acts to Reduce the Risk of Sudden Cardiac Arrest Among Student-Athletes
Legislation intended to protect student athletes from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) was signed into law following Senate approval of the measure on May 22.
Act 59 of 2012, also known as the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act, would require the Pennsylvania’s Department of Education and Department of Health to develop guidelines and educational materials to educate coaches, parents and student athletes about the warning signs of sudden cardiac arrest, including the risks associated with continuing to play or practice when experiencing those symptoms.
SCA is a leading cause of death in young athletes. SCA occurs when the heart beat stops abruptly and unexpectedly, and is usually attributed to either a structural or electrical heart defect. Warning signs include fainting and shortness of breath. The unexplained death of a family member under the age of 50 can also be a factor.
Limits on Juvenile Courtroom Shackling Enacted
Legislation sponsored by Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) to limit the shackling of children during court proceedings has been signed into law.
In most juvenile justice courtrooms, shackling is a rare occurrence, done only when security is deemed seriously at risk. But an Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice report revealed that indiscriminate and unreasonable reliance on leg-shackling and handcuffing kids was common practice in Luzerne County.
Under Act 56 of 2012, restraints may be used during a court proceeding if the court determines, on the record, that they are necessary to prevent physical harm to the child or another person; to prevent disruptive courtroom behavior, evidenced by a history of such behavior; or to prevent a child with a history of escape attempts from fleeing the courtroom.
Excessive use of restraints was among numerous troubling practices uncovered in Luzerne County, and has led to passage of several measures to reform the Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice System.
Senate Approves Extension of Environmental Cleanup Programs
The Senate unanimously approved legislation May 22 to extend two environmental protection grant programs.
Senate Bill 1398 extends the sunset dates of the Underground Storage Tank Environmental Cleanup Program and the Underground Storage Tank Pollution Prevention Program to June 30, 2017. Both programs are set to end in June unless they are formally reauthorized.
The Underground Storage Tank Environmental Cleanup Program provides grants of up to $5,000 for owners of underground storage tanks with a capacity of 3,000 gallons or less. The Underground Storage Tank Pollution Prevention Program is intended to cover the costs of pumping out and sealing underground storage tanks that were not upgraded to meet regulations.
The bill now moves to the House for consideration.
Senate Panel Approves Legislation to Assist Fiscally Distressed Schools
The Senate Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Jeffrey Piccola (R-Dauphin), endorsed legislation May 22 that will provide a lifeline to Pennsylvania school districts in financial distress and require their adoption of a state recovery plan to ensure long-term fiscal stability.
House Bill 1307, as amended to include the provisions of Senator Piccola’s Senate Bill 1450, creates a program for monitoring and assisting school districts showing signs of financial distress. Under the bill, a district could enter financial recovery status upon declaration by the Pennsylvania Secretary of Education if it meets certain criteria, such as receiving an advance on state funding or entering litigation against the Commonwealth seeking financial assistance to allow the school district to continue operating. A Chief Recovery Officer would be named to develop and implement a financial recovery plan, which could include renegotiation of contracts or the conversion to a charter school. Districts adopting and implementing a financial recovery plan would also be eligible for a long-term interest-free loan.
The final step of the recovery process would grant authority to the Secretary of Education to petition the court of common pleas for receivership appointment. House Bill 1307 now heads to the full Senate for consideration. For more, please see Fast Facts, below.
Senate Panel Approves Bill to Encourage Transportation Public/Private Partnerships
The Senate Transportation Committee, chaired by Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery), approved legislation May 23 that would encourage the private sector to join with the Commonwealth in funding transportation projects throughout the state.
House Bill 3 is similar to legislation Senator Rafferty sponsored, Senate Bill 344, to establish Public-Private Partnerships (P3s). P3s are contractual agreements that allow for greater private sector participation in the delivery and financing of transportation needs and improvements.
According to a report by the State Transportation Advisory Committee released last year, the Commonwealth faces a $3.5 billion shortfall to pay for vital transportation improvements.
The new pension system will be known as the Public Employees’ Retirement System. The legislation will be introduced in early June.
Senator Browne: “Significant policy decisions regarding Pennsylvania’s pension system must be made soon. Without significant changes in the design of Pennsylvania’s pension system, including a switch to a defined contribution system, the long-term costs will be unaffordable to Pennsylvania taxpayers.”
Senator Pileggi: “Over the past few decades, virtually all of the private sector has shifted to defined contribution retirement plans. It’s time for Pennsylvania government to do the same.”
Senator Corman: “A switch to a defined contribution plan will benefit Pennsylvania taxpayers by forcing fiscal discipline. Retiree benefits will become predictable and sustainable, costs will be easily defined, and future liabilities will be fully funded; it’s an excellent choice prospectively.”
Senator Brubaker: “With a defined contribution plan, the employee has ownership rights and the assets are portable. Additionally, investment strategies can be tailored to the retirement and investment needs of individual employees.”
|Assisting Fiscally Distressed Schools
Under House Bill 1307, as amended by the Senate Education Committee, a receiver could be appointed if:
The elected school board fails to approve a financial recovery plan.
The elected school board fails to implement the financial recovery plan approved by the board and Secretary of Education.
The school district fails to satisfy criteria set forth in the recovery plan for the district to remain out of financial recovery status.
The school board votes not to implement a financial recovery plan in cooperation with the Chief Recovery Officer but instead proceed directly to receivership.