“This trust is not intended to support programs that are funded by existing revenues – such as our veterans’ homes. Instead, it will allow us to do more to help the extensive outreach efforts that the veterans’ groups and the department have underway.”

Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee Chair Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) on Senate passage of her legislation establishing a State Veterans Trust Fund.


Preview

Senate Session Monday at 1 p.m.

The Senate is expected to consider a wide array of bills this week, including one to create a special education funding commission and implement significant charter school reforms.

On Tuesday, the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, chaired by Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne), will hold an informal briefing on the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee report titled “Pennsylvania’s 911 Emergency Telephone System: Funding, Expenditures, and Future Challenges & Opportunities.” (10 a.m. N. Office Bldg. Room 1)

On Thursday, the Senate Local Government Committee, chaired by Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Blair), will hold a public hearing on Senate Bill 1570 (Policemen and Firemen Collective Bargaining Act) and related issues. (10 a.m. N. Office Bldg. Room 1)

Review

Senate Approves Bill to Curb Gang Recruitment

As part of a bipartisan effort to crack down on gang violence, the Senate approved legislation October 3 sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware), Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery), and Sen. Ted Erickson (R-Delaware) that would make it a crime to recruit gang members and toughen sentences for various crimes which are committed by criminal street gangs.

Their legislation, introduced as Senate Bill 965, was amended into House Bill 1121. It will create three categories of the new criminal offense “recruiting gang members.”

Individuals who solicit or otherwise cause a person to join or remain in a gang will commit a second-degree misdemeanor. Using threats or intimidation or inflicting bodily injury to cause a person to join or remain in a gang will be a first-degree misdemeanor, while inflicting serious bodily injury to cause a person to join or remain in a gang will be a third-degree felony.

If the subject of the recruitment is under 16 years old, the violation will be graded one degree higher.

The legislation will also provide enhancements to the statutory sentence minimums for several crimes, including violent crimes and drug possession with the intent to manufacture or deliver, if those crimes are committed to benefit or promote the interests of a criminal street gang. For more the legislation, please see In the Spotlight, below.

Senate Sends Veterans Trust Fund Measure to House

Legislation to establish a state trust fund to enhance programs, services and benefits for Pennsylvania’s one million veterans was approved October 1 by the Senate.

Senate Bill 1531, sponsored by Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee Chair Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne), would create the Pennsylvania Veterans Trust Fund to supplement state appropriations for veterans programs and support new partnerships with charities and veterans’ service organizations.

The bill also creates a voluntary check-off mechanism on driver’s license renewals and vehicle registrations for motorists to donate to the fund and provides for special veterans’ license plates for both veterans and motorists who wish to honor veterans.
Watch | Listen

Senate Acts to Ease Nursing Shortage at Veterans’ Homes

In an effort to ease a nursing shortage in Pennsylvania’s six veterans’ homes, the Senate approved legislation October 1 exempting direct care positions in Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) facilities from the Civil Service Act.

Senate Bill 819, sponsored by Sen. Bob Robbins (R-Mercer), will enable facilities to make faster selections of personnel and hire individuals with the most current training and enthusiasm for new careers. According to the DMVA, the state incurs approximately $5 million in annual overtime costs, due partly to the time it takes to fill nursing vacancies.

The facilities operated by DMVA include: the Southeastern Veterans Center in Spring City, Chester County, the Delaware Valley Veterans Home in Philadelphia, the Hollidaysburg Veterans Home in Hollidaysburg, the Gino J. Merli Veterans Center in Scranton, the Pennsylvania Soldiers and Sailors Home in Erie, and the Southwestern Veterans Center in Pittsburgh.

Legislation to Toughen Arson Penalties Approved by Senate

Legislation strengthening Pennsylvania’s arson laws and creating the new crime of “aggravated arson” was approved October 1 by the Senate.

Senate Bill 903, sponsored by Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery) and Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware), was drafted after serial arsonists set more than 30 fires in Coatesville, Chester County several years ago. The fires caused more than $3 million in damage, left scores of people homeless and resulted in the death of an 83-year-old woman.

The measure creates a new class of crime known as aggravated arson and sets tougher sentencing guidelines in cases where the crime is intended to cause bodily injury or when the perpetrator knows that someone was inside the property at the time. It also hikes penalties when a firefighter, police officer, emergency responder or civilian sustained injuries as a result of the crime. In addition, stronger sentences could be imposed if more than three people were inside the property at the time of the crime or the arson resulted in more than $1 million in property damage.

Each year, more than 267,000 fires nationally are attributed to arson. Arson results in $1.4 billion in property loss annually and causes more than 2,000 injuries and 475 deaths.

Uniform Child Abduction Prevention Act Approved by Senate

The Senate unanimously approved legislation October 1 sponsored by Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre) intended to prevent child abductions in custody dispute cases.

Senate Bill 1449, the Uniform Child Abduction Prevention Act, provides courts with guidelines to follow during custody disputes and divorce proceedings. The guidelines help courts identify families at risk for abduction and provide a method for a party in a child custody case to seek a supplemental order establishing anti-child abduction measures.

If the risk is deemed credible, courts may provide orders restricting travel across country and state lines and place a child’s name in the U.S. Department of State’s Child Passport Issuance Alert Program, among other steps.

Senate Acts to Strengthen Power of Attorney Law

The Senate approved legislation October 1 intended to protect against abuse by those who hold power of attorney.

Senate Bill 1092, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery), would give courts more power to act if financial abuse is suspected. It would require the signature of those granting power of attorney to be acknowledged in the presence of a notary public, and require that those granting someone power of attorney are notified of the consequences.

The bill addresses the State Supreme Court decision in Vine v. Commonwealth. In this case, a woman who suffered a stroke following an automobile accident was coerced into granting power of attorney to her husband while she was unable to speak or comprehend.

Rafferty Bill to Improve Access to Community Pharmacies Advances

Legislation sponsored by Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery) to improve access to community pharmacies was approved by the Senate October 2 and is moving toward a final vote in the House of Representatives.

Senate Bill 201 requires health insurance companies, Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, and government-sponsored pharmacy benefit programs to allow patients to use retail community pharmacies, if the retail community pharmacies agree to accept the same pricing, terms, conditions or requirements related to the cost of the prescriptions and the quality of care as are established for mail order pharmacies.

According to retail pharmacists, leveling the competitive marketplace will also decrease health care costs by promoting more effective face-to-face consultations, avoiding the waste often associated with dispensing only long-term supplies of medications, and promoting more effective medication therapy management.

Senate Approves White Bill to Update PA Code of Military Justice

The Senate approved legislation October 1 sponsored by Sen. Mary Jo White (R-Venango) to provide the first update to the Pennsylvania Code of Military Justice in nearly 40 years.

The Pennsylvania Code of Military Justice (PCMJ) enforces order and discipline upon the Pennsylvania National Guardsmen who are not in active federal service. The PCMJ has not been extensively updated since 1975 and many of the current provisions date back to the Military Code of 1949.

Senate Bill 1442 also establishes a State Military Justice Fund to pay expenses incurred in the administration of military justice and funded by fees and other monies paid to the commonwealth under the PCMJ.
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Folmer Paperwork Reduction Bill Passes Senate

Legislation to eliminate unnecessary government paperwork was approved by the Senate on October 2.

Senate Bill 1591, sponsored by Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon), would promote government efficiency by eliminating the requirement for medical malpractice and self-insurers to file annual reports with the Pennsylvania Insurance Department. The bill was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

In the Spotlight

In drafting their anti-gang legislation, the senators worked closely with Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan, who is prosecuting 12 individuals between the ages of 16 and 20 for offenses related to the fatal stabbing of two rival gang leaders near Avondale, Chester County.

At least 20 other states – including Delaware, New Jersey, Illinois and Michigan – have laws making it a crime to recruit gang members.

The bill is part of a comprehensive effort to crack down on expanding gang activity in Pennsylvania. The senators applauded the work of Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne), Sen. John Gordner (R-Columbia) and others who have worked together with Congressman Lou Barletta on the “Operation GangUp” initiative in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Senator Pileggi: “The impact of criminal street gangs in rural areas is growing. This legislation gives prosecutors new and more effective tools to combat the spread of gang violence and stop young people from getting involved in gang activity.”

Senator Rafferty: “We need to recognize the very real and very serious threat that gangs pose to our communities and our young people. By making it a crime to recruit gang members, we can put a serious dent in gang participation and violence.”

Senator Erickson: “This is not just a crime prevention measure, it’s a child protection effort as well. Gang leaders use lies to recruit young people into their group, and they use intimidation and outright violence to prevent members from leaving.”

Fast Facts

State Veterans Trust Fund

Purposes include:

  • Grants to qualified organizations for programs or projects to support Pennsylvania veterans and their families.
  • Grants or funding for new, innovative and expanded activities or programs operated by a county or state director of Veterans Affairs.
  • Grants to statewide veterans’ service organizations.
  • Assistance to Pennsylvania veterans in need of shelter or other necessities of living.
  • Assistance to operate, maintain and repair Pennsylvania monuments honoring Pennsylvania service members and veterans.