“While the changes streamlined our local tax system, they also had the unfortunate consequence of removing this important tax benefit for our military. It has been long-standing policy that the wages they earn for active-duty service should not be subject to local tax.”

Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) on approval of legislation to restore the local tax exemption for active-duty military, which was unintentionally eliminated by Act 32 of 2008.


Preview

Senate Convenes Monday at 1 p.m.

As work continues on the major issues of the state budget for fiscal year 2014-15, alcohol sales reform and pension reform, the Senate convenes today at 1 p.m., with the following bills expected to be among those considered:

Senate Committee Schedule
Hearings will be streamed live at PASenateGOP.com.

Review

Baker Bill to Help More Military Families Heading to Governor’s Desk

Legislation sponsored by Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) that will help a greater number of military families who have fallen on hard times received final legislative approval and was sent to the governor to be signed into law.

Senate Bill 923 will expand the eligibility guidelines for grants from the state’s Military Family Relief Assistance Program (MFRAP) to include more service members and their families in need. The Senate approved the bill in December followed by Monday’s vote by the House of Representatives.

Senator Baker: “The current program guidelines were so narrowly drawn that too often those in need were walking away empty-handed. The MFRAP has a healthy fund balance of more than $1 million thanks to the generosity of so many Pennsylvanians who recognized this program as a patriotic way to help this commonwealth’s bravest men and women when they find themselves in need.”

For more on Senate Bill 923 and Senate efforts to support military veterans, please see In the Spotlight and Fast Facts, below.

Senate Acts to Restore Active-Duty Military Pay Tax Exemption

The Senate acted Monday to reinstate the local tax exemption for Pennsylvanians serving in the active-duty military.

The Senate approved Senate Bill 803, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne), to correct an unintended oversight in the Local Tax Enabling Act signed into law in 2008 as Act 32. That law removed a well-established tax exemption for active-duty military pay earned within the Commonwealth, beginning in 2012.

Many Guard members were not aware of the new rules, and are now facing not only a higher tax burden, but penalties and interest. The bill, which was sent to the House for consideration, does not exempt from taxation those wages earned during training exercises and other inactive duty.

Senator Baker: “This bill insures our continued commitment to do all we can for these brave men and women. Our National Guard is one of the most frequently deployed in the nation. To get a local tax bill while they are away serving our country fails to acknowledge their sacrifices and service.”

Senate Approves Argall Bill to Boost Rail Safety

Legislation sponsored by Sen. David Argall (R-Schuylkill) to improve public safety by preventing the theft of railway material was unanimously approved by the Senate on Wednesday.

Pennsylvania’s current scrap material theft prevention law mandates that certain items, including beer kegs, detached catalytic converters, metallic wire valued more than $100, and several construction-related materials are only allowed to be sold to a scrap processor or recycler through a commercial entity. Senate Bill 1077 would add railroad materials to the list.

The bill was amended in the House earlier this month to include the creation of a statewide database of scrap dealers and recyclers in Pennsylvania. The bill returns to the House of Representatives for concurrence.

Senator Argall: “With increasing theft along our rail lines in Pennsylvania, it is vital the state does everything it can to deter this illegal activity and, more importantly, protect the public.”

Committee Approves Measure to Improve Programs for Working Families

The Senate Aging and Youth Committee, chaired by Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny), approved a resolution Tuesday that would help the state develop a strategy to assist low-income working families achieve self-sufficiency.

Senate Resolution 62, sponsored by Sen. Chuck McIlhinney (R-Bucks), would direct the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) to conduct a study of current state programs that are designed to promote economic opportunity, such as child care assistance.

The resolution would require LBFC to closely examine ways to mitigate the “cliff effect,” a situation that occurs when working families lose eligibility for various programs that allow them to work due to small increases in household income. Senate Resolution 62 will now be sent to the full Senate for consideration.

Senator McIlhinney: “The ultimate goal of state assistance programs should be to help working families take meaningful steps toward self-reliance, but the current make-up of many programs actually provides a deterrent for low-income employees to earn more money.”

Hearing on Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act

The Senate Law and Justice Committee, chaired by Sen. Chuck McIlhinney (R-Bucks), held its second public hearing Tuesday on Senate Bill 1182, the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act.

The panel heard from advocates and patients, medical dispensaries, researchers, and drug and alcohol counselors. Hearing Video, Written Testimony

Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement (PHARE)

The Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee, chaired by Sen. David Argall (R-Schuylkill), held a public hearing on Wednesday on the effectiveness of the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement (PHARE) program.

The General Assembly established PHARE in 2010 to better allocate funds dedicated to affordable housing, including options for elderly, low-income and disabled individuals. Hearing Video, Written Testimony

In the Spotlight

The Military Family Relief Assistance Program is funded through a voluntary check-off on Pennsylvania Personal Income Tax forms. Grants are awarded in amounts up to $3,500 for service members and their families.

To provide additional flexibility, Senate Bill 923 will allow service members to receive aid for any pressing financial need beyond their control, not just those needs directly resulting from military service. It also extends the time limit during which service members can apply, from one year to three years after release from active duty for reservists and for former members of the armed forces, its reserve, or the National Guard. It extends the time limit from two years to four years if the member was injured in the line of duty and received a medical discharge.

From the time the grant program began in 2005 through fiscal year 2012 (the most recent information available), $340,760.37 has been awarded.

Senator Baker: “Too often, many of our active-duty military are coming home from combat to face new battles, many having to do with finances. By expanding the eligibility requirements for the program, I’m hopeful more service members will be aided by these funds.”

Fast Facts

Senate Action on Behalf
of Military Veterans

  • Act 5 of 2013(Baker) sets standards and provides uniformity across the commonwealth for county Directors of Veterans Affairs.
  • Act 82 of 2013 (Vogel) expands job opportunities for military veterans with commercial driving skills.
  • Act 45 of 2013 (Brubaker) requires Pennsylvania to recognize a service member’s wishes for disposition of their remains in the event they die while on duty.
  • Senate Bill 923 (Baker) expands the eligibility guidelines for grants from the state Military Family Relief Assistance Program to include more service members and their families in need.
  • Senate Bill 803 (Baker) reinstates the local tax exemption for Pennsylvanians serving in the active-duty military.
  • Senate Bill 1115 (Robbins) clarifies that state grants under the Pennsylvania National Guard Educational Assistance Program will be applied after federal assistance programs such as the GI Bill and Federal Tuition Assistance.
  • Senate Bill 81 (Greenleaf) allows volunteer doctors to provide free mental health services to military personnel and their families.
  • Senate Bill 403 (Hutchinson) creates the Military Physician Incentive Program to help the Pennsylvania National Guard recruit and retain military resident physicians.
  • Senate Bill 1090 & Senate Bill 1102 (Baker, Scarnati) offers disabled Pennsylvania veterans reduced-fee hunting and fishing licenses.
  • Senate Bill 1187 (Argall) establishes a specialty license plate for veterans who earned the Combat Infantry Badge and those who served in the Merchant Marines after World War II.
  • Senate Bill 1224 (Vance) allows pharmacists associated with assisted living residence and personal care homes to repackage medications received from the Veterans’ Administration into single doses so veterans could utilize their full pharmacy benefit.