“These resources fueled the industrial revolution and transformed our nation’s economy. This industry is an important part of the regional economy. It should be supported by the state, not stymied by excessive and unnecessary regulatory burdens.”

Sen. Scott Hutchinson (R-Venango) on Senate passage of legislation that will protect and promote conventional oil and natural gas production in Pennsylvania.

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Senate Reconvenes at 1 p.m.

The Senate reconvenes today at 1 p.m. Bills that could run this week include:

Senate Bill 316Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon) – procurement transparency
Senate Bill 166Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery) – criminal records expungement
Senate Bill 293Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Blair) – health care navigators and consumer protection
Senate Bill 42Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne)penalties for falsely claiming to be a veteran on driver’s licenses
Senate Bill 130Sen. John Gordner (R-Columbia) – prohibiting community service purchased credits

Committee Action

The Senate State Government Committee, chaired by Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon), will hold a public hearing on Senate Bill 3, Medical Cannabis. (Wed., 9 a.m., N. Office Bldg., Rm 1)
The Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, chaired by Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny), will hold a public hearing on veterans’ issues. (Wed., 1:30 p.m., Rm 8E-A)
Senate Committee Schedule
Hearings are streamed live at PASenateGOP.com.

Review

 Senate Approves Bill Promoting Conventional Oil Production in PA

The Senate approved legislation Wednesday introduced by Sen. Scott Hutchinson (R-Venango) that will protect and promote conventional oil and natural gas production in Pennsylvania.

Senate Bill 279, legislation to protect the conventional oil and gas production industry from state regulations intended for companies extracting Marcellus Shale gas, now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senator Hutchinson: “The council created under this bill would work to promote the conventional gas and oil industry and protect it from regulations intended solely for the Marcellus Shale gas extraction industry. The panel would work with the DEP to ensure that the differences between the operations are taken into account as these regulations and laws are developed and implemented.”

For more on Senate Bill 279, please see In the Spotlight, below.
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Senate Passes Purely Public Charities Bill

The Senate passed a proposal Tuesday sponsored by Sen. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) that would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to give the General Assembly the power to determine whether an institution is a purely public charity and thus exempt from paying local property taxes.

Senate Bill 4 specifies that the General Assembly, not the judiciary, has the exclusive right to set the parameters for an organization to qualify as a purely public charity. The measure is necessary following a 2012 Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling which created a great deal of confusion among charities and local governments regarding the criteria for an organization to qualify for a tax exemption.

Because the bill would amend the state Constitution, the proposal must pass in two consecutive legislative sessions before being decided by the voters via referendum. The proposal was already approved once by the General Assembly during the 2013-14 session.
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Committee Endorses Copayment Protection Measure

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, chaired by Sen. Don White (R-Indiana), passed a proposal Wednesday that would protect consumers from paying multiple copayments for physical therapy, chiropractic and occupational therapy services.

Senate Bill 487, sponsored by Sen. Chuck McIlhinney (R-Bucks), would prohibit a health insurance policy from charging a consumer more than one copayment amount per visit. The bill would also prohibit policies from depleting more than one visit for services provided on a given date.

The bill allows the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance to develop regulations relating to multiple copayments. Violators would be subjected to penalties prescribed in the Unfair Insurance Practices Act.

Senate Bill 487 was sent to the full Senate for consideration.

Committee Hearing Focuses on “True Costs of E-911”

With the end of the Emergency Telephone Act looming at the end of June, the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, chaired by Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny), held a public hearing Wednesday to gather testimony on the “True Costs of E-911” in Pennsylvania.

Substantial changes in technology and society since the original enactment of the law have increased equipment and personnel costs for county dispatch centers, while whittling away at the funding sources that were intended to support those operations, according to state and county officials.

Testifiers included representatives from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, Legislative Budget & Finance Committee, County Commissioners Association of PA, and a panel consisting of officials from the Allegheny, Philadelphia, Tioga, and Westmoreland County E-911 centers.
Senator Vulakovich’s Opening Remarks
Watch the Full Hearing  

Committee Approves Pileggi Bill to Encourage Private Development at Mass Transit Hubs

The Senate Transportation Committee, chaired by Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery), approved legislation Tuesday sponsored by Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware) to encourage private development at mass transit hubs.

Senate Bill 385 will modernize the Pennsylvania Transit Revitalization Investment District (TRID) Act, originally enacted in December 2004. It streamlines the TRID creation process, sets clear parameters for TRID funding and the use of those funds, and authorizes a new “tax capture” funding mechanism to provide funding. Any projects funded in a TRID will require a minimum one-third match from private dollars.

The legislation is supported by a wide range of organizations across Pennsylvania, including the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs (PSAB), the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS), the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

Baker Reintroduces Bill to Reward and Recruit Volunteer Firefighters

Responding to a growing shortage of volunteer firefighters, Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) reintroduced bipartisan legislation Tuesday to give municipalities the power to waive their local earned income tax for volunteer first responders.

Volunteers at nonprofit emergency medical service (EMS) agencies would also be eligible to receive the tax credit under the provisions of Senate Bill 299.

The idea for the legislation was bolstered by a public hearing on firefighter and EMT retention and recruitment held in 2013. Extending an earned income tax credit was among a menu of solutions offered by experts as a preferred recruitment and retention tool.

Under the legislation, municipalities would have the power 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.

In the Spotlight

Senator Hutchinson’s legislation would establish the Penn Grade Crude Development Advisory Council, a panel empowered to study existing regulations and assist the Department of Environmental Protection in making changes that better address the differences between conventional and unconventional oil and gas production.

He originally introduced the measure as Senate Bill 1310 last year. That bill was approved by the Senate on October 8, but didn’t clear the House of Representatives prior to the end of the 2013-14 Legislative Session on November 30.

On Tuesday the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced the formation of a Conventional Oil and Gas Advisory Committee (COGAC) to increase transparency and communication about regulating the conventional oil and gas drilling industry. Coincidentally, the DEP’s announcement came on the same day that the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved SB 279.

Senator Hutchinson: “I am pleased to see the DEP is now moving in a similar direction as I propose in Senate Bill 279, but I still believe it is important that we codify this initiative in law. One significant difference is the Penn Grade Crude Development Advisory Council is intended to promote the conventional oil and gas industry in the Commonwealth.”

Fast Facts

Department of Corrections Populations and Costs

  • The 2012 Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) has reduced the inmate population. However, costs associated with staffing and operating costs for the Commonwealth’s correctional institutions, the boot camp and community correction centers have increased significantly over the past several years.
  • The FY 2014-15 General Fund budget for the Department of Corrections is currently $2.06 billion.
  • The department’s operating budget is likely to exceed its authorized spending level by about $25 million due to an inmate population that is falling less than projections. As a result, the Department of Corrections will require supplemental appropriations of $55 million for FY 2014-15.
  • The preliminary FY 2015-16 cost-to-carry for the Department of Corrections is estimated to be $2.26 billion, an increase of approximately $200 million over the current year’s appropriated amount.

Source: Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh), Chair