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Senator Don White

Harrisburg Happenings
A Report on the Legislative Session of
October 2, 2017

Dear Friend,

I am pleased to send you my Session Wrap Up e-newsletter. This e-newsletter features legislative activities during the Session Week of October 2, 2017.

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Don White

Bill Would Restore “Standing” for Grandparents

The devastating toll of the opioid crisis on families across the Commonwealth can be especially heart-wrenching when it comes to the innocent children of addicts, especially when those users become another tragic statistic on the list of lives claimed by an overdose.

Often, grandparents are called upon to care for those children -- even though they currently have little to no legal standing under current state law. That is a shortfall that I want to correct.

That’s why I introduced Senate Bill 844. This bill would expand the legal standing for individuals seeking to gain custody of children in cases where both parents are absent. The measure was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and sent to the full Senate for consideration.

Too many lives have been tragically cut short by the opioid epidemic that is ravaging communities across the state and their children end up becoming caught up in the turmoil that ensues. My legislation would give legal standing to people who are sincerely concerned for these children, but do not meet the conditions set by Pennsylvania’s custody law. In many cases, these people have already provided financial support and/or previously performed parental duties. Under my proposal, grandparents or other relatives would be allowed to file for legal custody if they can show that they have a sustained, substantial and sincere interest in the welfare of the child.

When the legislature amended the grandparent custody and visitation statute in 2010, a grandparent’s right or “standing” to file for custody of a grandchild became more limited, essentially removing what was once an automatic right.

As a result there have been instances where custody was awarded to a boyfriend or girlfriend, even though the grandparents had been involved throughout the child’s life. Under current law, the grandparents do not meet the conditions to have the right to pursue custody. Ironically, a third party who resided with the child and was acting in ‘loco parentis’ -- a legal term meaning they are performing parental duties -- would have the right to file for custody. That’s just not right for the grandparents or the child.

“Standing” in a legal sense is a preliminary step that determines only which parties can be in the courtroom pursuing custody. In a custody trial the court considers the “best interests of the children” and takes into account the children’s relationship with all of the parties.

Three Measures Sent to Governor for Enactment into Law

Measures permitting patients with terminal illnesses to use certain products and devices not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, honoring a fallen western Pennsylvania police officer, and amending the state Uniform Construction Code all received final legislative approval this week and were sent to the Governor for his signature and enactment into law.

House Bill 45 would allow eligible patients to request and use investigational drugs, biological products and medical devices not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as long as the patient has a terminal illness and passes other requirements.

The FDA approval process for investigational drugs, biological products and devices in the United States aims to protect patients from premature, ineffective and unsafe medications and treatments. However, three rounds of clinical trials can take as long as 15 years, leaving many to die while awaiting treatment. HB 45 would allow manufacturers to make these products available to eligible patients after the products have successfully completed the first phase of clinical trials

House Bill 103 designates a bridge over the Chartiers Creek in Canonsburg Borough, Washington County, as the Officer Scott L. Bashioum Memorial Bridge. Officer Bashioum of the Canonsburg Police Department was killed in the line of duty on Nov. 10, 2016, when he responded to a domestic violence call in which the alleged shooter, who took his own life, also killed a woman and her unborn son.

House Bill 409 makes comprehensive changes to the process used by the Uniform Construction Code Review and Advisory Council to evaluate and adopt building code updates.

Senate Approves Interstate Highway Safety Measure

Legislation requiring the installation of fencing on bridges over interstate highways was unanimously approved by the Senate on Tuesday. Senate Bill 564, which requires PENNDOT to include protective fencing as part of new bridge projects and major renovations of existing bridges over interstate highways, now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

The Senate also approved Senate Bill 530. The bill updates Act 136 of 1998, the Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors Act.

Committee Roundup

Law & Justice

The Senate Law & Justice Committee amended and approved House Bill 1547 on Monday. The bill amends the Liquor law and addresses “nuisance” bars.


In addition to Senate Bill 844, my expanded “standing” bill, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved four other bills on Tuesday.

House Bill 203 amends the Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code to increase from $5,000 to $10,000 the amount an employer may pay directly to a surviving relative for the decedent’s final paycheck.

House Bill 352 reduces the period of time needed to acquire a title through adverse possession under specified circumstances.

Senate Bill 499 would allow the Board of Prison Inspectors in Eighth Class counties to meet less frequently.

House Bill 1139 amends the Newborn Protection Act to expand the list of caregivers to whom a parent may surrender a newborn and provides for a program to install incubators so that newborns who are surrendered may be kept safely in a controlled environment.

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