Senate News Brief

“We must work together to change the structural deficit problems in the state. We have a bucket that is leaking. It would be a misstep to persist at putting water in the bucket without first plugging the leak.”

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) following Tuesday’s inaugural ceremony.


Preview

Senate Reconvenes at 1 p.m.

The Senate reconvenes today at 1 p.m. Due to the weather, no votes are scheduled today. This week, the chamber could take up bills to provide natural gas leaseholder protections and jury duty exemptions, as well as two Constitutional amendments. (Please see below.)

Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon) and legislative colleagues will hold a news conference to outline plans for advancing medical cannabis legislation. (Tues., 10 a.m., Main Rotunda)

Senate Committee Schedule

Hearings are streamed live at PASenateGOP.com.

Review

Governor and Lieutenant Governor Sworn In, Committees Formed

Swearing-in ceremonies were held Tuesday for Gov. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. Mike Stack.

With the ceremonial functions completed, the Senate started considering legislation as four committees held meetings this week. The formation of all of the Senate’s standing committees was finalized with the announcement of committee assignments by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson).

Bill Would Expand Ignition Interlock Requirement

The Senate Transportation Committee, chaired by Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery), approved a measure Wednesday aimed at reducing drunk driving offenses in Pennsylvania.

Senate Bill 290, sponsored by Senator Rafferty, would make the ignition interlock program mandatory for first-time DUI offenders with high blood alcohol levels. Currently, the ignition interlock requirement only applies to second offenses.

Senate Bill 290 would allow some individuals to operate a vehicle while under suspension and license restriction provided that they have an approved interlock device and meet other requirements.

The committee also approved two additional bills sponsored by Senator Rafferty, Senate Bill 286 and Senate Bill 287, which are part of a bi-state legislative package intended to bring greater transparency and accountability to the Delaware River Port Authority. The bills are now before the full Senate for consideration.

Purely Public Charities Bill Sent to Senate

The Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Blair), approved a measure Thursday that would clarify the process for determining the tax-exempt status of public charities.

Senate Bill 4, sponsored by Sen. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster), is now before the full Senate for consideration.

For more on Senate Bill 4, please see In the Spotlight, below.

Committee Approves Age Exemption for Jury Duty

The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery), approved a measure Thursday that would provide an age exemption from jury duty.

Senate Bill 210 would exempt those persons 75 years of age or older who wish to be excused from jury duty. At least 26 states exempt elderly persons from serving on juries.  Generally, states have set the age qualifying for the exemption at 65, 70 or 75.

Other bills sponsored by Senator Greenleaf and approved by the committee include:

Senate Bill 161 would provide immunity from civil liability for hospitals that donate for humanitarian aid medical equipment and supplies which are in good condition.

Senate Bill 166 would allow courts to grant expungement if the crime is a misdemeanor of the third or second degree and the individual has not been arrested or prosecuted for seven to ten years following the completion of the sentence or judicial supervision.

Senate Bill 180 updates and revises state law relating to organ and tissue donations.

Senate Bill 301 consolidates various statutes into the Administrative Procedure Code.

The panel also approved Senate Bill 283, sponsored by Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware), which continues the process to amend the state Constitution to eliminate the Philadelphia Traffic Court. The bills were sent to the full Senate for consideration.

Committee Approves Oil and Gas Lease Consumer Protection Bills

The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, chaired by Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), approved two bills Wednesday sponsored by Senator Yaw aimed at expanding the rights of landowners who currently hold leases with natural gas companies.

Senate Bill 147 would expand the Oil and Gas Lease Act by allowing royalty interest owners the opportunity to inspect records of natural gas companies to verify proper payments. The bill also requires all royalty payments to be made within 60 days of production unless otherwise stated in the contract.  Any delinquent payments would be paid with interest.

Senate Bill 148 would prohibit a gas company from retaliating against any royalty interest owner by terminating their lease agreement or ceasing development on leased property because the owner questions the accuracy of royalty payments.  Companies violating the provisions of this bill would face civil penalties of up to $1,000 per day.

The committee also approved Senate Bill 279, sponsored by Sen. Scott Hutchinson (R-Venango), establishing the Penn Grade Crude Development Advisory Council, which would 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.

The three bills are now before the full Senate for consideration.

In the Spotlight

Senate Bill 4 specifies that the General Assembly has the exclusive right to set the parameters for an organization to qualify as a purely public charity. Under current law, organizations that meet the criteria of a purely public charity are exempt from paying property taxes.

This proposal is necessary due to a 2012 Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling which returned to a vague standard, previously used from 1985-1997, that charitable organizations must meet in order to qualify as a purely public charity. The controversial ruling created a great deal of confusion among charities and led many municipalities to examine whether they could begin levying real estate taxes on charitable organizations who had previously been deemed exempt.

Since the bill would amend the state Constitution, it 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.

Fast Facts

2015-16 Senate Committee Chairs

Aging & Youth – Sen. Michele Brooks (R-Mercer)
Agriculture & Rural Affairs – Sen. Elder Vogel (R-Beaver)
Appropriations – Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh)
Banking & Insurance – Sen. Don White (R-Indiana)
Communications & Technology – Sen. Scott Hutchinson (R-Venango)
Community, Economic & Recreational Development – Sen. Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland)
Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure – Sen. Tommy Tomlinson (R-Bucks)
Education – Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster)
Environmental Resources & Energy – Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming)
Finance – Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Blair)
Game & Fisheries – Sen. Mario Scavello (R-Monroe)
Intergovernmental Operations – Sen. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster)
Judiciary – Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery)
Labor & Industry – Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne)
Law & Justice – Sen. Chuck McIlhinney (R-Bucks)
Local Government – Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware)
Majority Policy — Sen. David Argall (R-Schuylkill)
Public Health & Welfare – Sen. Pat Vance (R-Cumberland)
Rules & Executive Nominations – Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre)
State Government – Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon)
Transportation – Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery)
Urban Affairs & Housing – Sen. Scott Wagner (R-York)
Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness – Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny)