Senate Approves DiSanto Bill Ensuring Consistent Contractor Bonding Requirements

HARRISBURG—Today the Senate unanimously approved legislation authored by Senator John DiSanto (Dauphin/Perry) to clarify the dollar amount municipalities retain as financial security from builders and contractors for property improvements, ensuring capital resources are deployed productively for the Commonwealth’s development needs.

Senate Bill 208 clarifies the Municipalities Planning Code regarding final development plan approval and the retention of posted financial securities for improvements. The law’s intent is to ensure developers have enough funds to complete all required property improvements. However, the current language can be misinterpreted to withhold excess funds and greatly restrict the ability for contractors to get bonded for other projects.

Instead of a municipality only retaining a bond of 110% of the value of remaining property improvements, some local jurisdictions have interpreted the law to retain 10% of the entire original project amount in addition to the cost of remaining improvements.

For example, if the original bond amount was $1 million and there was only $75,000 in remaining work, the current planning code has been interpreted to allow a municipality to retain $75,000 in outstanding improvement costs plus a $100,000 contingency—or 10% of the original posted security. Under this scenario a municipality requires bonding of $175,000, or about 2.5 times the cost of the outstanding work.

DiSanto’s legislation would clarify that a municipality may retain the $75,000 in outstanding improvement costs plus a $7,500 (10%) contingency, for a total of $82,500. “My proposal balances the financial interests of municipalities with the Commonwealth’s construction and development needs.” DiSanto said. “At a time when our economy is still recovering, it’s important to fully leverage private sector financial resources into shovel-ready and family-sustaining jobs for our residents.”

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for further consideration. 

CONTACT: Chuck Erdman 717-787-6801 cerdman@pasen.gov

 

Regan: Senate Passes Bill to Benefit Liquor Licensees

HARRISBURG – The Senate today passed legislation to statutorily implement allowances provided to the restaurant industry during the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to expanding consumer access to spirit-based Ready-to-Drink cocktails, according Senator Mike Regan.

“The one good thing to come from the COVID-19 shutdown was the recognition that Pennsylvania’s businesses do not need to be constrained by overregulation from state government,” said Senator Regan, who is Chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee.  “This bill will allow Pennsylvania employers to continue rebuilding and growing in the wake of the pandemic.”

House Bill 1154 makes permanent the sale of mixed drinks to-go by restaurant or hotel licensees for off-premise consumption. Originally, mixed drinks to-go was a temporary measure allowed during the COVID-19 disaster declaration. A licensee that chooses to sell mixed drinks to-go must display a sign that the product is to be transported in an area of the vehicle that is not readily accessible to the driver, and each drink must be affixed with a label designating that it contains alcohol.

HB 1154, as amended in Regan’s committee, provides additional COVID provisions on a temporary basis to allow for extended licensed premises for outdoor dining, off-premise catering permits without restrictions, the waiving of fees, and an additional year of safekeeping of liquor licenses by licensees that are not able to operate.  HB 1154 also allows a holder of a liquor license to sell their stock of liquor and wine to another license holder when they close their business.

Additionally, HB 1154 allows for a different type of product called Ready-to-Drink cocktails, or RTDs, to be sold by liquor licensees, including restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores, and beer distributors, for off-premise consumption. 

“These cocktails are not to be confused with mixed drinks to-go, which are made by bartenders in a restaurant and put in a to-go cup for consumers,” said Regan. “RTDs are manufactured and sold in sealed containers with a known ingredient list and alcohol content.”

The total maximum alcohol by volume content, or ABV, allowed for sale under the legislation is 12.5%, comparable to many beer products available for sale to consumers. Container size would also be limited to 16 ounces with a maximum total sale for off-premise consumption of 192 fluid ounces, apart from sales by beer distributors.

“The way in which liquor is sold in Pennsylvania is evolving, and consumers want both better selection and more convenience when purchasing products,” said Regan. “This is a common-sense measure that will significantly increase state revenue while helping businesses across the Commonwealth.”

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CONTACT: Bruce McLanahan, (717)-787-8524

Sen. Brooks’ Legislation Protecting Motorcycle Buyers Passes Senate

HARRISBURG (May 24, 2021)The Senate has unanimously approved legislation introduced by Sen. Michele Brooks to enact a Lemon Law for motorcycles, to better protect consumers who purchase or lease  motorcycles with manufacturing defects that cannot be remedied after several attempts. 

Currently, the Automobile Lemon Law protects those who purchase vehicles by requiring manufacturers to repair any defect that significantly affects the use, value or safety of the vehicle, as long as the defect emerges soon after it is acquired.

However, no similar protections are offered to those who purchase motorcycles, leaving the owner to either pay out of pocket for repairs or fix the problem themselves. Senate Bill 82 remedies this inequity.

“Whether a vehicle has two wheels or four, consumers who make major vehicle purchases should be protected from manufacturing defects,” Sen. Brooks said. 

Under Senate Bill 82, a defective motorcycle would be replaced, or the cost of the motorcycle would be refunded, if the motorcycle could not be repaired after three attempts within one year of the delivery of the motorcycle to the purchaser. or during the term of warranty, whichever may occur first.

Sen. Brooks thanked ABATE, motorcycle owners, and manufacturers for coming together to work on the legislation and for being devoted to motorcycle safety.

Senate Bill 82 now heads to the House of Representatives for that chamber’s consideration.    

 

Contact:       Diane McNaughton                              (717) 787-1322                                    dmmcnaughton@pasen.gov 

Senate Ok’s Laughlin’s Banking Fund Legislation

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The Senate today (May 12) approved legislation introduced by Senator Dan Laughlin that would strengthen the independence of the state Banking Fund and ensure a strong banking system in Pennsylvania. Senate Bill 432, which now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration, changes the Banking Fund into a trust fund. 

“State-chartered banks and credit unions pay bi-annual assessments to the Department of Banking & Securities for the administration of the Department, for the regulation and oversight of the banking industry in Pennsylvania and also to establish a reserve as is needed for the Department to be accredited as a financial regulatory agency,” Senator Laughlin said.

In 2018 and 2019, a total of more than $42 million was siphoned from the Banking Fund to augment the state General Fund and the budgets of the Departments of Conservation & Natural Resources and Environmental Protection.

“These types of transfers threaten the state charter,” Senator Laughlin said. “In today’s climate, we need to ensure our banking industry thrives.  They are influential in helping families get back on their feet, which is key to economic recovery and further development.”

Contact:           Matt Azeles                 mazeles@pasen.gov  

 

 

Killion Digital Assets Protection Bill Passes Senate Unanimously

Legislation would allow Pennsylvanians to transfer
digital property by will, trust or power-of-attorney 

The State Senate yesterday unanimously passed Senate Bill 320, authored by Senator Tom Killion, to allow Pennsylvanians to dispose of digital assets in the same manner as tangible property.

“My legislation aligns Pennsylvania’s laws with 21st century realities,” said Killion.  “Such a substantial part of our lives exists in the digital world.  I’m grateful my colleagues recognize how important it is that our laws provide people a mechanism to leave those assets to trusted friends and family upon their passing.”

Killion’s bill would allow music, books, videos, photos and documents stored by tech giants such as Apple and Google to be transferred to beneficiaries once an individual dies.  This would be done the same way tangible property is transferred: by providing instructions in a will, trust or power-of-attorney.

Currently, rules regarding the disposition of digital assets are dictated by the Terms-of-Service set by digital platforms.  When an account holder dies or otherwise loses the ability to manage their own digital assets, family or an estate executor can often be stymied in their efforts to gain access to the online accounts of the deceased.

Called the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, Killion’s bill is similar to ones passed in 46 states according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The legislation would allow a fiduciary to access digital property from cloud storage companies by sending a certified document proving their authority to manage these electronic assets.

The Pennsylvania Bankers Association and the Pennsylvania Bar Association were two of the leading stakeholder groups who worked with Killion to draft the legislation. Other stakeholders included Amazon, Apple and Google.

“Senate Bill 320 strikes the right balance between protecting the privacy of a decedent’s digital communications while also allowing their personal representative to access a catalogue of their digital assets that might be subject to probate,” said Duncan Campbell, president and CEO of PA Bankers Association. “As part of personal planning for end-of-life decisions or an incapacitating medical situation, we encourage all Pennsylvanians to make clear their wishes for their data files, particularly those that involve relationships with banking institutions.”

“SB320 will permit agents and other fiduciaries to access the digital assets of decedents or incapacitated individuals,” said Anne N. John, President of the Pennsylvania Bar Association.  “The PA Bar Association thanks the Senate for their approval of this important legislation.”

“The countless digital pictures of my wife, daughters and grandkids are among my most cherished possessions,” noted Killion.  “I can’t imagine my family not being able to gain access to them simply because our estate laws haven’t kept pace with technology.  I’m hopeful the House promptly considers the bill and sends it to the Governor. Pennsylvanians should be able to pass along their photos, books and music – and provide access to banking and investment accounts – to their loved ones.”

Senate Passes Ward’s Amendments to Price Gouging Act

HARRISBURG – Businesses and consumers would be protected against unintended consequences of the state’s Price Gouging Act under a bill the Senate passed this week, according to the bill’s sponsor, Senator Judy Ward (R-30).

Senate Bill 139 would require the Governor to specifically activate pricing restrictions when making an emergency declaration. This provision would ensure price restrictions are only placed on businesses when absolutely necessary.

The bill would also limit the duration of pricing restrictions to 15 days (with extensions up to 60 days), limit the scope to goods and services necessary for use or consumption, and simplify the compliance process for businesses. Currently, an emergency declaration can last for a total of 120 days, thus placing price controls on all products for an unusually long period of time.

“Consumers need protection against unscrupulous people who seek to exploit disasters, but we need to strike a responsible balance that does not create price restrictions that run from a March snowstorm until the Fourth of July,” Ward said. “The intent of the law is to protect consumers in the aftermath of a disaster. We simply need to ensure business owners have the proper guidance to prevent many industries from falling victim to regulations that do not make good sense.”

Ward’s bill also includes new protections for consumers by providing guidance on violations for businesses. The original law prohibited sellers from charging “unconscionably excessive” prices, but did not adequately define what that term meant. The legislation would reduce the threshold that triggers a price gouging violation from 20 percent to 10 percent.

Senate Bill 139 was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

 

CONTACT:  Cheryl Schriner (717) 787-5490

Senator Vulakovich’s Price Gouging Reforms Sent to the Governor

 

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A bill introduced by Senator Randy Vulakovich to fine tune the state’s Price Gouging Act to ensure it specifically targets that issue when needed and the restrictions are kept in place for an appropriate amount of time received final legislative approval on Monday (October 15). 

Senate Bill 1172 would modify Act 133 of 2006, the Pennsylvania Price Gouging Act, to ensure that a Governor’s emergency declaration does not place an undue and unnecessary burden on operations and businesses outside of and unrelated to the disaster.

The bill now goes to the Governor’s desk.

Act 133 prohibits sellers from charging “unconscionably excessive” prices for all consumer goods and services when a state of disaster emergency is declared by the Governor.  This prohibition is effective for the duration of the declaration (initially 90 days, but renewable) plus an additional 30 days after termination.

On Jan.10, 2018, Governor Wolf signed a disaster declaration to combat the heroin and opioid epidemic – the first such declaration for a non-natural disaster incident. The Governor has since extended that disaster declaration twice.

“Even though this was not a natural disaster, the declaration triggered the Price Gouging Act and all manufacturers, distributors and retailers statewide are subject to pricing restrictions,” said Sen. Vulakovich. “This situation brings into sharp focus the need to amend the law so that its restraints on commerce apply only to the extent necessary.”

Senator Vulakovich said the lifespan 90 days or more for the restrictions is also an area that needs to be reviewed.

 “Three months plus an additional 30 days after termination is an excessively long period compared to other state laws and has resulted in situations where pricing restrictions from a disaster declaration for a winter snowstorm have remained in place until June or later,” Sen. Vulakovich said.

Senator Vulakovich’s legislation would limit the duration of pricing restrictions to 15 days — with extensions up to 60 days — and limits the scope to only those goods and services necessary for use or consumption.

The measure is supported by the American Car Rental Association, Associated Petroleum Industries of Pennsylvania, National Federation of Independent Business, Pennsylvania Builders Association, Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association, Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, and the Pennsylvania Retailers Association

Contact:         Nate Silcox (717) 787-6538          

Senate Approves Senator Vulakovich’s Price Gouging Reforms

Yesterday (June 19th), the Senate approved a bill introduced by Senator Randy Vulakovich to fine tune the state’s Price Gouging Act to ensure it specifically targets that issue when needed and the restrictions are kept in place for an appropriate amount of time.

Senate Bill 1172 would modify Act 133 of 2006, the Pennsylvania Price Gouging Act, to ensure that a Governor’s emergency declaration does not place an undue and unnecessary burden on operations and businesses outside of and unrelated to the disaster.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Act 133 prohibits sellers from charging “unconscionably excessive” prices for all consumer goods and services when a state of disaster emergency is declared by the Governor. This prohibition is effective for the duration of the declaration (initially 90 days, but renewable) plus an additional 30 days after termination.

On Jan.10, 2018, Governor Wolf signed a disaster declaration to combat the heroin and opioid epidemic – the first such declaration for a non-natural disaster incident. The Governor has since extended that disaster declaration.

“Even though this was not a natural disaster, the declaration triggered the Price Gouging Act and all manufacturers, distributors and retailers statewide are subject to pricing restrictions for the next six months,” said Senator Vulakovich. “This situation brings into sharp focus the need to amend the law so that its restraints on commerce apply only to the extent necessary.”

Senator Vulakovich said the lifespan 90 days or more for the restrictions is also an area that needs to be reviewed.

 “Three months plus an additional 30 days after termination is an excessively long period compared to other state laws and has resulted in situations where pricing restrictions from a disaster declaration for a winter snowstorm have remained in place until June or later,” Senator Vulakovich said. “In fact, emergency declarations issued for winter storms in early March can remain in place and maintain price restrictions through the Fourth of July.”

Senator Vulakovich’s legislation would require a separate declaration from the emergency declaration to trigger pricing restrictions so they apply only when needed. It would also limit the duration of pricing restrictions to 15 days — with extensions up to 60 days — and limits the scope to only those goods and services necessary for use or consumption.

The measure is supported by the American Car Rental Association, Associated Petroleum Industries of Pennsylvania, National Federation of Independent Business, Pennsylvania Builders Association, Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association, Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, and the Pennsylvania Retailers Association.

Contact:         Nate Silcox (717) 787-6538         

Martin Proposes Reforms to Property Tax Collection System

HARRISBURG – Senator Scott Martin (R-13) announced legislation today that would give counties, municipalities and school districts more flexibility in the collection of property taxes.

Martin’s bill would give local governing bodies the option to eliminate the position of Tax Collector and allow counties and municipalities to have the County Treasurer administrate property tax collection.  It would also permit school districts to collect their own property taxes without having to enter into any special costly agreements. The measure would allow many local governing bodies to avoid a duplication of services and cut through layers of red tape that only serve to increase costs to taxpayers, Martin said. 

“Government should always strive to modernize and improve its operations,” Martin said. “My legislation is designed to help local governments move into the 21st Century and utilize the most efficient and effective means of collecting property taxes in order reduce costs to taxpayers.”

The legislation would not mandate the elimination of the Tax Collector in any county, municipality or school district. It would only offer governing bodies the option to eliminate the position if those entities believe they can collect property taxes more efficiently and effectively.

In current practice, County Treasurers are authorized to collect property taxes for municipalities and school districts can collect their own, only after navigating archaic red tape that is also costly.

Current restrictions on the use of County Treasurers for tax collection services lead many municipalities to seek out candidates to run for the office and resign immediately after getting elected to create a vacancy. The alternative is risking an unqualified individual being elected to the office and creating confusion and unnecessary costs to taxpayers, Martin said.

That was the case in East Lampeter Township in Lancaster County when a write-in candidate won the office in 2013 with one vote.  As of March 2017, more than $90,000 was owed to the county from 2016 tax collections. $40,000 is still owed to taxpayers for double payments resulting from incorrect information and unauthorized property tax bills, and dozens of other taxpayers had to fight to avoid losing their property based on two different tax bills being sent out.

Similar problems arose in Manheim Township School District when a new Tax Collector was elected in 2013. The district alleges that the individual never took any steps to collect school district taxes, resulting in thousands of dollars in lost legal fees to address a resulting lawsuit, even though the school district has been collecting their own property taxes for over 20-plus years.

“We have seen several unfortunate cases in which unnecessary layers of bureaucracy have created confusion and increased costs for taxpayers,” Martin said. “We need to empower local governing bodies to find ways to cut through the red tape and deliver services like tax collection without unnecessary costs or headaches for taxpayers.”

CONTACT: Terry Trego (717) 787-6535

Argall bill to protect consumers heads to Governor’s desk

HARRISBURG – The House and Senate recently approved a proposal written by Senator David G. Argall (R-Schuylkill/Berks) to protect consumers utilizing household goods movers. 

“We have an uneven playing field in Pennsylvania and this will make sure consumers are protected.  These illegal companies often lack the necessary insurance coverage to protect damaged goods during a move, leaving the consumer on the hook.”

Current law requires any household goods moving company to register with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC).  For-hire household goods movers must carry adequate insurance to protect property moved and workers compensation for their employees. Some movers are skirting the law by not registering with the PUC and not carrying adequate coverage for the goods they are transporting.  Despite the efforts by the PUC to enforce current regulations, there is a strong underground market that exists among household goods movers, where “rogue” movers often pose as legal ones. 

 Argall’s bill would make it a punishable offense to perform an illegal move in the state with a $5,000 fine. Vehicles used in an illegal household goods move would be confiscated and registration would be suspended. Repeat offenders would be subject to a $10,000 fine. Revenue generated under the bill would be invested into future enforcement through the PUC. 

The bill only applies to commercial, for-hire entities. 

Senate Bill 458 passed the House by a vote of 145-42 on December 6 and the Senate unanimously approved the measure on December 11.