Pennsylvania Senate Republican News Brief


“The fact remains that our Commonwealth has an unfunded pension liability totaling $47 billion which needs to be honored with a plan to pay for it. With this debt expected to grow to $65 billion within a decade, combined with rising property taxes, I remain baffled that anyone would choose to ignore this problem.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Mike Brubaker (R-Lancaster) on committee approval of his bill to reform Pennsylvania’s state pension plans.


Preview

Senate Convenes Monday at 1 p.m.

The Senate convenes today at 1 p.m. As work continues on completing the state budget for Fiscal Year 2013-14, enacting a responsible transportation funding plan, privatizing the sale of wine and liquor, and making substantial reforms to public pension plans, other significant bills that could be considered this week include:

Senate Bill 526, sponsored by Sen. Mike Waugh (R-York) revamping certification of health for animal exhibitions.

Senate Bill 379, sponsored by Sen. Pat Vance (R-Cumberland) making benevolent gestures inadmissible as evidence of medical liability.

Senate Bill 643, sponsored by Sen. Mike Waugh (R-York) providing geographic diversity on the state Horse Racing Commission.

Senate Bill 914, sponsored by Sen. Don White (R-Indiana) moving the Pennsylvania Insurance Department to a dedicated funding structure.

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery), will hold a public hearing on Senate Bill 848, legislation creating state antitrust law. (11:15 a.m. Room 8E-B)

On Wednesday, the Senate Transportation Committee , chaired by Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery), will hold a public hearing on the nomination of Sean Logan to the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. (10 a.m. Room 8E-B)

On Thursday, the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, chaired by Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), will hold a hold a public hearing on royalty stub transparency issues and post-production costs from the development of natural gas. (9 a.m. N. Office Bldg. Room 1)

The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery), will hold a confirmation hearing Thursday on the nomination of Judge Correale Stevens to the state Supreme Court. (10:15 a.m. Room 8E-B)

Senate Committee Schedule

Watch hearings live at PASenateGOP.com.

Review

Senator McIlhinney Announces Retail Liquor Privatization Plan

Senate Law and Justice Committee Chairman Chuck McIlhinney (R-Bucks) unveiled legislation Tuesday that would privatize the retail sale of liquor and wine, improve convenience for consumers and protect small businesses.

Senator McIlhinney’s plan would allow current retailers that sell alcohol and beer to purchase an additional permit to sell wines and/or spirits to go. Specialty permits would also be available for retailers who only wish to sell a specific category of spirits, such as whiskeys or vodkas.

Rather than charging an exorbitant up-front fee for permits, McIlhinney’s plan would make permits available for an annual fee of $8,000. The proposal would help small, family-owned businesses and preserve the value of licenses that have already been purchased. Packaging reform measures would also benefit current retail beer distributors by allowing the sale of beer, wine and liquor in smaller quantities, such as six-packs.

Senator McIlhinney: “Many owners of beer distributors, taverns and restaurants were forced to make a giant leap of faith and pour all of their financial resources into their business to succeed in the current system. As we move toward liquor privatization, we need to give these small business owners a way to protect their investment and avoid handing the entire liquor distribution system over to huge corporate interests.”

For more on Senator McIlhinney’s plan, please see In the Spotlight, below.
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Legislation Strengthening DNA Laws Approved by Senate

A long-overdue strengthening and modernization of the laws governing the collection and use of DNA technology to fight crimes in Pennsylvania was approved by the Senate on Tuesday. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senate Bill 150, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware), will allow law enforcement agencies to make better use of DNA evidence by requiring individuals arrested for serious crimes to submit DNA samples. The bill also strengthens privacy protections and requires DNA laboratories and technicians to meet national standards. It also authorizes a new type of DNA search to help identify suspects in unsolved crimes. For more on Senate Bill 150, please see Fast Facts, below.
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Senate Passes Mensch Bill to Improve Breast Cancer Detection

The Senate on Tuesday approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Bob Mensch (R-Montgomery) to improve the early detection of breast cancer.

Senate Bill 358 will require facilities offering mammograms to provide patients with the notification of breast density. Dense breast tissue is a relatively common condition, but it can hide abnormalities and complicate early detection of breast cancer. Notification will allow women to know their own breast density. With density notification, women can talk to their doctor about what their breast density rating means and whether they are at a higher risk for breast cancer.

According to a recent poll, about 40 percent of women who get mammograms have dense breast tissue, but almost 95 percent of women are unaware of their own breast density. Senate Bill 358 was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senate Finance Committee Advances Pension Reform Bill

The Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. Mike Brubaker (R-Lancaster), approved legislation that addresses Pennsylvania’s ongoing pension crisis and establishes an expiration date to the defined benefit pension system that few enjoy and every taxpayer funds.

Senate Bill 922, sponsored by Senator Brubaker, was amended by the committee before approval. As amended, the bill would create a defined contribution plan, or 401(a) plan, for new hires of the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) and the State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS). This change would take effect in 2015 (January 1 for SERS members and July 1 for PSERS members).

The amended bill would also make participation in the defined contribution plan mandatory for current legislators, the Governor, the Attorney General, the Auditor General, and Treasurer upon re-election and the judiciary upon retention.
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Senate Votes to Restructure Allegheny County Port Authority Board

The Senate on Tuesday approved legislation sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) that will reform and restructure the Port Authority of Allegheny County.

Senate Bill 700 restructures the composition of the Port Authority Board and directs PENNDOT to study various options to lower operating expenses in order to bring the Port Authority into fiscal solvency. A report would then be issued making recommendations to elected officials and the restructured Port Authority board in regards to initiatives which could be undertaken to achieve cost-saving and efficiency goals.

Under current law, the Allegheny County Executive appoints all nine Port Authority Board members. Under an amendment sponsored by Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny), five of the board members would be appointed by the state, one by the governor and one each from the four caucuses of the General Assembly.

Senate Approves Measure to Improve Safety on School Buses

The Senate passed legislation on Wednesday that will improve safety and allow school districts to resolve disciplinary incidents on school buses faster and with more certainty.

Senate Bill 57, sponsored by Sen. Richard Alloway (R-Franklin), allows for audio taping on school buses. Currently videotaping can be done on school buses but audio taping is not allowed due to concerns that it could be a violation of the state wiretapping law.

For two decades, school districts have used video monitoring of school buses for student security and discipline purposes. This has been a valuable tool in resolving discipline action and has helped reduce violent acts on school buses because the students know that there is a camera on the bus.

In the Spotlight

Under Senator McIlhinney’s privatization plan, state-owned Wine and Spirits stores would be phased out over time when the private retail market can accommodate the needs of consumers.

A number of measures in the plan are focused on improving the system for consumers. The proposal would expand the number of liquor and wine retailers and create one-stop shops for alcohol purchases at many establishments that currently sell alcohol.

The plan also incorporates a proposal introduced by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) that would allow direct wine shipments to consumers. The Johnstown Flood Tax would also be eliminated as part of the plan.

The proposal differs from the privatization plan approved by the House last month in regard to the state’s current wholesale distribution system. Senator McIlhinney’s plan would not immediately divest the state from the wholesale system. However, the legislation would require the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to complete a study within two years regarding the future viability of the state wholesale system.

Senator McIlhinney: “Opponents to privatization have raised a number of valid concerns, and we need to address these issues carefully to avoid the negative consequences suffered in other states. My plan offers a way to privatize the retail sale of wine and liquor in the very near future while we continue to find ways to maximize our financial return.”

Amendments to Senate Bill 100

Fast Facts

Senate Bill 150: Modernizing DNA Collection to Fight Crime

Requires post-arrest DNA samples from those arrested for serious offenses.

Explicitly prohibits DNA samples from being used for anything other than legitimate law enforcement identification purposes.

Establishes an expungement process for the DNA records of exonerated individuals.

Codifies accreditation requirements for forensic DNA testing laboratories.

Requires continuing education for forensic DNA testing personnel.

Authorizes the state police to use modified DNA searches to help investigators identify unknown DNA profiles taken at crime scenes