“Lyme disease is reaching epidemic proportions in the commonwealth. I look forward to seeing SB 177 signed into law so we can more closely monitor Lyme carrying ticks and help people avoid this debilitating disease.”
Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery) on final approval of his legislation creating a task force to inform the public about Lyme disease and conduct a tick surveillance program across Pennsylvania.
Senate Convenes Monday at 1 p.m.
The Senate will continue work on a responsible, sustainable and fiscally conservative state budget for FY 2014-15 when it convenes this week. Session days are scheduled straight through June 30, the constitutional deadline for an on-time budget. Follow @PASenateGOP on Twitter for updates throughout the week.
The Senate Aging and Youth Committee, chaired by Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny), and the House Aging and Older Adult Services Committee will hold a joint public hearing on the State Plan for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders. (Tues., 9:30 a.m., N. Office Bldg., Rm 1)
The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, chaired by Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), will hold a public hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. (Friday, 9 a.m., N. Office Bldg., Rm 1)
Lyme Disease Awareness and Prevention Legislation Sent to Governor
The Senate gave final approval Wednesday to legislation creating a task force to inform the public about Lyme disease and conduct a tick surveillance program across Pennsylvania. The legislation will be sent to the governor for enactment.
Under Senate Bill 177, sponsored by Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery), the Department of Health task force would develop a public education program and coordinate its efforts with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Department of Education to reach outdoorsman, visitors to state parks and students.
Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of confirmed cases of Lyme disease.
Expansion of Open Records Law for State-Related Universities Approved by Committee
Legislation to dramatically expand how Pennsylvania’s Open Records Law applies to the four state-related universities – Pennsylvania State University, Temple University, the University of Pittsburgh and Lincoln University – was unanimously approved Wednesday by the Senate State Government Committee, chaired by Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster).
As amended by the committee, Senate Bill 444, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware), will require Penn State, Temple, Pitt and Lincoln to create searchable, sortable and downloadable databases on their freely accessible public websites. The databases will include extensive budget, revenue and expenditure data; the number of employees and aggregated, non-personal employee data; and the number of students and aggregated, non-personal student data.
Senator Smucker: “In recent years, citizens have seen too much of the serious ethical problems and the scandals that secrecy is conducive to. In contrast, the Open Records Law has improved accountability and given the public a much better look at what their government is doing. That’s the sort of transparency we want to build on.”
For more on Senate Bill 444, please see In the Spotlight, below.
Reduced-Fee Hunting & Fishing Licenses for Disabled Vets Approved
The Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved legislation to offer more disabled Pennsylvania veterans reduced-fee hunting and fishing licenses. The bills were sent to the governor for enactment.
Senate Bill 1102, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson), will reduce the cost of fishing licenses for disabled veterans to $1 for an annual license. Senate Bill 1090, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) and Sen. Scott Hutchinson (R-Venango), will reduce the cost of hunting licenses for disabled veterans to $1 for an annual license.
Senate Bills 1102 and 1090 cover military veterans who are 60 percent or greater disabled, as determined by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans certified as having a total disability would continue to qualify for free licenses. Pennsylvania offers $1 hunting and fishing licenses to certain active duty military personnel as well.
Hutchinson’s Military Health Officer Incentive Bill Goes to Governor
Legislation sponsored by Sen. Scott Hutchinson (R-Venango) to assist the Pennsylvania National Guard in its efforts to recruit and retain military medical professionals received final legislative approval Wednesday and was sent to the governor for enactment into law.
Senate Bill 403 will use state Educational Assistance Program (EAP) funding to encourage those officers to continue their service in the National Guard. The measure specifically targets the retention of physicians, physician assistants, behavioral health, public health and environmental science officers.
Senator Hutchinson: “Many of the authorized positions in these specialties are currently vacant. Military medical officers provide critical support during overseas deployments, contingency operations and domestic emergencies, and I hope we can use our resources to encourage these professionals to stay in the National Guard.”
Senate Approves Robbins Bill to Maximize Military Tuition Assistance
Legislation sponsored by Sen. Bob Robbins (R-Mercer) amending the Pennsylvania National Guard Educational Assistance Program (EAP) to help ensure proper distribution of federal and state financial aid received final legislative approval Wednesday and is headed to the governor for enactment into law.
Senate Bill 1115 clarifies that grants under the EAP will be applied after federal assistance programs such as the GI Bill and Federal Tuition Assistance and do not exceed the cost of attending the institution, as determined by PHEAA.
Senator Robbins: “This guarantees the educational support for our guard members while maximizing the efficient use of our funds. It will allow us to provide more support for people who are interested in joining the National Guard and getting an education at a Pennsylvania college or university.”
Under Senate Bill 444, state-related universities will also be required to post information about contracts valued at $5,000 or more on Pennsylvania’s online contract database, and most of the universities will be required to report the top 200 employee salaries. State-related universities with fewer than 2,500 employees will continue to report the top 25 salaries, as required by the existing law.
The underlying bill includes additional improvements to the existing Open Records Law, such as ensuring that campus police departments are covered by the law just as local police departments are, clarifying that safety inspection reports are public, establishing a new fee structure for commercial requests, and creating a new section to address records requests made by inmates.
A separate amendment adopted by the State Government Committee clarifies the news media’s exemption from the commercial request provisions, ensures that the Office of Open Records – even as a fully independent agency – will receive appropriate payroll and administrative support, and makes a number of smaller changes.
Senator Pileggi: “For the first time, the public will have easy online access to detailed budget and academic data for Penn State, Temple, Pitt and Lincoln. Given the level of public support that goes to these universities every year, it makes perfect sense to take this important step.”