Pennsylvania Senate Republican News Brief

“The reforms and the changes proposed in this bill are important and they are long overdue. Pennsylvania’s special education funding formula system is ineffective in ensuring that state money is adequately and equitability distributed.”

Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh) on passage of House Bill 2, the House version of his Senate bill to reform the manner in which special education is funded.


Senate Session, Unveiling of Legislative Transportation Funding Plan

The Senate will convene today at 1 p.m. Bills that could be considered this week include Senate Bill 114, tightening notification of data breaches, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware); Senate Bill 196, expanding PENNVEST, sponsored by Sen. Don White (R-Indiana); Senate Bill 381, updating the Commercial Code, sponsored by Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Blair); and Senate Bill 731, closing a retail theft loophole, sponsored by Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery).

On Tuesday, Senate Transportation Committee Chair John Rafferty (R-Montgomery) will join legislators in the Senate and House in unveiling legislation to establish a funding plan for Pennsylvania’s transportation needs. (11 a.m. Capitol Media Center)

Sen. Bob Robbins (R-Mercer) will co-host a news conference Monday to call on the International Olympic Committee to restore wrestling as a recognized sport for the 2020 Summer Olympics. Legislators will be joined at the event by U.S. Olympic wrestlers from Pennsylvania. (2 p.m. East Wing Rotunda)

Senate Committee Schedule


Special Education Funding Reform Sent to Governor

The Senate unanimously approved legislation Tuesday reforming the manner in which special education is funded. House Bill 2 now goes to the governor for his signature and enactment into law.

The measure, which is the companion bill to Senate Bill 470, sponsored by Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh), allocates any new state special education funding in a manner that recognizes the actual number of physically and mentally challenged students in a school and the various levels of their need for services. It does not reduce the current level of special education funding received by local school districts. The legislation does not establish a new funding formula. It empowers a legislative commission to develop the formula. For more on the special education funding reform legislation, please see Fast Facts, below.

Senate Acts to Allow Victim Testimony at Parole Hearings

The Senate passed legislation Tuesday sponsored by Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) that would allow a crime victim or a member of the victim’s family to testify directly before the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole when the victim’s offender is being considered for parole.

Current law permits a crime victim to present written or oral comments for parole board consideration, as well as to testify before a hearing examiner, but does not allow for direct testimony before the board. Senate Bill 508 now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Joint Hearing Continues Work on Overhauling PA Child Protection Laws

The Senate Aging and Youth Committee, chaired by Sen. Bob Mensch (R-Montgomery), and the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, chaired by Sen. Pat Vance (R-Cumberland), continued the process of overhauling Pennsylvania’s child protection laws with a hearing Wednesday to discuss legislative recommendations by the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection.

The panel heard from task force members and Acting Public Welfare Secretary Beverly Mackereth.

The task force members encouraged greater use of Multidisciplinary Investigative Teams, composed of county prosecutors, law enforcement and child advocates, whose sole mission is to stop offenders from preying upon children. The panel also endorsed Child Advocacy Centers, where a qualified forensics interviewer speaks with children who may be victims of abuse, and an academy to improve training of case workers and mandated reporters.

Senator Mensch: “This is the first step in a journey to better protect Pennsylvania children. We’re going to move cautiously, but we are going to act.”

For more on the hearing, please see In the Spotlight, below.
Watch Hearing

Expanded Low-Interest Loans for Municipalities Approved

The Senate passed a measure Wednesday that would expand a low-interest loan program for municipalities.

Senate Bill 591, sponsored by Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny), would increase the amounts local governments can borrow through the Local Government Capital Project loan program for equipment purchases (increased from $25,000 to $50,000) and facility upgrades (increased from $50,000 to $100,000). The program, which was set up as a self-sustaining revolving loan fund, provides loans at a two-percent interest rate. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senate Approves Rabies Vaccination Exemptions

The Senate approved legislation April 8 that would provide an exemption from the annual rabies vaccination requirement for dogs and cats with existing medical conditions.

Senate Bill 155, sponsored by Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery), would grant an exemption in cases where a licensed veterinarian examines and determines that it would be harmful to vaccinate a dog or cat due to an infirmity, other physical condition or regimen of therapy. The measure was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Committee Approves Extending Ban on Taxpayer-Funded Elective Abortions

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, chaired by Sen. Don White (R-Indiana), approved a measure Wednesday that would place a proposed new insurance system created by the new federal health care law under Pennsylvania’s existing law prohibiting the use of taxpayer dollars for elective abortions

Senate Bill 3, sponsored by Senator White, is consistent with the Pennsylvania Medical Assistance Program and the Abortion Control Act. Exceptions allowing for coverage in cases involving rape, incest or when the life of the woman is in danger currently exist in state law.

In the Spotlight

Task force members on hand for the joint Senate hearing on overhauling child protection laws included its chairman, Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler; Dr. Cindy Christian, director of Safe Place: The Center for Child Protection and Health at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; and attorney Jason Kutulakis.

According to the task force testifiers, Pennsylvania has a multi-tiered system when it comes to child abuse allegations that is inclusive of our criminal justice system to investigate crimes and child protective services to ensure the safety of the child as well as determines if there are any further victims. Far too often, police and child protective services work in “silos” when it comes to investigations – within narrow communication channels where information is not always shared. In addition, state health privacy (HIPPA) laws can hinder the exchange of information necessary for an investigation, task force members said.

The Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection was created by the passage of Senate Resolution 250 in December 2011. The panel held a series of public meetings and released its reportin November 2012.

The task force recommendations led to the introduction of a bipartisan package of legislation to provide sweeping improvements to Pennsylvania’s child protection laws.

Fast Facts

House Bill 2: Special Education Funding Reform

  • Creates a 15-member legislative commission to develop a new formula for distributing any increases in special education funding over the levels allocated in the 2010-11 school year.
  • The formula must include the establishment of three cost categories for students receiving special education services, ranging from least intensive to most intensive.
  • The commission must obtain a student count for each school district, averaged for the three most recent school years, for each cost category established.
  • The commission will assign a weight to each category of disability.
  • The commission must develop a fair system for distributing the increase among the school districts and calculate the amount of funding that each school will receive under the new formula.
  • The commission will issue a report of its findings by September 30, but the new special education funding formula will not go into effect until approved by the General Assembly.