Pennsylvania Senate Republican News Brief


“The Center for Rural Pennsylvania held a hearing in which it became apparent that a significant part of Pennsylvania was not served by natural gas, although we’re sitting on one of the largest deposits of natural gas in the world. These bills will provide the opportunity for residents to obtain gas service should they choose that source of energy.”

Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee Chairman Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) on passage of legislation to make natural gas service available to more Pennsylvanians.


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Senate Convenes Monday at 1 p.m.

The Senate convenes today at 1 p.m. Bills that could be considered this week include:

Senate Bill 150, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware) expanding the use of the state DNA database.

Senate Bill 305, sponsored by Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Blair) establishing a uniform procedure for the disposition of contraband left in the possession of probation and parole agencies.

Senate Bill 700, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) restructuring the Allegheny County Port Authority.

Senate Bill 358, sponsored by Sen. Bob Mensch (R-Montgomery) requiring the notification of breast density to patients who receive a mammogram.

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

Senate Bill 401, sponsored by Sen. Tommy Tomlinson (R-Bucks) requiring joint payments to the insured and emergency service organizations.

Senate Committee Schedule

Review

Senate Votes to Improve Accessibility to Natural Gas Service

The Senate approved two bills sponsored by Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee Chairman Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) to make natural gas service available to more Pennsylvanians.

Senate Bill 738, the Natural Gas Consumer Access Act, requires every natural gas distribution utility operating in Pennsylvania to submit a plan to the Public Utility Commission, outlining the utility’s plans for extension and expansion projects. The measure will also create a system providing for expedited extension or expansion projects if an economic development agency or a large number of residential, commercial or industrial entities want to seek to obtain natural gas service.

Senate Bill 739 amends the Alternative Energy Investment Act to provide grants to schools, hospitals and small businesses to help them obtain access to natural gas service. The funding will come from existing, underutilized programs. The bills now go the House of Representatives for consideration.

For more on the Natural Gas Consumer Access Act, please see Fast Facts, below.
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Legislation Abolishing Philadelphia Traffic Court set for Enactment

Legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware) to abolish the scandal-plagued Philadelphia Traffic Court received final legislative approval last week and now goes to Governor Corbett for his approval and enactment into law.

The Philadelphia Traffic Court has been the source of sustained allegations of corruption and ticket-fixing over multiple decades, leading to the recent indictments of nine current and former Traffic Court judges. Senate Bill 333 eliminates the Philadelphia Traffic Court in the state constitution. Senate Bill 334 statutorily transfers its responsibilities to Philadelphia Municipal Court.
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Senate Passes Bill Shielding Property Owners from Unfair Liens

The state Senate approved legislation Wednesday to protect homeowners from unfair mechanics’ liens.

When a property owner pays a contractor for repair work, it’s expected that the contractor will pass along payments to subcontractors. When that doesn’t happen, the subcontractor can file a lien against the homeowner seeking payment.

Senate Bill 145 , sponsored by Sen. Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland), eliminates mechanics’ lien rights for subcontractors who performed work on residential property if the property owner has already paid the prime contractor in full. The measure will be sent to the House of Representatives for consideration. For more on Senate Bill 145, please see In the Spotlight, below.

Bill Holds Repeat Retail Theft Offenders Accountable

Legislation that would ensure that repeat retail theft offenders are held accountable for their actions was approved by the Senate on June 10.

Senate Bill 731, sponsored by Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery), closes a loophole in current law that enables repeat offenders to avoid more serious penalties if they take part in an in Accelerated Rehabilitation Program (ARD). Offenders will still be able to have the first offense expunged from their record if they complete ARD, but they would be held accountable for potential increased penalties if they repeat the offense. The bill is now before the House Judiciary Committee.
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Committee Approves Bill Curbing MCARE Costs

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee , chaired by Sen. Don White (R-Indiana), approved legislation Tuesday that would curb medical liability costs and keep doctors in Pennsylvania.

Senate Bill 878, sponsored by Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery), amends the MCARE Act of 2002 by locking in basic insurance coverage requirements for hospitals, participating health care providers, and non-participating health care providers for a period of five years and mandates that any remaining funding left over at the end of the year be used to reduce the following year’s assessments.
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Financial Aid for Online Higher Education Clears Committee

The Senate Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon), approved legislation to provide for financial aid for students pursuing degrees online.

Senate Bill 78, sponsored by Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery), would create a test program for five academic years administered through the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA). Under the Distance Education Program, eligible students enrolled in participating institutions of higher education would be able to take more than half of their coursework online and seek a state grant. Currently, students must earn at least 50 percent of their credits through classroom instruction to qualify for PHEAA grants.

In the Spotlight

Legislation shielding property owners from unfair mechanics’ liens was drafted after several out-of-state roofing companies set up shop to replace homes damaged by a 2011 tornado in the 39th Senatorial District.

Several residents were adversely affected when a roofing company failed to pay its roofing supplier. In turn, the roofing supplier exercised its right to file mechanics’ liens against the property owners even though the property owners had already paid the contract price to the out-of-state company in full.

Even with proper documentation showing they paid the primary contractor, the subcontractor still filed the lien in accordance with existing Pennsylvania law. When the main contractor left town and disconnected their contact sources, they left these residents to fight the subcontractor on their own.

Under Senator Ward’s bill, if a subcontractor files a lien, the homeowner or tenant can file a petition or motion with the court to throw it out if the homeowner or tenant has paid the full contract price to the contractor. When the homeowner or tenant has only paid part of the contract to the contractor, the bill directs the court to reduce the amount of lien to the amount still owed on the contract.

Senator Ward: “I am grateful to my Senate colleagues for supporting my efforts to make sure that property owners who pay their construction bills aren’t penalized by the deeds of an unscrupulous contractor. Most contractors perform their work in good faith. Senate Bill 145 is designed to protect homeowners from those who don’t.”

Fast Facts

The Natural Gas Consumer Access Act

Encourages the conversion of government office buildings to low-cost, energy efficient, Pennsylvania-produced natural gas.

Offers incentives to school districts, institutions of higher education, correctional institutions and hospitals to convert to natural gas.

Establishes funding alternatives for gathering and distribution line extensions to un-served and under-served areas.

Requires the Public Utility Commission to develop rules to produce an orderly system for reviewing current levels of natural gas service and to allow for the orderly expansion of natural gas service to areas not currently served.

Allows municipalities to establish their own pipeline infrastructure.

Eases the regulatory hurdles required for becoming a public utility.

Includes a system of pipeline tap infrastructure for rural access.

Provides rate incentives to state utilities that are aggressively acquiring and building new utility franchises in rural areas.