I am pleased to send you my Session Wrap Up e-newsletter. This e-newsletter features events and legislative activities from the Session Week of November 16, 2020.
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Fiscal Year 2020-21 Budget Completed
The Senate gave final approval on Friday to a supplemental spending bill — completing the state budget for Fiscal Year 2020-21.
Passage of Senate Bill 1350 finalizes the state spending plan for the current fiscal year (July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021) that was initiated with the enactment of a five-month interim budget (Act 1A – House Bill 2387) on May 29.
Overcoming the severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Pennsylvania’s economy, the final $35.5 billion FY 2020-21 budget is balanced without the need for tax or fee increases or debt using a combination of current state revenues and resources and federal stimulus funding.
This budget is the result of a serious review of Pennsylvania’s current economic condition and the projections of how we expect to fare over the next seven months. Fortunately, the state is somewhat better off now financially than what we anticipated in May. It makes significant cuts in state bureaucracy that translates into nearly a 10 percent reduction in funding for state departmental operations across the board. At the same time, we have maintained funding for almost every state service and program and our schools at the same level as last year without tax increases or increased debt.
While the interim spending plan approved in May provided five months of funding for most state services and programs, it made a full-year financial commitment for education at all levels and for a variety of food security programs. Funding for basic education, special education, early education and higher education is maintained in the final spending plan at the same level as Fiscal Year 2019-20.
Spending in the final Fiscal Year 2020-21 state budget includes General Fund appropriations of $32.1 billion and an additional $3.4 billion in federal stimulus funds ($2.1 billion Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) and $1.3 billion federal CARES funds).
After adjusting for supplemental spending that should have been in FY 2019-20, overall state spending in the final FY 2020-21 budget — including federal stimulus funds — is down more than $760 million (2.1 percent) from FY 2019-20.
The final budget includes $200 million to provide school property tax relief to replace the revenues those districts lost by the closure of Pennsylvania’s casinos during the pandemic shutdown.
I am pleased that this budget continues our efforts to reduce the diversion of money from the state’s Motor License Fund (MLF) – which supports highway and bridge improvement efforts – to fund the State Police. It is important to use the MLF for its intended purpose — to improve the condition and safety of our highways and bridges.
The Governor signed the bill on Friday.
Bill to Expand Broadband Access Sent to Governor
Legislation establishing a grant program to extend broadband services in underserved areas of the state received final legislative approval on Thursday and was sent to the Governor.
Senate Bill 835 would provide funding to improve access to high-speed broadband internet in underserved rural areas. It would limit the funding to entities that have demonstrated the ability to construct and administer internet services and require that they provide at least 25 percent of the funding for the project.
Access to broadband has become even more crucial during the COVID-19 health crisis, especially for those who tele-work, senior citizens, fire and emergency workers and students who are taking classes remotely.
Bill Provides Flexibility on Teacher Certifications, Keystone Exams
Schools would have more flexibility to respond to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic under legislation that was sent to the Governor.
Senate Bill 1216 eases many certification and staff development requirements that are difficult to fulfill during the pandemic. Emergency permit holders would also be allowed to continue to teach even if they are unable to complete the requirements associated with the permit because the program credits or assessment could not be completed.
The bill also delays the use of the Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement until the 2022-23 school year and gives the Secretary of Education the authority to waive the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) assessment and the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute (NOCTI) exam requirements.
Senate Bill 1216 also addresses several issues pertaining to pupil transportation.
Senate Approves Liability Assistance for Good Faith Actions During Pandemic
Health care providers, schools, businesses and others who followed COVID-19 public health directives would be protected from unfair lawsuits for good-faith actions they took during the pandemic under legislation approved by the Senate on Thursday.
House Bill 1737, as amended in the Senate, aims to head off potential lawsuits that could bankrupt already struggling employers and unfairly harm institutions who did their best to following the changing and sometimes conflicting guidance provided by the state and federal governments during the pandemic.
Under the legislation, claims of negligence must be demonstrated by “clear and convincing evidence,” rather than “by a preponderance of evidence.” People and entities covered by the legislation would still be responsible for any intentionally wrongful acts and acts considered “reckless.”
The legislation does not provide complete immunity for anyone. It simply ensures that if a person or entity followed public health directives established by federal or state governments, they will not be held responsible for any harm that allegedly occurred.
Bill on Conventional Oil and Gas Producers Sent to the Governor
A bill setting separate regulations for conventional oil and gas operators — as opposed to the unconventional (Marcellus and Utica) gas industry – received final legislative approval and was sent to the Governor’s desk.
Senate Bill 790 creates the Conventional Oil and Gas Wells Act, with provisions that make it reflective of today’s conventional industry. As a result of the Marcellus shale boom, the state updated the Oil and Gas Act to deal with the uniqueness of the much larger unconventional industry, but some provisions placed unnecessary burdens on conventional producers. Senate Bill 790 provides for regulations specific to conventional oil and gas drillers in a way that protects the environment while preserving this valuable industry.
Legislature Wraps 2019-20 Session
The General Assembly wrapped up its work for the 2019-20 Legislative Session by approving several bills and sending them to the Governor. The legislative session officially ends on November 30, with the 2021-22 Session set to start with a Swearing-In Day Ceremony on Tuesday, January 5.
The bills sent to the Governor include:
House Bill 21, which requires the licensure of home inspectors and repeals the Home Inspection Law. The bill was returned to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.
House Bill 30, which allows contributions of $6 to the Governor Robert P. Casey Memorial Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Trust Fund when renewing a vehicle registration for two years.
House Bill 64, which authorizes state professional and occupational licensing boards to allow carryover of excess continuing education credits.
House Bill 616, which adds the drug Carfentanil to the list of Schedule II controlled substances in the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act.
House Bill 770, which requires pharmacy technicians to register with the State Board of Pharmacy.
House Bill 777, which provides that a club licensee may utilize the 60 percent portion of proceeds, currently required to be utilized for public interest purposes, for operating expenses for a period of one year after the termination of the Governor’s proclamation of disaster emergency. The bill was returned to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.
House Bill 862, which authorizes the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to join the Physical Therapy Licensure Compact.
House Bill 941, which provides for pharmacy benefit manager pricing transparency.
House Bill 942, which amends the membership of the Pharmaceutical and Therapeutics Committee by including two individuals representing community pharmacists as well as physicians, pharmacists and other members appointed as needed to develop and maintain a preferred drug list.
Senate Bill 983, which expands Pennsylvania’s Newborn Child Screening and Follow-up Program by merging the mandatory and supplemental disorder lists.
Senate Bill 1193, which addresses funding for sheriff and deputy sheriff education and training.
Senate Bill 1214, which conveys several properties.
Senate Bill 1241, which directs the Department of General Services to conduct an annual survey of state facility usage.
Senate Bill 1268, which enables temporary nurse aides hired during the COVID-19 emergency declaration to transition to certified nurse aides.
Senate Bill 1309, which conveys a tract of unimproved land in Manheim Township, Lancaster County.
House Bill 1342, which requires the parents and guardians of first-time school students to have a vision screening in the 12 months prior to the students’ first day of school. School entities must perform student vision screenings every year through fifth grade and at least every other year through 12th grade.
House Bill 1534, which amends the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law to update definitions and provide consumer protections with a focus on Pyramid Promotional Schemes.
House Bill 1538, which requires those individuals designated as Sexually Violent Predators to wait three years before re-applying for parole.
House Bill 1617, which provides for the conversion of hotel liquor licenses (H licenses) issued before 1949 into restaurant liquor licenses (R licenses).
House Bill 1662, which amends the Methadone Death and Incident Review Act to include deaths and incidents attributable to any medication approved for the treatment of opioid use disorder and renames it the Medication Death and Incident Review Act.
House Bill 1747, which removes the current prohibition of carrying a firearm in public during an emergency proclamation from the state or a municipal government.
House Bill 1808, which amends the Solid Waste Management Act to update definitions allowing for “advanced recycling” and “advanced recycling facilities.”
House Bill 1962, which provides for annual stress testing of the Public School Employees’ Retirement System and State Employees’ Retirement System. The bill was returned to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.
House Bill 2233, which allows political subdivisions and volunteer services to share a common bulk storage tank for the storage of tax-exempt motor fuel.
House Bill 2293, which provides for requirements related to emergency response plans by public utilities operating a natural gas liquids pipeline through high consequence areas.
House Bill 2296, which creates stricter requirements for when a CDL driver must notify their employer after being arrested, cited, charged or convicted with a non-parking traffic violation.
House Bill 2440, which provides that shooting ranges, sportsman clubs, hunting facilities and firearm and ammunition product manufacturers, retailers, importers and distributors, inclusive of their employees and agents, shall always be constituted as life-sustaining businesses.
House Bill 2536, which amends the Fiscal Code.
In addition to Senate Bill 792, Senate Bill 1350, House Bill 1808 and House Bill 2065, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved House Bill 630 on Monday. The bill provides employment protections to Pennsylvania residents who are members of a National Guard or Reserve unit in another state.
The Senate Education Committee approved House Bill 1342 on Monday.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved House Bill 1348 on Thursday. The bill provides limited civil liability protection for persons who offer agritourism activities on a farm.
Rules & Executive Nominations
The Senate Rules & Executive Nominations Committee approved Senate Bill 790 on Monday and Senate Bill 1216 on Wednesday. The Committee also approved two Resolutions on Wednesday that were adopted by the full Senate on Thursday.
Senate Resolution 396 recognizes workers with disabilities who have supported frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senate Resolution 408 recognizes November 16-20 as “Students Experiencing Homelessness Awareness Week” and November 20 as “Red Shirt Day.”
The Senate Transportation Committee approved House Bill 916 on Tuesday.
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