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Below is a recap of this week’s legislative activity in the Senate. There were limited floor votes, but several pieces of legislation moved through committees.
Scott R. Wagner
In this Edition:
As Chairman of the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee, I convened our first meeting to consider Senate Bill 179, which consolidates several statutes relating to hotels and other lodging establishments. The statutes will become Chapter 13 of Title 48 (Lodging and Housing) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes. Members of the Committee unanimously approved the bill and sent it to the full Senate for consideration.
This legislation continues the process of placing all of Pennsylvania’s statutes in the titles of the consolidated statutes. For example, the General Assembly enacted Act 33 of 2009 consolidating the Prisons and Parole Code as Title 61, and Act 49 of 2009 consolidating the laws relating to constables in Title 44, Chapter 71.
Pennsylvania remains the only state that has not completely consolidated its statutes. Bringing all the laws together that deal with one particular subject make them easier to research, read, and understand.
The Senate Finance Committee held a public hearing Wednesday to gather testimony on a measure that would clarify the legislature’s role as being responsible for establishing criteria to determine the tax-exempt status of public charities. Senate Bill 4 is now before the full Senate for consideration.
Auditor General Eugene A. DePasquale reviewed the status of the tax exemption program in Pennsylvania. Nicholas Cafardi of the Duquesne University School of Law and Katherine Pearson of the Penn State Dickinson School of Law discussed legal issues related to the bill and David Thompson from the National Council of Nonprofits discussed charitable tax exemptions in other states.
Senate Bill 4 is a constitutional amendment that specifies the General Assembly has the exclusive right to establish criteria for an organization to qualify as a purely public charity. There is already a law on the books outlining such criteria, but SB 4 is necessary because the courts have reverted to a court-developed standard, rather than interpreting the current law, as is their role in the process.
Since the bill would amend the state Constitution, it must pass in two consecutive legislative sessions before being decided by the voters via referendum. The proposal was already approved once by the General Assembly during the 2013-14 session.
The York Dispatch did a piece on the subject this week, in which they point out that most of our local legislators support SB 4.
The Senate State Government Committee approved legislation on Wednesday that would ensure that illegal immigrants residing in Pennsylvania do not receive public benefits like Medicaid, welfare and unemployment compensation.
Senate Bill 9 would require anyone requesting public benefits in the Commonwealth to provide identification proving they are a legal resident. They would also be required to sign an affidavit stating they are a U.S. citizen or an immigrant lawfully present in the United States.
The Federation for Immigration Reform (FAIR) estimates the current local annual costs of illegal immigration amount to about $36 billion nationwide. In Pennsylvania, which has more than 100,000 illegal immigrants, the current estimated cost is $285 million. That cost is expected to grow to $812 million by the year 2020.
Earlier this month, Pennsylvania agreed to re-pay the federal government $48.8 million to settle claims that it paid non-emergency Medicaid, family assistance and food stamp benefits to immigrants who did not qualify for them.
The Committee also approved Senate Bill 82,which would require county boards of elections to post election returns on election night on an Internet site, and Senate Bill 316, which would provide more accountability in the awarding of state (sole-source/no-bid and emergency) contracts. The bills now go to the full Senate for consideration.
The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee approved legislation on Tuesday that would provide essential protection of consumers’ rights and personal information under the federal health care act.
Senate Bill 293, also known as the Navigator Accessibility and Regulation Act, would require Healthcare Exchange Navigators be certified by the Department of Insurance and pass a criminal background check. The federal Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) relies on individuals, generally called “navigators,” to educate and enroll millions of uninsured Americans in either Medicaid or a private insurance plan. Although in many respects these navigators act like insurance agents, they have almost no qualifications or restrictions placed upon them.
The committee also approved Senate Bill 397, which would privatize and regulate the Bail Bondsman industry in Pennsylvania. Both bills now go to the full Senate for consideration.
The Senate approved a measure on Wednesday that would provide an age exemption from jury duty.
Senate Bill 210 would exempt those persons 75 years of age or older who wish to be excused from jury duty. At least 26 states exempt elderly persons from serving on juries. Generally, states have set the age qualifying for the exemption at 65, 70 or 75. For example, in West Virginia the age is 65, in Maryland the age is 70, and in New Jersey the age is 75.
On Tuesday, the Senate approved Senate Bill 301, a measure that consolidates various statutes into the Administrative Procedure Code. Both bills now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.