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Senate Passes Bill to End Intimidation by Unions
The Senate approved House Bill 874 on Tuesday, legislation that I have been advocating for and which amends the Crimes Code to eliminate a special exception afforded just to unions. Specifically, current law allows them to harass, stalk, and make threats during labor disputes. In any other instances, these actions are crimes.
A fellow business owner brought this issue to my attention last session because he has endured such treatment from labor unions, as has his family. It is unacceptable that such behavior is blatantly allowed under our Crimes Code.
HB 874 garnered a vote of 30-18 after a failed attempt to amend it. The bill now returns to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.
Measure Strengthening Right-to-Know Law Sent to House
Legislation to strengthen Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law was unanimously approved by the Senate on Wednesday. Senate Bill 411 now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.
The measure strengthens the law for both requesters and agencies by simplifying the appeals process for requesters, giving the Office of Open Records much-needed flexibility in addressing complex appeals, and reducing the burden of requests from inmates.
Senate Bill 411 also establishes a new, reasonable fee structure for commercial requests and ensures that requests made to campus police departments receive the same treatment as requests to municipal police departments. The bill clarifies that entities such as economic development authorities and industrial development authorities are covered by the Right-to-Know Law.
Committee Hears Testimony on Civil Asset Forfeiture
On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator Stewart Greenleaf, convened a hearing to examine the current process for Civil Asset Forfeiture.
Senator Mike Folmer, prime sponsor of Senate Bill 869, which calls for reforming Pennsylvania’s asset forfeiture process, offered opening remarks at the hearing. Senator Folmer has introduced SB 869 to ensure a person’s right to be innocent until proven guilty is maintained.
Those that testified included representatives from the District Attorneys Association, a former director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Asset Forfeiture Office, an individual from the ACLU, and Pennsylvania’s Chief Deputy Attorney General for Asset Forfeiture. Video of the hearing can be viewed online.
Civil Asset Forfeiture has been a contentious issue, as the hearing proved. Law enforcement seizes property they believe is in connection to a crime. These assets are then forfeited – or sold – and the money obtained can then be used by the law enforcement agency to further their efforts to fight crime. The problem that has arisen is when these assets are forfeited prior to conviction of the accused. In some instances, the owner of the assets, such as a house or a car, are not even part of the crime, and their property is seized and forfeited before they can prove their innocence.
I have no problem with law enforcement seizing property if they believe it is in connection with a crime, but the owner should be convicted of that crime before law enforcement forfeits their property.
Persian Gulf Conflict Veterans’ Bonus Extension Goes to Governor
A measure extending the deadline for Pennsylvania veterans to apply for the Persian Gulf Conflict Veterans’ Bonus received final legislative approval and was sent to the Governor for his signature and enactment into law.
House Bill 175 extends the application filing deadline for the program to August 31, 2018.
The bonus pays $75 per month for qualifying, active-duty service members, up to a $525 maximum. For personnel whose death was related to illness or injury received in the line of duty in Operations Desert Shield or Desert Storm, there is an additional $5,000 available to the surviving family. Service members who were declared prisoners of war may also be eligible for an additional $5,000.
Senate Sends Bill to Increase Support for Housing Program to Governor
The Senate gave final approval Tuesday to a measure that would increase state support for a program that promotes housing affordability and rehabilitation in communities across the Commonwealth.
House Bill 792 first came through the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee, which I am Chairman of, as did companion legislation that was passed by the Senate in June. This legislation dedicates a portion of funds raised from the state’s Realty Transfer Tax (RTT) for use by the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund (PHARE) for projects across the state. The legislation does not increase the RTT rate, but solely changes how the revenues under the existing rate are used. The bill is now on the Governor’s desk for his signature and enactment into law.
The Senate also concurred Tuesday on House amendments to two Senate bills and sent the measures to the Governor for enactment into law.
Senate Bill 210 would exempt persons 75 years of age or older, judges, magisterial district judges and federal judges and breastfeeding women from jury duty.
Senate Bill 748 eliminates the mandatory escort of super-sized loads by the Pennsylvania State Police and replaces them with certified pilot escorts.
Senate Approves Cemetery and Funeral Merchandise Trust Fund Bill
The Senate passed Senate Bill 874 on Wednesday with a vote of 26-20. This legislation aims to change how cemeteries handle the pre-need sale and delivery of burial products and services.
Many individuals and families make arrangements well in advance of ever needing the services of cemeteries. When this occurs, 70% of the purchase price is required by law to be placed into a trust fund until the goods are delivered.
Claims have been made within the funeral industry that cemeteries are burying products such as burial vaults and caskets upon purchase and claiming the goods have been delivered, thus allowing 100% of the money from the purchase to be retained by the cemetery. Additionally, claims are being made that these products are deteriorating over time in the ground and then are unusable when a consumer needs them. SB 874 is intended to prevent this practice from occurring.
I have heard from both sides of this issue – funeral homes support the bill, cemeteries do not. While on the surface, it seems well-intentioned, I have had concerns with the underlying intent since a similar bill came up for a vote last session. That bill called for 100% of proceeds from pre-need purchases to be deposited into a trust fund, essentially cutting off cemeteries’ access to any revenue to operate their business.
Changes were made to this year’s bill, returning to current law’s 30/70 split, but an additional measure calls for sellers to adhere to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Funeral Industry Practices Revised Rules regarding the sale of the merchandise. Known as “The Funeral Rule,” it does not apply to cemeteries – as determined by the Federal government, not by Pennsylvania law. Even the FTC issued an opinion on SB 874 this week indicating this legislation would limit competition and be harmful for consumer choice.
SB 874 now goes to the House for consideration, along with the following bills:
House Bill 138 allows first responders -- after getting local approval -- to fundraise on local roadways, with programs such as those in which firefighters collect donations in a boot.
Senate Bill 751 prohibits the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors.
Senate Bill 857 provides new penalties for illegal household goods movers.
Senate Bill 931 amends the Eminent Domain Code regarding moving and related expenses of displaced persons, replacement housing for homeowners and replacement housing for tenants and others.
House Bill 1275 authorizes dentists from other states and countries to take clinical continuing education courses at Pennsylvania dental schools, and permits dentists from other countries to obtain restricted faculty licenses authorizing them to teach at dental schools in Pennsylvania. The bill returns to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.
A recap of activity by the Senate committees I serve on.
The Senate Transportation Committee reported out the following bills on Tuesday:
Senate Bill 62 makes it easier to obtain a probationary license, available to habitual offenders whose driving privileges have been revoked.
Senate Bill 146 requires a vehicle passenger to render aid to an injured person in an accident if the driver is physically unable, refuses or neglects to do so.
House Bill 1278 allows front-seat video images to be displayed in a vehicle as long as the images are not visible to the operator of the vehicle while the vehicle is in motion.
House Bill 1335 allows the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to remove emergency “call boxes,” which are rarely used with the rise of cell phone usage.
House Bill 1411 amends the Eminent Domain Code to bring the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania into compliance with changes made by Congress.
The Senate returns to session on Monday You can watch session live at my website.
On Tuesday at 10 a.m., the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee, which I chair, will hold a joint public hearing with the House Urban Affairs Committee to discuss issues with vacant and abandoned real estate in foreclosure. You can watch the hearing here.
I welcome your feedback and input. Please don’t hesitate to contact me via my website.