Recap of the Pennsylvania Senate’s Busy Week

The PA State Senate had a busy week, all leading up to some key votes that took place yesterday. We have been closely following several bills and unfortunately a few costly ones made their way through. Here’s a quick look at some of the notable legislation that made headlines yesterday:

  • Pension Non-Reform—For starters, the Senate passed HB 2497 with a 41-8 vote to kick the pension problems of the state further down the road. The bill is nothing more than an accounting side-step that defers costs onto future generations. The House Democrats said the bill, because it include the Legislative Fiscal Office, is now unconstitutional, citing a Legislative Reference Bureau report. This is the same reason the Senate Republicans say the Severance Tax legislation is unconstitutional. If someone were cynical, they might suggest this was a deliberate effort to poison the legislation, so they could claim they voted for it, but never actually have it become law.
  • The ‘Castle Doctrine’ bill– The Senate passed the Castle Doctrine, but not the version passed by the House earlier in the week. Instead, the Senate took the language from HB 40 and added it to HB 1926 in an attempt to avoid the House Judiciary Committee, which was planning on adding gun control provisions. Thus, issues of constitutionality were brought up by House Democrats and as this bill now addresses self-defense and the registration of sex offenders (the original purpose of HB 1926). The Castle Doctrine expands the ability of legal gun owners to use lethal force in self-defense in places outside of the home. Republicans remain optimistic about the fate of the bill.
  • Sprinkler Mandate—The Senate approved HB 1196, legislation to delay for one year the mandate to include sprinklers in all new homes built in Pennsylvania. The sprinkler requirement was estimated to add an additional $6,000 to the cost of new homes. The bill also delays new building codes for log homes built in the state. The fate of this bill is unclear, many fear the Governor is not likely not sign it.
  • Prison savings—To reduce the growth in PA’s prison population, SB 1161 would redirect nonviolent, technical parole violators from prisons to community correction facilities. The legislation is estimated to save the state $30 to $40 million per year (subscription required). The bill is headed to the governor and is expected to be signed.
  • Firefighters and CancerHB 1231 is also headed to the governor, yet it remains unclear as to what action will be taken. The bill presumes that any firefighter who develops cancer got it as a result of their occupation, requiring local fire departments to cover treatment, unless they can prove otherwise. In its current language, HB 1231 makes it difficult for an employer to challenge the occupation as the source of the disease.
  • Municipal Electricity Power—The Senate voted yesterday to take up House changes to SB 168 that will give municipal governments the authority to partake in power supply and electric generation projects. Senate Bill 168 would allow boroughs to purchase power through a no-bid contract for certain electric generation projects.
  • Streamlining State Food Inspections: Also passing the Senate is HB 174, which standardizes food safety regulations statewide. It will also have implications on churches. The proposed legislation does include an exemption for religious groups that have 501(c)(3) status and a sales tax exemption certificate.