Capital Wrap-Up April 2014 #1

by Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC
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This was the last session week for the General Assembly before the Passover/Easter recess. The House and Senate will return on Monday, April 28.

Child Protection Bills

In response to the recommendations made by the Governor’s Task Force on Child Protection, six child protection bills made it to the Governor’s desk this week. Two of those bills have been signed.

In a Governor’s Reception Room ceremony on Monday, April 7, Governor Corbett signed into law S.B. 24 (Vulakovich, R-Allegheny) and H.B. 316 (Harhart, R-Lehigh).  S.B. 24 establishes a statewide database of protective services within the Department of Public Welfare. The database shall include reports of child abuse and children in need of general protective services. H.B. 316 establishes a dedicated funding stream for child advocacy centers (CACs) through an increased fee for birth certificates. Though not a direct recommendation of the Task Force on Child Protection, the governor also signed House Bill 89 (Marsico), which provide additional funding for CAC’s from the DARE fund.

Four other child protection bills have made it to the governor’s desk but are yet to be signed. They are:

H.B. 431 (Gingrich R-Lebanon), which would amend the Child Protective Services Law to require new training for child abuse recognition and reporting training for licensed professionals;

H.B. 436 (Stevens, R-Montgomery), which would expand and clarify the list of mandated reporters of child abuse and increase penalties against mandatory reporters;

S.B. 21 (Ward, R-Westmoreland), which would modernize the list of enumerated mandatory reporters. In addition to those professions already included as mandated reporters by law, the bill includes all health care professionals and health care facilities, school employees, coaches and independent contractors in schools, and any individual paid or unpaid who accepts direct responsibility for a child; and

S.B. 33 (Mensch, R-Montgomery), which would provide “whistleblower” protection for individuals who report child abuse.

The governor could sign the bills early next week. Read the entire Child Protection Task Force Report here: http://www.childprotection.state.pa.us/Resources/press/2012-11-27%20Child%20Protection%20Report%20FINAL.pdf

Ethics

The Senate passed an internal rule, S.R. 339 (Baker, R-Wayne/Wyoming and Smucker, R-Lancaster) to ban Senators and Senate staff from accepting cash gifts. Additionally, the Senate passed S. B. 1327 (Baker, R-Wayne/Wyoming and Smucker, R-Lancaster), which would amend the state Ethics Act to prohibit public officials and employees from accepting cash gifts. That bill is now awaiting action in the House of Representatives. Earlier this month, the House Bipartisan Management Committee also adopted a new ethics rule that prohibits cash gifts.

Special Education Funding

The Senate gave second consideration to S.B. 1316 (Brown, R-Lehigh), which proposes a new formula for special education funding based on the Special Education Funding Commission’s report. The Commission recommended the establishment of a new special education funding formula to ensure that state money is adequately and equitably distributed. A similar bill, H.B. 2138 (O’Neill, R-Bucks) has been reported from committee and laid on the table in the House.

Gas Royalties/Post Production Costs

The Senate passed several bills related to gas royalties and post-production costs. They are:

S.B. 1236 (Yaw, R-Lycoming), which would allow royalty interest owners the opportunity to inspect records of the gas company to verify proper payment. All information provided by the gas company will be confidential in nature and cannot be disclosed to any other person;

S.B 1237 (Yaw, R-Lycoming), which would prohibit a gas company from retaliating against a royalty interest owner by terminating the lease agreement or ceasing development because a landowner questions the accuracy of the royalty payments; and

S.B. 1238 (Yaw, R-Lycoming), which would require a gas company to record a satisfaction piece in the county Recorder of Deeds office where the oil and gas well is located within 30 days upon expiration, termination or forfeiture of the oil and gas lease. The satisfaction piece will release the gas company’s interests in the oil and gas.

These bills are likely to be referred to the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

Health Care

The House sent two health care-related bills to the Senate. H.B. 1846 (Quinn, R-Bucks) would regulate and reform the practice of physician dispensing within the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation system. H.B. 1907 (Saylor, R-York) would require hospitals to notify patients of “observation status” upon discharge.

These bills are likely to be referred to the Senate Labor and Industry and Senate Public Health and Welfare, respectively.

Pension Reform Proposal Introduced

This week, Representative Mike Tobash (R-Berks/Schuylkill) introduced legislation that which would address pension reform issues that would affect new employees entering the state system. The legislation would not change benefits for existing participants.

Tobash’s pension plan addresses three areas: paying for the underfunding that exists in the current system; shifting the risk of future pension obligations away from taxpayers; and addressing current budgetary concerns of the Commonwealth and local taxing districts.

In this 2013-14 fiscal year, the Commonwealth’s total employer pension contribution is approximately $3.4 billion. Under the current law and amortization schedule, that figure will move upwards to about $6.6 billion by the year 2018-19. An increase of more than $3 billion is equivalent to about 60,000 jobs.

Tobash’s plan includes a limited defined benefit, guaranteed retirement income at lower salary levels, along with a defined contribution 401(K)-type plan. Restrictions on when benefits can be accessed and how long an employee can participate in the defined benefit option of the plan also exist.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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