Senate Weekly Session Wrap
Important Harrisburg Happenings:
Senate approves four-bill anti-meth lab package
The Senate approved four bills during the Session week of March 9 cracking down on methamphetamine labs, according to Senator Pat Browne (R-16).
Senate Bill 124 sets the offense of operation of methamphetamine laboratory as a second-degree felony. The bill also makes it a first-degree felony if the chemical reaction occurs within 1,000 feet of schools or child care facilities or within 250 feet of property on which a recreation center or playground is located.
Senate Bill 125 amends the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act by adding that knowingly possessing ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, phenylpropanolamine or a product containing these ingredients, or any of their salts, optical isomers or salts of optical isomers with the intent to manufacture methamphetamine is prohibited.
Senate Bill 126 would require any person convicted of operating a methamphetamine laboratory to reimburse the appropriate law enforcement agency for the costs of cleaning up the environmental hazards associated with the operation of the laboratory.
Senate Bill 127 makes illegal dumping of methamphetamine waste a third-degree felony. The crime would be a first-degree felony if a chemical reaction occurs within 1,000 feet of schools or child care facilities, or within 250 feet of property on which a recreation center or playground is located.
The package of bills now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.
The Senate also approved Senate Bill 73, a measure cosponsored by Senator Browne that expands and clarifies the provisions prohibiting contraband, including weapons, implements of escape and other dangerous materials, in correctional institutions, youth development centers and mental hospitals.
The legislation increases the penalties for certain offenses: Delivery of a weapon, implement of escape or dangerous material to an inmate and possession by an inmate of a weapon, implement of escape or dangerous material would become second-degree felonies. Currently, these offenses are first-degree misdemeanors. Delivery of money (except through an inmate account) or contraband to an inmate would increase to a first-degree misdemeanor up from the current third degree.
Senate Committee Report:
Senate Banking and Insurance Committee Approved Three Bills
The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, on which Senator Browne serves as a member, approved three bills intended to improve health care access and coverage (Senate Bills 189, 442 and 443) and two mortgage reform bills (Senate Bills 170 and 171).
Senate Bill 189 would extend health insurance coverage, at the expense of policyholders, to adult dependent children up to the age of 30 who are not married, have no dependents, are residents of the Commonwealth or enrolled as a full-time student at an institution of higher education and are not provided insurance coverage or eligible for government benefits. Insurers would be able to determine increases in the premium to cover this additional benefit.
Senate Bill 442, cosponsored by Senator Browne, amends the Insurance Company Law of 1921 to create a Mini-COBRA Small Employer Group Health Plan in the Commonwealth. The federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) provides former employees, retirees, spouses, former spouses, and dependent children the right to temporary continuation of health coverage at group rates when coverage is lost due to certain specific events. However, these benefits only apply to employers with 20 or more employees. SB 442 would extend the COBRA guidelines to group plans that employ 2-19 employees.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 ("ARRA") enacted on Feb. 17, 2009, also known as the federal stimulus act, provides a 65 percent federal subsidy for COBRA premiums. The subsidy is good for up to nine months for those who worked for an employer with 20 or more employees and are eligible to keep their employer plan under COBRA. The subsidy is good for up to six months for people who worked for a small business with fewer than 20 workers and are eligible to continue their employer plan through a state continuation program, such as the Mini-COBRA program established by SB 442.
Senate Bill 443 would permit health insurers to withhold payment to providers in the event of a medical error.
Senate Bill 170, cosponsored by Senator Browne, would prohibit a mortgage broker or originator from being the exclusive recipient of communications to a consumer. The legislation would prevent brokers from withholding information about interest rates, fees or monthly payments, and would ensure that consumers are informed of the terms of their mortgage.
Senate Bill 171, cosponsored by Senator Browne, would protect mortgage company employees that report illegal activities or take part in an investigation, hearing or inquiry by preventing employers from taking actions such as reducing an employee's salary or benefits, changing the terms of employment, or firing an employee.