Senate Weekly Session Wrap
Important Harrisburg Happenings:
Distracted Driver Bill Clears Senate
The Senate passed legislation on June 8th that would prohibit the use of handheld cell phones and texting while driving and would set new guidelines for drivers under the age of 18.
Senate Bill 314, which now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration, would impose a ban on handheld cell phones for all drivers, regardless of age. Hands-free cell phone use would still be permitted. The bill would make it a secondary offense to text or use a cell phone while driving – meaning the driver would have to first be pulled over for a primary offense.
The legislation would also prohibit junior driver's license holders, during their first six months of driving, from transporting more than one passenger under the age of 18, who is not a family member, unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. After six months, a junior driver would be allowed to transport three passengers under the age of 18 who are not members of the driver's immediate family.
Distracted driving was a contributing cause of 20 percent of injury crashes in 2009. The age group with the greatest proportion of distracted drivers was the under-20 age group – 16 percent of all drivers younger than 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported to have been distracted while driving.
Senate Approves Ban on Taxpayer-Funded Elective Abortions
The Senate acted with the approval of Senate Bill 3 on June 7th to ensure that compliance with federal healthcare laws will not result in taxpayer money being used to pay for elective abortions.
SB 3, which I co-sponsored, specifically prohibits health insurers participating in the taxpayer-subsidized state health insurance exchanges — an insurance system created under the new federal health care law and currently slated to be operational by 2014 — from providing coverage for elective abortions.
The restriction on elective abortions proposed in SB 3 is consistent with our existing state laws and provides exceptions in cases involving rape, incest or when the life of the woman is in danger.
SB 3 does not ban abortions, nor does it bar insurance coverage offered in the private sector from covering abortions. This legislation simply extends our standard restriction on taxpayer-funded elective abortions to health insurance exchanges — in the event that they should be established — and maintains uniformity with our existing programs and policies.
Senate Begins Budget Approval Process
During the week of June 6th, the Senate started the process of approving the State Budget, which is actually made up of a series of bills addressing a variety of programs, agencies, dedicated funds and services. The Senate gave final approval to several budget bills for Fiscal Year 2011-12 and sent them to the House of Representatives for consideration: Senate Bill 1054 (Capital Budget), Senate Bill 1055 (State Employees' Retirement Board), Senate Bill 1056 (Public School Employees' Retirement Board), Senate Bill 1057 (Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs), Senate Bill 1058 (Workmen's Compensation), Senate Bill 1059 (Public Utility Commission), Senate Bill 1060 (Office of the Consumer Advocate) and Senate Bill 1061 (Office of the Small Business Advocate).
Senate Approves Invoice Itemization for Gas Royalty Checks
The Senate approved legislation on June 6th that will provide more disclosure for property owners who receive royalty checks from natural gas production on their land.
Senate Bill 460, which requires natural gas producing companies to list production details and all deductions on royalty check stubs, was unanimously approved by the Senate and sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
The legislation, which I co-sponsored, is intended to provide clear and concise information regarding payment deductions that impact a lessee's overall royalty checks. Currently, Pennsylvania does not require gas companies to list deductions from royalties paid to landowners on monthly payments.
Bill Would Ensure State Regulations are Based on Reliable Data
The Senate approved legislation on June 6th to ensure that state regulations are based on reliable data and sound science.
Senate Bill 263 would expand the scope of review by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission to include the examination of the quality of data, studies, reports and information underlying state regulations being implemented.
Any state agency seeking to implement a regulation would have to provide a sufficient description of the data used for the regulation, a detailed explanation of how it was obtained and an explanation as to why the data is acceptable.
SB 263, which I co-sponsored, is now before House of Representatives' State Government Committee for consideration.
Senate Approves Family Day Care Safety Legislation
The Senate approved legislation the week of June 6th to improve safety at family day care centers across the Commonwealth.
Senate Bill 227 will require family day care homes to have a liability insurance policy covering all persons on the premises in order to be registered by the state.
The bill also ensures that families receive full information about the facility at time of enrollment. Specifically, SB 227 requires family day care homes to review with parents the registration certificate, inspection summary, insurance policy, emergency plan, general daily schedule and other policies.
In addition, SB 227 allows the state to immediately close day care centers or remove children if evidence is found relating to gross negligence, misconduct or mistreatment of children constituting an immediate and serious danger to the children's life or health.
Senate Approves Juvenile Justice System Reform Bills
The state Senate approved legislation on June 8th to reform the juvenile justice system and protect the fundamental rights of children entering the system. The legislative package, which I co-sponsored, was prompted by widespread corruption involving two Luzerne County judges. The bills eliminate waiving counsel in juvenile delinquency hearings (Senate Bill 815); create a victim advocate devoted to juvenile justice (Senate Bill 816); prohibit shackling of juveniles in the courtroom (Senate Bill 817); and require judges to state on the record the reasons behind disposition orders (Senate Bill 818).