Senate Weekly Session Wrap
Important Harrisburg Happenings:
Legislature Acts to Preserve UC Benefits for 45,000 Pennsylvanians
Legislation to provide 13 weeks of unemployment compensation benefits to an estimated 45,000 Pennsylvanians received final legislative approval on June 17th and was signed into law by Governor Tom Corbett.
Senate Bill 1030will enable an additional 90,000 claimants to remain eligible throughout the remainder of the calendar year to collect an additional 13 weeks of extended benefits, which will result in an additional $350 million in federally-funded extended benefits being paid to these claimants.
The Senate concurred Friday on a House amendment that placed a limit on the maximum weekly benefit payment a recipient can receive and a requirement that those receiving benefits actively look for work.
Bill Increases Monitoring, Standards of Pennsylvania's Abortion Clinics
After considerable debate and fine tuning over the past few weeks, the Senate passed legislation on June 14th to increase state oversight of abortion clinics and provide additional safeguards for the women who use those facilities.
Senate Bill 732, which I co-sponsored, sets licensing standards and provides for regular inspections of abortion clinics by the state Department of Health. The legislation also requires clinics that perform abortions after the ninth week of gestation meet higher standards for treatment and care.
The legislation is intended to address the lack of regulatory review and standards in Pennsylvania that led to the horrible conditions and practices detailed in a Philadelphia County grand jury report on an abortion clinic run by Dr. Kermit Gosnell.
At least two women died as a result of botched late-term abortions, according to the grand jury report released in January. Some babies were born alive and then killed by having their spinal cords snipped by scissors and untrained personnel performed medical procedures, sometimes using unsterilized implements that spread venereal disease. Gosnell and several employees were charged with murder and numerous other offenses in the case.
The grand jury also revealed that complaints about unsafe and unsanitary conditions went unheeded for more than a decade until investigators finally put a stop to the business in February of 2010. Seven state employees have either resigned or been terminated since the situation came to light.
The bill is now before the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senate Committee Report:
Marcellus Shale Impact Fee Legislation Advances
The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee approved legislation on June 14th to impose an impact fee on natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania.
As amended by the committee, Senate Bill 1100, which I co-sponsored, sets the fee at $40,000 in the first year of production, followed by $30,000 in the second year and $20,000 in year three. A fee of $10,000 would be assessed from years four through 10.
Sixty percent of the revenue collected would go to local and county governments where drilling activity takes place and the remaining 40 percent would go for environmental and safety initiatives. The legislation also provides $1 million annually for training and equipment for emergency responders in Marcellus Shale drilling areas. Drillers could receive a credit of up to 30 percent of their fee if they donate to affordable housing programs.
Budget Bill Moving Toward Final Approval
The Senate acted this week to ensure that the state budget for Fiscal year 2011-12 is in place before the end of the month. The Senate Appropriations Committee reported out House Bill 1485 (the General Fund Budget bill) and the full Senate conducted its preliminary consideration of the measure, setting the stage for a final vote as early as the session week of June 20th.
DCNR Secretary Confirmed
The Senate unanimously confirmed the nomination of Richard J. Allan of Camp Hill, Cumberland County, on June 13th to serve as Secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). The Senate has now confirmed all of Governor Corbett's cabinet nominations except for the secretaries for the Department of Labor and Industry and the Department of Public Welfare.
Bath Salts Bill Headed to Governor
Legislation banning synthetic drugs – particularly a combination of chemicals commonly known as "bath salts" – is headed to the Governor for enactment into law following final Senate approval on June 15th.
The final step came as the Senate unanimously concurred on a House amendment to Senate Bill 1006, which adds Salvia Divinorum, Salvinorin A, Divinorin A, synthetic marijuana and synthetic cocaine/heroin to the list of Schedule I controlled substances. These chemicals are currently available over the internet or from local shops. They mimic the effects of powerful drugs and can have life threatening consequences for users.