Senate Weekly Session Wrap
A Report on the Legislative Session Week of March 26, 2012
Important Harrisburg Happenings:
Senate Moves Amendment Lifting Federal Health Insurance Mandate
Even as the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing arguments this week on the constitutionality of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the state Senate approved a measure on March 28th that would amend the state constitution to address the impending federal health insurance mandate.
Senate Bill 10, which I co-sponsored, amends the Pennsylvania Constitution stating a person is not required to purchase health insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Specifically, SB 10 states a person shall be entitled to the freedom of providing for one's own health care. With the exception of providing indemnity and medical benefits to injured workers, SB10 states no law shall be enacted that: requires anyone to purchase health insurance coverage; prohibits a person from being penalized for making direct payment to a health care provider; or, renders a person liable for any penalty as a result of a person's failure to obtain health insurance.
Constitutional amendments must be approved during two consecutive legislative sessions and be approved by the voters in a statewide referendum before taking effect.
Contract Transparency Bill Passes Senate
As part of the Senate's ongoing effort to make state government more open and accountable to the people of Pennsylvania, the Senate unanimously passed legislation on March 27th that will increase transparency of state contracts.
Senate Bill 1200 requires that state agency purchasing agents provide written documentation for all sole-source, no-bid and emergency contracts over $250,000. State agencies opting to make such purchases will be required to post contract information on its website and have it remain available for 30 days after it is finalized. The measure also requires that a period be set aside for public comments prior to finalizing the contract.
The legislation, which I co-sponsored, stems from concerns about the number and frequency of no-bid, sole-source and emergency contracts. In addition, a 2009 audit by the Auditor General relating to various technology contracts, found weaknesses in the state's procurement process for services as well as careless monitoring and record-keeping and refusal to provide public documentation.
Prospective Law Would Allow the Return of Vintage License Plates
In the near future, a piece of the past may become a legal part of the present on Pennsylvania highways under a bill that is headed to the Governor's desk for his signature and enactment into law.
On March 28th, the Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1203, legislation allowing owners of antique or classic vehicles to display vintage Pennsylvania license plates from the year of the manufacture of the vehicle as their official plate. The bill limits the vintage plates to those issued between 1906 and 1975. The plate must be provided by the owner and be legible from a reasonable distance. There will be a $75 application fee for PENNDOT to process these requests.
Senate Approves Direct Wine Sales
Connoisseurs of fine out-of-state wines may soon be able to have their favorites delivered to their homes under the provisions of a measure approved by the Senate on March 28th. Senate Bill 790 amends the state Liquor Code to allow the shipment of up to 18 liters per month to any Commonwealth resident who is at least 21 years of age for personal use. The bill, now before the House of Representatives for consideration, requires all taxes to be paid on wine shipped to Commonwealth residents in the same manner as if the sale were made in Pennsylvania.
Senate Approves Bill Banning Animal Gassing
Legislation banning animal gassing in Pennsylvania was unanimously approved by the Senate on March 28th. Senate Bill 1329, which I co-sponsored, prohibits the use of carbon monoxide as a method of euthanasia. The bill goes on to mandate that shelters, when euthanizing dogs, cats and other domestic animals, do so by injection of sodium pentobarbital, the method considered most humane by animal experts.
Exclusions to this rule apply for: destruction of dangerous domestic animals; medical schools; veterinary medical schools; research institutions affiliated with a hospital or university; and, a research facility inspected under the animal welfare act.
Stormwater Management Bill Heads to House
The Senate approved legislation on March 26th providing municipal authorities with the ability to engage in stormwater management planning and projects.
Senate Bill 1261 amends the state Municipality Authorities Act to add stormwater management planning and projects to the purposes and powers of municipal authorities. Municipal authorities currently have the power to oversee sewer systems, water distribution systems, airports, parking spaces, industrial development projects and more.
While Senate Bill 1261 provides municipal authorities with the ability to engage in stormwater management planning and projects across municipal boundaries in watersheds, they are not mandated to do so. Senate Bill 1261 is now before the House of Representatives for consideration.