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Welcome to "Mike's Memo," an update on what's happening in the 48th Legislative District, the State Capitol, and the progress of my legislative priorities. If you haven't done so already, please take a few moments to visit my website at to learn more about issues that may affect you and your family.

Week of April 27, 2015

Bills Pass Senate, Go to House
All bills passed unanimously unless otherwise noted.
Senate Bill 385 – updates the Transit Revitalization Investment District Act;
Senate Bill 427 – strengthens the Precious Metal Sale Regulation Law;
Senate Bill 487 – limits copayments for services provided by a physical therapist, chiropractor or occupational therapist;
Senate Bill 494 – repeals hard-copy requirement for the Flood Insurance Report;
Senate Bill 562 – provides additional legislative oversight of regulatory review process. 

Lack of Transparency with PA Department of Human Services
The Governor recently issued an Executive Order on home health care workers. Representatives from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) – which represents some health care workers but not home health care workers – used this Executive Order to obtain a list of the names and addresses of home care employees from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS).

My staff twice requested this same list and I twice requested it (all via e-mail). Sadly, DHS never even acknowledged our request. On Monday, I filed a Right-to-Know request to obtain this information previously released to the SEIU. So much for openness and transparency.

Taxpayer Protection Act and Amendment
My “Taxpayer Protection Act,” Senate Bill 7, was reported out of the Senate Finance Committee, 7-4. This legislation would limit – not reduce – the growth of state spending through the lower of the following:

  • Limit state government spending to the average change in personal income for the three preceding calendar years, or;
  • Limit state government spending to the average inflation rate plus the average percentage change in state population over the three preceding years (with exceptions for certain extraordinary circumstances).

The “Taxpayer Protection Act” would also require:

  • 25% of any moneys in excess of these limits be returned to the taxpayers;
  • 25% allocated to the Rainy Day Fund to help during trying economic times, and;
  • 50% to help pay down the unfunded liabilities of the Public School Employees’ Retirement System and the State Employees’ Retirement System.

Senator Camera Bartolotta’s Senate Bill 70, the Taxpayer Protection Constitutional Amendment, was reported out of the Senate Finance Committee, 6-5. You can listen to my comments on SB 7 here.

Senate State Government Committee
The Senate State Government Committee, which I chair, reported the following legislation to the full Senate for consideration.
Senate Bill 695 Senator Joseph Scarnati’s bill to require lobbyists and lobbying firms register and file reports electronically.
Senate Bill 3 – my bill to provide for medical cannabis in the Commonwealth. Please see the update below for further details.
Transparency in Collective Bargaining Bill Package: Senate Bill 643 Senator Ryan Aument’s bill to amend the Pennsylvania Sunshine Law to require public access to meetings where public sector collective bargaining agreements are negotiated; Senate Bill 644 – my bill to empower the Independent Fiscal Office to provide cost analyses for the current and subsequent fiscal years of the impacts of each proposed collective bargaining agreement prior to execution; and Senate Bill 645 Senator Patrick Stefano’s bill to provide public notice of collective bargaining agreements prior to approval. You can listen to my comments regarding legislation and laws in other states addressing important similar measures here.

Update: Medical Cannabis (Column for Publication)
Last Session, I was pleased to lead efforts to bring medical cannabis to our Commonwealth. Twenty three other states and the District of Columbia have similar laws. My goal for Pennsylvania is to help those with medical challenges – especially children with seizure disorders – to benefit from a medicinal strain of cannabis.

Some children have hundreds of seizures a day, making normal childhood development impossible and forcing parents to helplessly watch their children suffer. Medical cannabis is a much safer and more effective solution than the current prescribed narcotic cocktails of highly addictive and dangerous drugs that offer very little relief.

Fortunately, after months of work, last Session’s Senate Bill 1182 overwhelmingly passed the Senate, 43–7. However, there wasn’t enough time for it to be considered by the House and I reintroduced the measure passed last year by the Senate as this year’s Senate Bill 3.

Since reintroduction, I’ve been working hard to refine SB 3 through numerous discussions, changes and compromises. Some wanted to see SB 3 expanded while others had concerns and asked for more restrictions.

The Senate State Government Committee, which I chair, held a public hearing and heard from both advocates and opponents of medical cannabis. As a result of that hearing and subsequent discussions, we’ve learned more about a number of issues.

For example, some thought the definition of “health care practitioner” was too broad. Others noted edible cannabis products have created problems in other states. Both parents and many experts agreed the best delivery method for medical cannabis for certain diseases is vaporization – especially children with seizures and veterans with PTSD.

Looking at other states, we learned most allowing medical cannabis include HIV/AIDS and glaucoma on the list of covered diseases. Also, technology exists to provide for immediate and 24-hour tracking of products like cannabis.

To address these issues, we drafted a comprehensive amendment, which was unanimously approved on April 21 by the Senate State Government Committee when it reported SB 3 to the full Senate for consideration.

This amendment makes a number of important changes, including the addition of a “real time” registry to track the validity of medical cannabis cards and the growth, production and distribution of medical cannabis.

The amendment also eliminated the production of edible cannabis products – although patients would be allowed to mix prescribed medical cannabis into their foods, such as herbal teas and mashed potatoes. The SB 3 amendment slightly expands the list of covered diseases to include HIV/AIDS and glaucoma. It also adds nebulization as a delivery method.

While these changes are important and hopefully address the larger concerns with bringing medical cannabis to Pennsylvania, I would like to see additional modifications to SB 3. In particular, I would like the list of diseases and conditions expanded – especially to include diabetes, neuralgia and possibly pain management. I would also like to see vaporization included as I do not believe nebulization is the best delivery method for some diseases – vaporization is much better.

However, more importantly is we’re advancing the debate on medical cannabis. Hopefully, SB 3 will again be passed by the full Senate and sent to the House for broader deliberation and further action.

In the interim, I want to thank all of those who have been involved in the medical cannabis debate – supporters and opponents alike. I’m thankful for the support we’ve received and grateful for all the hard work that has gone into this important initiative to date. I remain committed to addressing the lingering fears that exist.

While we’ve come far and still have far to go, my goal remains the same: give patients the best options possible in battling their diseases and conditions.

Contact Information
Please feel free to contact me at any time on state-related issues that are of concern to you. I may be reached through my website or my Lebanon or Harrisburg offices.

When contacting my office by e-mail, mail, or telephone, please be sure to share your e-mail, telephone number, and address so that we can follow up with you in a timely manner. Many inquiries can be handled with a phone call or email.

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