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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 www.senatorfolmer.com to learn more about issues that may affect you and your family.

Week of July 6, 2015

Fiscal Year 2015-16 Budget
The Senate passed House Bill 1192 (30-19), the 2015-16 Fiscal Year Budget.  This is a fiscally responsible budget with no new taxes that provides $100 Million more in basic education funding; $50 Million more in higher education funding; $30 Million more for early childhood programs; $20 Million more for special education, and; a $10 Million expansion of the Educational Tax Credit.  House Bill 762 (Education Code) authorizing the $10.9 Billion in public education funding provided by the budget (House Bill 1192) also passed the Senate 30-19.

Unfortunately, Governor Wolf wants higher taxes and vetoed these bills.  I, along with my Senate Republican colleagues, will continue to fight for a responsible spending plan that spends no more money than is available.  Just as the residents of Pennsylvania have to live within their monetary means, the Commonwealth needs to do the same. 

Bills Pass Senate, Go to House
All bills passed unanimously unless otherwise noted.
Senate Bill 6 – (27-22) the Educational Opportunity and Accountability Act to provide more accountability in the Commonwealth’s lowest performing schools;
Senate Bill 77 – eases requirements on beagle trainers;
Senate Bill 95 – (48-1) implements anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) protections;
Senate Bill 129 – clarifies county pension cost-of-living adjustments do not need to be calculated retroactively;
Senate Bill 307 – allows independent counsel to assist the Environmental Quality Board;
Senate Bill 524 – requires providers and law enforcement receive training and education on FDA-approved medications for the prevention of relapse to opioid dependence and ensure access to these medications;
Senate Bill 533 – implements a uniform procedure for the disposition of contraband by probation and parole agencies;
Senate Bill 536 – requires health insurers provide coverage for oral chemotherapy;
Senate Bill 566 – provides funding for the statewide Housing Trust Fund – PA Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund (PHARE);
Senate Bill 609 – creates the Prostate Cancer Surveillance, Education, Detection and Treatment Act and task force;
Senate Bill 747 – (40-9) requires the Insurance Commissioner study punitive damages in the health care industry;
Senate Bill 748 – eliminates the mandatory escort of super-sized load vehicles by the Pennsylvania State Police and replaces them with certified pilot escorts;
Senate Bill 756 – eliminates sunset provisions of the First Industries Program.
Senate Bill 792 – amends the First Class Township Code to provide for property maintenance codes, reserved powers and the Uniform Construction Code;
Senate Bill 793 – amends the Second Class Township Code to provide for property maintenance codes, reserved powers and the Uniform Construction Code;
Senate Bill 862 – amends the School Code to comply with the child abuse clearance changes made in the Child Protective Services Law;
Senate Bill 871 – allows Township Commissioners to appropriate money (not to exceed $100) to recognize the service or passing of a township official, employee or volunteer;
Senate Bill 875 – (34-15) promotes beneficial use of treated mine water;
Senate Bill 887 – further protects highway workers and first emergency responders in work zones;
Senate Bill 928 – (46-3) increases the minimum financial responsibility requirements for motor vehicles.
Appropriation Bills for Fiscal Year 2015-16:
Senate Bill 811 – Capital Budget Act for Fiscal Year 2015-16;
Senate Bill 812 – State Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs:  $43,946,000;
Senate Bill 813 – Labor & Industry Workers’ Compensation and Occupational Disease:  $71,966,000, Community & Economic Development Office of the Small Business Advocate:  $194,000, and a $500,000,000 transfer to the Uninsured Employers Guaranty Fund from the Workmen’s Compensation Administration Fund;
Senate Bill 814 – (47-2, I was a “nay”) Community & Economic Development Office of the Small Business Advocate:  $1,306,000;
Senate Bill 815 – Attorney General Office of Consumer Advocate:  $5,268,000;
Senate Bill 816 – Public School Employees’ Retirement Fund:  $44,011,000;
Senate Bill 817 – State Employees’ Retirement Fund:  $23,743,000;
Senate Bill 818 – (47-2, I was a “nay”) Philadelphia Parking Authority:  $10,442,000;
Senate Bill 819 – Public Utility Commission:  $72,701,000;
Senate Bill 820 – Attorney General:  $1,192,000, Revenue:  $9,513,000, Pennsylvania State Police:  $27,700,000, and Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board:  $39,900,000.

Bills Pass Senate, Go to Governor for Further Action
All bills passed unanimously unless otherwise noted.
Senate Bill 1 – (29-20) pension reform legislation;
Senate Bill 42 – penalties for falsely claiming to be a veteran on driver’s licenses;
House Bill 73 – requires providers counseling sexually violent predators notify the District Attorney or Chief Law Enforcement Officer of counseling services and location;
House Bill 140 – deregulates vanpools and rideshares;
House Bill 157 – considers military education and training to satisfy licensing or certification requirements;
House Bill 164 – prohibits possessing equipment or implements used for animal fighting;
House Bill 221 – provides training of law enforcement and minor judiciary to recognize individuals suffering from mental health conditions or intellectual disabilities;
House Bill 229 – addresses cyber harassment of a child;
House Bill 272 – strengthens the Sexual Assault Testing and Evidence Collect Act;
House Bill 466 – (27-22) privatizes the sale of wine and spirits by allowing beer distributors and grocery stores to sell wine and spirits while also providing assistance to displaced state store employees;
Senate Bill 655 – (30-19) the 2015-16 Fiscal Code to implement the state budget;
House Bill 972 – provides for the electronic delivery of insurance policies and annuities;
House Bill 1071 – extends state and local building permits for construction projects;
House Bill 1276 – clarifies recent changes to the Child Protective Services Law.

Bills Signed into Law by Governor
Senate Bill 485 – Act 10 – increased penalties for impersonating a physician;
Senate Bill 622 – Act 13 – removes certain recurring projects from the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee;
House Bill 131 – Act 11 – exempts residency requirement for in-state tuition to Commonwealth colleges and universities for veterans, spouses and dependent children;
House Bill 182 – Act 8 – allows Pharmacists to administer flu vaccines to children over 7-years-old with parental consent;
House Bill 911 – Act 12 – updates the 911 Emergency Communications Laws, specifically the 911 surcharge and distribution formula.

Executive Nominations Confirmed by the Senate
All were confirmed 48-1.
Treasurer of the Commonwealth:  Timothy A. Reese of Laverock
Professional and Occupational Affairs Commissioner:  Ian Harlow of Harrisburg
Lock Haven University Council of Trustees:  Michael K. Hanna, Jr. of Lock Haven
State System of Higher Education Board of Governors:  Harold Shields of Pittsburgh 

Column:  Cannabis Contradictions
There have been a number of roadblocks in my ongoing journey to help Pennsylvania’s sick and suffering – especially children with seizures and veterans with PTSD – by bringing medical cannabis to the Commonwealth.  While I understand and appreciate many of the concerns that have been raised, I also worry about misinformation and disinformation that’s been disseminated and contributed to the delay of my Senate Bill 3. 

For example, several opponents of legalizing medical cannabis in Pennsylvania have pointed out to me an AP Medical article written by Lindsey Tanner regarding recently published articles in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). These opponents perceive this article as negative. I perceive it as nothing new, and irrelevant to my Senate Bill 3 to allow for medical cannabis in the Commonwealth.

Here’s why.  First, the “small study” that indicates labels for edible cannabis products are inaccurate (i.e. baked goods and drinks) – Senate Bill 3 does not allow edible products in Pennsylvania. Second, the article states “evidence is weak for … anxiety, sleep disorders, and Tourette’s syndrome …” None of these conditions are included in Senate Bill 3, and nobody claims cannabis is a “cure-all.”  To me, this is like saying allergy medications won’t prevent heart attacks – that’s not what they are prescribed for, no medication helps any and everything.

Third, as for the possible side effects of medical cannabis: dizziness, dry mouth and sleepiness.  Doesn’t sound too bad to me, considering the alternatives (all of the following are seizure medications and possible side effects according to www.rxlist.com): Benzodiazepines (Valium, Ativan, Klonopin, Onfi) – dependence, possible severe seizures on sudden withdrawal, respiratory depression, increased risk of glaucoma and liver injury; Ezogabine/Retigabine (Potiga) – potentially irreversible eye damage and skin discoloration; Felbamate (Felbalol) – liver failure and potentially fatal anemia; Tiagabine (Gabitril) – tremors, agitation and seizures in non-epilepsy patients; and the list goes on and on.  I’d take a dry mouth over liver failure any day, or feeling drowsy over irreversible eye damage. 

The AP Medical article also points out that “marijuana is illegal under federal law and some scientists say research stymied by government hurdles including a declaration that marijuana is a controlled substance with no accepted medical use.”  The Federal government knows cannabis has medical value:  U.S. Patent 6630507 states that cannabis is a neuroprotectent and an antioxidant.

The Pennsylvania Senate carefully deliberated legislation to allow medical cannabis in the Commonwealth for over a year.  There have been numerous hearings, meetings, and testimonies to support this medication.  Over 20 states have already enacted medical cannabis laws to help their patients, why are Pennsylvanians less entitled and deserving of this help?


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