Open Seat 48th E-Newsletter

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Week of April 23, 2018

Bills Pass Senate, Go to House for Further Consideration

All bills passed unanimously unless otherwise noted.

Senate Bill 653 – (39-10) further consolidates the collection of local, non-real estate taxes under the Local Tax Enabling Act;

Senate Bill 742 – Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights;

Senate Bill 880 – updates the Vehicle Code for 102-inch wide trailers;

Senate Bill 915 – extends the time to one year to file post-conviction relief action challenges based on an exception;

Senate Bill 916 – updates the DNA testing law;

Senate Bill 961 – (45-4) increases penalties for those with prior DUI offenses and who are then convicted of vehicular homicide while driving under the influence;

Senate Bill 1078 – allows security and safety matters to be discussed in Executive Sessions;

Senate Bill 1090 – Timothy J. Piazza Antihazing Law.

Bills Pass Senate, Go to Governor for Further Action

All bills passed unanimously unless otherwise noted.

Senate Bill 844 – expands legal standing for those seeking custody of children who don’t have both biological parents;

Senate Bill 877 and Senate Bill 878 – updates insurer rebates and inducements;

House Bill 595 – gives the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection authority to investigate and mediate complaints regarding planned communities, cooperatives and condominiums;

House Bill 866 – (44-6) clarifies the Local Tax Enabling Act (Act 32 of 2008);

House Bill 1341 – updates the Bituminous Coal Mine Safety Act (Act 55 of 2008) with changes made in the Emergency Medical Services Act (Act 37 of 2009).

Senate Resolution 260

The Senate unanimously adopted Senator Vulakovich and Costa’s Senate Resolution 260 to extend the SR 6 (Fire & EMS) Commission recommendations deadline to November 30.

Executive Nominations Unanimously Confirmed by the Senate

Public Utility Commission – Gladys M. Brown, Harrisburg

Animal Health and Diagnostic Commission – E. Scott Augsburger, Lancaster

Council on the Arts – Emmai Alaquiva, Pittsburgh

State Board of Barber Examiners – Ken A. Jaram, Coraopolis

Board of Trustees of Ebensburg Center – Edwin Hasson, Johnstown and Francis J. Rosmus, South Fork

Housing Finance Agency – Jennifer L. Koppel, Elizabethtown and John Paone, Philadelphia

State Board of MedicineBarbara E. Ostrov, of Hershey and the 48th Senatorial District; Joseph E. Losee, Pittsburgh, and; Paul Joseph Valigorsky, II, DuBois

Minority Business Development Authority – Chenna R. Chakka, Mechanicsburg; Estelle T. Eberhardt, Pennsburg, and; Jay W. Sessoms, Philadelphia

Bills Signed into Law by the Governor

Act No. 11 – Senate Bill 135 – allows the use of leashed tracking dogs to recover legally harvested deer;

Act. No. 14 – Senate Bill 449 – “Tierne’s Law” to clarify Magisterial District Judges may, in cases of domestic violence, use a risk assessment tool to determine whether a defendant poses a danger to a victim when determining bail.

Lebanon Valley College at Undergraduate Research at the Capitol

The Undergraduate Research at the Capitol Pennsylvania (URC-PA) Conference is an educational event allowing undergraduate students enrolled in PA’s colleges and universities to showcase research and talents to the Commonwealth’s key decision-makers.  I had the pleasure of meeting with Neal Rose and Andrew Brown from Lebanon Valley College as they showcased their URC-PA posters.

Neal Rose of Dauphin County, Senior Global Studies, Spanish and Criminal Justice Major
Francisco Franco and the Spanish Civil War: U.S. Interests and the Preservation of the Spanish Dictator

Andrew Brown of Bear, Delware, Senior Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Major
Fluorescent Detection of the Prolamin Family of Proteins

Lebanon High School American Cancer Society Volunteers

It was great meeting with Lebanon High School students and staff who were in Harrisburg as part of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Day at the Capitol!  Thank you, Denise Colon, Collin Mentzer, Solia Horn, Glorianna Fraytic, Elizabeth Cartagena, Jill Trate, Max Guzman, Elizabeth Rivera and Vicki Haake, for your passion and advocacy on behalf of those fighting cancer, survivors and the American Cancer Society. Listen to my introduction here:

Constituent Highlight: Pollyana Canete, Kaitlyn Wilburn and Claudia Weddle

State Farm and the York County Center for Traffic Safety recently announced the Lebanon County High School “No Excuses” Billboard Contest Winners from Cedar Crest High SchoolPollyana Canete, Kaitlyn Wilburn and Claudia Weddle!

Their billboard, “Texting and driving is like DRIVING BLIND” has been unveiled at 1521 East Chocolate Avenue, Hershey.  These students should be very proud of themselves for using their talents to encourage safe driving practices to save lives!

Senate State Government Committee Activity

4/16/18 - Civil Service Commission Reforms (SB 1037)

On April 16, the Senate State Government Committee held a public hearing on my and Senator Vulakovich’s Senate Bill 1037 to modernize the Civil Service Commission.

4/17/18 - Consideration of Bills

On April 17, the Senate State Government Committee held a meeting to consider Senate Bill 299, Senate Bill 595 and Senate Bill 1038.  All passed unanimously.

Column: Redistricting Reform

My “Promise to Pennsylvania” calls for strict adherence to Article III of the state Constitution on how legislation is passed.  It’s why I’ve insisted as chair of the Senate State Government Committee to publicly vet legislation prior to voting.

As redistricting changes have long been a goal of mine, I’ve wanted for some time to hold a series of hearings on proposed redistricting bills referred to the Committee.  However, lawsuits over the 2011 maps forced me to put these hearings on hold.

With the conclusion of these court challenges, I was both pleased and relieved to convene the first public hearing on proposals to change our redistricting process.  I hope those who watched found it as informative as I did.

Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution as amended by the 14th Amendment establishes the requirement to apportion Congressional Districts and gives the states authority to establish the qualifications.  Article II, Sections 16 and 17 of the Pennsylvania Constitution establish the number of House and Senate Members for the General Assembly and the manner in which those District lines are to be established.

These constitutional provisions are why I joined a lawsuit to block the congressional maps drawn by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  I believe the Court exceeded its Constitutional authority – even though I voted against the 2011 maps.

I voted against the 2011 maps.  I repeat this because of criticisms I’ve received from some saying I supported the 2011 maps – I didn’t.

Yes, I have been critical of the Court because I believe if we fail to follow our rules of law – the US and Pennsylvania Constitutions – our Constitutional Republic doesn’t work and the judiciary becomes a political weapon.

I don’t believe having one person draw election lines as the Court did is good public policy – especially when there was no public explanation of how the maps were redrawn, no public hearings were held, and no recourse was given to anyone to challenge the Court’s maps.  Hopefully, this isn’t the type of reform people have talked about with me.

There’s a reason why both the US and the Pennsylvania Constitutions both begin with an enumeration of the powers and responsibilities of the Legislature:  Article I of the US Constitution and Article II of the Pennsylvania Constitution (Article I is our Bill of Rights).

Several bills to change the reapportionment process have been referred to the Senate State Government Committee dealing with how the General Assembly’s election lines are drawn and/or how Congressional maps are determined.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) six states use independent commissions to draw legislative redistricting maps, one state (Iowa) has legislative staff draw the maps for their legislative districts.  Of the six states relying upon independent commissions to draw maps:  Alaska uses a 5-member independent commission, Arizona also uses a 5-member commission, California has a 14-member commission, Idaho a 6-member independent commission, Montana a 5-member commission, and Washington State also has a 5-member commission.

NCSL also notes 13 states have commissions to draw state legislative districts, including Pennsylvania.

Five states appoint advisory commissions to help advise their legislatures about where state legislative district lines should be drawn – these states include: Iowa, Maine, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

At the next public hearing, I hope to learn more about how other states do redistricting and additional possible ways Pennsylvania might change its process.  That hearing will be 10:00 a.m., Tuesday, April 24 in Hearing Room One of the North Office Building.

I look forward to continued discussion of these much needed and long overdue reforms.

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