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Bridge Funding for Education Programs – Senate Bill 103 of 2015
This bill calls for providing bridge funding to the PA Department of Education (PDE) to continue the essential work being done since 2009 by the Challenge Grant team, which includes Project GRAD USA, Penn State Advising Corps, Franklin & Marshall Advising Corps and the PHEAA Caps program. These highly-successful programs assist students who are under-served in the areas of college access and academic services.
The bill will ensure that the work by the Challenge Grant team to help kids graduate from high school and pursue post-secondary education (college or training programs) will continue uninterrupted until a time federal funds can be secured again. The opportunities that will be lost far outweigh the cost of the investment that we must make in order to keep this opportunity in place for Pennsylvania’s children.
This bill is part of the multi-faceted College Access Plan (CAP). CAP is a comprehensive package of legislation designed to improve student access to higher education, reduce student debt and jump-start Pennsylvania’s economy.
Dual Enrollment Expansion Task Force – Senate Bill 104 of 2015
This legislation calls for creating a Dual Enrollment Expansion Task Force to review and make recommendations for expanding dual enrollment and advanced placement opportunities that allow students to obtain college credits while in high school to ultimately make college education more affordable.
This bill is part of the College Access Plan (CAP).
Pipeline Impact Fee – Senate Bill 557 of 2015
Throughout Pennsylvania, residents have been affected by the construction of natural gas lines. With the surge in natural gas drilling, many residents of Pennsylvania are experiencing the effects of the growth in this industry. Although the construction of this energy infrastructure is often done very efficiently, many communities experience a period of reduced quality of life and long term impacts to the environment as a result of the construction process.
The legislation would establish a pipeline impact fee calculated based on the acreage of linear feet plus right-of way width of a pipeline using the county average land value in an affected area. The funds would be distributed to the counties and municipalities affected by the pipeline.
Civil Damages for Harm to Pet Dogs and Cats – Senate Bill 593 of 2015
This legislation calls for expanding the civil action one may take against one who hurts or kills their dog or cat by a negligent or intentional act. Currently, such civil action may only ask for economic damages; basically the price paid for the pet. Under this bill, one could sue up to $12,000 in non-economic damages in magisterial district court.
Under this bill, a court could award the maximum $12,000 civil penalty if the act of killing the pet is deemed “unlawful” or “intentional.” If the act leading to the pet’s harm or death is simply deemed “negligent,” a court could award a maximum civil penalty of $5,000.
The Pet Protection from Domestic Abuse Act – Senate Bill 594 of 2015:
All too often, an estranged spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend will get back at his or her spouse or partner by hurting or killing their cat, dog or other pet.
This bill would stiffen Pennsylvania’s Animal Cruelty Law to increase the penalty when animal abuse happens in a domestic-violence situation.
Support for Military Foster Pets – Senate Bill 595 of 2015
This legislation would help care for the pets of Pennsylvanians who are on active duty in the military. Several Pennsylvania non-profit organizations match up the pets of departing military with homes that can care for them. My bill would provide household approved pet foster homes an income tax credit for each three consecutive months of free foster care provided to the pet of a Pennsylvanian service member on active duty.
The men and women who risk their lives for us deserve the peace of mind that comes with knowing their pets are in good hands.
Therapy Dogs Access to Public Transportation Act – Senate Bill 640 of 2015:
Currently, service dogs and those they assist are allowed on public transportation. This legislation would also allow therapy dogs on public transportation including buses and trains.
Therapy dogs differ from service dogs in that whereas service dogs are trained to do work for the benefit of an individual with a disability, therapy dogs are trained to soothe, comfort and provide therapeutic support to people in stressful situations including emergencies and natural disasters, hospitals, retirement homes, and hospices.
Entrepreneurship Encouragement Act – Senate Bill 679 of 2015:
This legislation would remove the disincentive for unemployed individuals to start their own businesses. Under current law, those receiving unemployment compensation lose their benefits with their first positive step toward starting a business, be it the renting of an office or the purchase of equipment.
Under this bill, an unemployed individual who begins a business would continue to receive unemployment compensation benefits for 26 weeks or until the profits from the new business exceed 50 percent of their unemployment compensation benefits, whichever comes first.
Smokeless Tobacco Tax – Senate Bill 680 of 2015:
Pennsylvania is the only state in the union that does not tax smokeless tobacco. This bill calls for enacting a tax on smokeless tobacco equivalent to the tax rate on cigarettes.
Pennsylvania Family and Medical Leave Act – Senate Bill 681 of 2015
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act provides up to 12 weeks of protected, unpaid leave for mothers and fathers caring for sick children or newborns and adult children caring for ailing parents.
The Pennsylvania Family and Medical Leave Act calls for extending similar rights to siblings, grandparents and grandchildren in certain, specific cases. It would provide up to six weeks of protected, unpaid leave to an employee to care for a sibling, grandparent or grandchild with a serious health condition if such sibling, grandparent or grandchild has no living spouse, child over 17 years of age or parent under 65 years of age. The bill also ensures that no one double-dips and takes leave time from the federal and state extension program.
Healthcare Facilities Violence Prevention Act – Senate Bill 769 of 2015
According to the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, Healthcare and social assistance workers were the victims of approximately 11,370 assaults by persons nationwide last year; a more than than 13 percent increase over the previous year. Almost 19 percent of these assaults occurred in nursing and residential care facilities alone. Unfortunately, experts believe that many more incidents probably go unreported.
This important legislation, which has been introduced in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives as House Bill 326 by state Rep. Florindo Fabrizio, is geared at protecting the selfless, tireless doctors, nurses, therapists, and other health care professionals who care for us when we are most vulnerable by preventing violence.
Extending the Statute of Limitations for Childhood Sexual Assault – Senate Bill 770 of 2015
It can take many years or even decades of therapy and support for victims of childhood sexual abuse to confront and process past incidents. However, under current law, the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse to file civil actions expires at age 30.
This bill would provide a specifically defined and new, one-time two-year window during which civil lawsuits can be filed by those who allege childhood sexual abuse but for whom the statute of limitations for civil actions has expired.
To better protect the civil actions of future victims of childhood sexual abuse, this legislation also calls for increasing the statute of limitations for victims from age 30 to age 50. Simliar legislation has already been passed in Delaware and California.
Veteran’s Reduced-Fee Fishing License – Senate Bill 771 of 2015
This legislation calls for expanding Pennsylvania’s reduced-fee resident fishing licenses to include all military veterans. Under the bill, all Pennsylvania residents who served in our Armed Forces would pay $1 for a Pennsylvania fishing license unless they are disabled and eligible for a free fishing license.
ABLE Accounts for People with Disabilities – Senate Bill 726 of 2015
This legislation would create the ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) program in Pennsylvania to provide tax-free savings accounts for individuals with disabilities and their families.
The ABLE program would allow Pennsylvanians with disabilities and their families to set aside money to provide for the long-term care of their loved ones. For the first time, qualified persons who open an ABLE account would not lose their eligibility to receive public benefits, such as SSI and Medicaid. ABLE account funds could be utilized for qualified expenses related to education, housing, transportation, health and wellness, legal fees and other expenses.
Regulation Fiscal Note Requirement – Senate Bill 731 of 2015
The vast majority of unfunded mandates on school districts do not come from legislative action and bills passed by the General Assembly, but from the State Board of Education through the regulation process and regulatory requirements and controls.
This legislation would require comprehensive financial reporting by the State Board of Education during the regulation process. The current practice of providing only vague statements of cost without real figures does not provide the information necessary for the General Assembly to make judgement on proposed regulations in the independent regulatory review process.
This bill would amend the Public School Code to require that the four Chairs of the Education Committees receive a comprehensive, detailed financial break down of estimated cost for regulations related to the Department of Education at key times in the regulatory review process.
Sales-Tax Exemption for Fire Stations – Senate Bill 766 of 2015
This bill would exempt volunteer fire organizations from the state sales tax when purchasing materials, supplies and equipment to make physical improvements and repairs to their fire stations. The exemption would include the purchase of materials for physical improvements on their stations and would alleviate a substantial financial hardship. This legislation would provide a boost for volunteer organizations that provide vital emergency services to our communities.
Maintaining Bipartisan Representation on County Election Boards – Senate Bill 767 of 2015
This legislation will amend the Pennsylvania Election Code to make perfectly clear that when local courts fill a vacancy on the county election board, they must make sure the election boards include minority-party representation just as they must at all other times.
The Election Code obviously and rightly recognizes the importance of bipartisanship on the boards that oversee elections. But in Chester County, the Court of Common Pleas has now repeatedly ignored the spirit of the law by creating election boards whose three members are of the same political party.
This bill would require that when courts replace a county commissioner on the board of elections due to a commissioner’s departure or run for office, that the courts replace him or her with someone from the same political party.
Clarifying PTRR Application Deadline – Senate Bill 768 of 2015
Every year since the original Senior Citizens Rebate and Assistance Act of 1971 and its successor, the Taxpayer Relief Act of 2006, set June 30 as the application deadline for the Property Tax and Rent Rebate (PTRR) program, the Commonwealth has used its statutory authority to extend the application deadline to December 31.
Given the now-automatic nature of this deadline extension, I believe the announcement notices sent early every June have become an unnecessary exercise that only serve to confuse the senior citizens on fixed incomes and others who are so dependent on this vital program.
This legislation would make December 31 the permanent deadline for application to the PTRR program. It would not change the Department of Revenue’s practice of beginning to send out rebate checks after July 1 of each year.
DEP Public Notification and Access to Information Act – Senate Bills 801 and 802 of 2015
This legislation would improve the delivery of information from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and permit applications to the general public. Currently, there is a lack of public notification and information requirements regarding projects nearby local residents.
Under these bills, the DEP would require pipeline operators to notify property-owners directly affected by their proposed pipeline and for special permits to notify residents who reside within a half-mile of the project.
In addition, the bills would also require the DEP to post on its website permit applications and supporting public documents, such as engineering studies and related information.
Condemnation Approval Act – Senate Bill 803 of 2015
This bill would further protect agricultural easements and farmland preserved under the Agricultural Area Security Law by requiring any utility eminent domain action to first be approved by Pennsylvania’s Agricultural Lands Condemnation Approval Board. Such approval is currently not required.
Pipeline Acre-for-Acre Act – Senate Bill 804 of 2015
This legislation would require pipeline operators that take taxpayer-funded agriculture and conservation easements to replace them within the same county. The bill calls for requiring acre-for-acre replacement and that pipeline operators take necessary measures to ensure that their projects do not exacerbate the stormwater runoff issues.
School Enrollment and Admissions Information Update – Senate Bill 827 of 2015
This legislation will provide a simple addition to existing law to address an omission that is occurring in schools recording keeping on enrollment and absences.
The bill calls for each school board to develop a written policy that provides parents an opportunity to update contact information in conjunction with the issuance of the child’s quarterly report card or every 60 days.
In addition, this bill will requires the school district system leader to recalculate enrollment totals, using information that is currently being obtained under the law, to be done in intervals that correlate with the issuance of the child’s quarterly report card or every 60 days. If the number calculated is different from the enrollment number last reported to the Department of Education, the number calculated and recorded is to be submitted to the Department. This information is critical because any proposed change in the Basic Education Funding Formula needs to based on current enrollment information.
Protecting Early Education – Senate Bill 829 of 2015
Pennsylvania is one of only two states in the nation that delays the requirement for children to attend school until the age of eight. While school districts in Pennsylvania have at least half day kindergarten, it is possible, under current law, for financially distressed school districts to cut kindergarten through second grade programs (for children age five to seven).
Early childhood education efforts have a key role in building the necessary foundation for a child to succeed later in life. This legislation will lower the age at which a child must enter school from eight to five and ensure that all children have access to early education programs regardless of where they live.
Charter and Cyber Charter Financial Accountability and Transparency – Senate Bill 830 of 2015
This legislation will require charter and cyber charter schools and their trustees and administrators to be financially transparent and accountable.
This bill calls for measures to ensure that charter schools are audited and assessed, provide basic financial documentation and offer public access to their budgets and transactions. In addition, the bill includes provisions that require charter school trustees and administrators to be financially transparent in annual statements.
Charter and Cyber Charter Student Attendance Accountability – Senate Bill 831 of 2015
This legislation would require charter and cyber charter schools to enforce the existing truancy laws applicable to all students and to notify the school district in which the student is a resident when truancy is an issue.
Under current law, there is no obligation for a charter or cyber school to report when a student is truant or to assist in the prosecution of a truancy case. Instead, the School Code makes truancy enforcement the responsibility of the resident school district. This bill is a comprehensive approach to updating the law and closing that loop-hole.
Charter and Cyber Charter Limits on Unassigned Fund Balances – Senate Bill 832 of 2015
Currently, school districts are limited in the amount of money that can accrue in their ending unreserved, undesignated fund balances. However, charter and cyber charter schools do not have the same limitations.
This allows some charters or cyber charters to hoard large sums while annually collecting funds from school districts for upcoming budgets without having to expend the excess to help mitigate costs.
This bill would add language to the provisions of the school code governing charter and cyber charter schools to cap their surplus funds to correct this inequitable and unfair accounting in the interest of Pennsylvania’s taxpayers.
Protecting the Home Addresses of School Employees – Senate Bill 833 of 2015
This legislation will protect the privacy of school employees’ home addresses from public access under the Right to Know law.
With an increase in the number of threats involving our schools, teachers and employees deserve a responsible approach to the release of their personal information.
Currently, a temporary stay has been issued by the Commonwealth Court prohibiting the Office of Open Records from releasing such information. My bill will provide a simple legislative addition to the law to ensure that school safety and security extend to the home addresses of its employees.
Limiting the Number of the Keystone Exams – Senate Bill 834 of 2015
This legislation limits the Keystone Graduation Exams to the current three exams (Algebra 1, Literature and Biology) required by the federal government. The Keystones cost millions of dollars to develop and implement and even more to provide supplemental instruction to those who fail any of the exams. These are millions of dollars that school districts can use for other resources.
Strengthening Teacher Professional Development – Senate Bill 835 of 2015
Teacher professional development has been compromised by actions of the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The department is giving professional credits to teachers who are willing to correct project assessments of students who fail or opt out of the Keystone Exams.
The purpose of professional development is not to correct tests. It is to help teachers improve their knowledge and teaching skills.
This legislation will disallow professional development credits for only correcting tests or evaluating projects and limit the number of credits a teacher can obtain from the project assessment evaluation process.
Moratorium on the Use of Keystone Exams as Graduation Requirements – Senate Bill 838 of 2015
Beginning with the class of 2017 (current sophomores), students in the Commonwealth will have to pass Keystone Exams in three subject areas (Algebra I, Literature and Biology) in order to earn a diploma. However, to date, there is no assurance that all school districts are being provided the proper resources for meeting Pennsylvania Core Standards (Common Core) that are measured by the Keystone Exams.
The Federal Government only requires accountability to be measured in the three current areas. It does not call for any of the exams to be used as the sole determinant of graduation.
My bill will establish a moratorium on the use of the Keystone exams as a graduation requirement while the Basic Education Funding Commission continues its efforts to make recommendations to the General Assembly for a fair funding formula. The moratorium will continue while the General Assembly reviews the recommendations and designs a fair funding formula for enactment, then for a period of time afterwards so we can to ascertain the impact of that formula.