The 2011-2012 legislative session has wrapped up, with a significant number of bills headed for enactment, but more work needs to be done in the 2013-2014 session.
The Pennsylvania Senate does not conduct "lame duck" sessions -- voting on bills after the election. When the next General Assembly is seated in January, one of the biggest issues looming will be crafting a state budget that funds essential programs while protecting taxpayers. As Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I look forward to developing a state budget that holds the line on spending and does not burden taxpayers and job-creators.
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Senator Jake Corman
Fair Share Act Prevents Lawsuit Abuse
An important measure that became law this session was a bill I sponsored that will help to restore fairness to the judicial system by reforming the practice of joint and several liability. The legislation passed with bi-partisan support and was signed into law last year.
Known as the 'Fair Share Act,' the law is based on the premise that a defendant should only be responsible for paying his or her fair share of damages in a civil case. Our civil justice system is not supposed to be used as a lottery – it should be based on fairness and common sense.
Under joint and several liability, a defendant found liable in a civil suit could be held 100 percent responsible, even if their responsibility was is only 1 percent. Senate Bill 1131 (Act 17 of 2011) reformed the joint and several doctrine, by disallowing joint liability in cases where a defendant is less than 60 percent legally responsible.
The law strikes the right balance between fostering a healthy business environment for job growth and ensuring victims will remain compensated for their injuries.
In 2002, the Fair Share Act was signed into law only to be struck down on a procedural court challenge. It was passed again and vetoed by Gov. Ed Rendell in 2005.
I am extremely pleased that we finally approved this very important legislation. Reforming the joint and several liability system in Pennsylvania provides fairness and predictability.
New Law Addresses Underage Public Drunkenness
I am very pleased that the Governor signed into law a bill I sponsored which aims to reduce alcohol offenses and the significant impact they have on boroughs like State College.
Senate Bill 941 (Act 205 of 2012) increases the maximum fine for public drunkenness and underage drinking to $1,000 on second and subsequent offenses.
This will hopefully provide a deterrent so that the individuals who are arrested for alcohol-related offenses will make better decisions the next time around. Additionally, if higher fines are chosen, the municipality and tax payers will see relief in the cost they bear, this time paid by the actual violator, rather than through increased property taxes.
Currently, the maximum fine limit for underage drinking violations is $500 on second and subsequent offenses, and $300 for all offenses of public drunkenness. The $300 fine for public drunkenness has not been changed since 1972. If adjusted for inflation, the fine would be $1,650.
I worked with local officials on the legislation, including State College Borough Manager Tom Fountain and State College Borough Police Chief Tom King. They provided data showing that over the past 10 years, alcohol violations have significantly increased, as well as blood alcohol content of violators and emergency room visits for alcohol induced medical problems.
No one enjoys raising fines, but municipalities are continuously facing the rising costs of alcohol related crimes, and those costs are borne by someone – in this case, the taxpayer. Fine increases have shown a real impact in other university communities across the country. Hopefully, this legislation will be able to reduce the costs to taxpayers by preventing the alcohol violations from continuously happening.
New Laws Signed During End of Legislative Session
Numerous bills received final legislative approval and were sent to the governor for his signature and enactment into law. These bills included the following:
Senate Bill 201 requires health insurance companies, Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, and government sponsored pharmacy benefit programs to allow patients to use retail community pharmacies, if the retail community pharmacies agree to accept the same pricing, terms, conditions or requirements related to the cost of the prescriptions and the quality of care as are established for mail order pharmacies.
Senate Bill 341 authorizes the Department of Agriculture to establish an Automotive Fuel Testing and Disclosure Program to test octane levels. Pennsylvania is currently one of only three states that do not conduct testing of octane levels. The Department of Agriculture is required to annually inspect gas pumps for accuracy, but testing for levels of octane is not required.
Senate Bill 390 allows farmers to move farm equipment more freely on Pennsylvania roads. The measure allows for the transportation of wider equipment and permits farm equipment transportation at night if proper safety precautions are taken.
Senate Bill 444 permits nonprofit organizations to use new games of chance to raise funds for charitable or civic purposes, and sets additional rules and regulations for licensing of organizations.
Senate Bill 623 establishes a program for assisting veteran-owned businesses to obtain state contracts. It also sets a statewide annual goal of at least 3-percent participation in state contracts entered into by Department of General Services with veteran-owned small businesses, including service disabled veteran-owned businesses.
House Bill 1121 curbs gang activity by making gang recruitment a crime, and increases sentences for crimes committed in support or promotion of gang activity.
Senate Bill 1255 makes it easier for military personnel and overseas civilians to participate in state elections by expanding accommodations already granted under federal law for federal elections to apply to state elections as well.
House Bill 1417 adds law enforcement officers from the state Game Commission and Fish and Boat Commission to the list of officials protected by higher penalties for aggravated assault under Pennsylvania law.
Senate Bill 1442 provides the first update to the Pennsylvania Code of Military Justice in nearly 40 years.
Senate Bill 1531 creates the Pennsylvania Veterans Trust Fund to supplement state appropriations for veterans programs and support new partnerships with charities and veterans' service organizations, funded via a voluntary check-off box on driver's license renewals and vehicle registrations.
House Bill 1830 provides for special vehicle license plates for individuals in the service of the United States Merchant Marine and veterans and members of United States Military Airborne units.
House Bill 2400 updates the Pennsylvania's Wiretap Act to reflect technology advances that law enforcement is not able to keep up with.
House Bill 2428 allows for a veteran's designation on driver's licenses and identification cards.
House Bill 2630 prohibits the use of carbon monoxide as a method of animal euthanasia.
Mifflin County District Office
Perry County District Office