2011 was a very busy year for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives with 148 bills becoming law. It proved to be one of the most productive legislative years in recent memory.

The legislation we passed helped to fulfill our promise to change Harrisburg by establishing an agenda for Pennsylvania’s future that focused on jobs and protected taxpayers by putting state government on firmer financial ground.

Below is a listing of the year’s major legislative accomplishments.

IMPROVING THE JOBS CLIMATE – Making PA Open For Business
Fair Share Act (Act 17) – Curbs lawsuit abuse by reforming the doctrine of joint and several liability to be fair to taxpayers and employers. 
        • Under the law, a person or entity found liable in a lawsuit will be responsible for paying only 
          his or her share of the damages. Any person or entity found to be more than 60 percent at 
          fault could be held responsible for 100 percent of the jury award. 
        • Under prior law, an entity found even 10 percent responsible could be forced to pay 100 
          percent of the jury award if other parties involved were unable to pay. This encouraged 
          lawyers to seek out “deep pockets” in a lawsuit. 
        • Additional lawsuit abuse reforms include: Benevolent Gesture, House Bill 495, and 
          Limited Venue, House Bill 1976
, now in the Senate.

Sprinkler Mandate Repeal (Act 1) – Repeals a section of the Uniform Construction Code requiring sprinklers to be installed in the construction of all new homes. 
        • Requirement added anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 to the cost of construction (higher 
          costs in rural areas). 
        • People should be educated about the availability and benefits of sprinklers and make their 
          own decision about whether to install them. 
        • Law also ensures all updates to the state’s building code are thoroughly reviewed by 
          the Uniform Construction Code Review and Advisory Council. Accepting the update requires 
          a two-thirds majority vote by the council.

Unemployment Compensation Reforms (Act 6) – Extends unemployment benefits and makes several reforms to the unemployment compensation system to control costs. 
        • Requires an active job search to continue receiving benefits, as every other state does. 
        • Creates an offset for severance pay, as 40 other states do. Under the law, a person can 
          receive a severance of up to $17,853 before unemployment comp benefits are affected. 
        • Average annual savings to Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund from 2012-18 will be 
          $133 million, with the bulk of the savings in the last four years. The cumulative savings will 
          be nearly $1 billion. 
        • Pennsylvania currently has a debt of $4 billion in unemployment compensation funds 
          borrowed from the federal government, so additional reforms are needed.

Workers’ Compensation for Sole Proprietors (Act 20) – Allows workers’ compensation insurers to provide sole proprietors, partners in partnerships and members of LLCs with workers’ compensation coverage. Coverage must be equivalent to normal workers’ compensation coverage. 
        • Addresses common disputes regarding the status of a worker the employer claims to be 
          an independent contractor but whom the insurer believes to be an employee. In some 
          cases, the insurer will assess increased premiums on the employer.

More bills awaiting Senate action:

Regulatory Reform – House Bill 1349 – requires economic impact statements on state regulations affecting employers and offering regulatory flexibility.

Infrastructure upgrades – House Bill 1294 – encourages utilities to upgrade their infrastructure. Pennsylvania’s aging infrastructure has been a top concern for job creators and was clearly highlighted during flooding in the state in the early fall.

Job-Creating Angel Investor Tax Credit Passes House 
        • One of the most daunting obstacles to opening the doors of a new business in this 
          challenging economy is obtaining start-up capital from banks or investors. This legislation 
          would help small businesses to secure financing by creating a new angel investor tax credit 
          to move scarce capital from the sidelines and into the hands of job creators in 
          Pennsylvania’s emerging technology industry. 
        • The proposal would encourage out-of-state and in-state angel investors to place their 
          scarce capital in Pennsylvania-based start-up businesses with a new 25 percent tax credit. 
          The new tax credit would be aid for by repurposing unused credits from the existing 
          Keystone Innovation Zone program, which now uses about $10 million of its $25 million in 
          annual credits. 
        • More than 20 states, including Ohio and Maryland which compete with Pennsylvania to 
          attract jobs, have similar successful programs.

STATE BUDGET -- A Fiscally Responsible Act... finally
General Fund Budget (Act 1A) – Creates a $27.15 billion spending plan that cuts overall spending by more than $1 billion compared to the prior fiscal year’s budget. 
        • It’s the first on-time state budget since 2003. 
        • It includes no new or increased taxes; in fact, it continues the Capital Stock and Franchise 
          Tax phase-out to assist employers. 
        • It includes no new or additional borrowing. 
        • House Republicans led efforts to reduce Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed welfare spending 
          and instead directed that money to K-12 and higher education.

WELFARE INTEGRITY -- Eliminating Waste, Fraud and Abuse

Welfare Reform (Act 22/Welfare Code) – Makes several reforms to the state’s welfare system to help protect taxpayers by curbing waste, fraud and abuse within the system. The welfare system must be accountable to the people that fund it. The law: 
        • Requires the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) to use an electronic cross-reference 
          system to provide a 19-point check on an applicant’s eligibility and create a standard fraud 
          detection system to stop fraud before it starts. 
        • Requires the department to subject drug felons who are applying for benefits or 
          already receiving benefits to random drug testing. This will ensure welfare benefits are not 
          being used to subsidize drug abuse. 
        • Clarifies that people are only eligible for benefits based on the levels allowed in their county 
          of residence, regardless of where they apply. This is important because cash benefit levels 
          differ from county to county, which has prompted some to “shop around” for the highest 
          benefit rates. 
        • Calls for an overhaul of the fraud-laden Special Allowance Program. 
        • Additional welfare reforms being pursued by the House. 
        • Requires photo identification to make sure benefits aren’t misused. 
        • Strengthens legal penalties for those who commit welfare fraud. 
        • Reduces abuse in a welfare program that helps people truly in need get to and from doctor 
          appointments, pharmacy visits, methadone clinics, dialyses treatments, physical therapy 
          and other medical appointments. 
        • Prohibits the purchase of tobacco with welfare benefit cards.

TAXPAYER PROTECTION
PennWATCH (Act 18) – Creates a comprehensive, searchable online database of state budgeting and spending information. 
        • Within the first year, the website must include: annual appropriations and 
          expenditure information for Commonwealth agencies, identifying information of vendors 
          receiving payment and the amount of each expenditure and the funding source. 
        • By the end of 2013, the site would also incorporate hyperlinks to state contracts, a 
          description of the program under which an expenditure is made and the expected outcomes 
          of the expenditure. 
        • The House also adopted several other reform measures that are awaiting action in the 
          Senate, including bills to: 
                o Increase penalties for lobbyists who violate the state’s Lobbyist Disclosure Act. 
                   (House Bill 103) 
                o Extend whistleblower protections to employees of nonprofits and private 
                   sector companies with state contracts who report waste of public money obtained by 
                   their employer for services or work. (House Bills 104, 105) 
                o Enhance the state contracting process by allowing for public review of a contract 
                   not awarded by a competitive bid process prior to execution of the agreement and 
                   by prohibiting an employee of the administration who previously worked for a 
                   company bidding on a state contract from participating in the evaluation of that 
                   proposal. 
                   (House Bills 107, 108) 
                o Prohibit lawmakers from creating nonprofit organizations that receive public funds. 
                   (House Bill 109)

School Property Tax Referendum Requirements (Act 25) – Limits the circumstances by which a school district, under Special Session Act 1 of 2006, may increase property taxes without referendum approval by voters. 
        • School districts are permitted under the law to increase property taxes by a state-
          set inflationary index without voter approval. Tax increases beyond the index would be 
          subject to referendum. 
        • The original law outlined 10 exceptions under which school districts could avoid the 
          referendum process. The new law maintains only the following exceptions: special 
          education expenses, grandfathered/electoral debt or pension costs. 
        • The new law also requires school districts to meet certain financial criteria before 
          gaining approval for the exceptions.

SCHOOL DISTRICT MANDATE RELIEF – Helping School Districts Cope

The School Code (Act 24/Education Code) – Relieves school districts of several state mandates in recognition of financial challenges. 
        • School building construction projects that do not involve state money will not have to go 
          through the state’s PLANCON process for approval. 
        • A moratorium is placed on the collection of personal data by the departments of Public 
          Welfare and Education. 
        • School districts are permitted to hire district superintendents and assistant 
          superintendents with a master’s degree in business or finance. 
        • “Residency” teaching certificates are created to provide a new avenue for non-
          traditional educators to teach in the classroom. This provides a streamlined process for 
          professionals with expertise in key fields such as science and mathematics. 
        • A moratorium is placed on Act 48 and Act 45 continuing education requirements.

PUBLIC SAFETY/PUBLIC PROTECTION – Always a Priority

Megan’s Law Reforms (Act 111) 
        • Under the new law, out-of-state and homeless offenders will be required to register 
          under Megan’s Law. In addition, the legislation would require homeless offenders to 
          register as “transients” every 30 days with the state police at approved registration sites, 
          be photographed and provide information about where he/she may be located, such as 
          parks, public buildings, restaurants and libraries. 
        • The new law also establishes a uniform and comprehensive set of standards regarding 
          sex offender registration and notification programs. It also would place sex offenders into a 
          three-tiered system depending on the severity of the offense committed. The worst 
          offenders would be required to register for life, while those found guilty of less serious 
          offenses would register for 15 years. 
        • Under the new law, offenders in the various categories would be required to appear regularly 
          in person, be photographed and update his or her registration information. The registry 
          information would then be shared with law enforcement, probation and parole offices, 
          schools and social service agencies responsible for protecting children. It also would 
          authorize the state police to release information on its website for the public to search for 
          sex offenders in a given ZIP code or geographic radius.

Texting Ban (Act 98) – Makes it illegal for drivers to text while behind the wheel. 
        • An individual who reads, selects or enters a phone number or name in an interactive 
          wireless communications device for the purpose of making a phone call will not be in 
          violation of the texting ban. 
        • More than 30 other states already have a texting while driving ban. 
        • A texting ban was a priority to the House Democrat majority and eluded them for four 
          years; the House GOP helped get it into law in less than one year.

Teen Drivers (Act 81) – Seeks to improve highway safety by upgrading Pennsylvania’s Graduated Driver License (GDL) law for teens 16 ½ to 18 years old. 
        • The new law directly responds to national data that teen driver and peer passenger 
          deaths account for one-quarter of total teen deaths nationwide, and teen drivers have fatal 
          crashes at four times the rate of adult drivers. The greatest chance of crashing occurs in 
          the first six months after licensure and that inexperience and distractions are the two 
          greatest risks when teen drivers are behind the wheel. Numerous studies have shown lower 
          teen crash rates after implementing a passenger restriction for teen drivers. 
        • According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, fatalities in crashes that 
          involved a 16- or 17-year-old driver in 2010 increased from 40 in 2009 to 57 last year, a 43 
          percent increase. 
        • Act 81 expands training before a teen can test for his or her license by increasing behind-
          the-wheel training from 50 hours to 65 hours. Ten of those hours must be at night and five of 
          those should be during inclement weather. The new law also limits the number of teen 
          passengers in a vehicle driven by the holder of a junior driver’s license to one. Exceptions 
          apply for family members.

Bath Salts Ban (Act 7) – Bans so-called “bath salts” and other chemical compounds being abused by drug users. 
        • The bill bans the following substances in Pennsylvania: Salvia Divinorum, Salvinorin A, 
          Divinorin A, synthetic marijuana, synthetic cocaine/heroin (also known as concentrated 
          bath salts) and psychedelic phenethylamines (referred to collectively as 2C or the 2C 
          family). 
        • When smoked, snorted or injected into the body, the banned chemicals produce a high 
          similar to that experienced when using cocaine.

Castle Doctrine (Act 10) – Reinforces a person’s right to defend himself or herself in the face of an attacker without first having a duty to retreat. 
        • The measure creates in law the presumption that an attacker or intruder intends to do 
          great bodily harm and therefore force, including deadly force, may be used to protect 
          oneself, one’s family and others in the face of an attack while at home, in an occupied 
          vehicle or anywhere a person has a legal right to be. 
        • The bill also offers specific protection against civil liability for the lawful use of force in self-
          defense.

Homicide by Watercraft (Act 33) – Increases the grading and penalty for the offense of homicide by watercraft while operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs. 
        • The offense would be graded a second-degree felony, increasing the maximum penalty to a 
          fine of not less than $5,000 or more than $25,000, or imprisonment not exceeding 10 years, 
          or both. 
        • The bill also calls for a consecutive three-year term of imprisonment be imposed for each 
          victim whose death is a result of a violation of operating a watercraft under the influence of 
          alcohol or drugs.

Abortion Regulation (Act 122) – Holds abortion facilities to the same personnel and equipment requirements, quality assurance procedures, and fire and safety standards as freestanding ambulatory surgical facilities. 
        • The increased standards are a result of a grand jury report charging a Philadelphia 
          abortion clinic director, Dr. Kermit Gosnell, with eight counts of murder – including seven 
          newborns and one woman. The report alleged that the atrocities were permitted to occur for 
          so long due to a lack of oversight by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. 
        • The House originally passed legislation to improve the standards at abortion facilities, 
          House Bill 574, on May 11.

The House also passed (awaiting Senate consideration) House Bill 1977, prohibiting qualified plans offered through a health insurance exchange to include abortion coverage.

Pipeline Safety (House Bill 344, Act 127) – This bill deals with safety related to transporting natural gas; it provides for gas and hazardous liquids pipelines and for powers and duties of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, and imposes civil penalties.

HEALTH CARE AND HEALTH CARE ACCESS
PACE/PACENET (Act 21) – Ensures PACE and PACENET recipients remain eligible for the prescription drug benefit despite a minimal increase in their Social Security income that may put them just above the income limits for the programs. The law ensures nearly 30,000 senior citizens retain their benefits.

Family Caregiver Support Act (Act 112) – Changes the name of the law to the Pennsylvania Caregiver Support Act, addresses approved out-of-pocket expenses incurred by caregivers, allows reimbursement of non-relative caregivers and adult family members, and makes other changes.

Cancer as Occupational Disease for Firefighters (Act 46) – Designates cancer as an occupational disease for firefighters for the purposes of workers’ compensation.

Long-Term Care Nursing Facility Independent Informal Dispute Resolution Act (Act 128) – Establishes an independent informal dispute resolution process for long-term care nursing facilities to dispute Department of Health survey deficiencies; and provides for the powers and duties of the Department of Health.

UPMC/Highmark Legislation (HB 2052 – awaiting Senate consideration) – Empowers the Pennsylvania Insurance Department with an effective means of assisting in the resolution of disputes between health care providers and insurers. Among its provisions, the bill would: 
        • Require the department to hold investigative public hearings should a dispute arise. 
        • Call for the parties in a dispute to participate in mediation if the department finds that 
          the contract would substantially affect public health in the area serviced by the insurer. 
        • Submit the parties to binding arbitration if mediation fails and the secretary of health finds 
          that termination or expiration of the contract would substantially disrupt the delivery of 
          health care services in the area serviced by the insurer and that continuation of the contract 
          is in the public interest.

IMPROVING THE QUALITY OF LIFE
Liquor Code changes (Act 113) – This bill amends the Act of April 12, 1951, (P.L.90, No. 21), known as The Liquor Code, to expand Sunday sales hours for alcoholic beverages, addresses “happy hour” sales and makes other changes.

HELPING LOCAL GOVERNMENTS
House Bill 639 – This bill amends Title 53 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes to allow the City of Philadelphia to adjust its affordable housing program fee for recording deeds, mortgages and other related documents.

House Bill 715 – This bill amends the Act of May 25, 1945 (P.L. 1050, No. 394), known as the Local Tax Collection Law, to change certain definitions, provide for vacancies in tax collectors’ offices and agreements between municipalities and counties, and makes other changes.

House Bill 755 – This bill amends the act of Aug. 9, 1955 (P.L.323, No.130), known as the County Code to increase the annual meeting and dues expenses allowed for county directors of veterans’ affairs, in counties of the third through eighth class, from the current maximum of $100 to a maximum of $400.

REAPPORTIONMENT 
        • The final state maps have been approved by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission 
          and await final word from the Supreme Court. 
        • The commission vote was a bipartisan 4-1, with the House Democratic Leader voting to 
          support the legislative maps. 
        • The congressional maps were approved by the House and Senate and have been signed by 
          the governor. Pennsylvania lost one seat, bringing the number of districts to 18. 
        • Act 130 meets all constitutional and statutory requirements. After a historically fair 
          and open process, the statewide perspective of Senate Bill 1249 is a significantly better 
          alternative than the one offered by the House Democrats (A7954). 
        • The bipartisan nature of the vote, with 136 “yes” votes shows the strength of the 
          Pennsylvania congressional redistricting plan.