The Pennsylvania General Assembly wrapped up its business for the 2017 calendar year this week, marking the half-way point through the 2017-2018 legislative session. It was an expectedly busy week, as members were in Harrisburg for three session days before returning to their districts for a holiday break.
On Monday, the House Health Committee reported out three bills: H.B. 1553 (Baker, R-Tioga), which would protect consumers from surprise balance bills from medical providers; H.B. 1884 (Quinn, M., R-Bucks), which would require certain patient test results be sent directly to the patient or designee within 20 days of the results being sent to the physician; and S.B. 542 (Browne, R-Lehigh), which would permit pharmacists to dispense emergency prescription refills for up to 30 days.
On the House floor, there was H.B. 83 (Lawrence, R-Chester), which would require the principal for new issuances of state debt to be repaid in equal amounts over the term of the bond, passed with a nearly unanimous vote. H.B. 110 (Warner, R-Fayette), which would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to establish spending limits was also passed, though by not nearly so close a margin (103-83). Both bills now head to the Senate for consideration
In addition, the House finally passed H.B. 1641 (Cutler, R-Lancaster), the Employment First Act, which promotes the employment of people with disabilities at competitive wages by employers; H.B. 1829 (Bernstine, R-Lawrence), which extends presumptive eligibility to those who meet the qualifications for Medicaid and who wish to remain in their own homes; and H.B. 1869 (Mackenzie, R-Lehigh), which establishes the Maternal Mortality Review Committee.
On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee reported out H.B. 1951 (Toohil, R-Luzerne), which would limit the sale of over-the-counter cough medicines containing dextromethorphan (DXM) to minors. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee favorably voted on S.B. 623 (Yaw, R-Lycoming), which would update and revise Pennsylvania Law to include the codification of Pennsylvania Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST), and S.B. 978 (Baker, R-Luzerne), which would give hospice staff the authority to properly destroy unused drugs following a patient’s death.
In other Senate committee meetings, the Senate State Government Committee reported out S.B. 761 (Argall, R-Schuylkill), a proposed constitutional amendment which would allow gubernatorial candidates to select their running mate. S.R. 248 (Eichelberger, R-Blair), which opposes the use of the Keystone Exams as a sole requirement for graduation and calling on the Pennsylvania Department of Education to authorize alternative requirements for graduation, was reported out of the Senate Education Committee. Finally, the Senate Local Government reported out S.B. 597 (Stefano, R-Fayette), which would authorize the Auditor General to conduct audits of county and municipal authorities.
There were two public hearings in the Senate on Tuesday as well. The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee held a public hearing on S.B. 926 (Browne, R-Lehigh), which would provide for a direct primary care model, where patients receive access to their physician for a flat monthly fee. And the Senate Republican Policy Committee held a public hearing on the pros and cons of reversing the Laurel Pipeline.
Moving to floor action, the House of Representatives sent a budget reform package to the Senate for consideration on Tuesday. The bills, all sponsored by House Republicans, passed the House on a party-line vote. Those bills are:
- H.B. 1940 (Reed, R-Indiana) – Closes the loophole that allows an out-of-balance general appropriation act to become law;
- H.B. 1941 (Saylor, R-York) Limits the Budget Secretary’s blanket authority to waive lapsing provisions;
- H.B. 1942 (Dunbar, R-Westmoreland) Ensures a balanced budget amid revenue shortfalls;
- H.B. 1943 (Nelson, R-Westmoreland) Increases disclosure of information relating to special funds;
- H.B. 1944 (Delozier, R-Cumberland) Improves the flow of budgetary information; and
- H.B. 1945 (Brown, R., R-Monroe) Requires identification of cost-savings for supplemental appropriation requests.
The House considered two other typically party-splitting bills on Tuesday: S.B. 3 (Brooks, R-Erie), which would reduce the maximum gestational age for legal abortions from 24 to 20 weeks, passed by a vote of 121-70. Governor Wolf has already stated that he will veto the bill once it reaches his desk. In addition, S.B. 166 (Eichelberger, R-Blair), which would prohibit the deduction of public employee political contributions via the public payroll system, was brought up for a vote but failed by a vote of 90-102.
In the Senate, H.B. 1234 (Fabrizio, D-Erie), which would align the length of stay in licensed Ambulatory Surgery Centers with that of other states and federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services guidelines, passed finally and heads to the Governor for his signature. S.B. 354 (Tomlinson, R-Bucks), which would strengthen licensee reporting requirements to the Department of State’s Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs’ 29 licensing boards and licensee suspensions, goes back to the Senate for concurrence.
The legislature closed out 2017 on Wednesday with a relatively short session day.
The House passed three bills of note: S.B. 252 (Vulakovich, R-Allegheny), which would authorize the Pittsburgh Parking Authority to designate certain parking areas for residential and commercial use; S.B. 736 (Martin, R-Lancaster), which would authorize parking authorities in Scranton and Third Class Cities to enforce and administer parking ordinances and resolutions; and S.B. 728 (Yaw, R-Lycoming), which would amend the Achieving Better Care by Monitoring All Prescriptions Program (ABC-MAP) Act to exempt Schedule V epilepsy drugs currently included in the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) requirements.
On the Senate side, the Banking and Insurance Committee reported out S.B. 637 (White, R- Indiana), calling for transparency in drug pricing. Like the House, the Senate also passed three bills of interest: H.B. 1902 (Harris, A., R-Juniata), which would address retail liquor license issues and extend the Underage Buyer (Enforcement) Program; H.B. 1915 (Kauffman, R-Franklin), which would provide funding in the amount of $115.2 million for the delivery of unemployment compensation services; and S.B. 446 (McGarrigle, R-Delaware), which would provide standards for drug and alcohol recovery houses.
And that’s a wrap for 2017. So far this session, 57 bills have been signed into law, with another two dozen or so on the Governor’s desk awaiting final action. These bills included updates and improvements to the Pennsylvania One Call Law and the Uniform Construction Code, the establishment of a cabinet level office for the Inspector General and a new law granting patients the right to try experimental medications. The General Assembly is a little behind where it’s been at the mid-way point over the last few sessions, by which time nearly 100 or more bills had been passed. Keeping with what now seems like tradition, this year brought another late state budget; while the numbers were in place by June 30, the funding wasn’t resolved for another four months. We end this year with our sights on 2018 and what may come in the second half of this legislative session.
The legislature will not reconvene until Tuesday, January 2 for the constitutionally mandated opening day of session. Legislative businesses will then commence for 2018 on January 22 in both chambers. The Governor’s Budget Address will be held on February 6, 2018.
In Other News
- The first auction for Pennsylvania’s Category 4 casino licenses will take place on January 10.
- East Stroudsburg, in Monroe County, was found to have the worst commute in the country.
- A vote on school vouchers was postponed as a shakeup takes place on the Senate Education Committee.
- A gerrymandering trial challenging Pennsylvania’s electoral maps got underway in the state Supreme Court.