A report on the Session Week of January 25, 2021
I am pleased to send you my Session Wrap Up e-newsletter. This e-newsletter features events and legislative activities from the Session Week of January 25, 2021.
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Senate Approves Constitutional Amendment Limiting Disaster Declarations
The Senate approved a proposed constitutional amendment on Tuesday that would limit the length of future emergency disaster declarations unless an extension is approved by the General Assembly.
Senate Bill 2 includes three proposed amendments to the State Constitution. The exact language of constitutional amendments must be approved by the General Assembly in two consecutive legislative sessions before going to the voters for final approval. The exact language of Senate Bill 2 was approved by the General Assembly in 2020 during the previous legislative session. If Senate Bill 2 is approved by the House of Representatives, the amendments could appear on the ballot as early as the upcoming spring Primary Election.
Many of the broad-brush mandates and restrictions that were imposed across the state as part of the initial response to the pandemic may have made sense for Pennsylvania’s urban areas but were seen as overly burdensome for the communities and businesses in my district,” Senator Hutchinson said. “We tried on several occasions to bring the decision-making process down to the county and local levels, only to see those efforts snuffed out by the Governor’s veto pen. Unfortunately, it appears the only way to restore checks and balances to Pennsylvania government is through a constitutional amendment.
Currently, a Governor’s emergency declaration can last up to 90 days and be renewed by the Governor indefinitely. Under the constitutional amendment in Senate Bill 2 the emergency declaration would be limited to 21 days unless the General Assembly approves a longer duration.
Senate Bill 2 also provides for a constitutional amendment prohibiting the denial of equal rights based on race or ethnicity, bringing the Pennsylvania Constitution in line with the U.S. Constitution.
Senate Approves $912 Million COVID-19 Relief Package
The Senate approved a comprehensive $912 million relief measure to help restaurants, schools, employers, and tenants impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senate Bill 109 allocates $569.8 million for Rental and Utility Assistance, $197 million for education programs, and $145 million to support Pennsylvania’s struggling hospitality industry as it copes with the devastation created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Governor’s mandated closings and restrictions.
The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senate Approves Bill Increasing Penalties for Child Pornography
The Senate approved Senate Bill 87 on Wednesday. The bill increases the penalties in cases of child pornography in which the child is under the age of 10 or is prepubescent. This includes penalties for anyone who views, possesses, disseminates, photographs, videotapes or otherwise depicts these children engaging in sexual acts.
The bill also provides for sentencing enhancements for those who sexually abuse children that are known to them and would allow the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing to develop guidelines for these crimes.
The bill also creates a special Task Force on Child Pornography to review all laws pertaining to child pornography and make recommendations to improve the investigation and prosecution of offenders to ensure the perpetrators of these crimes are held accountable.
The measure now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.
In addition to Senate Bill 2, Senate Bill 87 and Senate Bill 109, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved Senate Bill 8 on Tuesday. The bill amends the Pennsylvania Constitution to create a two-year window for retroactive lawsuits from victims whose statute of limitations has already expired.
Senate Bill 78 establishes procedures for custody proceedings to better protect children.
Senate Bill 81 provides for expert witnesses in cases of domestic violence and human trafficking.
Senate Bill 84 amends the County Code to state the first assistant district attorney will become the district attorney in the event of a vacancy for Class 2A through Eighth-Class counties until the next municipal election.
Senate Bill 85 amends the Second-Class County Code to state the first assistant district attorney will become the district attorney in the event of a vacancy for Second-Class Counties until the next municipal election.
Senate Bill 86 amends Title 53 (Municipalities Generally) to require counties under a home rule charter to follow the procedures for succession under the county codes in the event of a vacancy in the office of district attorney.
The Senate State Government Committee approved three bills on Wednesday.
Senate Bill 106 amends the state Constitution to allow gubernatorial candidates to select their running mate.
Senate Bill 113 designates the Pennsylvania March as Pennsylvania’s official march.
Senate Bill 116 updates and modernizes the History Code.
The Senate Transportation Committee approved two bills on Wednesday.
Senate Bill 49 designates a bridge in Johnstown, Cambria County, as the Reverend Andrew William Tilly, Jr., Bridge.
Senate Bill 55 designates a bridge in Croyle Township, Cambria County, as the Private Fredrick Kinley Memorial Bridge.
Urban Affairs & Housing
The Senate Urban Affairs & Housing Committee approved Senate Bill 109 on Monday.
Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness
The Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee approved Senate Bill 2 on Friday, January 22.