Pennsylvania House holds 1 more session; no vote on pensions
HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania House of Representatives planned to reconvene to deal with some unfinished business Thursday, a day after the General Assembly worked late into the night on a wide range of legislation but didn’t act on a proposal to overhaul public pension benefits for future hires.
Bills that do not pass this week will die when the legislative session ends Nov. 30, barring an eleventh-hour decision by House or Senate leaders to schedule additional voting days.
The House said it would hold a voting session Thursday morning.
The bill to change pension benefits for newly hired teachers and state workers failed when Republican leaders could not muster sufficient votes for passage. Neither chamber voted on the final version Wednesday. Leaders said the issue was over until at least next year.
A look at the status of some of the more closely watched pieces of legislation pending in the General Assembly:
The Senate has not acted on a House bill that would ban elective abortions after 20 weeks, compared to 24 weeks under current law. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has threatened to veto it.
The House and Senate sent legislation to Wolf’s desk to liberalize beer sales laws in Pennsylvania. Under the bill, beer distributors would get the authority to sell suds in smaller quantities, including six-packs, and bars could sell alcohol starting at 9 a.m. on Sundays, without a requirement to serve food. Sporting venues would be allowed to sell mixed drinks and consumers could have up to 192 ounces of beer per month shipped directly to their homes from out-of-state wholesalers or retailers.
The House has not acted on Senate legislation approved Wednesday to temporarily extend a decade-old requirement mandating that Pennsylvania’s 12 casinos pay tens of millions of dollars to their host communities. In a Sept. 30 decision, the Supreme Court gave lawmakers four months to replace a tax that it deemed unconstitutional.
Also, the Senate has not acted on House-approved legislation to expand online casino-style gambling to casino-run websites and to newly created airport gambling parlors.
LOCAL POLICE RADAR
The House has not acted on a Senate bill that would permit all Pennsylvania’s municipal police departments to use radar to catch speeders. Currently, only the Pennsylvania State Police are allowed to use such devices.
LIABILITY FOR CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE
The House has not acted on a Senate bill that would lift time limits for some perpetrators of child sexual abuse to be sued by their victims and prosecuted by authorities. A bone of contention was the Senate’s rejection of a provision approved overwhelmingly by the House to retroactively restore the ability of former child victims to sue for damages if they are now older than the current legal age limit of 30.
LOCAL FIREARMS ORDINANCES
The House has not acted on a Senate bill designed to make it easier for gun owners and organizations like the National Rifle Association to challenge cities’ firearms ordinances in court. Wolf has threatened to veto it.
Lawmakers sent a package of bills to Wolf’s desk Wednesday designed to fight addiction to powerful prescription painkillers. The bills would limit the opioid quantities prescribed to emergency room patients to seven days, except in certain situations; limit the opioid quantities prescribed to minors to seven days, except in certain medical situations; and require prescribers to check the state’s prescription drug monitoring database every time before they prescribe opioids, instead of just for first-time patients.
The Senate has not taken a final vote on a House bill that would require insurance parity for prescriptions for abuse-resistant painkillers whose effectiveness in curbing abuse is unclear.
A major proposal to change public-sector pension benefits appeared dead without a vote Wednesday after House leaders could not muster enough votes for passage. The legislation backed by Republicans would have scaled back traditional pension benefits for newly hired state government and public school employees in favor of plans that rely in part on a 401(k)-style benefit. The changes would not have yielded any short-term pension obligation savings for the state and school districts, but supporters say it would have helped shield them from increases in pension obligations in the future.
POLICE BODY CAMERAS/DASHCAMS
The House has not acted on Senate legislation that would allow police departments across the state to refuse public requests for copies of video recordings by officers unless a court orders the release. The bill would exempt recordings from body cameras and dashboard cameras from public records requests in Pennsylvania. Wolf has not endorsed the bill.
POLICE SHOOTINGS-PUBLIC INFORMATION
The Senate has approved a bill that would limit situations in which police officers can be identified if they are investigated for firing a weapon or use of force that results in death or serious injury. The proposal mandates the release of the officer’s name if he or she is charged with a crime. The bill goes to the House, which approved a similar version last year.
The House has not acted on a Senate bill that would cut off state law enforcement grants to municipal governments that prohibit police from honoring requests by federal immigration authorities to hold someone in police custody who is suspected of being in the country illegally. Wolf’s office is noncommittal on the bill.