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09-15-20

New PA laws includes several addressing COVID-19 pandemic

Among a slew of laws signed by Gov. Tom Wolf earlier this summer, several respond directly to the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor signed 14 bills into law in late July, the end product of an eventful legislative session marked by proxy voting, zoom committee meetings and hearings, a stopgap five-month state budget and changes in the House leadership. He highlighted the signing of House Bill 1459 which establishes mental wellness and stress management programs for emergency responders who experience post-traumatic stress injuries or traumatic brain injuries on the job. The new program will provide a toll-free hotlines, peer support groups, and support on a regional and statewide level for stress management, trauma and suicide awareness training for first responders, a group Wolf noted are on the front-line of the pandemic. First responders are at risk of suffering from serious mental health issues and suicide and this program will help them, said Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, the sponsor.

Wolf signed Senate Bill 1125 which provides some pandemic emergency relief to school taxpayers. It gives school districts the option to extend property tax rate discount periods and remove penalties for late payments through June 30, 2021.

The Governor also sign the following legislation into law:

House Bill 2455 requiring the governor to submit a statewide COVID-19 testing plan to the General Assembly for review. The law requires the Department of Health to provide biweekly reports on testing supplies obtained by state government, the number of positive and negative tests processed by the state lab in Exton and demographic data on test results.

House Bill 632 allowing the use of an electronic signature for a power of attorney in transferring ownership of a vehicle. This law, sponsored by Rep. Greg Rothman, R-Cumberland, is one of several enacted in recent months expanding the use of electronic signings in response to the pandemic.

House Bill 1437 extended the deadline for businesses to file reports regarding the City Revitalization and Improvement Zones program to Aug. 31 in recognition of the pandemic emergency.

House Bill 732 establishing a Local Resource Manufacturing Tax Credit has drawn the most attention of these new laws. The tax credit is aimed at attracting manufacturers that use dry natural gas to produce fertilizer and other petrochemical products. Companies can first apply for the tax credit in 2025 provided they invest $400 million in new facility, create 800 jobs and use carbon capture technology when possible.

House Bill 256, a two-part statute. It would make an assault by a prisoner on a corrections employee a felony of the second degree and a felony of a third degree if a weapon likely to cause a serious injury is used. HB256 also provides that a law enforcement officer or correctional facility employee can be charged with a third degree felony if they engage in a sexual act with an inmate or detainee.

House Bill 672 signed into law clearly defines that a parent or guardian has the right to consent to inpatient or outpatient mental health treatment for a minor under age 18.

House Bill 943 which would allow pharmacists to inform customers about lower-cost prescription drug alternatives. The bill prohibits pharmacy benefit managers and administrators from restricting those discussions with a “gag clause” on pharmacists, said Rep. Valerie Gaydos, R-Allegheny, the sponsor.

Senate Bill 836, known as Peyton’s Law, requires that student athletes and their parents get information from schools about sudden cardiac arrest and the use of electrocardiogram tests to detect underlying heart conditions. They would have to sign an informational sheet before a student could participate in athletic activities.

Senate Bill 1188, which clarifies how Act 511 taxes are calculated by cities.

Senate Bill 320, which makes arrangements for disposal of digital property and electronic communications in wills, trusts and power of attorney.

Senate Bill 927, which provides for the state Transportation Department to independently validate documentation of veteran status for designation on a driver’s license.

House Bill 2484 allows trusts and charities to hold more assets as income.

With the Legislature’s return to session in early September, we expect a flurry of activity. Since the current legislative session ends on November 30, 2020, there will be much pressure to move legislation to the Governor’s desk prior to this date or face the reality of having to reintroduce the bills and start the legislative process over again. Additionally, the House and Senate will also have the added responsibility of completing the 2020-21 budget. If you remember, back in May, the Legislature only funded state programs for five months. The thought was to get us through the initial Covid 19 crisis and see what the state finances looked like in November. The Legislature must now find a way fund the remaining seven months of the fiscal year. With all of these important tasks to be completed, it is shaping up to be a very busy fall in Harrisburg.

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