New Laws Benefit Pa. Taxpayers, Seniors And Homebuyers

York Dispatch

House Republicans accomplished much in the first half of this year, passing 136 pieces of important legislation. In addition to the 2011-12 state budget, Gov. Tom Corbett has so far signed 75 of those bills into law, including measures that improve government transparency and protect prescription drug assistance for seniors.

Act 18 of 2011 establishes an online, searchable database of all state government expenditures. Known as the Pennsylvania Web Accountability, Transparency and Contract Hub, or PennWATCH, it is another example of our continuing commitment to openness and accountability as we restore integrity in state government and re-earn the public’s trust.

By the end of next year, PennWATCH must provide the name and address of the agency receiving funding, the amount of the funding or expenditure, and the funding source. In addition, the website must show at the end of each month all federal and state revenue received and deposited in the state treasury during the previous month. Once fully operational, the PennWATCH website will list all state government expenditures within the commonwealth and the public can search the site at no cost.

Act 21 of 2011 protects the eligibility of senior citizens who benefit from the state’s two prescription drug assistance programs. An estimated 30,000 seniors would have been eliminated from the PACE and PACENET programs this year due to a minimal Social Security cost of living adjustment. Funded by the Pennsylvania Lottery, PACE and PACENET offer comprehensive prescription coverage to eligible older Pennsylvanians and cover most medications that require prescriptions, including insulin, syringes and insulin needles.

Act 24 of 2011 relieves Pennsylvania’s school districts of several costly state mandates in recognition of the financial challenges faced by administrators. They include:

—Construction projects that are not funded with state money will no longer have to go through the state approval process.

—A moratorium is placed on the collection of personal data by the departments of Public Welfare and Education.

—School districts are permitted to hire superintendents and assistant superintendents with a master’s degree in business or finance.

—“Residency” teaching certificates are created as a new avenue for non-traditional educators to teach in the classroom, providing 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.

By approving these measures, the Legislature has provided school boards with some of the tools needed to better manage expenses, with the goal of passing any savings on to district taxpayers.

Act 1 of 2011 repeals a section of the Uniform Construction Code requiring automatic sprinklers to be installed in all newly constructed homes. Sprinklers are expensive items, adding anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 to construction costs. Consumers should be educated about the availability and benefits of sprinklers and make their own decision on whether to have them installed. The new law also benefits the state’s economy by helping to stimulate the housing market.

Act 7 of 2011 adds Pennsylvania to a growing list of states that have banned the sale of so-called “bath salts” and other chemical compounds being abused by drug users. Cases of smoking, injecting or inhaling bath salts have made headlines because users are getting high and turning violent. The abuse of these compounds sometimes leads to criminal activity, injury and even death. The banned bath salts were traditionally sold at hemp stores, tobacco shops and similar outlets. Act 7 takes effect later this month.

Act 46 of 2011 designates cancer as an occupational disease for professional and volunteer firefighters who have served four of more consecutive years in Pennsylvania. The new law allows firefighters to receive workers’ compensation benefits if they develop cancer and can prove it was the result of direct exposure to certain carcinogens while on the job.

Those are just some of the legislature highlights from the spring session. There is still much more work to be done. I am looking forward to addressing Pennsylvania’s challenges when we return to the Capitol next month.

— State Rep. Stan Saylor is a Republican representing the 94th District in the Pennsylva nia House of Representatives, where he also is the Majority Whip. He writes a monthly column for the York Dispatch Opinion page.

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