Texting Ban to Take Effect in March

As of March 8th Pennsylvania motorists can be pulled over for sending a text message while behind the wheel.  When he signed the texting ban into law this week, Governor Tom Corbett urged Pennsylvanians to ‘drive now, text later.’  “There is no text message in the world that is worth the value of a human life,” Corbett says.

While the data cannot be broken down specifically to text messages, Pennsylvania saw nearly 14,000 distracted driving crashes in 2010.  Almost 1,100 were blamed on the operation of hand-held cell phones.

“We have been advocating for a no texting law in all 50 states,” says AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Jenny Robinson.  “With Pennsylvania taking effect, that brings it up to 35, so we’ve got 15 to go.”

This could get you a $50 fine, after March 8th.

State Senator Tommy Tomlinson (R-Bucks) was the prime sponsor of SB 314, which has been repeatedly amended over the past several months.  But, Tomlinson is pleased with the final product.  “Distracted driving is dangerous, and texting is deadly,” Tomlinson says.  He still anticipates the House will take up separate legislation to address the issue of talking on hand-held cell phones while driving.

Pennsylvania’s new texting-while-driving ban will be a primary offense, which means it can be the sole reason for a traffic stop.  Violators will be slapped with a $50 fine, but will be spared from having points added to their license.  Police will also be prohibited from confiscating an offender’s wireless device.

Bid Limit Bills Signed Into Law

A package of 14 bills will ease the bid limit burden on Pennsylvania’s local governments by increasing the threshold from $10,000 to $18,500, and indexing that number to inflation.  State Rep. Mark Keller (R-Perry) has been working on the issue for six years, and says it will give municipalities the flexibility they need.  “I think, if anybody looks at it, they’ll see that you don’t get much done for $10,000 dollars anymore,” Keller says.  14 bills were required to address each individual class of municipality, but Keller says they all accomplish the same goal. 

David Sanko

PSATS Executive Director David Sanko

By reducing the number of projects that local governments must advertise and seek bids for, Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors Executive Director David Sanko says more tax dollars will be invested in local projects and services.  He says the proposed updates are not increasing anyone’s purchasing power.  “Essentially what you used to buy with $10,000 in 1990 you’ll be able to buy at the same levels,” Sanko says, “It’ll just be in what the equivalent version of 1990 dollars are.”

That index is a key part of the legislative package, according to Rep. Keller.  “By having the indexing there… it should take care of itself from here on out.”  The inflationary index is capped at 3% annually. 

The package passed both chambers of the General Assembly with bipartisan support.  Governor Corbett signed them into law on Thursday.  Keller says it was a compromise in that he initially proposed raising the threshold to $25,000.  David Sanko at PSATS hopes it’s the first of several unnecessary, unfunded mandates the legislature will address.

New Law Makes PA Preferred Program Permanent

The PA Preferred branding program seeks to connect Pennsylvania agriculture with Pennsylvania consumers.  “When a consumer hears or sees the PA Preferred logo, they should be thinking about quality, locally grown produce from Pennsylvania,” says State Rep. Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland), the prime sponsor of HB 1424, which has just been signed into law by Governor Tom Corbett.  “This is going to help it grow to the next level so that we can connect more consumers with that quality Pennsylvania produce they’re looking for.” 

The PA Preferred program has been around, administratively, since 2004. The new law will call upon the state Department of Agriculture to acquire, register, license, protect and promote the PA Preferred brand on an ongoing basis.  Bloom tells Radio PA the permanency of the program will attract more businesses to invest in the PA Preferred logo. 

Agriculture, as most know, is the leading industry in Pennsylvania.  “I say that we have the best and we need to promote it, and promote it better,” says Governor Tom Corbett.  Corbett signed the new law in the produce section of the Giant Food Store in Camp Hill, Cumberland County.  “Buying local and eating fresh is good for our families, good for our communities and good for the Pennsylvania economy.”  Officials say one out of every seven jobs in Pennsylvania is related to agriculture.

Gov. Corbett Signs PA Preferred Legislation

State Rep. Stephen Bloom looks on as Gov. Corbett signs the new PA Preferred law.

Gov. Corbett Signs Teen Driver Safety Law

She worked on the legislation for six years and, Tuesday, Rep. Kathy Watson (R-Bucks) was able to see the fruits of her labor.  “I wouldn’t have stayed with it this long if I truly didn’t believe we will save lives with this,” Watson said in an interview with Radio PA

Teen Driver Safety Law

Gov. Corbett has signed "Lacey's Law." It's named after Lacey Gallagher who was killed when a car carrying seven teens crashed on the way to a post-prom party in 2007. None were wearing seat belts.

The new law will limit junior drivers to one teenage passenger for their first six months behind the wheel, add 15-hours of nighttime and bad weather driving to driver training requirements and make seatbelt requirements a primary offense for drivers and passengers under the age of 18. 

By making seatbelt use a primary offense for minors, police officers will be able to stop a driver solely for that violation.  Governor Tom Corbett calls this the next step in keeping Pennsylvania children safe.  “Can we put them in that bubble and keep everybody completely safe, no.  But, every step is an improvement to that,” Corbett said while signing the new law at Harrisburg High School. 

Corbett also made it clear that cell phone legislation is on deck.  “The legislature has a texting bill,” Corbett said.  “I want that passed.  Can I be any clearer than that?” The mechanics of hand-held cellphone and texting while driving bans have long been a sticking point in the General Assembly.  Speaking on the House floor, Tuesday, Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) expressed his intention to pass separate bills to address hand-held cellphones and texting. 

Rep. Watson supports drivers’ cellphone bans, but says she left the language out of her teen driver safety bill because the issue affects all drivers.  “It doesn’t matter if you’re texting when you’re 18, or 38, or 68, it’s not safe,” Watson says.

New Law Puts Veteran on Civil Service Commission

Ron Marsico

State Rep. Ron Marsico speaks in the Governor's Reception Room.

The latest law signed by Governor Tom Corbett requires that at least one member of the Civil Service Commission be a veteran of the United States Armed Forces.  “This legislation will say that Pennsylvania’s veterans will finally have what they deserve, a constant representation on the state’s Civil Service Commission,” says State Rep. Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin), the bill’s prime sponsor. 

 “We discovered that the Pennsylvania Civil Service Commission has not always met its goal of seeing that the veterans get the extra consideration that they earned,” Governor Corbett said as he thanked Auditor General Jack Wagner for calling attention to the problem. 

It was a 2008 audit that first found that state agencies skirted veterans’ preference requirements and failed to consider eligible veterans for 569 vacant positions.  The state’s Veterans’ Preference Program provides that veterans who pass the civil service exam receive 10 additional points, and have mandatory hiring preference if they have one of the top three scores for the position being considered. 

Auditor General Jack Wagner says the new law is especially important during a time when the unemployment rate among returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is now 10.9% in Pennsylvania.  That’s much higher than the statewide unemployment rate of 8.2%.  “A veteran on the commission will ensure that the civil service system works properly for all of Pennsylvania’s veterans,” Wagner said in a written statement. 

Just before signing the new law, Governor Corbett announced that he’s nominated John Stevens to the commission.  “He is a man who knows both the purpose of civil service and the needs of our veterans,” Corbett says.   Stevens, a Centre County resident, is a veteran of both the Pennsylvania National Guard and US Army.  His nomination is subject to Senate confirmation.

Governor signs Law that Toughens Penalties for Boating Under the Influence

Penalties will be tougher for boating under the influence if a death occurs, under a bill signed into law by Governor Corbett.  House Bill 78 amends the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Code to bring penalties for homicide by watercraft while operating under the influence in line with driving under the influence.

The new law makes the offense a second degree felony and increases the maximum penalty.

Representative Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre) sponsored the bill after a 12-year-old girl was killed on the Susquehanna River in a boating collision two years ago.  The boater convicted in the incident had several prior DUI offenses.  Benninghoff  says  the new law also allows previous DUI convictions to be factored in when someone is charged with boating under the influence.

Benninghoff says the law also provides that  consecutive sentences of three years each be imposed  for each victim killed in a boating collision where the operator was intoxicated.

 He says the goal of the bill is to bring parity in Pennsylvania’s DUI laws.  He says the penalty should not be less severe if you’re not in a motor vehicle. 

Benninghoff says they’re trying to send a strong message that people can face the same price whether it’s on land or sea if they do not drink responsibly. 


Good Samaritan Bill Among New Laws Signed by Governor Corbett

Governor Corbett’s pen was busy this week as he inked nearly four dozen bills in one day. One of those measures is Senate Bill 448, the so-called Good Samaritan law. It would protect people under 21 from underage drinking prosecution if they call 911 to help a friend.

The new law, when it takes effect 60 days after signing, will give some legal immunity to a person who is underage and calls 911 to help a drunk friend facing an emergency.  The caller will have to give their name and stay with the friend until help arrives.

Deb Beck of the Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of PA says it’s a very wise law.  She says people engage in drinking alcohol, particularly  on our college campuses, and others around them know they’re in trouble, but they’re afraid to do anything. Beck  believes the new law will save lives.   

Beck says there have been stories over the years of  young people out cold on a campus somewhere and no one knows quite what to do.  She believes young people want to do the right thing, but she believes we need to do things that will make them immune from prosecution when they do that.  Beck says that’s what the new law will do.

Beck hopes the law will get sent out to all of the college campuses in Pennsylvania, and there will be an education campaign.

The bill was sponsored by Senator John Rafferty (R-Berks). It had bipartisan support, passing unanimously in the house and senate.


New Law Holds Drug Dealers Accountable

One of the 46 new laws that Governor Tom Corbett signed, on Thursday, will reclassify the offense of drug delivery resulting in death.  The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association (PDAA) tells us a 2005 state Supreme Court decision tied prosecutors’ hands by requiring that they prove the drug dealer acted with malice.  “It became almost impossible to prove because it was a two-party transaction and one of the parties was dead, and unable to testify as to what was going on,” says PDAA executive director Richard Long. 

Now, if you sell – or otherwise provide – illegal drugs to a person who dies a result, you would face a first degree felony.  The maximum penalty is 40 years behind bars.  “Obviously we think that is more in line with the gravity of the crime that has been committed,” Long tells us.  The new law takes effect in 60 days. 

Bath Salts

A Statewide Ban on "Bath Salts" was Signed Last Month

Combined with the new ban on bath salts and other synthetic drugs, Corbett’s signature on HB 396 makes it the second of the PDAA’s priorities to be enacted in the past few weeks.  They hope lawmakers will vote to close several Megan’s Law loopholes in the fall.

Among the several dozen other new laws signed this week is SB 101, which will increase the penalties for public officials who violate the open meeting requirements of the Sunshine Act.  SB 260 will bring Pennsylvania in line with Centers for Disease Control recommendations that call for HIV testing to be a part of routine medical care (though you can still opt out). 

Finally, another ‘blue law’ bites the dust.  Thanks to SB 419, you’ll soon be able to buy a motorcycle on Sunday.

State Capitol Facing North Office Building

PA’s Industry Partnerships Program Now Permanent

The Industry Partnerships program attempts to match skilled workforce training to the industries and jobs that exist in the Keystone State.  Supporters say it will help to fill the gap that exists between the skills employers need and the skills that are available in the workforce.  “There’s nothing worse in the world than to train somebody for a job that doesn’t exist,” says Tony Ross, president of United Way of Pennsylvania.  Ross says that Governor Tom Corbett’s signature on SB 552 codifies the program, thus improving its long-term viability.

Mike Brubaker

State Sen. Mike Brubaker (R-Lancaster)

The program dates back to 2005, and the Department of Labor & Industry reports that some 118,000 people have received training since that time.  “More than 6,300 businesses have taken part in more than 80-partnerships throughout the state,” adds State Senator Mike Brubaker (R-Lancaster).  Brubaker was the prime sponsor of SB 552.  Pennsylvania’s Industry Partnerships program is also becoming a model for the rest of the nation. 

The new state budget includes about $1.6-million dollars for the program’s administration.  Tony Ross tells us another of the benefits is that it covers such a broad swath of industry.  “Everything from health care, to manufacturing, to Information Technology – you name it – any industry can access this opportunity.”

Both the State House and Senate voted unanimously to make the Industry Partnerships program permanent.  Governor Tom Corbett signed it – along with 45 other new laws – on Thursday.


New Law Protects PA Firefighters

Governor Tom Corbett’s signature on HB 797 ends firefighters’ 25-year battle.  President of the Pennsylvania Professional Fire Fighters Association, Art Martynuska, is ecstatic.  “Our men and women across the state – both career and volunteer – risk their lives on a daily basis, protecting the residents of Pennsylvania,” Martynuska tells us. 

The new law designates cancer as an occupational disease for firefighters in Pennsylvania.  For some types of cancer, Martynuska says, firefighters are at a 100% greater risk than members of the general public.

Previously, the onus was on the firefighter to prove that the cancer was caused by the cumulative effects of the job.  Now, the presumption is flipped.  But, Martynuska says the municipalities which pay for the workers compensation can still rebut: “Lifestyle things, heredity things, certain things of that nature would give [them options] to say no, it wasn’t a result of your exposure to products of combustion or hazardous materials.” 

Firefighters would have to meet certain conditions too.  For instance, they must have served at least four years of continuous firefighting duty, and they must have a prior cancer-free physical exam. 

A similar bill was vetoed by Governor Ed Rendell in 2010, but Martynuska says they’ve since sat down with the municipal groups who were expressing concerns with the bill.  HB 797 passed both chambers of the legislature with near unanimous support, and it takes effect immediately.  In all, Governor Tom Corbett signed 46 bills into law on Thursday.