Week Ending Sept. 25, 2020

Sep 25, 2020

PICPA Joins Coalition Urging Safe Harbor Protections During COVID-19

The PICPA has joined a board-based coalition of statewide employer and nonprofit associations urging state lawmakers to enact targeted, temporary safe-harbor protections from unwarranted lawsuits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“On behalf of our organizations, representing a broad range of industries and employers throughout Pennsylvania, we urge your support for providing the business, nonprofit, education, and health care communities with temporary safe harbor from unwarranted lawsuits, while not precluding appropriate action against bad actors or those acting irresponsibly,” the coalition wrote to members of the General Assembly.

One bill, Senate Bill 1239, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, does provide targeted, temporary protection from lawsuits for health care workers and those manufacturing personal protective equipment. It also protects shops, restaurants, plants, offices, and non-profits from frivolous lawsuits alleging exposure to COVID-19.

For the foreseeable future, employers will be subject to strict workplace health and safety requirements, and those who adopt these precautions should proceed with confidence knowing they will not be targeted with potentially devastating litigation, the coalition is telling policymakers. But those who act with gross negligence or disregard safety precautions should not be protected, and robust enforcement against bad actors or irresponsible employers should be pursued.


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Pa. Legislature Relaxes Restrictions on Bars, Restaurants

Both the state House and Senate this week approved legislation that would relax some of the restrictions imposed on Pennsylvania’s restaurants and bars. The bill passed by votes of 145-56 and 43-6 in the state House and Senate, respectively.

House Bill 2513, sponsored by Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming), would set the minimum capacity for restaurants and taverns at 50%, with the ability for increased capacity if their premises allows. The bill would also remove the ban on bar service, eliminate the meal requirement to purchase alcohol, and allow for event venues to operate at a minimum of 50% capacity.

House Bill 2513 goes to Gov. Tom Wolf, where it faces a likely veto.


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Veto Override of Sports Spectator Bill Fails in Pa. House

Another COVID-19 fight between Gov. Wolf and Republican lawmakers came to a head this week on the House floor when legislators failed to override the governor’s 11th veto of the session. On Sept. 21, Wolf vetoed legislation that would have given school districts the final decision on allowing school sports, extracurricular activities, and spectators during the 2020-2021 school year.

“We have been confronting extraordinary challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic. As we continue the fight against COVID-19, we need to continue to prioritize the health and welfare of Pennsylvanians and minimize public health risks,” Wolf said in his veto message.

House Bill 2787, sponsored by Rep. Mike Reese (R-Westmoreland), passed earlier in September with bipartisan votes: 155-47 in the House and 39-11 in the Senate.

After the House failed to override the veto, Reese said, “I am dumbfounded by the 24 members who decided loyalty to their governor was more important than our kids and their families. All the students want is the opportunity to play and perform; all their loved ones want is the opportunity to watch their children shine and learn the many important lessons that go along with participating in team sports and group activities.”


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Ryan Pay Freeze Bill Heads to Governor

State Rep. Frank Ryan, CPA (R-Lebanon), received unanimous approval in the state Senate for his bill to freeze cost of living adjustments for state government officials through 2021. House Bill 2487 now heads to the governor’s desk.

“This is the right and appropriate action at this time,” said Ryan. “Many Pennsylvania citizens are suffering from job losses and struggling to get by. The pandemic is also taking a tremendous toll on state revenue, which will impact state budgets for years to come.”

The pay freeze applies to members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, the governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, attorney general, auditor general, the heads of departments, members of boards and commissions, and the judiciary.


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Senate Approves Bill Requiring Information Breach Notification

The Senate approved a bill requiring timely public notification when a security breach compromises personal information.

Senate Bill 487, sponsored by Sen. Dan Laughlin (R-Erie), updates the Breach of Personal Information Notification Act to require state agencies victimized by a breach involving personally identifiable information to report the incident to those affected within seven days. The legislation also requires the state attorney general to be informed of any breach and for executive branch agencies to notify the Office of Administration within three days following a breach.

The bill goes to the state House for consideration.


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Bill to Boost Farmland Preservation Passes Senate

The Pennsylvania Senate unanimously approved a bill that would boost Pennsylvania’s farmland preservation efforts by allowing land trusts to be eligible for the program.

Senate Bill 881, sponsored by Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster), would direct a portion of existing farmland preservation funding to private land trusts. The legislation would require land trusts to provide matching funds to generate new private funding for the program.

Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of farms and acres permanently preserved for agricultural production. To date, 552,702 acres have been preserved on 5,329 farms across the state.

The bill moves to the state House for consideration. 


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New Savings Program, Charitable Gift Annuity Bills Clear Committee

The state Senate Banking and Insurance Committee approved legislation that authorizes certain financial institutions to offer incentives for saving money and another bill that would provide protections for annuitants who are donors to a charity that provides for charitable gift annuities.

House Bill 858, sponsored by Rep. Rosemary Brown (R-Monroe), creates the Incentive-Based Savings Program Act to authorize and permit financial institutions to conduct savings promotion programs. The legislation authorizes the Department of Banking and Securities (DOBS) to promulgate rules and regulations for the operation of the program.

House Bill 1769, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Mackenzie (R-Lehigh), amends the Charitable Gift Annuity Exemption Act (Act 127 of 1996) to define “derisking annuity contract” as an annuity purchased from a commercial annuity company by a charity that matches substantially all future payments of the charity arising from a charitable gift annuity contract obligation.

Both bills are now before the Senate for consideration.


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Wolf Vetoes RGGI Oversight Bill

Gov. Wolf vetoed legislation that would have increased legislative oversight on the proposal to have Pennsylvania join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). This was Wolf’s 12th veto of the session.

Read Wolf’s veto message here.

House Bill 2025, sponsored by Rep. Jim Struzzi (R-Indiana), would have created the Pennsylvania Carbon Dioxide Cap and Trade Authorization Act, prohibiting the Wolf administration and the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from joining RGGI without approval from the legislature.

The bill passed the Senate, 33-17, and the House, 130-71


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