In this Update:
Law and Justice Committee Advances Bills to Reform Medical Marijuana Law
On Tuesday, as Chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, I convened a meeting to consider six bills, three of which would make changes to Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Program.
The committee approved Senate Bill 835, which I am co-sponsoring with the Democrat chairman of the committee, Sen. Jim Brewster, and which is a comprehensive set of reforms to Pennsylvania’s existing medical marijuana law.
In an effort to empower doctors and patients, the bill would eliminate the government-determined list of qualifying conditions and enable a patient’s doctor to decide if a patient’s ailment could be positively treated with medical marijuana. The legislation also aims to reduce the time-consuming process the Department of Health imposes on the industry, which currently requires pre-approval of all packaging and advertising. This slows commerce and creates unnecessary work for the Department. Instead, the goal is for the Department to issue guidelines that must be followed that they then monitor as part of their oversight authority.
The committee also approved:
All six bills now head to the full Senate for consideration.
Senate Bill Fights Porch Pirating
Legislation cracking down on “porch pirating” was approved by the Senate this week.
Senate Bill 527 would implement specific penalties for theft of mail, which includes a package, bag or letter. The grading of this offense would increase if the person had prior convictions for theft of mail.
In Pennsylvania, theft of mail – also known as porch pirating – is currently charged under other theft offenses based solely on the value of the item taken. The average cost of a package stolen in Pennsylvania is $43, and nearly 2 million Pennsylvanians have been victimized by a porch pirate.
Ensuring Adequate Funding for Roads and Bridges
To ensure sound funding for Pennsylvania roads and bridges, the Senate approved Senate Bill 656 to replace the state Alternative Fuels Tax on electric vehicle owners with a flat annual fee of $290.
The fee was calculated based on the average annual gas taxes paid by owners of gas-powered vehicles. Like the gas tax, the revenue from the flat fee will be deposited into the Motor License Fund for highway maintenance and construction.
Currently, owners of electric vehicles are required to file monthly statements with the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue and remit the alternative fuels tax on how much electricity their vehicle uses. However, most electric vehicle owners do not do this, or are inconsistent at doing so, due to the cumbersome process or simply being unaware.
Senate Passes Bill Protecting Prescription Coverage for Social Security Recipients
The Senate passed Senate Bill 607 to protect PACE and PACENET participants who may be pushed beyond the eligibility limits due solely to a cost-of-living increase in Social Security payments.
The PACE and PACENET programs help Pennsylvanians age 65 or older to afford their prescription medications. Eligibility for the programs is based on income, and Pennsylvanians on Social Security received an 8.7% cost-of-living increase in their benefits for 2023.
Single older Pennsylvanians earning $14,500 or less are eligible for PACE, while those earning between $14,500 and $33,500 are eligible for PACENET. Married couples earning $17,700 or less are eligible for PACE. Those earning between $17,700 and $41,500 are eligible for PACENET.
Senate Acts to Exempt Newer Vehicles from Emissions Test
To relieve motorists from outdated and unnecessary emissions testing, the Senate approved Senate Bill 561 to exempt the five newest model-year vehicles in the counties required to conduct emissions testing, including Cumberland and York County.
Pennsylvania is mandated by the federal government to implement an emissions inspection and maintenance program to comply with federal 1990 Clean Air Act amendments. Pennsylvania’s program requires motorists in 25 counties to participate in an annual emissions test.
As fuel-efficient cars have become more widespread, a vehicle emissions test has proven to be less effective at reducing air pollution. Between 2010-19, there were more than 21 million newer vehicles that passed the emissions test 99.65% of the time. Newer vehicles consistently pass emissions tests due to newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles on the market.
The Senate also approved Senate Bill 562, which completely exempts Blair, Cambria, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Lycoming, Mercer and Westmoreland counties from the vehicle emissions test as they have consistently met air quality standards.
Senate Approves Expanding Access to Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners
To provide comprehensive, trauma-informed quality care to survivors of sexual assault, the Senate passed Senate Bill 414 to improve access to Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs).
SANEs collect critical forensic evidence when a sexual assault survivor seeks medical attention after an attack. In addition to conducting forensic exams or rape kits, SANEs may provide expert testimony if a case goes to trial.
There are less than 50 certified SANEs across Pennsylvania despite the state having about 280 hospitals. Most hospitals do not offer access to a SANE.
The bill would improve SANE availability as it identifies a funding stream for hospitals to establish and maintain operation of SANE programs; and directs the Department of Health to compile a list of all hospitals in the commonwealth that offer SANE services and to make that information available statewide.
Prioritizing Workforce Development and Job Opportunities
The Senate has approved legislation to help establish Pennsylvania as an international leader in the development, testing and implementation of cutting-edge technologies.
Senate Bill 497 establishes the Max Manufacturing Initiative Act, which provides grants and loans to state universities so they can partner with engineering entities to enhance research capabilities, promote business alliances, produce high-value products and create family-sustaining jobs.
Advanced manufacturing is the use of innovative technologies to create and enhance products and is utilized in most industries. The manufacturing industry in the United States produces more than $4 trillion annually and thousands of job opportunities in the commonwealth.
Women Veterans to Benefit from Health Care Task Force
To provide care for the unique health needs of women veterans, the Senate approved a measure establishing the Task Force on Women Veterans’ Health Care in Pennsylvania.
The task force will study health issues facing women veterans and make recommendations to the governor and General Assembly. The panel will be composed of individuals with relevant specialties, including the chair of the State Veterans’ Commission and health care providers.
Senate Resolution 46 would also pave the way for Pennsylvania to potentially receive additional federal funding to address women veterans’ health care issues.
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