Following is a listing of legislative and executive action for the week of March 24. Members of the General Assembly were set to return to session March 31.
• State Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, introduced legislation, SB 1295, that would prohibit employment discrimination based on an applicant’s marital or parental status. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, it is illegal in 17 states—including New Jersey, New York and Delaware—to ask job applicants whether they are married. Leach’s bill currently has 10 co-sponsors.
• State Sen. Michael Stack, D-Philadelphia, introduced two bills in the Senate, SB 1307 and SB 1308, that would reform marijuana laws to “curb the unintended consequences that drain local budgets and waste law enforcement resources.”
SB 1307 would reduce possession of less than an ounce of marijuana to a summary offense for the first two offenses and provide discretion to district attorneys for third and subsequent offenses. SB 1308 would make it easier for former offenders to find a job by making expungement easier.
• Leach introduced legislation in the state Senate that would prohibit lawmakers from accepting any amount of cash from anyone who is not a family member.
“We’ve all read recently about allegations of legislators accepting large cash gifts from a lobbyist,” Leach said in a statement. “I obviously do not know the truth of any of those allegations; however, in reading the press accounts of the investigation and the allegations that emerged, I was troubled to learn that there was no legal prohibition against accepting such gifts if they had been offered.”
He is circulating a memo asking for co-sponsorship.
• State Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-Allegheny, and state Sen. Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, have introduced legislation, SB 1247 and SB 1248, aimed at resolving the contractual dispute between UPMC and Highmark. UPMC and Highmark have a contract set to expire Dec. 31. At that time, individuals with Highmark health insurance could be denied access to UPMC facilities or be forced to pay higher out-of-network expenses.
The bipartisan legislation introduced would require institutions like UPMC, Highmark and the Geisinger Health System—which are considered “integrated delivery networks” that operate hospitals and doctors as well as provide insurance—to contract with any willing insurer.
• State Rep. W. Curtis Thomas, D-Philadelphia, announced he will introduce legislation, HB 1023, that will benefit small businesses in low-income and moderate-income areas in Pennsylvania by offering them forgivable loans ranging from $25,000 to $50,000.
The program, which would be administered through the state Department of Community and Economic Development, would be available to businesses located in an eligible commercial corridor for a variety of purposes, including upgrades to telephone and security systems, kitchen equipment, computer equipment, new flooring, lighting and other similar improvements imperative for growth.
If, after five years, the business was successful in achieving program goals, the loan would be forgiven.
Unemployment Declines Slightly
Pennsylvania’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate declined by two-tenths of a percentage point in February to 6.2 percent, according to data released by the Department of Labor and Industry.
The state’s rate was one-half of a percentage point below the U.S. rate, which in February was up one-tenth of a percentage point to 6.7 percent. Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate was its lowest since November 2008, when the rate was also 6.2 percent. The state rate was down 1.5 percentage points from its February 2013 rate of 7.7 percent.