PA Fire & Emergency Services Institute issues legislative initiatives report

In Pennyslvania, the House & Senate are in session January 23, 24, 29-31 and February 5-7, 12 & 13.  The following is a recap of the fire & emergency service bills during the final 1999-2000 legislative session.  Any bill that did not pass in 2000 must be reintroduced in 2001. 

Emergency Shut-off Controls at Self-Service Gas Stations 

House Bill 1473, by Rep. Stern, increases the distance from the attendant to the control shut-off switch at the pump.  Current NFPA standard, adopted in 1982, is 100 feet.  The bill expands this requirement to 125 feet and includes a requirement for the operator of self-service stations to familiarize employees with the location and operation of the station's emergency fuel shut-off switch.  Rep. Petrarca's idea for color coding gas and kerosene containers (red-gas, blue kerosene) was added.  Both amendments were supported unanimously at the February 12, 2000 Statewide Advisory Board meeting.  House Bill 1473 passed the House June 13 with the fire safety amendment and passed the Senate October 11.  The Governor signed the bill into law as Act 74 of 2000. 

Grants 

The Commonwealth's successful $25 million program, $22 for volunteer fire companies and $3 million for volunteer ambulance services, was recently completed.  The Governor signed the bill into law June 22 as Act 66 of 2000. The Office of the State Fire Commissioner administered the program. 

Applications were sent to volunteer fire companies and EMS groups.  As of September 6, 2000, 2,252 volunteer fire companies and 445 volunteer ambulance services have applied.  Grants from $2,500 to $15,000 were available for volunteer fire companies and up to $10,000 for volunteer ambulance units. 

The Executive Committee (State Presidents) of the Statewide Advisory Board met Dec 1, 2000 and recommended the continuation and expansion of the grant program for 2001. 

Blood Bourne Pathogen Exposure 

House Bill 1537 includes coroners in receiving HIV related information. Emergency service organizations would like this bill amended to allow the coroner to release this vital information to public safety personnel who may have been exposed.  The bill was referred to the Senate Public Health & Welfare Committee. 

Hazardous Materials 

House Bill 1728 amends Act 165 of 1990 was introduced earlier this session after the Concept Sciences explosion, which killed five people near Allentown in 1999.  State and local emergency management agencies were unaware of the presence of certain hazardous chemicals on-site at this facility.  The intent of House Bill 1728 is to strengthen the reporting requirements for hazardous substances and create an enhanced system of accountability for hazardous substances located in the Commonwealth.  Public hearings were held to gauge the opinions and suggestions of emergency service leaders.  Tim Campbell testified on behalf of the Institute.  The bill passed the House and Senate. The Governor signed the bill into law as Act 121 of 2000. 

Access to 911 Tapes 

Senate Bill 1333 introduced by Sen. Greenleaf would provide for access to public records including 911 tapes.  The bill was referred to the State Government Committee March 14.  Senator Greenleaf's staff has indicated a willingness to review any suggestions for improving the bill.  The Statewide Advisory Board voted to oppose the bill as currently written. 

Motorcycle Helmet Repeal 

House Bill 1239 would require the General Assembly to "examine the fiscal impact associated with uninsured, un-helmeted motorcycle operators."  House Bill 1239 would allow individuals to ride without helmets if they are 21 years of age, have been licensed as a motorcycle operator for at least two years and have completed a safety course.  The bill also allows passengers to 
ride without helmets if the operator meets the same requirements.  The Statewide Advisory Board voted unanimously to OPPOSE the repeal of the motorcycle helmet law.  The House amended a Senate Bill Nov. 21, with the repeal language.  The bill passed the House.  However, it was not voted in the Senate. 

Fire/EMS Training Credit 

Rep. Haluska has introduced House Bill 2350 to permit school districts to add Firefighter I and EMT training to high school curricula as credit earning courses.  House Bill 2350 was referred to the Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee. 

Emergency Vehicle Lighting 

Rep. Geist, Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, has proposed amending Title 75, Motor Vehicle Code. House Bill 2320 was referred to the Transportation Committee November 13.  A new light bill will be introduced in 2001. 

EMS Response Area Designations 

Rep. Benninghoff introduced House Bill 2502, which gives municipalities and counties greater authority over EMS response areas.  The House Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee held another public hearing on this issue. The Ambulance Association conducted focus group sessions on this proposal during the past year.  The Statewide Advisory Board voted February 12, 2000 to support the Benninghoff proposal including QRS language.  A new bill is expected in 2001. 

Fines Doubled in Emergency Scenes 

Rep. Schroder's House Bill 2053, would double motor vehicle fines in emergency scenes similar to increased fines in road construction areas, passed the House February 15.   House Bill 2053 has been referred to the Senate Transportation Committee. 

This legislation was developed following the tragedy in Chester County when Firefighter David Good was killed working a vehicle accident along the Turnpike last year and other traffic accidents involving emergency responders.  Senator Madigan successfully attached most of the language contained in House Bill 2053 to an omnibus transportation bill, Senate Bill 1470, which then passed the Senate and the House. 

The Governor vetoed the omnibus transportation bill because, "While the majority of the changes in the amendment would improve the administration of the Department of Transportation and promote the safe operation of vehicles on the Commonwealth's highways, the inclusion of various special registration plates and the prohibition against the enactment or enforcement of size and weight restrictions by municipal governments compels me to withhold my approval of House Bill 1470." 

Billing for Emergency Services 

House Bill 951 allows the court to order a person convicted of making a bomb threat, (misdemeanor of the first degree for a first offense and a felony for the third degree for a second or subsequent offense), to reimburse the state, county or municipal corporation for costs incurred for emergency response resources.  The bill passed the House.  The Senate amended the bill to include language that prohibits convicted arsonists from membership in volunteer fire companies. 

Rep. Vance has introduced House Bill 2452 as the "Emergency Services Reimbursement Act."  House Bill 2452 would make an individual liable for actual and reasonable response costs unless a fire tax is in place or a monetary contribution has been made during the past year. 

House Bill 1347, Rep. Clymer's legislation, would create a process for reimbursing emergency service response organizations for "reasonable costs." House Bill 1347 establishes a county based office of emergency services reimbursement to process reimbursement claims.  The bill was referred to the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.  A public 
hearing on billing was held May 4, 2000 at the West Hanover Fire Company, Dauphin County.  The Institute has initiated a statewide survey regarding fire company billing practices.  Visit www.pfsi.org to complete the survey and review results.  The Statewide Advisory Board formed a Billing Task Force at the August meeting.  Contact the Institute to serve on this special task force. 

Rep. Wojnaroski has introduced House Bill 1788 requiring insurers of motor vehicles to include coverage providing for a benefit for essential services performed and costs incurred. 

Sales Tax Exclusion for Fire Prevention & Safety Equipment 

Senator Hart, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, introduced Senate Bill 1294 to provide a sales tax exemption for fire prevention and safety equipment like fire sprinklers, fire extinguishers and smoke detectors. Senate Bill 1294 never passed the Senate Finance Committee.  A new sponsor will be needed for 2001 because Senator Hart won election to the U.S. 
Congress. 

Small Games of Chance 

Senate Bill 648 would extend the prize limits in the Small Games of Chance Law.  Currently the total cash value of all prizes for a raffle is $25,000. Senate Bill 648 expands that limit to $100,000.  This proposal passed the Senate & the House.  The Governor signed the bill into law as Act 79 of 2000. 

Audit Requirement for Charitable Organizations 

House Bill 1150 would amend Act 202 of 1990, specifically the section dealing with financial statements and reports of charitable organizations.  The bill proposes to change the review and audit thresholds found in current law. House Bill 1150 passed the House and was amended in the Senate to EXEMPT volunteer fire and emergency services from the registration requirements of Act 202.  The amended bill passed the Senate and the House.  Governor Ridge vetoed the bill. 

Do Not Resuscitate 

Rep. Fleagale's DNR legislation, House Bill 96, establishes advance directives for emergency medical service health care.  House Bill 96 passed the House June 15 (200-0) and was referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

False Alarms 

Penalties for more than three false alarms in a consecutive twelve-month period are now contained in Pennsylvania Law.  Upon conviction, fines will not exceed $300.  In the bill, a "Public Safety agency" is defined as "The Pennsylvania State Police or any municipal police or fire department."  Fines would be paid to the municipality or the State Police depending upon which agency responded.   The law also requires prior written approval from a public safety agency for anyone to attach or use an automatic dialing device. The Governor signed this bill into law as Act 70 of 1998. 

Rep. Barley introduced House Bill 1061 to add a "corrective action" clause whereby a certified alarm provider makes an on-site inspection. The bill passed the House November 15, 1999.  An amendment was added which allows current local false alarm ordinances to supersede state law if the local ordinance is more restrictive.  Another amendment now contained in the bill requires local municipalities to establish a special fine fund to be distributed to local fire, police and EMS entities.  House Bill 1061 was considered in the Senate.  However, no final vote was taken. 

Sprinkler Standby Fees 

House Bill 71 and House Bill 72 would prohibit water authorities from charging "standby fees".   The bills have been referred to the House Local Government Committee & Consumer Affairs Committee respectively.  Pennsylvania Chapters of the National Fire Sprinkler Association are urging the House to move the bills out of committee.  The Institute formed a Demand Tariff Task 
Force.  The Task Force will make a presentation to the Water Systems Technical Assistance Center (TAC) Board meeting January 25, 11 AM, Rachel Carson State Office Building. 

Sprinkler Loan Program for High Rises 

Senator Charlie Dent has introduced legislation to establish a low interest loan fund for the installation of sprinkler systems in high-rise buildings. Senate Bill 868 was referred to the Senate Labor & Industry Committee. 

Rep. MeGheean introduced House Bill 2458.  The committee conducted public hearings May 31, July 20, & Sept. 20 on sprinklering dorms and high-rise student housing.  Institute president Don Konkle, past Advisory Board chairman Walt Wise and NFSA's Aus Marburger offered testimony.  House Bill 2458 passed the House 190-1 October 11.  It was referred to the Senate Labor & Industry Committee.  A new bill will be introduced in early 2001.  A rally will be held in the State Capitol building Tuesday, January 23, 2001, 11 AM. All emergency service personnel are invited to attend and express their 
support for this issue. 

Senator Waugh & Senate Boscola introduced Resolution 132 requiring the Legislative Budget & Finance Committee to conduct a feasibility study of municipalities establishing and implementing ordinances to identify high-rise buildings and college dormitories that lack fire protection systems, to require the installation of such systems, and to make a report to the Labor & Industry Committee.  The Resolution passed unanimously March 20, the day after the fatal fraternity house fire in Bloomsburg.  The study was due November 30.  The Institute will attend the LBFC meeting announcing the release of the report January 24, 2001, 9:30 AM, room 8E-B Capitol East Wing. 

Hepatitis 
Senate Bill 884, Senator Greenleaf, provides for the prevention, detection, treatment and follow-up of cases of hepatitis B among firefighters, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, ambulance responders and health professionals.  The bill was referred to the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee. 

The Institute has joined the Hepatitis C Coalition to assist with public education and awareness of this important issue.  Rep. O'Brien, Chairman of the House Health & Human Services Committee, conducted a public hearing on the impact of this disease on fire & emergency service personnel January 21 in Philadelphia.  A second hearing was held with the Labor Relations Committee October 17 in Harrisburg.  The legislature included $2 million in the state budget for testing and treatment for firefighters.  PEMA is administering this program. 

State System of Higher Education Funding Assistance 

Rep. E.Z. Taylor has introduced House Bill 594 to permit state universities to enter into agreements with emergency services providing protection to their campuses.  Under the proposal, universities may offer funding for their local emergency services provider by multiplying their full-time equivalent enrollment figure by $5.  House Bill 594 passed the Education Committee. 

Food Handling 

Volunteer fire company and ambulance services are now EXEMPT from the Food Employee Certification Law.  However, a voluntary program will be developed. House Bill 2216 passed the House and the Senate November 21.  The Governor signed the bill as Act 124 of 2000. 
Voters in a number of area communities will go to polls Saturday to decide issues that include bond proposals and fire safety.  
 

 
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