HARRISBURG, Pa. – The Pennsylvania Senate advanced four separate legislative proposals on Wednesday, moving the measures to the dormant state House before entering into its own extended winter recess.
None of the bills received a vote in opposition from any of the 49 state senators.
The separate measures seek to establish a training opportunity for teenage firefighters, end a ban on public school teachers from wearing religious symbols at work, streamline regulations to more easily allow farmers to make home deliveries and allow two state service medals to be awarded to civilians or military members of a friendly foreign nation.
Senate session days were scheduled for each of the next two weeks. However, Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman has since canceled those plans.
The next scheduled session days are Feb. 27 and 28.
The House remains at a standstill without rules of procedure, committee assignments or session days scheduled.
A bipartisan workgroup organized by House Speaker Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, met Tuesday for the first time toward ending the standoff and beginning, finally, to undertake legislative activity in the new 2023-24 session.
Sen. Michele Brooks, R-Crawford, introduced Senate Bill 114 to create the Secondary Education Fire Training Pilot Program – a four-year endeavor to boost the ranks of Pennsylvania’s dwindling community of volunteer firefighters.
If moved into law in its current form, three community colleges or state- system universities would offer firefighting instruction to high-schoolers toward becoming certified firefighters.
Participating students must be at least 16 years old to qualify and attend schools, public or non-public, partnering with higher education institutions. The aim is to have one location in each of the eastern, central and western regions.
Funded with at least $450,000 in a restricted account, one that could accept tax-exempt donations, the program would begin as soon as Jan. 1, 2024, and continue for four years.
Senate Bill 84, a bipartisan measure co-authored by Sen. Kristin Phillips- Hill, R-York, and Sen. Judith Schwank, D-Berks, would strip the Public School Code of an existing section that bars teachers from wearing religious symbols while on the job.
Violators of the garb statute risk one-year suspension or permanent disqualification from the profession, according to the code. The law allows public school directors who fail to enforce the prohibition to be held criminally liable, the code states.
A federal appeals court ruled in 2003 that a Pennsylvania intermediate unit’s policy enforcing the ban was unconstitutional and violates the free exercise of religion and free speech clauses of the First Amendment. The ruling, as well as concerns about a shrinking labor pool for teachers, were each cited by the lawmakers.
Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Richland Township, introduced Senate Bill 95. It would amend the state Vehicle Code to allow farmers to use farm vehicle registration plates, rather than commercial plates, when making home deliveries.
Farmers are presently limited to making home deliveries in vehicles using commercial license plates. According to Langerholc, farmers must maintain separate vehicles for home delivery and delivery to businesses. Farm vehicles are permitted in the transport of products to businesses, not homes.
The bill was reintroduced from last session when it passed through both the House and Senate, but was vetoed by former Gov. Tom Wolf, who cited safety concerns with allowing passenger vehicles to be defined as farm vehicles and exempting them from registration, insurance and inspections.
Senate Bill 141 was reintroduced by state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin.
It would amend existing statutes to allow the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to award the Pennsylvania Distinguished Service Medal and the Pennsylvania Meritorious Service Medal to civilians and members of the military of a friendly foreign nation.
The bill moved through the Senate last session, but didn’t leave the House.