Senator Baker E-Newsletter

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In this Update:

  • Senate Committee Passes Reform to PA’s Probation System 
  • Senate Acts to Exempt Newer Vehicles from Emissions Test
  • Senate Passes Bill Protecting Prescription Coverage for Social Security Recipients
  • Ensuring Adequate Funding for Roads and Bridges
  • Bill to Prevent Distracted Driving Deaths Passes Senate
  • Introducing Our Summer Intern, Walker Kmetz 

Senate Committee Passes Reform to PA’s Probation System

A bill I sponsored, along with Sens. Camera Bartolotta and Anthony Williams, that would reform Pennsylvania’s probation system to provide a better pathway out of the criminal justice system passed the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. 

Senate Bill 838 would establish a mandatory probation review conference for probationers, providing criteria for when they occur and a presumption that probation will be terminated unless the individual does not qualify. It would also allow the review conference to occur earlier based on the good conduct of defendants by achieving certain educational, employment or other goals. A provision to allow for the waiving of the mandatory review conference in cases where all stakeholders agree it is unnecessary is also included. 

In recent years, we have passed laws that offer individuals a second chance – better enabling them to find a place to live, access education or training if that is needed, and have a fair shot at employment. However, the benefits of these improvements will not be fully realized if we do not eliminate the issues that exist in probation. 

Senate Bill 838 now moves to the full Senate for consideration. 

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To relieve motorists from outdated and unnecessary emissions testing, the Senate approved Senate Bill 561 to exempt the five newest model-year vehicles.

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 exempts Blair, Cambria, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Lycoming, Mercer and Westmoreland counties from the vehicle emissions test as they have consistently met air quality standards.

Senate Passes Bill Protecting Prescription Coverage for Social Security Recipients

The Senate is working to protect Social Security recipients who might lose access to two state prescription medication programs. The bill is part of a package I sponsored with Sen. Judy Ward to ensure inflation-related increases in Social Security benefits don’t push recipients out of eligibility for state programs.

The PACE and PACENET programs help Pennsylvanians age 65 or older to afford their prescription medications. Eligibility for the programs is based on income, Pennsylvanians on Social Security received an 8.7% cost-of-living increase in their benefits for 2023. 

The increased Social Security cost-of-living adjustment is pushing some individuals over the limits for qualifying for these vital programs. Given the uncertain economy ahead of us and the current inflation, fairness warrants a one-year fix to relieve this financial burden on seniors so they can remain eligible for the programs. 

Senate Bill 607 would 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. 

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 Bill 607 now heads to the state House of Representatives for consideration. 

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.

Bill to Prevent Distracted Driving Deaths Passes Senate

Legislation prohibiting the handheld use of cellular and other devices while driving passed this week in the Senate.

Senate Bill 37 would enhance driver responsibility by prohibiting the handheld use of cell phones or other communication devices while operating a motor vehicle on a Pennsylvania highway or trafficway. A driver could only use their wireless device while holding or supporting it when the vehicle is parked on the side or shoulder of a roadway and the vehicle is safely able to remain stationary.

To help educate drivers of the change in the law, this legislation includes a provision directing law enforcement to issue warnings for violations for the first 12 months following the signing of the bill. 

Introducing Our Summer Intern, Walker Kmetz

I was delighted this week to introduce Walker Kmetz of Shavertown during Senate session. He is serving as an intern in my Dallas office for the summer season. 

Walker, a graduate of Lake-Lehman and a rising junior at Dickinson College, has been assisting with various projects in the office – ranging from drafting articles to making social media content. 

During his academic career, Walker has had strong performances in his classes and has actively been involved in his community. At Lehman, he served as class president for two years, and at Dickinson he is involved with the campus’ radio station and leads as co-editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. He is also involved with Dickinson Votes, a non-partisan organization that works to register students to vote and show them the importance of being civically engaged. 

Walker’s strong commitment to service is clear, and we hope that this experience will develop his aspirations and abilities for the future. 


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