Bills Moving In State Capitol Last Week


Multiple developments played out in the State Capitol last week that are of interest to the PPA and its member companies.

Senate Passes SB 1017 With Concerning LIHEAP Provision

Nearly twenty years ago, a law was implemented that is designed to regulate the processes by which public utilities handle billing and other financial dealings with customers. Referred to as Chapter 14 of the public utility code (also known as the Responsible Utility Customer Protection Act), this law expires every ten years unless reenacted by the General Assembly. Chapter 14 is currently set to expire December 31, 2024.

This reauthorization process is generally extremely contentious, especially between the utilities and consumer advocacy groups. In December, a State Senate committee reported out its version of the reauthorization legislation (SB 1017) which was introduced by Senator Boscola (D- Northampton). Last week, SB 1017 passed the Senate and will now go to the House for consideration.

Included in that bill is a provision of serious concern to PPA member companies. This provision would allow utility customers to apply for LIHEAP Crisis grants upon the customer receiving a late payment notice from a utility. This is dramatically different from the current procedure that provides for LIHEAP funds for utility customers upon actual termination which is often after the winter shutoff moratorium period. This new language would likely result in a significant portion of LIHEAP crisis funds going to utility customers at the expense of deliverable fuel customers just due to the sheer volume of demand from gas and electric customers.

The PPA is engaged in removing this provision along with support of our allies who represent consumer advocate groups. The PPA has also received confirmation from PA Department of Human Services that their department (which administers LIHEAP) opposes a change to the current Crisis funding structure.

The PPA is grateful to Senator Boscola for her recognizing this “unintended consequence “ of this bill and her commitment to work with us in addressing this concern as the legislative process proceeds. The bill is now in the House Consumer Protection , Technology and Utilities Committee. It’s Chair, Rep Matzie (D-Beaver) had previously expressed to PPA his opposition to this section.

House Passes HB 1615 Appliance Energy Efficiency Standards

Last week, the State House passed a Pennsylvania Energy and Water Efficiency Standard Act proposal. The bill (HB 1615) is designed to establish efficiency standards for a specific list of products sold in the state. Those products include:

  1. Commerical dishwashers
  2. Commercial fryers
  3. Commercial hot-food holding cabinets
  4. Commercial ovens
  5. Commercial steam cookers
  6. Faucets
  7. Gas fireplaces
  8. High CRI, cold temperature and impact-resistant electric lamps
  9. Portable electric spas
  10. Residential ventilating fans
  11. Showerheads
  12. 12. Spray sprinkler bodies
  13. Urinals
  14. Water closets
  15. Water coolers

When the bill was first introduced, PPA expressed concern that in the future, these standards could be expanded to furnaces or other HVAC products. In addressing that concern, amendments were added to the bill that would restrict the provisions of the act from including other product categories not included on this list. In addition, the law would not take effect until the Environmental Quality Board adopted regulations. The regulatory process in Pennsylvania provides for extensive public and legislative review and input. The bill faces an uncertain future in the State Senate.

Senate Passes SB 269 Largest Proposed Tax Cut in PA History

In a surprise move this past week, the Senate Republicans unveiled and quickly voted on SB 269 to slash taxes by $3 billion. The bill passed the Senate in a 36 – 14 vote with 8 Democrats breaking ranks to back the GOP proposal.

The bill would reduce the state personal income tax by almost 9% and eliminate the utility gross receipts tax from consumers electric bills. This legislation is in stark contrast to Governor Shapiro’s February budget address which called for a $3.7 billion increase over the current year. The state has nearly a $14 billion surplus.

Shapiro is pushing for a wide variety of new state programs and to dramatically increase education funding. This includes legalizing recreational marijuana, taxing skill games, and increasing the state minimum wage.

The passage of the bill marks the first public salvo in this year’s budget process. The deadline for passage of the budget is June 30th which marks the end of the state’s fiscal year. Last year, the final budget bill was signed into law in December because of disagreements between the Senate Republicans and the Democratic Governor.

PA General Assembly Passes Ban For Cell Phone Use While Driving

The Senate passed SB 37 last week which was also passed by the House and will now go to Governor Shapiro for his signature. Governor Shapiro has indicated that he will sign the legislation into law which will take effect 12 months after that date.

The legislation will make Pennsylvania the 27th state to ban handheld devices while driving. It will also match the law for motorists’ cell phone use of all of our neighboring states. Currently, Pennsylvania’s restriction on cell phone use while driving applies only to texting.

Commercial drivers using a device for purposes of their job (according to regulations promulgated under 49 U.S.C. section 31136) are excepted from the law. Other exceptions include devices used for navigation purposes only, emergency notification, ham radio operators, and when a device is affixed to a mass transit or school bus. Devices being used in a hands-free manner are also excepted.