Ahead of the June 30 budget deadline, House and Senate lawmakers returned to session last week to advance proposals related to the minimum wage, permitting appeals, the environment, and more. Here are highlights of what happened last week in the legislature that matters to the employer community:
While budget negotiations continue in Harrisburg, the Senate took the first step last week in positioning the budget bill (H.B. 611) for a final agreement.
On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee amended the budget bill to remove the House-passed spending plan and replace it with the current year’s budget as a placeholder. The House and Senate also took steps to position other budget-related bills last week in hopes that a final agreement can be reached before the June 30 deadline.
Minimum Wage (H.B. 1500)
The House of Representatives made headlines last week when it voted to pass House Bill 1500, legislation that significantly increases the minimum wage in Pennsylvania and would likely result in job losses, fewer employment opportunities, and higher costs to consumers.
Pennsylvania’s Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) explained in a report last month that approximately 30,000 Pennsylvanians would lose their jobs or see reduced hours if a $15 minimum wage were implemented. These employment impact estimates do not factor in any increase to the tipped wage level, which, under H.B. 1500, would increase 320 percent in just a couple of years.
Moreover, the IFO noted that “rural and small employers are more likely to be impacted by the proposal,” which increases Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $15 by 2026 and requires annual increases thereafter.
We opposed this bill (CLICK HERE for our memo), which later passed the full House by a vote of 103-100. It now heads to the Senate for further consideration.
Permitting Appeals (S.B. 198, S.B. 199)
The Senate passed two significant pieces of legislation related to permitting appeals last week.
Senate Bill 198 would grant the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) the authority to limit permit appeals to issues raised during the comment period. This would provide greater certainty for businesses by streamlining the appeals process and ensuring that only relevant issues raised during the comment period are considered. The legislation also seeks to reduce staff time and resources spent on defending permit decisions against third-party litigation.
These reforms align with existing standards for appeals under the state’s Hazardous Sites Clean-Up Act and federal permits issued by the EPA and are part of the PA Chamber’s comprehensive permitting reform plan. Separately, Senate Bill 199 would require confirmation for judges seeking renomination to the Environmental Hearing Board, the administration court that handles complaints to DEP permits.
We supported both of these measures (CLICK HERE for our memo), which later passed the full Senate in party-line votes of 28-22.
PA Human Relations Act Expansion (H.B. 1394)
The House State Government Committee met last Tuesday to consider House Bill 1394, also known as the CROWN Act. According to its co-sponsorship memorandum, this legislation seeks to expand the PA Human Relations Act to prohibit “discrimination based on a person’s hair type, hair texture, or hairstyle.”
The bill’s language, however, is far broader and sets a confusing standard that is open to broad interpretation and could lead to unintended consequences including unfounded claims against employers.
We recommended the legislation be amended to focus on its stated purpose of prohibiting discrimination against hairstyles commonly associated with one’s race (CLICK HERE for our memo). The bill later passed committee in a party-line vote of 12-9.
Environment (S.B. 286, S.B. 831)
The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee also met last Tuesday to advance a pair of bills related to spill reporting as well as carbon capture and storage technology.
Senate Bill 286 addresses the long-sought need for greater clarity as to when a spill must be reported to DEP. This bill would direct the Environmental Quality Board to develop rulemaking on spill reporting. Notably, the agency has never adequately defined “standards of pollution” as the Clean Streams Law requires – instead relying on a subjective framework that has failed to provide sufficient certainty as to when a spill should and should not be reported.
Senate Bill 831 establishes a comprehensive regulatory framework for the deployment of carbon capture technology, which is vital to ensuring the deployment of billions of dollars in private capital, as well as potentially leveraging federal infrastructure funding, to innovate in low-carbon manufacturing, agricultural, and energy production projects.
We supported these measures (CLICK HERE for our memo), both of which later passed committee by votes of 7-4.
Probation Reform (S.B. 838)
The Senate Judiciary Committee met last Thursday to consider legislation that would update and improve Pennsylvania’s probation laws.
Senate Bill 838 includes several provisions to help probationers re-enter the workforce and maintain employment. The bill would direct courts to consider scheduling confinement around an individual’s work schedule; incentivize individuals on probation to pursue education and job training programs; and limit the circumstances under which a technical violation would result in the revocation of an individual’s probation, which can complicate employability
We supported this bill (CLICK HERE for our memo), which advanced committee in a 10-3 vote, with one Senator not voting.
Social Media Access for Minors (S.B. 22)
The Senate Communications and Technology Committee was expected to consider legislation restricting minors’ access to social media but later postponed its voting meeting after the PA Chamber raised concerns over the proposal.
Senate Bill 22 would require parental consent for children under 16 to use social media and parental notification should any child under 16 open an account. This proposal would also provide for a private right of action against social media platforms for alleged harms.
The PA Chamber generally opposes expanding private rights of action against the private sector and we urged this language be amended from the bill. While a vote was postponed, the bill may reappear on the committee calendar later this fall. Employers are encouraged to review and consider its impact.