In an extremely busy session week, the Pennsylvania General Assembly considered legislation related to organized retail crime, workplace misclassification, event ticketing, workforce development, and more.
Here is a rundown of what happened last week in the legislature of relevance to the business community:
Organized retail crime (S.B. 596)
Senate Bill 596 would establish an office of Organized Retail Crime Theft in the Attorney General’s office and lower the monetary thresholds for second and third-degree felony retail thefts.
We supported this legislation (CLICK HERE for our memo), which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and is now awaiting final passage in the Senate.
Fee disclosure (H.B. 636)
House Bill 636 would classify “advertising, displaying or offering a price for goods or services that does not include all mandatory fees or charges other than taxes imposed by a government entity” as an unfair method of competition under the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.
We proposed numerous changes to this legislation, which was amended in committee to limit its scope to ticket purchases, food delivery apps, and lodging platforms. Despite this amendment, we remain opposed to this proposal, which would have far-reaching implications on commerce in Pennsylvania by placing onerous restrictions on businesses’ ability to collect necessary fees and could have unintended consequences for consumers.
Unemployment for striking workers (H.B. 1481)
House Bill 1481 would reverse nearly 90 years of state and federal precedent by providing that individuals who voluntarily go on strike are eligible for unemployment compensation benefits.
This proposal detrimentally impacts employers and the economy in several ways, including by unfairly tilting the playing field in the event of a labor dispute, increasing UC tax rate hikes for employers experiencing a strike, and exacerbating the current insolvency of the UC trust fund.
This bill was scheduled for a vote last week in the House Labor & Industry Committee. We opposed this legislation (CLICK HERE for our memo), which was ultimately passed over in Committee, though it may be considered in the future.
Online purchasing bots (H.B. 1378)
House Bill 1378 would prohibit the use of computer software to purchase items over the internet in bulk for the purpose of resale and not personal use. The legislation creates a new private right of action and allows for statutory damages of $1,000 per sale in addition to actual damages.
Private rights of action can lead to an increase in litigation, burdening the legal system and resulting in higher costs for both individuals and businesses. This can strain court resources, slow down the resolution of cases, and lead to frivolous litigation.
We suggested the legislation be amended to remove this private right of action; however, it was not amended, and passed the House Consumer Protection, Technology, and Utilities Committee. The bill is now eligible for final passage in the House.
Independent Contractors (S.B. 577)
Senate Bill 577 was introduced with several amendments to the Construction Workplace Misclassification Act, including the addition of severe criminal penalties against employers for violations of the notoriously complicated Act and the threat of permanent debarment from commonwealth contracting opportunities.
The bill was amended in committee to reduce the proposed penalties; however, we remain opposed due to the severity of the penalties, the potential negative impact on the business community, and the new opportunities it provides for trial lawyers to sue construction companies. The bill advanced in the Senate Labor and Industry Committee and now awaits consideration by the full Senate.
Speculative ticketing (H.B. 1658)
House Bill 1658 would prohibit resellers from advertising or offering for sale tickets for events they do not possess. The bill also creates a new private right of action and allows for statutory damages of $1,000 per ticket in addition to actual damages.
We suggested the legislation be amended to remove this private right of action; it did not receive a vote last week.
Recovery-to-work pilot program (S.B. 69)
Senate Bill 69 would create a pilot program, spearheaded by the Departments of Labor & Industry, Health; Community and Economic Development; Drug and Alcohol Programs; and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, to connect individuals in drug recovery with occupations through local workforce development boards.
The bill aims to break the cycle of addiction and also help address the state’s workforce needs by helping individuals with a history of substance abuse obtain employment.
We supported this legislation, which passed the state Senate on Wednesday by a vote of 29-19. It now heads to the House Labor and Industry Committee for further consideration.