The ceiling of the main Rotunda inside Pennsylvania’s Capitol building. (Photo by Amanda Berg for the Capital-Star).
Gov. Tom Wolf signed a whopping 66 bills into law on Thursday, including measures to provide tax credits for zero-carbon energy production, to punish Pennsylvania Turnpike toll scofflaws, and to provide new tools to combat the opioid epidemic.
The bills, passed near the end of the General Assembly’s 2021-22 session, also aim to expand the use of self-driving vehicles on the commonwealth’s highways, make human drivers safer, and provide additional funding to guard against hate crimes.
Economic development tax credits
Wolf said he supported House Bill 1059 because it provides $50 million a year in tax credits for the development of a regional hydrogen hub, where industries that produce and use clean hydrogen fuel would be clustered. Developing zero-carbon fuel sources is crucial for meeting the state and the nation’s goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Wolf said.
The law would also help Pennsylvania capture some of the $8 billion for hydrogen production in the federal Inflation Reduction Act.
The law also makes tax credits available for businesses that meet investment and job creation benchmarks in the milk processing, biomedical and semiconductor manufacturing, and for producing fertilizer derived from natural gas.
Turnpike toll evaders
State Auditor General Timothy DeFoor said in an audit report in September that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission was owed more than $105 million in unpaid tolls by motorists whose license plates were unreadable or for whom no current address was available.
In addition to making it illegal to render a license plate illegible to the automated cameras that replaced toll takers along the turnpike’s length, HB 1486 allows state transportation officials to suspend the registration of vehicles that rack up unpaid tolls.
In the face of the nation’s ongoing opioid crisis, House Bill 1393 amends the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act to make it legal to possess fentanyl test strips. They had previously been classified as illegal drug paraphernalia.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid nearly 100 times as powerful as morphine. In a medical setting it is used to treat chronic pain, but it is often mixed with illegal drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine and is impossible to detect without testing. The presence of fentanyl in other drugs increases the likelihood of an overdose, the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs said in a statement.
Highly automated vehicle technology is developing rapidly and Pennsylvania is a leader in its development, Wolf said in support of House Bill 2398. The law amends the vehicle code to allow regulation and operation of driverless vehicles on Pennsylvania roads.
Wolf said that while the emerging technology holds promise for advances in safety and mobility, and economic development, it is important that the current transportation workforce not be left behind. He encouraged lawmakers to ensure that workers in the transportation sector are supported if driverless vehicles disrupt it.
Drivers who accumulate six or more points on their driver’s licenses for speeding and other traffic violations would be required to take a driver training course, under House Bill 1958.
The vehicle code has had a driver training provision for habitual lead-foots, but PennDOT has never implemented it, the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Tim Hennessey, R-Montgomery, said.
“Mandatory driver retraining programs in other states have been successful in improving the driving skills of chronic offenders and reducing their rates of recidivism,” Hennessey, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, said. “Better drivers mean safer roads and fewer highway deaths and injuries.”
Preventing hate crimes
Lawmakers sent House Bill 397 to Wolf on the fourth anniversary of the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where a gunman killed 11 worshipers in 2018.
The law will extend a program to provide security grants to synagogues, houses of worship and other nonprofit organizations that might be targeted in hate crimes. The program has already provided $20 million in grants.
The law, which also includes funding to recruit and train firefighters and emergency medical technicians, extends the security grant program, which was set to expire in 2024, by five years.
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