State Sen. David G. Argall has released the highlights of recent legislative activity, with the debate over property tax reform at the forefront. The legislature also worked on tightening protections for children, and took a hard look at secondary education needs.

One of the most thoroughly vetted proposals before the legislature received an updated analysis showing the fiscal impact of Senate Bill 76, a bipartisan proposal drafted by over 80 grassroots taxpayer groups from across the state that would drive a stake through the heart of the school property tax beast.

The Senate Finance Committee is scheduling a public hearing with the officials from the Independent Fiscal Office to hear more about this proposal's impact on taxpayers and ensure public schools are adequately funded. The hearing is scheduled for Oct. 15 at the Capitol.

To read the report, visit www.SenatorArgall.com/PropertyTaxIndependenceAct [1].

Child protection bills

The Senate approved a series of bills to provide sweeping improvements to Pennsylvania's child protection laws on Wednesday:

Senate Bill 21 clarifies who is a mandatory reporter of child abuse; Senate Bill 22 increases penalties for failure to report child abuse; Senate Bill 23 updates the definition of perpetrator and expands definition of person responsible for a child's welfare; Senate Bill 27 improves the exchange of information among medical practitioners and county agencies; Senate Bill 30 establishes accountability and due process protections for individuals working with delinquent children in juvenile detention facilities and residential rehabilitative institutions; and Senate Bill 33 provides employee whistleblower protection for child abuse reporting.

The bills are part of a bipartisan package of legislation introduced following the recommendations of the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection, created by the passage of Senate Resolution 250 in December 2011. The panel held a series of public meetings and released its report in November 2012.

The measures now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Rural Community College Initiative

A proposal to increase post-secondary educational opportunities in underserved counties across the Commonwealth received an in-depth review by the Senate Education Committee at a public hearing on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 1000, which creates a Rural Community College Initiative, is based largely on recommendations by a Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) study completed in December 2011. The LBFC study concluded that there is a significant need for public community college programs in rural Pennsylvania.

Testifiers at the hearing included the North Central Workforce Investment Board, American Refining Group Inc., Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges, Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Rural Community College Alliance.

Child abuse measures

The Senate Communications and Technology Committee approved two bills Wednesday intended to improve the Commonwealth's ability to respond to suspected child abuse cases.

Senate Bill 24 establishes a statewide database for protective services. The database will include reports of child abuse and children in need of general protective services.

Reports include information relating to the subject of the report, the nature of the occurrence, information on the family, services provided, legal actions initiated, and other details required by the Department of Public Welfare.

Senate Bill 26 directs the Department of Public Welfare to establish a three-digit toll-free number, which would be monitored twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week to provide all Pennsylvanians with an easy way of reporting suspected child abuse.

The bills are based on recommendations made by the Task Force on Child Protection established by SR 250 and now go to the full Senate for consideration.