Harrisburg

HARRISBURG >> Legislation sponsored by Rep. Frank Farry (R-Bucks) designed to support emergency responders and improve the delivery of state resources to the fire and EMS systems in Pennsylvania heads to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.

House Bill 1673 is a comprehensive measure that includes portions of 13 bipartisan and bicameral proposals to expand and enhance several fire and EMS programs to address challenges faced by our first responder community.

Many of the measures included were recommendations from the 2018 Senate Resolution 6 Report, which put forth 92 individual recommendations to provide a roadmap to revamping our fire and EMS services in the Commonwealth to ensure first responder health and welfare and that their resource needs are being met. As co-chair of the House Firefighter and Emergency Services Caucus, Farry served on the state’s SR6 Commission.

“While this legislation does not incorporate all the recommendations, it is now one of the most significant pieces of fire legislation that we have taken up in the General Assembly since I have been in office,” Farry said. “I will continue to be a legislative advocate for fire departments and EMS organizations to ensure we have the necessary programs to aid them and maximize public safety.”

House Bill 1673 would address the following programs in the following manners:

Volunteer Loan Assistance Program (VLAP)

- Increases the loan amounts under VLAP and adds a consumer price index provision to the loan amounts for an annual basis.

- Renames VLAP to the “Emergency Services Loan Assistance Fund” (ESLAP).

- Codifies an application review committee for the ESLAP program.

- Authorizes the Office of the State Fire Commissioner to use up to $500,000 to administer the program.

- Adds a ballot referendum for the spring 2021 primary election to expand the ESLAP to include municipal fire departments.

Fire Commissioner

- Changes the Fire Safety Advisory committee to the “State Fire Advisory Board.”

- Enhances the powers and duties of the fire commissioner.

- Requires the commissioner to be confirmed by the Senate.

- Expands the State Fire Advisory Board, enhances its role and duties in the fire service and requires regional representation.

Fire Relief

- Defines Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP) as a program that provides tax-deferred income benefits to active volunteer members of a fire service.

- Expands the use of relief funds to include assistance to firefighters, purchase of equipment and materials for recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters.

- Requires the PA state fire commissioner to establish and publish annually, eligible uses of funds on the Office of the Fire Commissioner’s publicly accessible website.

- Authorizes the fire commissioner, in consultation with the advisory board, to make determinations on the eligible uses of relief funds.

- Requires the auditor general to notify the fire commissioner of any unauthorized expenditure involving relief funds by a volunteer firefighters’ relief association.

- Provides that non-fire company associated fire relief associations continue to receive relief monies if they were receiving the funding prior to 2010.

- Requires the Fire Advisory Board to study the fire relief funding formula, make recommendations and draft proposed legislation based on the board’s findings.

- Requires the board to issue a report on its findings no later than Nov. 30, 2022.

Fire and EMS Grant Program

- Reauthorizes the grant program until June 30, 2024.

- Addresses the application process and timeline for approval by the fire commissioner for the disbursement of grants under the Act due to the June 30, 2020, sunset of the commissioner’s authority to issue grants, so the program may continue on the regular timeline in 2021, which is September of each year.

- Enhances the program by authorizing fire and EMS companies to use the grant funding for recruitment and retention programs.

- Authorizes applicants to use the grant funding for revenue loss due to COVID-19 for the 2021 and 2022 grant cycles.

- Authorizes fire companies to apply for the grant funding to be used for construction of new facilities.

- Authorizes the application for construction for up to five years, and the funding is to be placed in a dedicated fund in the Treasury by the state fire commissioner.

- Provides parameters for fire companies to access and withdraw money from the construction fund.

- Adds airport fire companies as eligible entities to apply for the grant funding.

- Provides EMS companies with the same consolidation incentive provided to fire companies under the current VLAP program in which the 2% interest loans will be reduced to 1%.

- Requires the fire commissioner to provide an annual report on the grant program and its applicants.

Tax Credit

- Expands the first responder tax credit of 2015 to include both school district and county taxes.

- The tax credit may be up to 100% of the taxpayer’s property tax liability.

- Authorizes other intergovernmental cooperatives established under law to provide the same tax credits.

“Our fire and EMS services work tirelessly and have given so much to our communities. This important legislation provides the tools and resources for them to continue to deliver vital services across the Commonwealth,” Farry said.

House Bill 1673 now makes it way to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.

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