Senate approves bipartisan legislation on future state prison closings

HARRISBURG – Today, the Senate approved bipartisan legislation by a vote of 47-1 to reform future state prison closures in Pennsylvania. 

Last January, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections made a public announcement regarding the closing of two of five selected state prisons across the state – allowing for only twenty days to hear concerns from parties directly impacted by these closings including the institutions’ workforce, local governments and elected officials. 

Senate Bill 748 creates the Public Safety Facilities Act to require sufficient notice and feedback of any potential state correctional facility closure in Pennsylvania as well as other institutions where law enforcement staff is employed.  Under the bill, notification requirements and comprehensive strategies are mandated in order to decrease the chaos and stress placed on employees and local communities where a prison closing will occur.

Senator David G. Argall (R-Berks/Schuylkill), the prime sponsor of this bipartisan legislation, noted the importance of this type of initiative, particularly with regards to the negative impact a local community in his district would have experienced with the potential closure of SCI Frackville.  “Immediately when we heard the department’s announcement about the potential closure of SCI Frackville, we were inundated with correspondence from local residents voicing their concerns over this possible closure,” said Argall.  “It was clear that our local and state elected officials needed to work together to present a strong, well-founded case that closing SCI Frackville would not only be financially damaging, but it would also jeopardize the safety and well-being of the community and its residents  – which is exactly what we did.” 

Senator John Yudichak (D-Luzerne/Carbon) and Senator Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne/Pike/Susquehanna/Wayne/Wyoming), both co-sponsors of Senate Bill 748, also fought to save correctional facilities in their areas from potentially closing.  SCI Retreat is located in Senator Yudichak’s district and SCI Waymart is located in Senator Baker’s district.

Senator Yudichak applauded the Senate’s passage of this important initiative. “Today’s vote in the Senate is an important step toward establishing a transparent process for any future prison closures in the Commonwealth. By reforming the way our public safety facilities are closed, we are ensuring that our citizens and the communities affected are given the opportunity to have their voices heard,” said Yudichak.

Senator Baker mentioned the importance of organized planning when examining potential state prison closings.  “It requires time and resources to site, construct, and operate these prisons.  These institutions contribute to the local economy as well as to public safety.  It is only fair that a closure come about as a planned process, rather than a politically capricious act,” said Baker. 

Argall believes that the Senate’s passage of Senate Bill 748 provides a more efficient and streamlined process for future prison closings in the state.  “The strength and vitality of our communities is dependent upon open dialogue between residents, their elected officials and state government officials,” stated Argall.  “By including local residents in the decision-making process, we can work together to clearly assess the potential consequences that may arise if a state correctional institution has the potential to close.  What better way to make these assessments than to hear feedback from those who are working directly in the trenches inside our state prisons?” 

Senators who are also co-sponsors of the bill include:  Senator John Blake (D-22); Senator Jay Costa (D-43); Senator Kim Ward (R-39); Senator John Rafferty (R-44); Senator John Gordner (R-27); Senator Wayne Fontana (D-42); and Senator Michele Brooks (R-50).

The bill will now move to the House of Representatives.

Read a support letter from the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association here.

Mensch Measure Designating April 8-14 as “Crime Victims’ Rights Week” Approved by Senate

 

Harrisburg – A measure sponsored by Sen. Bob Mensch (R-24) designating the week of April 8 through 14, 2018 as Crime Victims’ Rights Week in Pennsylvania was unanimously approved today by the Senate. 

Mensch noted that nearly 16 million Americans were victimized by crime in 2016, 5.7 million of whom were victims of violent crime. 

“The millions of survivors of crime and their families are no less deserving of justice, rights, resources, restoration and rehabilitation than the violent offenders who victimize them,” said Mensch. “The citizens of Pennsylvania realize that we can make our homes, neighborhoods, and communities safer and stronger by serving victims of crime and ensuring justice for all.”

The Office of Victims Advocate was established by the Pennsylvania General Assembly nearly 20 years ago to assist crime victims and promote justice and healing for all victims of crimes, Mensch said.

“Over the past two decades, crime victims and their advocates in every county of this Commonwealth have made unparalleled progress towards balancing the scales of justice in the criminal justice system,” said Mensch. “Crime Victims’ Rights Week will draw attention to this progress, as well as the need to do more to stand up for the victims of crime.”

Mensch is a strong supporter of a package of bills strengthening protections for victims of crime and ensuring that victims and their families are treated with respect and dignity by the criminal justice system.

 

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CONTACT: Sarah Rasmussen srasmussen@pasen.gov  (215) 541-2388

State Senate Approves Bipartisan Crime Victims Package

The State Senate today approved a package of bills strengthening protections for victims of crime and ensuring that victims and their families are treated with respect and dignity by the criminal justice system.

Six of the bills would strengthen and reform Pennsylvania’s domestic violence laws, offer greater protections to victims of domestic violence and their children, and hold abusers accountable.  Another measure, known as Marsy’s Law, would establish a crime victims’ bill of rights in the Pennsylvania Constitution to protect and expand the rights of victims of violent crime.

Senate Bill 449 now goes to the Governor for his signature and enactment into law. The other six bills were sent to the House of Representatives for consideration. 

Senate Bill 313 makes it easier for domestic violence victims to remove the name of an abuser from a shared telephone plan. (Sponsored by Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-18)

Senate Bill 449 allows Magisterial District Judges to use a risk assessment tool when determining bail in domestic violence cases. (Tierne’s Law) (Sponsored by Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-46)

Senate Bill 500 ensures that law enforcement protection is available to a victim before or while PFA orders are being served. (Sponsored by Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-38)

Senate Bill 501 requires a domestic violence defendant who is ordered by the court to relinquish firearms to surrender the weapons to law enforcement or a licensed dealer. (Sponsored by Sen. Tom Killion, R-9)

Senate Bill 502 makes it easier for the court to extend a PFA order when an abuser is released from custody. (Sponsored by Sen. Tom McGarrigle, R-26)

Senate Bill 919 allows domestic violence victims who live in public housing to be relocated to another unit. (Sponsored by Sen. Art Haywood, D-4)

Senate Bill 1011 amends the state Constitution to create a crime victims “Bill of Rights.” (Marsy’s Law) (Sponsored by Sen. Guy Reschenthaler, R-37)

Contact: Senate Republican Communications (717) 787-6725

Senators Make Final Push for Passage of Bipartisan Crime Victims Package

 

A bipartisan group of state senators today appealed for final Senate consideration Wednesday of a package of bills strengthening protections for victims of domestic violence.

At a news conference at the State Capitol in Harrisburg, the bills’ sponsors said six of the proposed bills slated for consideration would strengthen and reform Pennsylvania’s domestic violence laws, offer greater protections to victims of domestic violence and their children, and hold abusers accountable. Another measure, known as Marsy’s Law, would establish a crime victims’ bill of rights in the Pennsylvania Constitution to protect and expand the rights of victims of violent crime.

The following bills are in position to be considered for a vote by the full Senate tomorrow:

Senate Bill 313 makes it easier for domestic violence victims with to remove the name of an abuser from a shared telephone plan. (Sponsored by Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-18)

Senate Bill 449 allows Magisterial District Judges to use a risk assessment tool when determining bail in domestic violence cases. (Tierne’s Law) (Sponsored by Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-46)

Senate Bill 500 ensures that law enforcement protection is available to a victim before or while PFA orders are being served. (Sponsored by Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-38)

Senate Bill 501 removes third-party safekeeping as an option for a domestic violence defendant ordered by the court to relinquish firearms. (Sponsored by Sen. Tom Killion, R-9)

Senate Bill 502 makes it easier for the court to extend a PFA order when an abuser is released from custody. (Sponsored by Sen. Tom McGarrigle, R-26)

Senate Bill 919 allows domestic violence victims who live in public housing to be relocated to another unit. (Sponsored by Sen. Art Haywood, D-4)

Senate Bill 1011 amends the state Constitution to creating a crime victims’ “Bill of Rights.” (Marsy’s Law) (Sponsored by Sen. Guy Reschenthaler, R-37)

Contact: Senate Republican Communications (717) 787-6725

Senate Appropriations Committee approves legislation on prison closings

HARRISBURG – Today, the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved bipartisan legislation reforming possible state prison closures in Pennsylvania.

On January 6, 2017, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections publicly announced the closures of two of five selected state correctional institutions located across the state.  A final decision for closures was set for January 26, 2017, leaving only twenty days to gather feedback from parties directly affected by these closings, including the institutions’ workforce, local governments and elected officials. 

Senate Bill 748 establishes the Public Safety Facilities Act which ensures there is adequate notice and consideration of any proposed state correctional institution closures, as well as other structures that employ law enforcement staff. The bill requires specific notification requirements and the development of comprehensive strategies to minimize undue stress on employees and local communities.  The bill is modeled after a law passed in New York regarding a similar debate. 

The prime sponsor of the bill, Senator David G. Argall (R-Berks/Schuylkill), noted the importance of creating an open dialogue between state facilities and local communities.   “Wherever state facilities are located, an immensely important economic relationship is developed with local communities. If the necessity arises for changing that relationship, it should result from an open and extensive discussion with all affected parties,” Argall said.

The bill will now move to the full Senate for consideration.

 

Contact:  Mary Beth Dougherty
570-773-0891

Joint Public Hearing to Discuss Criminal Justice Issues

Joint Public Hearing
Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety and Criminal Justice
and Judiciary

Monday, March 19, 2018
9:30 a.m. in Hearing Room 1, North Office Building

Joint Public Hearing to Discuss Criminal Justice Issues

 

Agenda:

9:30 a.m.
Introductory Remarks by Senator Greenleaf

9:35 a.m.
Secretary John E. Wetzel
Department of Corrections
Consolidation of the Department of Corrections and the Board of Probation and Parole; Prison Industry Enhancement; Justice Reinvestment Initiative

10:30 a.m.
Carl Reynolds
Council of State Governments Justice Center
Justice Reinvestment Initiative Phase 2; Cap on Prison Terms for County Probation Violations; Grant Program for Mental Health Diversion

 11:30 a.m.
Marissa Bluestine
Pennsylvania Innocence Project
Post-Conviction Relief Act Amendments; DNA Testing for Exoneration; Compensation for Wrongful Conviction; Brady Violations

12:30 p.m.
Peter F. Vaira, Esq.
Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Grand Jury Reform

Joint Public Hearing on Pipeline Safety

Joint Public Hearing

Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure
and Environmental Resources and Energy Committees

Tuesday, March 20, 2018
11 a.m. in North Office Building, Hearing Room #1
 

Joint Public Hearing on Pipeline Safety

 

11:00 AM
Opening Comments
 
Senator John C. Rafferty

11:10 AM
Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission
Honorable Gladys M. Brown, Chairman

11:35 AM
Department of Environmental Protection
Domenic Rocco, Acting Environmental Program Manager, Regional Permit Coordination Office

12:00 PM   Environmental/ Safety Organizations
Environmental Defense Fund
Andrew WilliamsDirector of Regulatory and Legislative Affairs, US Climate and Energy               

Uwchlan Safety Coalition
Rebecca Britton

Goshen United for Public Safety
Melissa DiBernadino

12:30 PM
Marcellus Shale Coalition
Keith Coyle, Chair, Pipeline Safety Workgroup

Written Testimony:

Department of Environmental Protection

House Approves Tierne’s Law to Protect Domestic Violence Victims

HARRISBURG – A proposal that would help district judges protect domestic violence victims is one step closer to becoming law with unanimous approval by the House of Representatives today, according to the bill’s sponsor, Senator Camera Bartolotta (R-46).

Senate Bill 449, also known as Tierne’s Law, clarifies existing law that allows judges to use risk assessment tools when setting bail in domestic violence cases. These tools have proven to be effective in predicting an abuser’s odds of re-offending and creating a dangerous circumstance for victims, Bartolotta said.

“Without the use of risk assessment tools, it can be extremely difficult for judges to know whether an offender still poses an imminent danger to his or her victim,” Bartolotta said. “Expanding the use of these tools could give judges a clearer picture of the abusers who are most likely to continue to terrorize their victims if they are released on bail.”

The bill was named in honor of Tierne Ewing, a Washington County resident who was kidnapped and later murdered by her estranged husband in August 2016. The killer had been arrested a few weeks prior to the kidnapping for domestic violence and other offenses, but was granted bail in spite of the prosecutor’s request for bail to be raised or revoked.

Last year, Pennsylvania provided support to more than 89,000 victims of domestic violence. Domestic violence played a role in 102 homicides in 2016, including eight in the counties Bartolotta represents.

Bartolotta’s bill was developed with input from district attorneys, domestic violence experts and others who have an interest in improving the judicial system’s ability to protect victims.

The bill was sent to the Senate for consideration of House amendments. If approved by the Senate in its current form, the bill would be sent to the Governor to be signed into law.

 

CONTACT: Colleen Greer (717) 787-1463

Regan Briefs Senate Panel on Measures Needed To Enhance School Safety and Security in PA

 

Senator Mike Regan (R-31) testified before the Senate Education Committee during a public hearing on school safety, focusing his remarks on efforts to improve school building security through professional assessments, customized safety plans, extensive training, and reprioritized state funding.

To view Senator Regan’s full testimony, click here.

Regan, a former U.S. Marshal who was responsible for security planning and implementation at federal court houses, said school administrators and faculty must be trained and prepared to address an active shooter situation as part of a broader Comprehensive School Safety Plan. 

As part of that effort, he stressed that schools should receive a professionally-conducted preliminary needs assessment to ensure that funding is being used with maximum efficiency. 

He emphasized that school safety plans should tailored to the unique needs of each school.  “Simply stated, “one-size-fits-all” plans do not work,” Regan said. “Customization is the name of the game.”

He added that confidentiality of school safety plans is crucial, citing a bill he is sponsoring with Senator Robert Tomlinson (R-6) which would require school security matters to be discussed in Executive Session.

Regan emphasized the importance of rigorous and recurring active shooter training to help school personnel function under extreme duress. 

“People never rise to the occasion, they fall to the level of their training,” said Regan. “Robust training acclimates responders to stress.”

Finally Regan noted that efforts to improve school safety will cost money – an investment he says is critical to their success.  He noted that last year approximately $8.53 million was dedicated to the Safe School Initiative line item. This figure represents less than 1/10th of 1 percent of General Fund spending in Education. 

​Regan said funding should be part of the overall effort to make schools safer and implement the improvements and training that can save lives in the event of a school shooting.

In the coming weeks, he intends to work with the Pennsylvania State Police, the Pennsylvania Department of Education, education stakeholder groups, and security experts to develop new school safety standards which he hopes will “become a national model.” 

Contact: Noah K. Karn 717-787-8524 / nkarn@pasen.gov

 

Senators Rafferty & Vulakovich Introduce “Blue Alert” Bill

Listen – Senator Vulakovich

Recognizing that the expeditious and widespread dissemination of information can be essential when critical events impact public safety, Senators John Rafferty (R-Montgomery) and Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny) introduced legislation that would establish a “Blue Alert” system for the protection of Pennsylvania’s law enforcement personnel and the people they serve.

Senate Bill 1055 would activate an emergency alert response — similar to the existing Amber Alert system for disseminating information (PennDOT signage and media broadcasts) about child abductions — for any incident involving the endangerment, injury or death of a law enforcement officer and the suspect or suspects are at large.

“Our brave men and women of law enforcement continue to be under increased threat of being injured or killed while performing their duties,” said Sen. Rafferty.  “When these very unfortunate incidents occur, time is of the essence and the Blue Alert System will utilize the power of the public to locate and apprehend those responsible as quickly as possible. The citizenry and the media have always been powerful tools in assisting and cooperating with law enforcement to bring criminals to justice. It is my hope that this legislation will further enhance this already effective relationship.”

“Hopefully this system will expedite the apprehension of violent criminals who kill or seriously injure local, state or federal law enforcement officers.  Currently, 30 states have Blue Alert systems,” said Sen. Vulakovich, a former municipal police officer and Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee.  “In December, there was a shooting of a police officer outside the Capitol and in January a Deputy U.S. Marshall was shot and killed in the City of Harrisburg.  We need to ensure that law enforcement personnel and the public are immediately aware of dangerous situations like these so that perpetrators can be apprehended as quickly and safely as possible.”

Senate Bill 1055 has been referred to the Senate Law & Justice Committee for its consideration. 

Contacts:

Sean Moll (Sen. Rafferty)       (717) 787-1398          smoll@pasen.gov
Nate Silcox (Sen. Vulakovich) (717) 787-6538          nsilcox@pasen.gov