Police Worn Body Camera Legislation Clears Senate

Harrisburg—Today, in a 47-1 vote, the Pennsylvania Senate approved State Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf’s (R, Montgomery, Bucks) SB 560 clearing the way for the use of police body-worn cameras.

Police across the Commonwealth have been prepared to make use of cameras, but without this amendment to the state’s Wiretap Act, it would create criminal liability for police.  Under the current law, police may record video, but not audio inside a residence.  SB 560 would eliminate this stipulation, freeing police to concentrate on unfolding events without the concern of whether or not to turn off their cameras.

The legislation clears another hindrance to police body-worn cameras by eliminating the Wiretap Act requirement that an officer must announce to everyone in a public space that they are being recorded—something that would be nearly impossible on a busy street. 

The bill not only allows the police to gather evidence of incidents as they unfold, but also allows public access to recordings.  Members of the public and the news media will be able to submit a request for recordings to the police department, which must produce the recording unless it relates to a pending criminal matter.  Appeals can be taken to the county court of common pleas, where the judge will consider the needs of law enforcement, the interest of the public in holding police accountable, and the privacy interests of crime victims and citizens inside their homes.

Senator Greenleaf said, “Body-worn cameras will not only record statements and actions at a crime scene, but they will also hold both police and the public accountable for their actions during law enforcement encounters.” 

The legislation is the result of many months of work between Senator Greenleaf, municipal and state police, and state prosecutors. 

The Senator said, “All stakeholders came to the table with the same goals of improving the justice system.  My interest in this was always conviction integrity, as this is one of the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Wrongful Convictions (Passage of SR6 of 2006).  If a suspect makes a confession, the camera footage will eliminate any doubt about whether that statement was voluntary.  Recent events suggest that body-worn cameras are necessary to document how officers conduct themselves and the difficult challenges that they face every day.”

For additional information, see the attached “Frequently asked Questions” document and the summary of SB 560.

SB 560 now moves to the House of Representatives.

Measure Calling for Fire/EMS Review Receives Final Approval

A measure introduced by Senator Randy Vulakovich calling for a comprehensive review of Pennsylvania’s volunteer fire departments and EMS organizations received final legislative approval on Wednesday (April 26).

The Senate unanimously concurred on House amendments to Senate Resolution 6, which calls for a “reboot” of Senate Resolution 60 of 2003, the comprehensive study of fire and EMS issues completed in 2004.

SR 6, as amended, calls for a 39-member commission made up of legislators, first responders and representatives from municipalities. The panel would follow up on the impact of SR 60 and study issues currently affecting first responders. The commission would then provide its recommendations to the Chairmen of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committees by June 30, 2018.

“It has been 14 years since the SR 60 study, so it is certainly time that we step back and consider the landscape as far as it pertains to Pennsylvania’s fire companies and EMS squads. Pennsylvania’s first responders certainly face many of the same challenges now as they did back then, such as the loss of volunteers and the exorbitant costs of apparatus and training,” said Senator Vulakovich, Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee. “The timing is right to ‘reboot’ this process by reviewing the 23 recommendations made by the SR 60 Commission. We need to see what was accomplished and what remains to be done.”

Senator Vulakovich and his fellow chairmen of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committees held a press conference on January 23  to unveil SR 6 and discuss a 16-bill package of legislation to complement and build on previous efforts to help Pennsylvania’s first responders. Video of the press conference.

Contact:         Nate Silcox (717)        787-6538         nsilcox@pasen.gov

Senate Passes Langerholc’s First Bill, Protecting Basic Firearms Rights

 

HARRISBURG – The Senate today passed legislation introduced by Sen. Wayne Langerholc, Jr. (R-35) that will protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners and shield them from having to fight overly restrictive local firearms ordinances.  The bill passed by a vote of 34 to 16.

“When local governments enact regulations that clearly exceed state law, law-abiding citizens comply while criminals don’t, leaving innocent people unarmed and unprotected,” Langerholc said.

Langerholc’s bill permits an individual or organization to sue to block an overly restrictive local firearms ordinance.

“Municipalities that enact harsh, sweeping gun laws cannot ignore or interfere with state and federal laws and the U.S. Constitution,” Langerholc added. “When local officials overstep their legal authority in passing severe gun ordinances, law-abiding citizens rarely possess the time, money and legal skills to fight their citation and overturn the law.  This bill takes steps to remedy that imbalance and preserves the Second Amendment rights of good Pennsylvanians.”

Langerholc pointed out that almost all states today have a law prohibiting local jurisdictions from imposing gun control restrictions that are stricter than state law.

“Gun laws should be uniform across the state, so upstanding gun owners do not face a mishmash of regulations as they travel across the Commonwealth. The legislation places the burden on the municipality to defend its actions rather than on the citizen who may have been cited unjustly,” Langerholc said.

“Although legislation similar to Senate Bill 5 was enacted in 2014, a state Supreme Court ruling overturned the law based upon procedural grounds that did not speak to the content or constitutionality of the law,” Langerholc said.

Just as federal law supersedes state law under the doctrine of preemption, the legislation restores the original intent of the Uniform Firearms Act, which was designed to prevent municipalities from enacting their own local ordinances.

Legislation to Protect Child Victims of Human Trafficking Passes Senate

Today, the Pennsylvania Senate approved State Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf’s (R, Montgomery/Bucks) SB 554 “Safe Harbor” legislation that would require that sexually exploited children be diverted from the criminal justice system to more appropriate human services.

SB 554 follows Greenleaf’s Act 105 of 2014 (S.B. 75) that rewrote the Commonwealth’s human trafficking statute to better enable prosecutors to charge human traffickers and increased penalties for human trafficking. 

Over 100,000 children are exploited through prostitution in the United States each year.  Adults psychologically manipulate these children, often with the use of illegal drugs.  As a consequence, children have been charged with prostitution, drug possession, loitering, and other offenses that are inherently related to prostitution.   

Senator Greenleaf said, “These children are victims, not criminals.  There is no such thing as a child prostitute.  The criminal justice system and legislature have failed to recognize the sexual exploitation that is right in front of us.  Our justice system arrests, prosecutes, and punishes minors who are the victims of sexually violent predators.  The legislature needs to act quickly to pass Safe Harbor so we can confront this crisis and offer our children the protection and help that they so desperately need.”

The legislation will require law enforcement to report to the Department of Human Services any encounter with a minor who has been subject to sexual exploitation.  The Department will develop and implement a state-wide protocol to deliver safe long-term housing, education, life-skills training, and counseling to the children who have been exploited. 

SB 554 will now be referred to the House of Representatives.

 

Senators Outline Measures to Support Police

 

Listen

Senators John Rafferty (R-44), Randy Vulakovich (R-38), Don White (R-41), Mike Regan (R-31), Dan Laughlin (R-49) and Wayne Langerholc, Jr. (R-35) joined legislators and representatives of law enforcement organizations at a Capitol news conference to show their support for Pennsylvania’s police officers. 

They outlined legislation they are sponsoring to assist them in doing their jobs safely and effectively. 

The senators said that the legislation is crucial to protect police who have increasingly become the target of public abuse and violence simply because they are carrying out their mission to preserve public safety.

In addition, Rafferty again called on the Governor to lift his moratorium on the death penalty, citing the recent conviction of Eric Frein for murdering a state trooper and injuring another.

“We have seen a surge in anti-police sentiment recently, putting officers at even greater danger for retribution and violence,” Rafferty said. “These men and women proudly wear the badge and face danger on the job every day – they deserve our support, our respect and our help in keeping communities safe.” 

Among the bills outlined in the news conference are measures to:

  • Prohibit police departments from releasing to the public the names of officers who discharge a firearm or use force as part of their official duties while an investigation is pending.
  • Create the new offense of “Hate Crimes Against Law Enforcement and First Responders.”
  • Create a new offense of “Evading Arrest or Detention by Foot.”
  • Permit all municipal police to utilize radar for speed enforcement.

“As someone who has the utmost respect for our law enforcement officials, I find it unfortunate that there is a growing ‘anti-cop’ mentality in many of our communities that is posing a real danger to police officers,” Rafferty said.  “This legislation would help to ensure that officers have more tools to do their jobs safely.

CONTACT: Senate Republican Communications  717-787-6725

Martin Introduces Bill Targeting Repeat DUI Offenders

HARRISBURG – Repeat DUI offenders could face tougher punishments under legislation introduced today by Senator Scott Martin (R-13).

Martin’s legislation would mandate at least two years of jail time for any individual convicted of more than two DUIs in a 10-year period, with harsher sentences for offenses that lead to the death of another person. Under Martin’s bill, a repeat offender who causes the death of another person as a result of a DUI could be charged with a first-degree felony.

“It should be clear by now that Pennsylvania’s DUI laws are inadequate and ineffective at preventing repeat offenders from getting behind the wheel and endangering every other motorist on the road,” Martin said. “We have seen far too many tragedies in which innocent citizens have been victimized by the recklessness of others. We need to make sure repeat offenders face a punishment that matches the dangerous nature of the crime.”

More than half of all Pennsylvanians who lose their license due to a DUI conviction are repeat offenders. Martin cited a number of tragic cases in which innocent motorists and pedestrians were injured or killed by intoxicated individuals who had prior DUI offenses:

  • In 2014, 18-year-old Meredith Demko was driving home in the middle of the afternoon when she was killed by an individual who was drunk, high on heroin, and driving on a suspended license due to a prior DUI conviction.
  • In 2013, volunteer Fire Chief Rodney Miller was killed by a repeat hit-and-run/repeat drunk driver. At the time of his death, he was responding to an earlier DUI-related crash in which the driver was drunk, high, and driving on a suspended license.
  • Also in 2013, 24-year-old Liam Crowley was killed by a drunk driver with a suspended license and five prior DUI convictions. According to the Chester County District Attorney, the driver would have been eligible to drive legally as early as 2012 if he had completed the proper paperwork.

“These tragedies have left a trail of devastated family and friends who had a loved one taken from them far too soon,” Martin said. “We can and should do more to keep our roads clear of the most dangerous offenders who have no regard for the lives and safety of their fellow motorists.”

CONTACT: Terry Trego (717) 787-6535

Senate Approves “Reboot” of SR 60

 

The Senate today approved a measure to review Pennsylvania’s progress in providing essential support to its volunteer fire departments and EMS organizations, according to Senator Randy Vulakovich, prime sponsor of the measure.

Senate Resolution 6 calls for a “reboot” of Senate Resolution 60 of 2003, the comprehensive study of fire and EMS issues completed in 2004. SR 6 calls for a new commission made up of legislators, first responders and representatives from municipalities. The panel would follow up on the impact of SR 60 and study issues currently affecting first responders. The commission would then provide its recommendations to the General Assembly by June 30, 2018.

“Fourteen years after SR 60, Pennsylvania’s first responders face many of the same challenges now as they did back then, such as the loss of volunteers and the exorbitant costs of apparatus and training,” said Senator Vulakovich, Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee. “With the start of the legislative session, the timing is right to ‘reboot’ this process by reviewing the 23 recommendations made by the SR 60 Commission. We need to see what was accomplished and what remains to be done.”

Senator Vulakovich and his fellow chairmen of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committees held a press conference on February 23  to unveil SR 6 and discuss a 16-bill package of legislation to complement and build on previous efforts to help Pennsylvania’s first responders. Video of the press conference.

Contact:         Nate Silcox (717)        787-6538         nsilcox@pasen.gov

Sen. Langerholc to Introduce Legislation to Protect Responsible Gun Owners

HARRISBURG – Sen. Wayne Langerholc, Jr. (R-35) has begun seeking cosponsors for legislation that would protect law-abiding gun owners from gun laws enacted by local municipalities that go above and beyond state law.

“Municipalities do not have the authority to make up laws that contradict existing state laws and our Constitution,” Langerholc said. “When local officials overstep their boundaries by enacting overly restrictive gun laws, it can be a problem for average law-abiding citizens to go through the process to fight their citation, not to mention to get the unjust law overturned.”

“By ensuring uniformity in state gun laws, this legislation will give law-abiding gun owners peace of mind as they travel across the state. Most importantly, the legislation will make the municipality defend its actions rather than make the citizens who were unjustly cited to defend theirs,” Langerholc said.

His bill, which has not yet been introduced, would allow an individual or organization to sue to block an overly restrictive local firearms ordinance. Currently, gun owners who are accused of violating local ordinances often lack the time and money to wage a prolonged, costly legal battle necessary to overturn unconstitutional gun regulations at the local level.

Similar legislation was signed into law in 2014, but a state Supreme Court ruling overturned the law based upon procedural grounds that did not address the content or constitutionality of the law, Langerholc explained.

The legislation restores the original intent of the Uniform Firearms Act, which was designed to prevent municipalities from enacting their own ordinances.

CONTACT:  Diane McNaughton
(717) 787-6725
dmmcnaughton@pasen.gov

Senate committees to review possible state prison closures

HARRISBURG – Three Senate committees will hold a joint public hearing to review the Wolf administration’s decision to potentially close two state prisons.

The Senate Majority and Democratic Policy Committees and Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing on Monday, January 23 at 9:30 a.m. in Hearing Room No. 1 of the North Office Building in the state Capitol.

On January 6, the Department of Corrections announced that they would close two state prisons in June. Five state prisons are currently under consideration, including SCI Frackville, SCI Mercer, SCI Pittsburgh, SCI Retreat and SCI Waymart.

The administration is scheduled to make its final decision as to which two prisons will close on January 26.

The committees’ goal is to look at various aspects of the proposed closings including cost to taxpayers, public safety, transparency, prison overpopulation and the impact on local communities.

“We need to put everything on the table and figure out how and why the administration chose the five prisons they did,” Senate Majority Policy Committee Chairman David G. Argall (R-Schuylkill/Berks) said. “We want to bring transparency to this process that could have a major impact on a lot of people.”

“While we have achieved the goal of dramatically reducing Pennsylvania’s inmate population, prison closures will affect prison staff members and many people in the surrounding communities,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Stewart J. Greenleaf (R-Bucks/Montgomery). “I will continue to pursue policies that prioritize rehabilitation over incarceration for non-violent offenders, but we must approach possible prison closures with caution.”

“I respect the Wolf Administration’s efforts to improve government efficiency and reduce state spending,” said Senate Democratic Policy Committee Chair Senator Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton/Lehigh). “This joint bipartisan hearing is a key step in the decision-making process as we discuss all factors with stakeholders.”

“I applaud Governor Wolf for breaking from past practice by presenting a transparent timeline, soliciting public input, and working with the legislature to ensure any prison closures are done safely and efficiently,” Senate Judiciary Committee Democratic Chairman Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery/Delaware) said. “My colleagues and I look forward to conducting a thorough examination of the Governor’s decision and providing our input.”

More information, including the agenda and testimony, will be posted to the Senate Majority Policy Committee’s website here.