Committee discusses critical role of high-speed internet in healthcare, emergency response

STROUDSBURG – Speaking in front of a packed room at the Monroe County Safety Center, Sally Kozak, Deputy Secretary with the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, testified that broadband access is critical for the delivery of high-quality healthcare.

“Lack of broadband prevents health care and emergency medical service providers from delivering the best treatment possible,” Kozak said.

“When it comes to medical services, providers need access to robust, reliable broadband to ensure they are able to communicate with patients and hospitals effectively, transmit and receive crucial data, and implement the latest technology,” she added.

The Monroe County Safety Center was where a Senate Communications and Technology Committee public hearing took place on Tuesday afternoon.

The hearing, held at the request of Senator Mario Scavello (R-Monroe/Northampton), featured experts who outlined the challenges of emergency response and health care options for local residents when high-speed internet access is non-existent.

“In the 40th Senate District, we have made headway in several cases with getting increased broadband access to specific communities and institutions,” Scavello said. “However, we need to replicate that success across the state and make it the norm, not the exception.”

The hearing, chaired by Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York), is the second in a series of four hearings on how lack of high-speed internet can affect various key industries in Pennsylvania.

“As the importance of the internet in modern medicine grows, health care networks are relying on patients having access,” Phillips-Hill said. “But with the digital divide in rural areas being so vast, we are leaving a major portion of our population behind. The testimony received today reiterates that the public and private sectors have a major opportunity to close the digital divide and improve healthcare for many Pennsylvanians.”

In addition to the Department of Human Services, the hearing featured three panels, including AT&T, the Public Utility Commission, the Broadband Cable Association, Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative, the Pennsylvania State Police, Motorola, Mansfield University on behalf of the Fund for the Northern Tier, the Department of Human Services, the Pennsylvania Medical Society and St. Luke’s University Health Network.

“The largest obstacle for this project moving forward is funding,” Craig Eccher, President and CEO of Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative said. “We believe the Commonwealth must play a role in helping deliver broadband to rural communities.”

The committee heads to Fayette County for a public hearing on September 5 to review how high-speed broadband internet access impacts agriculture and education.

All information, including formal written testimony, can be found on the committee’s website at https://communications.pasenategop.com

 

Contacts:
Kristine Bush (Scavello)
570.620.4326

Jon Hopcraft (Phillips-Hill)
717.787.7085

Killion Introduces Deana’s Law Imposing Stronger Penalties on Repeat DUI Offenders

Legislation named in memory of Deana Eckman, Delco woman killed in February crash

MEDIA, PA – Joined by the parents and husband of DUI homicide victim Deana Eckman, Senator Tom Killion (R – Chester and Delaware) today announced the introduction of groundbreaking legislation in her memory that would require the use of innovative technology to combat repeat DUI offenders.

“The death of a child cannot be described in words,” said Rich DeRosa, father of Deana Eckman. “It is a constant state of depression. To lose someone in such an unnatural way, to be killed by a now six-time drunk driver, literally shakes your faith in humanity.”

Named Deana’s Law, Killion’s legislation is Senate Bill 773, numbered in honor of Deana’s birth month and year.

“We must utilize everything at our disposal to keep those who have multiple DUIs from endangering lives on our roadways,” noted Killion.  “My bill will mandate the use of continuous alcohol monitoring (CAM) devices for the first time in Pennsylvania.”

Similar to home arrest monitors and other devices affixed to offenders, CAM devices are strapped to the wearer. At regular intervals, CAM devices sample and test the wearer’s insensate perspiration for the presence of alcohol. As sensitive and reliable as Breathalyzers, CAM devices upload test results to a base station installed in the wearer’s home and transmits them to the monitoring agency.

CAM devices have been used for the last seven years in York County as part of the adjudication of DUI cases. York experienced a 90 percent decline in DUI recidivism in the first year of their use. DUI fatalities in York dropped 21 percent from the previous three-year average during that same period.

“CAM devices work. They effectively deter offenders from consuming alcohol,” said Killion. “You keep someone from drinking, you keep them from turning a three-ton vehicle into a killing machine.”

Requiring those arrested for a third or subsequent DUI offense be fitted with a CAM device is just one of the innovative methods and changes provided for in Deana’s Law.

Killion’s legislation would also:

  • Increase jail time for those convicted of four DUIs or more. Those convicted of a fourth offense would be subject to a five to 10 year sentence rather than the current three-and-a-half to seven years. Fifth and subsequent DUI convictions would expose the felony offender to a 10 to 20 year rather than the current three-and-a-half to seven years.
  • Require the imposition of consecutive sentences after conviction. Deana’s Law would mandate that those convicted of a third DUI offense serve the sentence for that offense consecutively to any other sentence the offender is serving and to any other sentence to be imposed by the court.

Regarding this provision of Deana’s Law, Killion noted, “These crimes are so egregious, those convicted of them should not be allowed the luxury of serving DUI sentences concurrently. It was a concurrent sentence which allowed the individual who killed Deana to be on the road rather than behind bars.”

Additionally the legislation would:

  • Mandate the impoundment of a vehicle used in a DUI offense at the time of a third DUI arrest. If enacted, this will be the first Pennsylvania statutory requirement to impound a vehicle because of a DUI offense which is practiced in states across the country.
  • Direct the Pennsylvania State Police and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to formulate recommendations regarding the establishment of DUI Courts and increase from one years to two years the required period for the installation of an interlock device on any vehicle operated by a person convicted of three or more DUIs.

“Repeat DUI offenders callously disregard the lives and safety of others,” said Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun M. Copeland. “This legislation recognizes the seriousness of these crimes and gives law enforcement important new tools to make sure these offenders never again have the opportunity to harm others or take a life.”

“Deana’s Law takes a major step in advancing DUI laws in PA,” said Debbie D’Addona, Victim Services Specialist for Mothers Against Drunk Driving PA. “Senator Killion is to be commended for his efforts in spearheading this legislation.”

“There is no word strong enough to describe the lifelong pain of outliving your child,” said Roseann DeRosa. “With Deana’s Law our goal is to target repeat offenders, save lives and spare other families from this never-ending nightmare.”

 “My deepest thanks are reserved for Rich and Roseann DeRose and Deana’s husband, Chris Eckman,” noted Killion. “They have endured unimaginable heartbreak, but they’ve remained steadfast in their commitment to fight for her memory.

“Deana Eckman was a warm, loving, generous woman. Those who knew and loved her should still be enjoying her presence in their lives. Because of an individual now convicted of six DUIs, they are mourning her death.

“We are committed to doing all within our power to make sure no other family suffers the way the DeRosa and Eckman families have. We are committed to honoring Deana by passing this legislation in her memory.”

Senate Bill 773 currently has 13 co-sponsors, both Republicans and Democrats, and has been referred to the Senate Transportation Committee.

Langerholc’s Legislation Establishing Bill of Rights for PA Sexual Assault Survivors Signed by Governor

Legislation sponsored by Senator Wayne Langerholc, Jr. (R-35) that would provide greater rights and protections for victims of sexual assault, was signed into law today by the Governor Wolf.

Langerholc said the governor signed Senate Bill 399, which received unanimous approval in both the House and Senate, will enact a comprehensive bill of rights in Pennsylvania for survivors of sexual assault.

“This legislation mirrors the federal Survivors’ Bill of Rights that was signed into law in 2016,” Langerholc said. “It is time our survivors in Pennsylvania have the same rights the federal law provides. I commend my colleagues for understanding the importance of this legislation and am glad the governor signed it today.”

The legislation provides for basic rights for sexual assault survivors, including:

  • Preserving their rape kit, without charge, for the full statute of limitations.
  • Being informed of any result of sexual assault evidence kit results, including DNA matches and toxicology reports.
  • Being informed, in writing, of policies governing the collection and preservation of a sexual assault evidence kit.
  • Upon written request, receiving written notice within 60 days of intended destruction or disposal of evidence.
  • Upon written request, being granted further preservation of the kit.
  • Being informed of these rights.
  • Not being prevented from, or charged for, receiving a forensic medical exam.

In addition, the legislation also includes provisions designed to strengthen Act 164 of 2018, which was enacted from Senator Langerholc’s SB 1209, which addressed the back log of untested rape kits in Pennsylvania.

The governor also signed into law two House bills that mirror legislation Langerholc spearheaded in the Senate. 

One bill would amend the Pennsylvania Crime Victims Act to prevent crime victims from being excluded from the trial of their offenders. Under the measure, victims would be able to attend criminal or juvenile proceedings. 

Before making such a determination, the court would have to make every effort to permit the fullest attendance possible by the victim.  The court would be required to clearly state on the record the reason for any exclusion.

“As a former assistant district attorney, I found it troublesome that victims are not always allowed to attend the entirety of criminal trials,” Langerholc said.  “This legislation will bring in line Pennsylvania’s Crime Victims Act with the federal law to ensure that victims’ rights are protected.”

Another bill enacted would toughen Pennsylvania’s Rape Shield Law by expanding the list of crimes in which past sexual conduct of a victim is inadmissible in court to include human trafficking, incest, corruption of minors, and sexual abuse and exploitation of children. It also bars evidence of past sexual victimization.

“These survivors deserve justice, rights and resources.  As they attempt to heal, they should not be revictimized by the criminal justice system,” Langerholc said. “Today we strengthen victim rights and provide more justice and resources to those who have been affected. Today, we say your voice will be heard and we stand with you in this Commonwealth.”

 

Contact: Gwenn Dando          (717) 787-5400           gdando@pasen.gov

Senator Laughlin’s Crime Victim Bill Signed into Law

Legislation introduced by Senator Dan Laughlin to provide stronger protections for crime victims and ensure they have more opportunities to participate in the judicial process was signed into law by the Governor.

Senate Bill 469, which was signed into law as Act 30 of 2019, extends Pennsylvania’s existing Tender Years Hearsay Exception for court testimony to those with intellectual disabilities or autism. While hearsay evidence is usually prohibited in a criminal trial, the “tender years exception” allows for a statement made by a child under age 12 to some other person to become admissible against a defendant.

Under the new law, statements from a victim who is intellectually disabled or autistic will be admissible in court provided that: the evidence is relevant; the content and circumstances of the statement provide sufficient signs of reliability; and, the victim is otherwise not able to testify in person. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, people with intellectual disabilities are sexually assaulted at a rate seven times higher than people without disabilities.

“I am pleased that we were able to enact this important protection for some of Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable citizens,” said Senator Laughlin. “Predators are more likely to target people with disabilities or severe autism because they believe these victims can be easier to manipulate or may have difficulty testifying later. It compounds the pain when these victims have trouble communicating. Under this new law, statements they make outside of a formal – and often intimidating – courtroom will be admissible as evidence as long as they are deemed by a judge to be reliable.”

Contact:         Matt Azeles                 mazeles@pasen.gov

Martin’s Proposal Supporting Volunteer Fire Companies Signed Into Law

HARRISBURG – Volunteer fire companies will be able to keep more of the money they bring in during fundraisers thanks to a proposal that was signed into law this week, according to the measure’s author, Senator Scott Martin (R-13).

Martin introduced a bill earlier this year that would exempt volunteer fire companies from paying sales tax on food and beverages sold during fundraising events, such as chicken barbeques and pancake breakfasts. Language from Martin’s bill was included in a budget-related bill that was signed into law along with the 2019-20 state budget plan on Friday.

Under previous law, volunteer fire companies paid the sales tax on all prepared food sales during fundraising events. Exempting these events from the sales tax would mirror the approach the state takes toward similar fundraising efforts, such as school sports booster clubs, Martin said.

“Some fire companies were forced to pay thousands of dollars in sales taxes to the state instead of being able to put that money to good use in acquiring the equipment and training they need to keep us safe,” Martin said. “I am thankful that this new law will help make their job a little easier by making sure they get to keep more of the money they raise instead of sending it to Harrisburg.”

Martin said the legislation was a priority for local fire companies because the cost of firefighting equipment and training continues to rise, while the number of volunteers continues to decline. On average, the cost of equipment increases by 4.5 percent every year.

The new law exempting volunteer fire companies from paying sales tax on food and drinks sold during fundraisers goes into effect beginning on January 1, 2020.

CONTACT: Terry Trego (717) 787-6535

Lawmakers Send Mensch’s and Martin’s Statewide Radio Network Audit Measure to Governor’s Desk

HARRISBURG – The Senate and the House of Representatives approved legislation this week that would require the Pennsylvania Inspector General to review the Pennsylvania Statewide Radio Network (PA-STARNet).

The legislation is similar to a bill introduced by Senators Bob Mensch (R-24) and Scott Martin (R-13) earlier this year.

The statewide network was first authorized in 1996, but the system has experienced serious reliability issues and cost taxpayers a total of more than $750 million. The system was turned over to the Pennsylvania State Police in 2016 in order to allow for better progress toward full implementation.

House Bill 1461, which includes similar language to Mensch’s and Martin’s bill, would allow the Inspector General to review all contracts entered into by the PA-STARNet system over the past two decades.

“PA-STARNet will provide interoperability and enable first responders to communicate without boundaries, but the costly delays in bringing this critical system online poses an unacceptable threat to emergency responders and public safety, and demands a thorough review,” Mensch said. “Taxpayers have spent more than $750 million for a system that is still not fully implemented after more than 20 years. They deserve a detailed review of all contracts associated with this troubled project.”

“We need to have a complete accounting of where the statewide radio system went wrong so our State Troopers safety and lives aren’t put at risk and taxpayers are never saddled with that kind of expensive boondoggle ever again,” Martin said. “There is a great deal of optimism that entrusting the system to the State Police will serve as a turning point in a long and expensive process for taxpayers, and I am hopeful that a thorough review of the system will help us determine what, if any, actions are necessary to ensure we have an efficient and reliable network.”

CONTACT:   Mark Fetzko (717) 787-3110 (Senator Mensch)       

Terry Trego (717) 787-6535 (Senator Martin)

Senate Approves Scavello Bill Allowing Local Police Radar

Harrisburg – The Senate today voted overwhelmingly to approve legislation sponsored by Senator Mario Scavello (R-40) permitting Pennsylvania municipal police to utilize radar for speed enforcement.

“All states but Pennsylvania permit their local police to use radar for monitoring traffic speed. In Pennsylvania, only the State Police are currently authorized to use radar,” said Scavello. “It makes no sense that the state allows municipalities to use red light cameras to curtail unsafe driving, but does not allow the use of this World War II era technology.”

Scavello noted speed as a factor in a recent pedestrian fatality in Mount Pocono, Monroe County, at a heavily congested intersection where high speed has contributed to a history of crashes.  “The only way the local police can enforce and enforce properly is with radar,” he said.

Senate Bill 607 includes revenue cap on the amount of money a municipality may keep from speeding tickets which allows for no more than 20 percent of their municipal budget.

This legislation is supported by the Fraternal Order of Police Pennsylvania State Lodge, PA Chiefs of Police Association, PA Municipal League, Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs, PA Association of Township Commissioners, PA State Association of Township Supervisors, PA State Mayors Association and Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

You can follow Senator Scavello on Twitter and Facebook.

Republican Leaders Applaud Final Approval of Victims’ Rights Bills

The Senate and House today took action to send six bills to enhance protections for crime victims to the Governor for signature. Final legislative action also was taken on Marsy’s Law, a Constitutional amendment to include a crime victims’ bill of rights.  Marsy’s Law (House Bill 276) will now be placed on the ballot for voters to consider. 

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-34) and House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-100) issued the following statement on the General Assembly’s actions:

“Today we have taken steps to ensure that the rights of accused criminals do not outweigh the rights of victims. These bills are a strong step toward balancing the scales of justice. By elevating the rights of victims, we help to remove the stigma that many feel when they have been the target of a crime.

“With this action, we are sending a clear message that victims matter, it’s our hope that the Governor will sign all six of these bills. At the same time, it is our hope that voters will take the time to learn about Marsy’s Law since they will have the final say on whether the state Constitution is amended to include a victims’ bill of rights.

“Crime impacts all of our communities, and victims who have already suffered should be treated with respect by the criminal justice system. We have taken action to ensure that victims are heard and represented in a way that does not re-victimize them as part of the process of achieving justice.”

Bills approved by the Senate and sent to the Governor this week include:

  • House Bill 315, which criminalizes the act of female genital mutilation.
  • House Bill 502, which strengthens the right of crime victims to attend court proceedings.
  • House Bill 504, which shields rape victims against irrelevant cross examinations.

Bills approved by the House of Representatives and send to the Governor this week include:

  • Senate Bill 399, which creates a comprehensive bill of rights in Pennsylvania for survivors of sexual assault, including rights pertaining to the collection and use of evidence.
  • Senate Bill 469, which would apply the existing Tender Years Exception – which allows certain out-of-court statements to be admissible as evidence – to include individuals with intellectual disabilities or autism.
  • Senate Bill 479, which would expand the Tender Years Exception to apply to a wider variety of crimes, including serious sexual offenses. This exception currently only applies in cases of homicide, assault, kidnapping, burglary, robbery, and a narrow number of sexual offenses.

 

CONTACT: Jenn Kocher (717) 787-1377 (Senator Corman)

 

Senator Laughlin’s Crime Victim Bill Sent to Governor

Legislation introduced by Senator Dan Laughlin to provide stronger protections for crime victims and ensure they have more opportunities to participate in the judicial process received final legislative approval today (June 19) and is now headed to the Governor for enactment into law.

Senate Bill 469, which was approved by the House of Representatives today and by the Senate on April 9, would extend Pennsylvania’s existing Tender Years Hearsay Exception for court testimony to those with intellectual disabilities or autism. While hearsay evidence is usually prohibited in a criminal trial, the “tender years exception” allows for a statement made by a child under age 12 to some other person to become admissible against a defendant.

Under Senator Laughlin’s bill, statements from a victim who is intellectually disabled or autistic would be admissible in court provided that: the evidence is relevant; the content and circumstances of the statement provide sufficient signs of reliability; and, the victim is otherwise not able to testify in person. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, people with intellectual disabilities are sexually assaulted at a rate seven times higher than people without disabilities.

“In fact, predators are more likely to target people with disabilities or severe autism because they know these victims can be easier to manipulate or may have difficulty testifying later,” said Senator Laughlin. “These victims should not be made to suffer more because they cannot necessarily communicate effectively in court. If they have made statements outside of court that are deemed by a judge to be reliable, then these statements should be admissible in court.”

 

Contact:         Matt Azeles                 mazeles@pasen.gov