Harrisburg – The state Senate today kicked off two days of public hearings, featuring more than 40 participants, discussing ways to ensure accountability and equality in law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
Held Wednesday and Thursday, the hearings will include input from prosecutors, activists, police, academics and others.
“We are casting a wide net to bring in testimony that will be expert and often emotional. These hearings need to be inclusive, balanced, and constructive. This is an urgent, serious, and thorough examination,” said Sen. Lisa Baker (R-20), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, one of the two committees holding the hearings.
“We want to engage in a thoughtful process,” said Sen. Pat Stefano (R-32), who chairs the Senate Law and Justice Committee. “That means gathering information by bringing everyone together. The focus of this hearing is an emotional and personal issue. However, we must gather the evidence necessary to take us from a thoughtful process to thoughtful legislation.”
Testifiers on Wednesday included Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, district attorneys, the NAACP, ACLU and other activists. Experts in law enforcement, public safety and criminal justice are scheduled to testify on Thursday.
Some of the ideas discussed included improved police training, updating use of force policies, parole reform and the danger of defunding police.
Senators Baker and Stefano said the aim is to develop and pass meaningful, responsible legislation this summer.
“What do the precepts of equality, fairness, opportunity, and accountability require us to do? How do we pay for improvements without affecting public safety? How do we sort out individuals serving in the interest of our communities, and individuals whose actions disrespect the uniform of service? These are the difficult questions we must confront and resolve,” Baker said.
“As legislators, our job is to strive to move Pennsylvania in a positive direction continuously,” said Stefano. “I hope that the depth and breadth of this series of hearings provide an opportunity to understand the challenges facing our Commonwealth and our country.”
Next month, the committees will hold a hearing at SCI Laurel Highlands focused solely on the criminal justice system.
You can find hearing video and written testimony from today’s hearing here.