In This Update
Important Criminal Justice System Reforms Pass Senate
The Pennsylvania Senate took a huge step this week in an effort to streamline the criminal justice system, while eliminating redundancies and further enabling the sharing of resources, information and personnel.
The passage of Senate Bill 968, which I authored, provides for the consolidation of The Department of Corrections and the Board of Probation and Parole, which will now be called the Pennsylvania Parole Board, creating a more efficient and effective criminal justice system while saving taxpayers’ dollars.
Some of the expanded opportunities this legislation provides for includes additional administrative efficiencies and cost savings in the areas of human resources, a combined Management Operations Center and a single transportation system for offenders and parolees.
In addition, this legislation moves the Board of Pardons to Title 61 to further provide a reliable infrastructure and resolve cumbersome and conflicting procedures in dealing with employment issues, fiscal matters, sharing of work and information and the smooth transition of offenders through the criminal justice system process.
The Pennsylvania Parole Board and the Board of Pardons will remain independent in their decision-making responsibilities and both will have their own appropriations lines under the Department of Corrections.
This legislation also places all supervising agents under the Department of Corrections, and the Department will now handle all powers to supervise offenders both in and outside of prison. This transfer of responsibility ensures that the first-and-foremost duty of the Department of Corrections shall be to protect the safety of the public when supervising offenders.
Most importantly, this merger legislation provides continuity of care for offenders from their time of entry to a state prison through their completion of parole and case management. This continuity, I believe, is critical to providing offenders the greatest opportunity to succeed once they leave state prison and to reduce the likelihood of returning to prison.
This legislation will now be sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Bill Requiring Legislative Approval of RGGI Goes to the Governor
Pennsylvania’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) could cost the state thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity. The Senate approved a bill this week that would prevent the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from participating in RGGI or enacting any similar carbon tax on Pennsylvania employers without the approval of the General Assembly.
Under the bill, DEP would be required to provide a public comment period of at least 180 days on RGGI legislation and hold a minimum of four public hearings in communities that would be directly impacted by the proposal.
After the public comment period, DEP would be required to submit a report to the House and Senate Environmental Resources and Energy committees detailing the specific economic and environmental impacts that joining RGGI would have on impacted communities and the Commonwealth. Lawmakers would then have the final say on whether the state should join RGGI or any similar compacts that would enact a carbon tax on Pennsylvania employers.
Senate Votes to Give Schools Final Say on School Sports, Spectators
The Senate gave final approval to a bill this week that would ensure school districts could make the final decision on whether to allow school sports, extracurricular activities and spectators during the 2020-21 school year. The bill would remove the uncertainty that has been created by the Wolf Administration’s unclear and constantly shifting guidance for schools.
The bill would allow school districts to develop their own health and safety plans that reflect the realities facing schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. The health and safety plans would be required to be posted online and submitted to the Department of Education.
Under the bill, any individual who has COVID-19 in a transmissible stage would be prohibited from participating in any sporting event or extracurricular activity.
Senate Action Prompts Wolf Administration to Relent on Restaurant Restrictions
The Wolf Administration announced updated guidance this week that will allow restaurants to open at 50 percent capacity. The announcement came on the same day that the Senate Law and Justice Committee unanimously passed a bill that would have removed the governor’s 25-percent cap on occupancy and allowed restaurants to operate at 50 percent capacity until the current COVID-19 emergency declaration ends.
Under the new guidance, restaurants may open at 50 percent of normal capacity beginning on September 21. Restaurant owners that expand to 50 percent occupancy will be required by the Wolf Administration to certify by October 5 that they have read and agreed to follow COVID-19 mitigation plans.
Although the new guidelines will help some establishments, the Wolf Administration’s new prohibition on alcohol sales after 10 p.m. will be extremely difficult for other businesses to manage.
Applications Available Now for Additional Unemployment Payments
The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry is accepting applications now for President Trump’s Lost Wages Assistance program to provide an additional $300 per week in unemployment payments for many residents impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The department began taking applications on Sunday.
More details about eligibility and applications are available here.
Bill Moves Forward to Protect Young Victims of Sexual Assault
The Senate approved a bill this week that would protect young victims of sexual assault against the possibility of having to attend school with their attackers. The legislation would require schools to remove any student convicted or adjudicated delinquent of sexual assault against another student enrolled at the same school.
Broadband Deployment Could Get a Boost from Senate Action
Access to broadband has become even more crucial during the COVID-19 health crisis. This week, the Senate approved a bill that would establish a grant program to extend deployment of broadband services in underserved areas of the state. The bill would provide more funding to rural areas that currently do not have access to reliable high-speed networks.
Senate Votes to Observe Moment of Silence Honoring Lives Lost in 9/11 Attacks
In recognition of the 19th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Senate voted this week to observe a moment of silence in schools to honor our fellow Americans who lost their lives on that fateful day. The bill also will ensure model curriculum is developed to help students understand the significance of these attacks in our nation’s history.
In addition, the bill would create a similar moment of silence in recognition of Pearl Harbor Day on December 7.
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