Pennsylvania State Capitol. Pennsylvania State Capitol. Photo credit: Zack Frank/Shutterstock.com

Crime Victims

Gov. Tom Wolf on April 11 announced his support for Marsy’s Law, which proposes a state constitutional amendment securing permanent, enforceable rights of victims.

The proposed amendment stipulates that there be notice of hearings and other proceedings, protection from the accused, notice of release or escape, full and timely restitution, proceedings free from delays and with prompt conclusion, the ability to confer with the government’s attorney and information on all of these rights.

“It is important for us all to reflect on how we can improve the lives of crime victims in Pennsylvania,” Wolf said. “Marsy’s Law will amend the state constitution to provide crime victims with equal protections and participation in the process. Victims and their families deserve equity. I thank the Senate for approving this bill unanimously and I urge the General Assembly to continue advancing Marsy’s Law.”

The Pennsylvania Senate recently advanced Senate Bill 1011 unanimously and sent it to the House. The bill is also supported by Pennsylvania’s Office of Victim Advocate and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association.

Caregivers’ Assistance

Wolf on April 10 announced his backing of bipartisan state and federal proposals to aid grandparents who have become the sole providers of care for grandchildren, especially those affected by the opioid epidemic.

The measures are aimed at ensuring they have access to services needed to assist them as caregivers and guardians.

Joining Wolf at a press conference were state Reps. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Luzerne, and Kathy Watson, R-Bucks.

Wolf urged state senators to pass a series of proposals recently advanced from the state House of Representatives—including House Bill 2133, which was sponsored by Watson, and two measures sponsored by Pashinski, House Bill 1539 and House Resolution 390.

HB 2133 calls on the Department of Human Services to set up a kinship caregiver navigator website to increase awareness of support services. HB 1539 would help grandparents assume guardianship responsibilities officially so they can participate in medical and educational decision-making for grandchildren. HR 390 would commission a study of the emerging role of “grandfamilies” in Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, and Wolf urged members of the U.S. House of Representatives to approve the Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act, which was passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate.

“One of the worst effects of the opioid crisis is the damage the disease of addiction has done to so many families across Pennsylvania,” Wolf said. “Many grandparents are stepping up to take care of their grandchildren and we need to make sure they have our full support as caregivers and legal guardians of children, our most innocent bystanders to this awful epidemic.”

Mandated Reporters

The state House on April 9 gave unanimous approval to House Bill 1527, which states that mandated reporters shall report suspected child abuse if they witness an abusive act to an identifiable child.

The measure, sponsored by state Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery, was aimed at improving the state’s Child Protective Services Law by clearing up any confusion about mandated reporting requirements and closing loopholes in the reporting provisions of the law.

“My legislation makes it clear that mandated reporters who are reporting child abuse they have personally witnessed is paramount among the responsibilities that come with being a mandated reporter,” Stephens said in a press statement. “The protection of our children is one of our top priorities, and this legislation will help improve child protection laws we already have on the books.”

Stephens’ legislation has the support of the Department of Human Services, the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.

HB 1527 now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Financial Responsibility

The House Urban Affairs Committee on April 11 unanimously approved House Bill 1981, aimed at allowing first-time homebuyers a tax deduction for money saved toward the purchase of a home.

The measure is a bipartisan effort jointly sponsored by Reps. Rosemary Brown, R-Monroe, and Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie, that would create the First-Time Home Buyer Savings Account Act to establish first-time home buyer savings accounts (FHSA). The goal of the legislation is to allow Pennsylvanians to set aside savings, which may be used as a deduction on state income tax, toward the eligible costs of purchasing a first home.

“Being able to buy a home for the first time is a major part of the American dream for many people across our state and nation, and financial literacy plays a huge part in this,” Brown said in a statement. “Unfortunately, since the difficult financial and economic realities started in 2009, the number of first-time homeowners has severely dropped.”

Bizzarro said in a statement that the measure would “give first-time homebuyers a leg up by allowing them to claim a state tax deduction for certain savings they make toward the purchase of a single-family home,” Bizzarro said. “I introduced this bill because I believe that the benefits of home ownership should be available to all Pennsylvanians, not just those who are wealthier or better established.”

HB 1981 now goes to the full House for consideration.

Judicial Elections

Sen. Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster, on April 9 circulated legislation, which would amend the state constitution to require election of Supreme Court justices and appellate court judges from discrete geographical districts. To take effect the measure would have to gather the approval of Pennsylvania voters.

Aument’s proposal would divide Pennsylvania into seven Supreme Court districts, 15 Superior Court districts and nine Commonwealth Court districts, each of which would elect one member of each of those respective courts.

The judicial districts would be defined by the General Assembly following the redistricting principles found in the Pennsylvania Constitution, requiring populations as equal as possible in each district with compact and contiguous geographic boundaries, and would comport with the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Candidates for appellate seats would be required to reside in the district they would represent on the court.

Aument framed the legislation as being aimed at guaranteeing “that the diversity of Pennsylvania and the uniqueness of its various regions would be more accurately reflected in the election of appellate judges.”

Only 15 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties are home to a Pennsylvania appellate court judge, Aument said in a statement.