HARRISBURG — The State Senate recently approved a package of bills strengthening protections for victims of crime and ensuring that victims and their families are treated with respect and dignity by the criminal justice system.
Sen. Lisa Baker, R-20th, voted in favor of all eight bills and called them “a very important step forward in helping to address domestic violence.”
“Domestic violence has historically been one of the most underreported crimes,” Baker said. “Out of fear many victims do not come forward, do not take steps to protect themselves or their children.”
Six of the bills would strengthen and reform Pennsylvania’s domestic violence laws, offer greater protections to victims of domestic violence and their children, and hold abusers accountable. Another measure, known as Marsy’s Law, would establish a crime victims’ bill of rights in the Pennsylvania Constitution to protect and expand the rights of victims of violent crime.
Senate Bill 449 now goes to the Governor for his signature and enactment into law. The other six bills were sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
“It is increasingly apparent to citizens and elected officials that there is a substantial imbalance in the rights accorded to offenders versus those available to crime victims. There are too many instances where lack of notice given to victims turns into a lack of protection,” Baker said. “Adding a crime victims’ Bill of Rights to the state Constitution should prove the catalyst for added consideration of their needs and concerns in law and in daily practice.”
“The same imperative for better protecting victims applies to a series of bills I supported to make protection from abuse orders more effective. Here again, there are too many tragic examples where the victims of domestic abuse are killed or seriously injured because their abusers too readily found ways to get around the restrictions in the document,” Baker said. “The six bills, addressing items ranging from weapons to shared phone plans and public housing, strengthen the PFA process in substantial ways and reduce the risks of further harm to victims.”
The bills passed by the Senate this week included:
Senate Bill 313 makes it easier for domestic violence victims with to remove the name of an abuser from a shared telephone plan.
Senate Bill 449 (Tierne’s Law) allows Magisterial District Judges to use a risk assessment tool when determining bail in domestic violence cases.
Senate Bill 500 ensures that law enforcement protection is available to a victim before or while PFA orders are being served.
Senate Bill 501 removes third-party safekeeping as an option for a domestic violence defendant ordered by the court to relinquish firearms.
Senate Bill 502 makes it easier for the court to extend a PFA order when an abuser is released from custody.
Senate Bill 919 allows domestic violence victims who live in public housing to be relocated to another unit.
Senate Bill 1011 (Marsy’s Law) amends the state Constitution to creating a crime victims’ “Bill of Rights.”
Andrew M. Seder