In this Update:
Criminal Justice Bills Signed Into Law
Last week, more than a dozen criminal justice bills were signed into law including measures focused on significant probation law updates, a record expungement program expansion known as Clean Slate, dignity for incarcerated women, organized retail theft and more.
A bill I sponsored – now Act 44 of 2023 – adds new language to Pennsylvania’s statue on probation to eliminate unnecessary incarceration for minor probation violations to make the state’s probation system fairer to individuals seeking a second chance.
We hope that thousands of Pennsylvanians will no longer be trapped in a probation cycle where small mistakes are treated the same as major violations. This does not relieve individuals on probation from complying with their obligations. It does make sure that consequences are not disproportionate to small mistakes.
It is the principle here that matters most – those who have done their best to pay fines, costs, and restitution within their means, and who have not ignored the law, deserve a potentially life-changing incentive as this bill offers. There is further consideration given to those who get a degree, complete a vocational training program, or acquire an occupational license.
Our system should reward those who change their behavior and make a serious commitment to bettering their prospects for becoming contributing members of the community once again.
Pennsylvania will also begin funding public defense for individuals who cannot afford legal representation. Legislation I sponsored creates an indigent defense advisory committee and grant fund and will create standards for indigent defense.
Previously, Pennsylvania was the only state in the nation not providing funding for indigent defense. The $7.5 million allocation is a good first step to providing better data for our state and fairness in our legal system.
Another bill I supported will provide dignity to pregnant and postpartum incarcerated women and juvenile detainees by limiting the use of restraints and restrictive housing and providing access to feminine hygiene products to inmates free of cost. This mirrors a law signed by President Trump that established policies and procedures for federal prisons, bringing those protections to the state and local levels. There is no justification for failing to treat women with appropriate care and dignity, irrespective of the circumstances that led to their incarceration.
In recent years, there has been a great deal of work done toward establishing an effective clean slate law, on the part of justice advocates, employers, workers, and others. It is an idea that makes policy and fiscal sense and has drawn public support. As we constantly learn, the best intentions of the designers of reform do not always translate into smooth implementation.
A series of proposed remedies for glitches bring us back to the issue. The new law aims to make clean slate accessible to more individuals and to lessen the chances for information to be used for detrimental purpose. In most cases, the “conviction-free” period that triggers eligibility is set as seven years, rather than the current ten years. Several non-felony offenses are added to the list that might qualify an individual for clean slate petition.
An outstanding area of contention has been over who can use expunged criminal history in decision making. This bill rules it out for employment, housing, and education degrees. However, to make clear, it can still be used to determine eligibility for public office. Pennsylvania benefits when those who have served their sentences receive a fair chance at a new life. These changes clear away remaining barriers that have stood in the way of implementing the law and realizing its advantages.
Bill to Combat Package Thefts Signed into Law
The Senate passed legislation to combat porch pirating – the theft of packages delivered to people’s homes – and it was recently signed into law.
Senate Bill 527, now Act 41 of 2023, implements specific penalties for theft of mail, which includes a package, bag or letter. In Pennsylvania, theft of mail is currently charged based solely on the value of the item taken.
According to Forbes, Americans spent $1.7 trillion shopping online since 2020 and nearly eight in 10 Americans have had a package stolen in 2022. Pennsylvania now joins eight other states that have already made porch pirating a felony.
Sharing the Holiday Spirit with PA Veterans
If you would like to support our veterans and military families this holiday season, making a monetary donation goes a long way toward helping the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs provide members, veterans and their families with essential programs and services that would not be available otherwise.
Donations can be made by mail or online. They are tax-deductible, and gifts of any amount are appreciated. Learn more about making a donation.
Driving Safely During Inclement Weather
Pennsylvania has nearly 40,000 miles of roads – which translates to 96,000 snow-lane miles – that must be maintained during inclement weather so people can travel safely.
The approximately 2,200 PennDOT-owned and rented plow trucks have in-truck technology that logs and shares data in real time so the public can monitor the routes of their interstate and expressway travels on www.511PA.com.
Of course, drivers should avoid the roads until they have been cleared, if possible. Anyone who must travel is urged to use extra caution by slowing down, increasing their following distance and avoiding distractions. Read more winter driving tips here.
Merry Christmas to You and Yours
The traditions we share bond us closer together and create memories that last a lifetime. Two of my favorites are pictured above – my family tree topper, named Knucklehead by my late father, and an ornament made from the toy Gary took home with him from Children’s Service Center following his adoption. They hold a special place in our hearts, and each year, we look forward to placing them on our tree.
This holiday season, I would like to wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas. May you celebrate all of your special traditions and enjoy the real gifts of love, peace and happiness.
Please do not reply to this email. If you would like to contact Senator Baker, submit a web contact form here: https://www.senatorbaker.com/contact-me-2/