Legislative Roundup: Santarsiero, Petri push for public safety

Tom Waringthe Wire

State Rep. Santarsiero recently joined local, state and national gun safety organizations in marking the third anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre and calling for stronger background checks for firearms purchases.

“From Sandy Hook to San Bernardino, gun violence has only become more routine,” he said. “That is the case despite the fact that there are meaningful things that we can do to prevent those who want to kill from easy access to high-powered firearms. Our right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness is the right to attend college, enjoy a movie, pray in a church and finish second grade. It is our government’s duty to protect these inalienable rights for our citizens.”

Santarsiero’s House Bill 1010, which would provide universal background checks for all firearms purchases, would close Pennsylvania’s loophole that allows the private sale of long guns without a background check. It would find if the purchaser has a serious mental illness or a criminal record.

Santarsiero also announced he is proposing an expansion to Pennsylvania’s background checks to ban persons on the federal terror watch list and no-fly list from purchasing a firearm in Pennsylvania.

“It makes no sense that we can ban someone suspected of links to terror groups from flying on an airplane, but we can’t ban that same person from purchasing firearms,” he said. “The senseless killing of children and educators shook many of us to our core three years ago. That day, we grieved as a nation and many people who never got involved in political action before rose up and resolved to enact commonsense protections to end gun violence.

“We know that the gun manufacturers have a lot of money and power. But we also know that we cannot be silent. We will prevail.”

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives unanimously approved legislation by Rep. Scott Petri that would guard police officers, other public safety officials and their families against targeted attacks.

House Bill 824 would prohibit anyone from publicly posting, displaying or otherwise providing the home address, telephone number or email address of a public safety official or his or her spouse or children to a third party who intends to threaten or harm them. Petri’s bill would also make it a crime for a person, business or association to solicit, sell or trade this information on the Internet with intent to harm.

“Increasingly, we are seeing our law enforcement officers and other public safety officials become the targets of violent crimes,” Petri said. “These acts threaten the peace and stability in our communities. We are fortunate to have dedicated law enforcement officers who will put their lives on the line every day to protect us and we must do what we can to ensure their safety and that of their family members. By withholding basic personal information, my bill would help to insulate our public safety officials from those who intend to harm them.”

Under Petri’s bill, any federal, state and municipal law enforcement official would be covered, as would firefighters, sheriffs, judges, attorneys general, public defenders, district justices, private detectives, those working in a correctional facility or members of a child protection team. Violations would result in a third-degree misdemeanor, carrying a penalty of up to one year in prison and/or a fine of up to $2,500. If the violation results in bodily injury, it becomes a first-degree misdemeanor, carrying a fine up to $10,000 and up to five years in prison.

“Our organization initiated this bill with Rep. Petri and appreciates his efforts and that of the other co-sponsors. Now the Senate and governor must show their resolve and support for law enforcement by ensuring the rapid passage of this into law,” said Don Mihalek, legislative director of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.

By a unanimous vote, the House Judiciary Committee advanced legislation by Rep. Scott Petri that would close a loophole in state law that could be exploited by criminal defendants as a means to escape prosecution.

“Act 4 of 2013, which permits counties to abolish the office of jury commissioner, still assigns certain responsibilities to this office, even though it no longer exists or will soon be eliminated,” Petri said. “Those responsibilities include the duty of compiling the overall jury lists from which juries are formed for trials.

“Without someone to assume the responsibilities typically handled by the office of jury commissioner, it leaves the door open to claims by defendants that their civil rights are being violated because a jury was formed without strict adherence to the law. House Bill 1716 would assign the jury commissioners’ responsibilities to the president judge in counties where the office has been eliminated. Without this provision, someone who is convicted by jury could get a second bite at the apple.”

The bill now goes to the full House for consideration.

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