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Capitol Report

[caption id="attachment_9525" align="aligncenter" width="620"] Pennsylvania State Capitol. Photo credit: Zack Frank/Shutterstock.com[/caption]

Pennsylvania State Capitol.

GUN VIOLENCE

State Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery, announced on Feb. 21 his plan to introduce legislation to help families and law enforcement to better prevent suicides and gun violence. Stephens’ bill would create an "extreme-risk protective order" that would allow a court to take the precautions necessary when provided with clear and convincing evidence the subject poses an extreme risk to himself or herself or others. “It is clear that we must do more to address the issues arising from those with mental health issues who pose a threat to themselves or others,” said Stephens, a former federal firearms prosecutor, in a statement on the state House of Representatives Republican caucus website. “We must create a way for family members or law enforcement to ask a judge to temporarily prohibit certain individuals from possessing firearms or ammunition, and to relinquish any firearms or ammunition they may currently have, to prevent them from doing harm.” If a court issues an extreme-risk protective order, or ERPO, prohibiting an individual from possessing firearms, that information would be promptly submitted to the Pennsylvania State Police to prevent the individual from purchasing firearms as well. Under the bill, the district attorney would represent the petitioner, while a public defender would represent the respondent at the hearing for a final order. The bill will also impose criminal penalties on any person who files a petition for an ERPO that contains false statements.

SEXUAL ABUSE

Gov. Tom Wolf on Feb. 21 signed into law a measure to ensure convicted sexual offenders remain subject to registration requirements in the wake of recent court decisions impacting Pennsylvania’s implementation of its sex-offender registry. HB 631, which was introduced by state Rep. Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin, changes the Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) to ensure that as many as 12,000 sexual offenders remain on Pennsylvania’s registry and subject to the regulations in place at the time of their offense–either a 10-year or lifetime registration. “I am proud to sign this bill, which helps to keep Pennsylvanians safer by maintaining a comprehensive list of sexual offenders,” Wolf said, according to an administration statement. “We must maintain confidence in our judicial system, especially for victims of sexual abuse crimes. This bill works to help do that.” HB 631 provides guidance on Commonwealth v. Muniz, where the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the registration statute, commonly referred to as the Adam Walsh Act, could not be applied retroactively. Without this legislation, any person whose offense occurred prior to the enactment of SORNA in December 2012 would not be required to register as a sexual offender and those placed on the registry for offenses committed prior to that date would have been subject to removal. Muniz held that offenders couldn’t be held to the stricter provisions of the 2012 version of SORNA. This bill also addresses gaps in supervision of sexual offenders by providing for a mandatory three-year probationary period at the completion of their maximum state sentence. “I took a hard look at strengthening our laws regarding sex offenders who pose a serious risk to public safety when they re-enter the community,” Marsico said. “This legislation requires the courts to impose a mandatory three-year probation period consecutive to any term of total confinement for a person convicted of a Tier III sex offense under Megan’s Law. With this, probation and parole supervision can help keep law enforcement and the community informed about parolees’ work and home locations. “As lawmakers, our priority is to keep the communities in our commonwealth safe and I am confident this law will achieve that goal. I want to thank the members of the House and Senate for passing this legislation and the governor for signing it into law today.” The registration provisions in the new law—called Act 10 of 2018—took effect immediately; the mandatory three-year probation was set to take effect in 60 days.

EMERGENCY PRESCRIPTIONS

Legislation addressing prescription refills in emergency situations was signed into law by Wolf on Feb. 20 as Act 8 of 2018. SB 542, which was sponsored by Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, eliminates a loophole in the state’s emergency prescription refill law. Under current law, in the event of an emergency situation where a patient cannot obtain a doctor’s script for the refill of a prescription, a pharmacist could issue a 72-hour supply of that drug. Issues with the law arose, with drugs that are not available in 72-hour supplies, such as insulin, and therefore could not be dispensed to the patient. This situation has resulted in fatalities in other states. The bill’s companion measure in the state House was sponsored by Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, R-Lehigh. With the signing of this legislation, pharmacists are now permitted to dispense up to a 30-day emergency supply as long as certain conditions are met, such as the drug is not available in a 72-hour supply, is not a controlled substance and is essential to maintain life. “Fixing this oversight in the current law has the real potential to save lives in Pennsylvania,” Browne said. “There are a wide range of reasons as to why an individual would need to be able to obtain an emergency refill of their life-sustaining medication.” The act took effect immediately.

REDISTRICTING CHALLENGE

Republican leaders in the General Assembly and GOP members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation announced Feb. 22 that they have filed a lawsuit in the Middle District of Pennsylvania to stop a new congressional map from being implemented. Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, and Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, filed a complaint saying the court acted beyond its powers in redrawing district lines. “The state Supreme Court’s decision seizes power from the other branches of government,” Corman said in a statement. “We are unwilling to acquiesce to the court’s attempt to hijack the functions of the legislative and executive branches.” The Middle District case follows a filing made late on Feb. 21, in which The Associated Press reported the GOP asked U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito to intervene and prevent implementation of the new map. The state Supreme Court threw out a Republican-crafted map last month, saying the 2011 plan violates the state constitution's guarantee of free and equal elections. •