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State Laws Expected to Have Significant Impact
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer
2019-01-03

            Divided government in Harrisburg has been constructive during the last two years, according to state Rep. Marcy Toepel, R-147th Dist. As evidence, she identified the collaboration of the Republican controlled General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to ratify a 2018-19 fiscal budget on time without a broad based tax increase.

            "It's been a productive session," Toepel said.

            The legislator identified multiple laws approved with bipartisan approval. She highlighted the Clean Slate Act and Act 153, which increases penalties for DUI offenders, as the most substantive of the bunch. 

            The Clean Slate Act – ratified in June by Wolf – provides those with low-level, criminal records a mechanism to have their record sealed from public view. Nearly three million Pennsylvanians of working age are estimated to have criminal records with many that are only minor, according to a news release from Wolf's office. The business and law enforcement communities both supported the legislation, according to Toepel.  

            "The Clean Slate bill helps us accomplish something I have worked hard to do since I took office, make our criminal justice system fairer, more equitable, and more focused on rehabilitation," Wolf said. "Passage of the Clean Slate law allows for many people to move on with their lives with greater chances for success. This means better career, housing and education options."

            Under HB 1419, which took effect during the final week of 2018, people convicted of non-violent misdemeanors who have remained free of any additional criminal issues for 10 years will be permitted to petition the court to seal misdemeanor convictions. Arrests that do not lead to a conviction will also be shielded from the public, according to information posted on the website of state Rep. Patty Kim, D-103rd Dist.

            Once granted, the petitioner's criminal record can only be released to a criminal justice agency; a state licensing agency for use only if the criminal record is relevant to the issuance of a professional or occupational license; the Department of Human Services; county children and youth agencies where it is relevant to duties related to child protective services, according to information posted by the legislator.

            Additionally, the bill allows automatic sealing of records for second or third-degree misdemeanor offenses that included a less than two-year prison sentence if a person has been free from convictions for ten years.

            Anyone convicted of a misdemeanor or an ungraded offense carrying a maximum penalty of no more than five years in prison is eligible to utilize the law. Citizens convicted of a first-degree misdemeanor, which includes any offense involving danger to a person; crimes against the family; offenses involving firearms or other dangerous articles; sexual offenses that require registration as a sex offender; conspiracy, attempt or solicitation to commit any of these offenses or a felony, are not eligible for a limited access petition, according to information on Kim's website.

            The DUI law, which took affect the Sunday before Christmas and implements stiffer punishments against habitual DUI offenders throughout Pennsylvania, was signed into law the governor on Oct. 24.

             "DUI driving continues to be a major contributor to increased injuries and fatalities within the motoring public; and each DUI incident contributes to the increase in auto insurance rates," state Sen. Bob Mensch, R-24th Dist., said in a statement. "It is really an issue that directly, or indirectly affects just about all of us.  Also it is important to realize the incidence rate is increasing and we are seeing a lot more DUI for buzzed driving.  The legislature took this action due to the increased dangers to all our citizens from DUI, whether alcohol or drug related."

            Any individual convicted of their third DUI with a blood alcohol content of .16 percent or higher could be found guilty of a felony offense, according to information posted on the website of state Sen. Scott Martin R-13th Dist.

            The law – introduced by outgoing state Sen. John Rafferty, R-44th Dist. – also increases penalties for motorists who cause the death of another person as a result of a DUI, including a potential first-degree felony charge for repeat offenders.

            Toepel expressed support for escalating penalties for people convicted of multiple DUIs. She cited information from Rafferty that claims one third of all convictions are repeat offenders.

            It includes stiffer punishments for motorists who drive on a suspended or revoked license, including additional jail time for motorists who are found guilty of aggravated assault by vehicle or homicide by vehicle without a valid license while DUI, according to the same information.

            Toepel's party will continue to control the legislature in the new session, though its majorities in the House (108-95) and the Senate (29-21) shrunk by 11 and five seats, respectively. She said the lawmakers need to deal with work force development issues as well as work attracting new business.


 

 

 

 

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