Legislative: Strong Start — New Public Safety Laws of 2017

September 15, 2017

With the Legislature gearing back up for the Fall, we wanted to take a moment and highlight some of the more significant new public safety laws that have been enacted thus far in 2017. The new laws cover a wide range of areas involving public safety and law enforcement and were enacted as a result of significant collaboration with numerous stakeholders and legislators.

Civil Asset Forfeiture — Act 13 

As a result of the collaborative approach by legislators, including Sens. Folmer and Scarnati, Act 13 strikes the right balance to achieve reform and avoid unintended negative consequences. For example, the act increases the burden on the Commonwealth to prove its forfeiture case by clear and convincing evidence; retains forfeiture of assets owned by third parties but now specifically places the burden on the Commonwealth to demonstrate the third party knew and consented to criminal activity; and continues to permit district attorneys to keep the forfeiture funds. Act 13 limits pre-judgment ex parte house seizures in all but exigent circumstances and also allows claimants to get their property back before the formal forfeiture proceeding under specific circumstances. Finally, Act 13 requires more detailed reporting of forfeiture assets to the Attorney General’s Office.

Police Body-worn Cameras — SB 560 (Act 22)

Sponsored by Senate Judiciary Chair Stewart Greenleaf, Act 22 will result in more officers being equipped with body-worn cameras because it removes the prohibition of wearing the cameras in a residence. The Act also provides a specific, predictable and streamlined process to give the public access to audio and video law enforcement recordings outside of the Right to Know Law.

Warrantless Blood Testing — SB 553 (Act 30)

Sponsored by Sen. Rafferty, Act 30 brings PA law in line with the recent Birchfield decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that a person cannot be subjected to criminal penalties for refusing to submit to a warrantless blood test. Act 20 added a new civil license restoration fee for individuals who refuse chemical testing. The act also clarified 2016 legislation and added ARD suspensions to the list of offenses eligible for an ignition interlock limited license.

Child Abuse — HB 217 (Act 12)

Drafted with great assistance from Franklin County DA Matt Fogal, Act 12 increases the grading of the crime of endangering the welfare of a child when the circumstances are particularly egregious. The circumstances outlined in the law include when child endangerment creates a risk of serious bodily injury or death or if the child victim was under 6 years of age.

Animal Cruelty — HB 1238 (Act 10) a/k/a Libre’s Law

Act 10 restructured the animal cruelty provisions of Title 18 to address serial acts of neglect, cruelty and aggravated cruelty committed against animals. Sponsored by Rep. Todd Stephens and supported by Lancaster DA Craig Stedman, the new law also addressed the issue of tethering of dogs and created a number of rebuttable presumptions, such as excessive waste in the area of the tethered dog or if a tow/log/chain/pinch collar is being used. Act 10 also requires that applicants for appointment for humane society police officer positions must submit proof of qualification to the District Attorney and the Court of Common Pleas. Senator Rich Alloway was among the critical and early supporters of this legislation.

The 2017–18 legislative session is far from over, but the progress made to improve and strengthen public safety and confidence in the criminal justice system is already evident. Our association looks forward to our continued work and collaboration with the legislature and governor.

Greg Rowe Chief, Legislative Unit for the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association Greg.Rowe@Phila.gov