Legislation to Ban Gift Card Program Passes House Committee

(HARRISBURG) – The state House Judiciary Committee today unanimously approved legislation sponsored by Senator John R. Gordner (R-27) to ban the practice of persons sentenced to community service to be able to purchase gift cards in lieu of performing the service.  Senate Bill 130 now moves to the full House of Representatives for consideration.

Senator Gordner said he introduced the legislation after learning of the practice in Northumberland County, as well as in at least one other county in the Commonwealth.  “When a judge orders someone to perform community service, there is a reason for that and the sentence should be served,” said Senator Gordner.  “A defendant should not be able to ‘buy’ a way out of performing the service.”

Between 2002 and 2008, the Northumberland County Probation Department implemented the program, which allowed defendants to purchase gift cards, which were then given to the Department and donated to local charities.  However, in 2014, approximately $4,000 in unused gift cards was discovered in a safe in the Probation Department.  Northumberland County President Judge William H. Weist, who was not President Judge when the program was implemented and was unaware it was occurring, then ordered a halt to the practice.

“When researching this issue, we determined that there was nothing in law to prevent this practice,” said Senator Gordner.  “While I commend the Judge for halting the practice, it is important to place this prohibition into law to prevent future occurrences.”

“This practice benefited those who could afford to purchase gift cards over defendants who may be of lesser means, and gave rise to the potential for official abuse, given that over $4,000 in unused cards, of which few were aware, were recently found,” said Senator Gordner.

CONTACT: Todd B. Roup (717)787-8928