April 11, 2019
Crime Victims’ Rights
This week, the Senate passed a number of bills intended to protect crime victims and ensure they have more opportunities to participate in the judicial process.
The package of bills includes measures to give crime victims more rights to attend criminal trials, expand the rights of individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism to provide testimony, provide hearsay exceptions for statements made by young witnesses of cases of sexual assault, shield rape victims against irrelevant cross examinations and provide for a bill of rights for sexual assault survivors.
The package of bills includes:
SB 399, which creates a comprehensive bill of rights in Pennsylvania for survivors of sexual assault, including rights pertaining to the collection and use of evidence.
SB 425, which would amend the Pennsylvania Crime Victims Act to ensure a victim has a right not to be excluded from a trial except in extraordinary circumstances.
SB 431, which would prevent many sexual assault survivors from facing questions during cross examination about times they were victimized previously, such as child abuse or assaults.
SB 469, which would apply the existing Tender Years Exception – which allows certain out-of-court statements to be admissible as evidence – to include individuals with intellectual disabilities or autism.
SB 479, which would expand the Tender Years Exception to apply to a wider variety of crimes, including serious sexual offenses. This exception currently only applies in cases of homicide, assault, kidnapping, burglary, robbery, and a narrow number of sexual offenses.
The bills passed unanimously and were sent to the House of Representatives for its consideration.
Voting Machines and SB 48 Update
Earlier this week, Senate Bill 48, which I introduced, was reported out of the Senate State Government Committee. If enacted, it would increase legislative input and oversight in the voting machine decertification process.
In 2018, Governor Tom Wolf announced that all counties would need to replace their electronic voting machines with newly approved ones that offer a paper trail by the end of 2019. This comes with a significant cost, which will be a major issue for many county governments to absorb and, ultimately, would be borne by taxpayers. In addition, many existing voting machines already produce the paper ballot that the Governor’s directive seeks. This decision was made without legislative input from the General Assembly.
Senate Bill 48 would require the Governor to submit a written plan to the General Assembly any time 50% or more of voting machines in the state would be decertified. It would also establish a Commission that would be tasked with reviewing the plan, including costs, and making legislative recommendations to the General Assembly prior to the plan being put into effect. It now goes to the full Senate for its consideration.
I was honored to recently take part in the groundbreaking ceremony on the latest phase of the Bloomsburg floodwall. Many local, state and federal officials are present in support of this significant project.
Preventing Elder Financial Abuse
The Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities (PA DOBS) witnessed a 17 percent increase in elder financial abuse, constituting 40,000 allegations of elder abuse during the previous fiscal year.
Whether it’s older family members or elderly clients with whom you engage socially or in business, the PA DOBS encourages you to look for red flags or signs of elder abuse, including:
Consider appropriate questions and guidance if decision making appears impaired, there are signs of suspicious behaviors, or evidence of unexplained account activity. Anyone witnessing similar problems is encouraged to call the Elder Abuse Hotline 1-800-490-8505 to report any type of elder abuse.
Spotted Lantern Fly Invading PA Businesses
Pennsylvania’s least favorite hitchhiker – the Spotted Lantern Fly is attracting renewed attention from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Penn State Extension, as well as expanding the eradication goals of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture as it spreads into Dauphin County.
The threat propelling agency action includes reduced crop yields for grapes, apples, hops, walnuts, and other hardwoods. The damage to the state’s economy is anticipated to be nearly $18 billion.
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