Pennsylvania legislators advanced three controversial bills yesterday involving gun rights, sanctuary cities and police transparency.
With six days of voting to go before the end of current legislature’s two-year session, the state Senate approved a bill that would allow the National Rifle Association and other gun devotees and organizations to sue cities – like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh – that enact gun laws more restrictive than the state’s.
In 2014, similar measures were passed in legislation that was struck down by Commonwealth Court in 2015 – a decision that was then upheld by state Supreme Court this past June. Known as Act 192, that law would have allowed gun owners and organizations to challenge local laws regardless of whether they had been directly affected or harmed by them, and made it possible for the NRA and similar organizations to cover attorney’s fees in such cases.
Several lawsuits ensued, but the suits were dismissed when the law was deemed unconstitutional — particularly because the act primarily dealt with the theft of metals such as copper wire, and the measure that allowed gun owners to sue municipalities was added as a provision. At the time, Mayor Jim Kenney said the decision was “a great victory for proper legislative procedure and for the ability of local governments to adopt common sense gun regulations without fear of financially crippling litigation.”
Democratic sate Sen. Daylin Leach said the new bill approved yesterday “shows how much command … the NRA has over this body,” according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Gov. Tom Wolf has said he will veto the bill, which now heads to the state House.
Also yesterday, the House voted in favor of a bill that would punish “sanctuary cities” – those with laws that help to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation. Philadelphia is one of 32 counties in Pennsylvania that uphold sanctuary city policies, according to a 2015 report from Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, per City & State.
The bill, which passed 136-55, now goes to the Senate. Some Democrats have suggested that it could lead to racial profiling, PhillyVoice reports.
In addition, a state Senate committee voted yesterday in favor of a bill that would allow police to withhold information about incidents in which officers use force against citizens.
House Bill 1538, which now heads to the full Senate for consideration, would prohibit public officials from releasing the name of a police officer who uses force resulting in death or serious injury for 30 days after the incident. The American Civil Liberties Union has called the bill “a policy that will heighten tensions between the police and the communities they serve” and “completely tone deaf to the needs of communities that are impacted by police brutality.”
Both the sanctuary cities bill and the bill involving police transparency were sponsored by Republican Rep. Martina White of Philadelphia.
All three hotly-debated measures will face additional rounds of legislative consideration before they’re able to make their way to the governor.
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