Pennsylvania bills of interest try to beat deadline for passage
December 11, 2018
As Pennsylvania’s two-year legislative session nears the finish line, a handful of bills of note could still complete the trek through the statehouse.
One bill awaiting consideration on the House floor would authorize speed radar use by some local police. Senate lawmakers previously approved an earlier version of the bill.
Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that prohibits municipal police from enforcing speed limits with radar. Since 1961, only state troopers are allowed to use radar.
SB251 would limit speed radar use to full-time, accredited Pennsylvania police departments. The distinction would limit the use to 117 of the approximately 1,075 local police departments throughout the state.
Currently, local police are limited to electronic tools such as VASCAR, which determines a vehicle’s speed by measuring the time it takes to move between two points.
The Pennsylvania State Police has said that radar is the most effective and accurate speed-control device available; however, local police departments have not been permitted to use the enforcement tool.
Other House changes made to the bill include authorizing the devices as part of a six-year pilot program. Traffic studies would also be used to determine whether posted speeds are appropriate. In addition, revenue generated by speeding tickets would be limited to no more than 1 percent of the municipal budget.
Provisions included in the original version and that remain in the amended version include a requirement for Pennsylvania municipalities to first pass an ordinance allowing the use of radar. Vehicle speed recorded also must be at least 10 miles over the posted speed limit to be in violation.
If approved by the full House, the bill would head back to the Senate for approval of changes before it could move to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk.
License plate readers
Another Pennsylvania bill addresses law enforcement efforts. HB1811 would put into place restrictions on the state’s use of automated license plate readers.
Pennsylvania law already permits police, as well as parking authorities and other non-law enforcement entities, access to the scanners.
The House-approved bill would specify who can use plate readers, how data can be collected, and the length of time data can be kept. It has since moved to the Senate.
HB1811 reads that vehicle data could be kept for up to one year. At that time, captured data must be destroyed.
One change made in the Senate would require data collected prior to the bill’s passage to be destroyed within one year of the bill’s effective date. As approved by the House, the bill required data collected to be destroyed within 60 days of the effective date.
Rep. Greg Rothman, R-Cumberland, has said the data collected is an invaluable tool for law enforcement. He said his bill would help ensure the information of Pennsylvanians is kept private if they are doing nothing wrong.
The bill awaits consideration on the Senate floor. If approved there, it would head back to the House for approval of changes before moving to the governor’s desk.
Delaware River Port Authority
A Senate-approved bill is trying once again to reform the Delaware River Port Authority. The $325-million-a-year agency is funded by tolls to cross the bridges linking Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Gov. Wolf acted in October 2016 to veto a bill to overhaul how business is done at the bi-state agency that runs four bridges and a commuter rail in the Philadelphia area. The four bridges are the Ben Franklin, Walt Whitman, Commodore Barry, and Betsy Ross bridges.
Despite overwhelming approval by state legislators during the previous two-year session, the governor used his veto power to nix the reform efforts.
The governor said at the time he would have signed the bill into law except for one provision he said “allows for legislative interference with an executive branch prerogative.”
“The requirement that gubernatorial appointments to the DRPA be confirmed by the Senate before the appointees may serve on the board of the Port Authority is unnecessary,” Wolf wrote in his veto letter.
Rafferty has pointed out that the New Jersey Senate already has confirmation power over its appointees.
SB170 again includes the Senate confirmation provision.
In addition to providing the Senate with confirmation power for gubernatorial appointees, the bill includes forcing the bistate agency to provide 30 days’ public notice prior to any vote concerning a contract and adhering to open records laws. In addition, acceptance of any gifts that could affect the conduct of DRPA business would be prohibited.
To change the DRPA’s federal charter, identical legislation must be enacted in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and be approved by the federal government.
The bill continues to await consideration on the House floor before possible clearance to move to the governor’s desk.
Snow and ice removal
One more Pennsylvania bill of interest is an annual effort at the statehouse that addresses concern about snow and ice removal from atop cars and trucks.
Pennsylvania law already allows police to ticket car and truck drivers between $200 and $1,000 if the wintry precipitation causes serious injury or death.
After years of failing to garner support at the statehouse, the Senate acted this year to advance a bill to authorize law enforcement to issue tickets solely for failure to clear their vehicles of snow and ice.
Drivers would be required to make “reasonable efforts” to remove snow or ice from all parts of their vehicles within 24 hours of a weather event.
Offenders would face a maximum fine of $1,500 if the wintry precipitation causes serious injury or death. The bill would include an additional protection allowing police to ticket drivers from $25 to $75 for failure to clear snow or ice before they take to the roads.
Truck operators would be excused if they are on their way to a facility to remove accumulated snow or ice. In addition, violations would not be issued if compliance would cause the trucker to violate any federal or state law or regulation regarding workplace safety, or if it would be a health or safety threat.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and countless truck drivers are opposed to rules that permit police to pull over drivers whose vehicles were not cleared of snow or ice. They point out that facilities are not readily available in states to accommodate clearance mandates on trucks. Another problem is the practicality of requiring people to climb atop large vehicles, and doing it in less-than desirable conditions.
SB435 remains in the House Transportation Committee.