Gov. Wolf signs two law enforcement reform bills

HARRISBURG -- Calling them "new laws that make progress in keeping every Pennsylvanian safe," Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday signed House bills 1841 and 1910, which both passed unanimously in the House and Senate. The bills are the first two pieces of legislation from the governor's comprehensive police reform executive actions announced in early June in the wake of the death of George Floyd when in Minneapolis police custody and subsequent protests in Pennsylvania and across the country. "A little over a month ago, I met with leaders of Black communities in Philadelphia and Harrisburg to discuss ways we can improve law enforcement to make our commonwealth safer for every Pennsylvanian," Wolf said. "Today, I am signing two bills that will take steps toward achieving this goal."

House Bill 1841, sponsored by Rep. Harry Readshaw, requires a thorough background check for law enforcement applicants prior to being employed and requires a law enforcement agency to disclose employment information. The bill also establishes an electronic database housed and maintained by the Municipal Police Officers' Training and Education Training Commission (MPOTEC) that contains separation records of law enforcement officers. A hiring report that indicates the prospective law enforcement agency's reason and rationale must be completed if a hiring law enforcement agency hires an individual whose separation record includes any of the following: excessive force, harassment, theft, discrimination, sexual abuse or misconduct, domestic violence, coercion of a false confession, filing a false report or a judicial finding of dishonesty.

House Bill 1910, sponsored by Rep. Dan Williams, requires mental health evaluations with a focus on PTSD of law enforcement officers as a condition of continued employment. The evaluation may be upon request of a law enforcement officer or a police chief or within 30 days of an incident of the use of lethal force. The bill also requires training for police officers on trauma-informed care, use of deadly force, de-escalation and harm reduction techniques, community and cultural awareness, implicit bias, procedural justice and reconciliation techniques. Under the bill, magisterial district judges are required to complete, as part of their annual continuing education requirement, one course on the identification and reporting of suspected child abuse and court proceedings involving children.

Wolf was joined at the bill signing at the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) by Attorney General Josh Shapiro, members of the legislature and the Pennsylvania State Police, and Keir Bradford-Grey of the Defender Association of Philadelphia. PCCD Executive Director Mike Pennington welcomed the governor and provided an overview of the commission's role in police reform. "As an agency, we answered the call the governor made last month to address reform," Pennington said. "We've created a Racial and Ethnic Disparities Subcommittee under the Criminal Justice Advisory Committee here at PCCD. Keir Bradford-Grey of the Defender Association of Philadelphia will serve as our chair, and we look to have that subcommittee formed and convened within the next month or so."

"I commend Gov. Wolf and the General Assembly for establishing a mandatory, statewide database of police misconduct — a key change sought by reform advocates and a down payment on the improvements we still need to make. Today, Pennsylvania becomes one of the only states in the country to change its laws in the aftermath of George Floyd's killing. I heard the community in October, and worked to bring a breakthrough coalition of law enforcement leaders forward to get this done," said Attorney General Josh Shapiro. "This legislation would make all Pennsylvanians safer by preventing departments from unknowingly hiring officers with past records of misconduct, and it shows we can make meaningful improvements in our criminal justice system. We won't stop pushing for change until inappropriate police-community interactions, like what we saw that day in Minneapolis, are as rare as they are unacceptable."

On Tuesday, Gov. Wolf also signed into law:

-- House Bill 1860, which amends the Urban Redevelopment Law to permit any municipality to establish a redevelopment authority. Specifically, this bill removes the definition of "city" from the law and replaces the references to a "city" with "municipality." Further, the bill adds the term "incorporated town" to the existing definition of municipality.

-- House Bill 2045, which authorizes the granting and conveyance of certain lands in Ohiopyle Borough, Fayette County in exchange for different lands in Ohiopyle Borough.

-- Senate Bill 352, which establishes the Tax Exemption and Mixed-Use Incentive Program Act. Specifically, the bill authorizes local taxing authorities to provide for tax abatement incentives for certain deteriorated industrial, commercial, business and residential properties.

-- Senate Bill 934, which amends the Human Services Code to require that all child care centers and family child care homes have an operable and properly maintained fire detection device or system within their facility that is regularly inspected and tested.

Wolf also vetoed House Resolution 836, which called for an end to his disaster declaration for the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a legal dispute to the resolution's passage, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court sided with Wolf, calling the resolution "a legal nullity."

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