Political briefs: April 20, 2016

Sabatina bill passes committee

A Senate committee has approved a bipartisan bill intended to protect residents from violent home burglaries.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Senate Bill 1062, authored by state Sens. John Sabatina Jr., a Democrat, and John Rafferty, a Republican from Montgomery County.

The bill would expand the maximum penalty for crimes commonly known as “home invasions,” giving judges the option of sentencing perpetrators to up to 40 years in prison.

“Home invasion is an especially heinous type of property crime,” said Sabatina, a former assistant district attorney. “Some of the incidents we’ve seen in Philadelphia have been extremely disturbing with family members of all ages being subject to threats, intimidation and violence.”

The legislation was drafted with input from the statewide District Attorneys Association as well as the state Attorney General’s Office.

SB 1062 will increase the maximum penalty for the home burglaries in which the intent is to seriously hurt someone within the home, or where during the course of the burglary the perpetrator commits or threatens to commit bodily injury.

The distinction would apply only to burglaries of homes, and would not automatically increase the sentence of the perpetrator but would rather increase the maximum sentence for which a judge within their discretion could sentence the perpetrator.

“We want to allow a judge who has listened to the facts and considered all the circumstances to have the power to take the worst criminals off the street for a long, long time,” Sabatina said. ••

Taylor wants lower wage tax

State Rep. John Taylor (R-177th dist.) has introduced legislation to allow Philadelphia to alter the way it taxes real estate to reduce the city’s wage and business privilege taxes.

Taylor introduced House Bill 1871, which would reduce wage and business taxes and shift to a greater reliance on the real estate tax for businesses.

The state Constitution would have to be amended to allow Philadelphia to be exempted from the Uniformity Clause for real estate taxes.

The Pennsylvania Constitution requires that all taxes in the commonwealth be applied uniformly. Taylor’s legislation will permit Philadelphia to impose taxes on real estate used for business purposes at a tax rate that exceeds the tax rate applicable to other real estate.

“My bill will give the city the opportunity to realign its tax revenues to stimulate job growth for the region,” Taylor said. ••

Sabatina faults GOP on budget

State Sen. John Sabatina Jr. (D-5th dist.) said Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision to relent on a Republican state budget plan means that state GOP leaders have successfully “run out the clock on responsibility.”

Sabatina, who did not accept a paycheck after the budget standoff began last July 1, voted against the Republican spending plan.

“The theory behind this budget is that if you ignore your bills and ignore your debts, they will go away,” he said. “Obviously, that’s not how it works. Running out the clock accomplishes nothing and guarantees deeper deficits and lowered bond ratings. It goes beyond the irresponsible into the irrational.”

Wolf did not sign the budget, instead allowing it to become law without his signature.

“The governor is more confident that I am that this late concession will lead to future compromise,” Sabatina said. “We are in a deep hole created by five straight years of head-in-the-sand budgeting, and only pressure from school officials, county commissioners and municipal leaders will change things.” ••

White countering sanctuary city status

State Rep. Martina White (R-170th dist.) has introduced legislation to counter unlawful sanctuary cities in Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has declared Philadelphia a “sanctuary city” — meaning that the city will not turn over illegal aliens to federal officials.

“We cannot have elected officials and municipal employees reject the law. If they disagree with the law, they should advocate for it to be changed. Choosing not to uphold our laws sets a dangerous precedent.” White said.

White’s legislation, which is now gathering support from co-sponsors, would hold responsible any “sanctuary city” in Pennsylvania for the damages to persons or property as a result of criminal activity by unauthorized aliens.

Under this legislation, if a law enforcement officer of a municipality has reasonable cause to believe that an individual being arrested is not legally in the United States, he or she must immediately report the individual to the appropriate United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office within the Department of Homeland Security.

“So-called ‘sanctuary cities’ place themselves above the law,” White said. “Essentially, they allow illegal immigrants who could have a criminal background and pose a threat to be safe from federal expulsion. This is a dangerous policy we must not tolerate.” ••

Boyle wants state support of Israel

State Reps. Kevin Boyle and Nick Miccarelli are sponsoring two pieces of legislation to ensure that Pennsylvania is using its economic power to support Israel.

Boyle said the bills would specifically prohibit the state from investing pensions or contracts with companies that engage in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

The BDS movement is a global campaign designed to weaken the Israeli economy in an attempt to punish Israel for policy decisions it has made.

“It is vital that the government of Pennsylvania does its part to support an important US ally, Israel,” Boyle said. “Protecting Israel has been a principle of our foreign policy. Consequently, economic actions such as boycotts and divestment should not be tolerated.”

The first bill would prohibit commonwealth agencies from entering into contracts with persons who engage in boycotts against or divestment from Israel. Under this legislation, the Department of General Services would compile a list of firms and persons with stated BDS policies. The list would be updated every 180 days, and the department would also have to certify that an individual’s name does not appear on the list before a contract is signed.

The second bill would require the state treasurer, the State Employees’ Retirement System and Public School Employees’ Retirement System to divest from companies boycotting Israel. These state organizations would be required to identify all companies boycotting Israel in which the public fund has direct holdings, and subsequently divest from those companies.

“The goal of these bills is to prevent state money from aiding any person, business or organization participating in the BDS movement or trying to bring economic harm to Israel,” Boyle said. “I am hopeful that we can get these bills to the governor’s desk quickly so we can start helping our allies in Israel as soon as possible.” ••

White resolution honors cops

A resolution sponsored by state Rep. Martina White (R-170th dist.) to honor the contributions of law enforcement unanimously passed the House of Representatives.

House Resolution 644 designated Jan. 9, 2016, as Law Enforcement Appreciation Day in Pennsylvania.

“It’s our way of recognizing the law enforcement officers who serve and sacrifice to protect our communities and safeguard our country,” White said. “Each day, 780,000 law enforcement officers put on a badge knowing they may face extreme danger. Sadly, we lose as many as 200 a year nationally in the line of duty; last year, five officers were killed in service protecting our commonwealth.”

White also acknowledged the 50,000 officers assaulted in the line of duty each year and the 14,000 officers injured.

“I thank them all for their service to our communities,” she said. ••

Murt wants vote on abuse bill

In response to a grand jury finding that hundreds of children were abused by at least 50 priests and other church associates in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown for nearly a half-century, state Rep. Thomas Murt (R-152nd dist.) is asking the House Judiciary Committee to vote on legislation he introduced to change the statute of limitations for victims of child sexual abuse.

House Bill 1446 would establish a two-year window for victims of sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits when the current 12-year statute of limitations has expired. It also adds language to include victims of child pornography under his legislation.

“A two-year window has been called for by every grand jury that has investigated child sex abuse,” Murt said. “Victims of childhood sexual abuse in Pennsylvania are being denied justice. There is sufficient documentation available for these cases to go forward, but special interests are holding back justice for these victims.”

At a news conference, Attorney General Kathleen Kane released a grand jury report that revealed that, over four decades, hundreds of children were sexually abused by priests and religious leaders in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.

“Unfortunately, no charges can be filed, as the time limit set by law to bring charges has expired,” Murt said. “We must change this. Children of sex abuse do not have the wherewithal to step forward and confront their assailants. My bill at least gives law enforcement a better chance at successful prosecutions.” ••

Sabatina wants unclaimed lottery prizes to help schools

State Sen. John Sabatina Jr. has introduced legislation that would direct half of unclaimed lottery prizes in Pennsylvania toward struggling public schools.

“We have unacceptable and even dangerous conditions in many of our public schools,” he said. “Cuts in funding and the nation’s worst inequity of funding have put thousands of students and teachers in environments not conducive to learning. Any help we can give them needs to be given.”

Sabatina said his legislation will also shorten the amount of time lottery players will have to claim prizes, from one year to 120 days.

He cited the recent news from California that a record $64 million lottery prize went unclaimed, and the money was used for public education. California gives players only 180 days to claim prizes.

In Pennsylvania, lottery players leave about $17 million per year go unclaimed, and the money goes into the Lottery Fund. Sabatina’s legislation would direct half of that to public schools.

“The General Assembly has been unable or unwilling to adequately fund public schools,” Sabatina said. “That means we need to seek help for students in any way we can.” ••

White has rebate forms

The office of state Rep. Martina White (R-170th dist.) has tax forms available to help residents apply for the Property Tax/Rent Rebate program for older adults and residents with disabilities.

“My staff and I are ready to help you determine whether you are eligible for a rebate and work with you to file your application,” White said.

The rebate program benefits eligible Pennsylvanians age 65 and older; widows and widowers age 50 and older; and people with disabilities age 18 and older. The income limit is $35,000 a year for homeowners and $15,000 annually for renters, and half of Social Security income is excluded.

Applicants may obtain Property Tax/Rent Rebate claim forms (PA-1000) and related information at White’s office at 10752 Bustleton Ave., Suite C. For more information, call 215–330–3711. ••

Sabatina wants budget compromise

State Sen. John Sabatina Jr. (D-5th dist.) released the following statement on Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget address for the upcoming fiscal year:

“The budget outlined by Gov. Wolf today is a stark and sobering reminder of where we stand after years of gimmicks, politics and accounting tricks. Pennsylvania schools are already teetering on insolvency, unable to provide basic safety, let alone a 21st-century learning environment. Without significant new public investment, we risk the jobs of thousands of teachers at a time when our students are tumbling down the ladder in the global education rankings. We are competing in an international labor market and we are failing our students.

“Social service programs in counties across the state were stretched thin through prior budget cuts and now face an opioid epidemic that threatens even the most rural of communities. Most frightening, however, is the near extinction of bipartisanship and compromise. While our choices are clear, the path forward is not. If we can’t negotiate over the next few months in an honest, sincere way and conclude with compromise, the slide will continue and observers from Wall Street to Main Street will conclude that Pennsylvania is dysfunctional and uncompetitive.” ••