A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

The House and Senate are in session Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Senate bills moving

Violence Prevention: Senate Resolution 6 (Greenleaf-R-Montgomery) directing the Joint State Government Commission to assemble an advisory committee to study the causes of mass violence and recommend preventative measures to the General Assembly was adopted by the Senate.

NewsClip: Senate OKs Task Force On Mass Shootings

DNA Evidence:  The Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday amended and reported out Senate Bill 150 (Pileggi-R- Delaware) a bill Sen. Pileggi called a long-overdue modernization of the laws governing the collection and use of DNA technology to fight crimes in Pennsylvania.  The bill was sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee which will consider the bill on Monday.

The legislation will allow law enforcement agencies to make better use of DNA evidence by requiring individuals arrested for serious crimes to submit DNA samples. The bill also authorizes a new type of DNA search to help identify suspects in unsolved crimes, strengthens privacy protections and requires DNA laboratories and technicians to meet national standards.

“Recent technological advances allow us to make much better use of DNA to solve crimes and make our neighborhoods safer,” said Sen. Pileggi. “My bill will ensure that Pennsylvania’s criminal investigators have access to the most current and efficient scientific tools. Senate Bill 150 enjoys a broad base of support and I’m optimistic that it will become law early in this new legislative session.”

The Pileggi’s legislation will:

— Expand the eligible criminal offenses for which DNA testing is required;

— Require pre-conviction DNA testing for those arrested for certain serious offenses;

— Explicitly prohibit DNA samples from being used for anything other than legitimate law enforcement identification purposes;

— Require the immediate destruction of DNA records of exonerated individuals;

— Authorize the state police to use modified DNA searches to help investigators identify unknown DNA profiles taken at crime scenes;

— Codify accreditation requirements for forensic DNA testing laboratories; and

— Require continuing education for forensic DNA testing personnel.

From Crisci Associates Capitol Digest

Human Trafficking: Senate Bill 75 (Greenleaf-R -Montgomery) further providing for the offense of human trafficking was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and is now on the Senate Calendar for action.

Senate Judiciary Committee

The Senate Judiciary Committee meets Tuesday to consider  Senate Bill 305 (Eichelberger-R- Blair) making changes to probation and parole requirements relating to supervisory relationships to offenders.

Newly designed website for State Courts

Click for News Release

State ends Unemployment Compensation for inmates

The Department of Labor & Industry, in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Justice Network Tuesday announced a new cross-match system to identify and stop benefit payments to unemployment compensation claimants incarcerated in the state’s county prisons.Estimates by the department indicate annual savings of nearly $12 million to the UC trust fund through a real-time benefits payment stop that occurs when UC claimants are incarcerated in 51 of the 63 counties that operate prisons. This estimate is based on the average size and number of weeks of payments.

“For many years, individuals have abused the UC trust fund by unlawfully collecting benefits while incarcerated,” Labor & Industry Secretary Julia Hearthway said. “The capability to cross-match incarcerated individuals against UC claimants allows the department to stop payments rather than go to the added expense of ferreting out and trying to recoup erroneous payments made.”

JNET is a secure portal used by criminal justice and public safety professionals to access data from local, state and federal agencies.  When a new inmate enters a county prison that participates in JNET, the individual’s information is automatically compared against the UC rolls maintained by Labor & Industry.After L&I receives and verifies the report, the individual is immediately removed from active UC benefit status, saving the UC trust fund and the Commonwealth’s businesses and employees millions of dollars.Labor & Industry’s Office of Integrity, established in 2011 to combat fraud, waste and abuse of government funds, including unlawful payments of UC benefits, administers the program in cooperation with the Office of Administration, which is home to JNET.

“This is just one example of how we are using technology to make government programs more effective and efficient,” said Secretary of Administration Kelly Powell Logan.  “We were able to bring this service online for L&I with minimal cost and effort – an investment that will produce millions of dollars in savings for years to come.”  When the individual is released from prison, they may reapply for benefits and, if eligible, may begin to collect them as long as they remain eligible.

From Crisci Associates Capitol Digest

Senator Smith introduces bill to modernize storage of court records

Sen. Matt Smith (D-Allegheny) Friday introduced legislation designed to modernize the storage and preservation of court records.Senate Bill 372 would expand the authorized methods of recording and storing judicial records to include optical imaging technology, in which data is scanned and stored electronically, in contrast to the current usage of microfilm or microfiche.

“This legislation illustrates yet another way we can bring Pennsylvania into the 21st century,” Sen. Smith said. “By reforming and optimizing the way government operates, we can save taxpayer money and eliminate red tape.”Current law requires many judicial records to be maintained in outdated analog formats that are both costly to produce and store and are not easily accessible by modern standards. This legislation would expand the list of authorized methods of recording and copying judicial system records to include optical, electronic and other processes which accurately reproduce the original and form secure and unalterable copies.

“This would basically open the door to digital and establish standards for preservation that are in line with current best practices, but would also allow for the technology to evolve,” Sen. Smith added.

As a former Deputy Sheriff, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) is a strong supporter of administrative court reform.

“Law enforcement officers and court officials rely on accurate and up-to-date records every day as they make decisions that ultimately keep the citizens of the commonwealth safe,” Sen. Costa said.  “Modernizing the system will not only provide them with the tools they need to be able to perform their jobs efficiently and effectively but will also ensure the public can stay involved and informed.”

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald also voiced his support of the legislation.

“Making records and information in the county more accessible to the public is a priority for me,” said Fitzgerald. “Updating the law to provide other forms of retaining records allows us to make that information to more people in more ways. We should do everything we can to ensure that remains a focus of the County.”

The county reported estimated yearly savings of $230,000 in storage costs, but that figure would grow considering the benefit of not having to pursue additional storage in the future.

Sen. Smith also consulted with the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission to ensure that judicial system records are preserved properly.

From Crisci Associates Capitol Digest

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