Thursday, July 01, 2010

I'm Just a Bill to Ban the Shackling of Pregnant Inmates

On Tuesday, the state House passed a bill to ban shackling of inmates during childbirth in the commonwealth's prisons and in county jails. The state Senate previously passed the legislation, so it heads to Governor Rendell for his signature, which is expected.

The reaction we usually get when we talk about this bill is shock that it's even necessary, but Pennsylvania would become only the eighth state to ban this cruel practice by statute. A few states also ban it by policy, as does the federal Bureau of Prisons and the federal Marshalls Service.

Hopefully you don't need this blog post to convince you why this bill is needed. To read our arguments, you can check out our press release after Tuesday's vote and also see the memos we submitted in support of the bill at our legislation page.

What I really want to write about is the process on how this happened. Numerous legislators from both parties and from both chambers played a role in getting SB 1074 to the governor's desk. If any one of them had balked, the bill would have died. It's very difficult to get legislation passed, even on a slam dunk issue like this one.

Consider the impact of these legislators:

Senator Daylin Leach. Senator Leach is the primary sponsor of SB 1074 and advocated for his bill. That should be a given, but often legislators introduce legislation but don't lobby for it. Senator Leach did that.

Senator Stewart Greenleaf. Senator Greenleaf is the powerful chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Leach is the Democratic minority chairman of that committee.) Like all chairmen, Greenleaf makes decisions about what bills will be considered by the committee. When Leach asked Greenleaf to consider SB 1074, Greenleaf was willing to do that.

Rep. Thomas Caltagirone. Rep. Caltagirone is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and ensured that the bill got out of his committee. In addition, when Caltagirone became concerned that the bill might not get a vote in the House, he amended the language into another bill in his committee. That set off a chain of events that got the bill on the House floor.

Rep. Babette Josephs. Rep. Josephs personally advocated with House leadership to get SB 1074 before the full House. Two days later, it was on the House floor. (Full disclosure, Rep. Josephs is a member of the board of our Greater Philadelphia chapter.)

Senator Dominic Pileggi and Rep. Todd Eachus. The majority leaders of their respective chambers saw to it that the bill did get a vote before their members.

Like a clock missing a gear, if any one of these steps had not occurred, the bill would have stopped.

For the record, if this bill is signed by the governor, it will be the first bill in the 2009-10 session supported by the ACLU of PA that has become law. For now, no bill we oppose has become law. This classic Schoolhouse Rock cartoon illustrates why that is.

Andy in Harrisburg

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