Thursday, March 31, 2011

Next week at the state capitol

Next week the Pennsylvania General Assembly returns to session after a three week break for budget hearings. Some people complain that we have a do-nothing legislature. And they say it like that's a bad thing.

Here's what's on tap. Our analysis, memos, etc. on these issues are available on our webpage for the current session, unless otherwise noted.

FLOOR VOTE! Death penalty expansion (HB 317): HB 317 adds two new aggravating circumstances for death penalty cases, bringing the total aggravating circumstances that allow a prosecutor to pursue a death sentence to an even 20. We oppose. I missed the memo that the death penalty has been a success. HB 317 is currently on the House calendar for third consideration.

Taxpayer-funded private school vouchers (SB 1): We expect this bill will be voted out of the Senate Appropriations Committee (with a $1 billion price tag?) sometime next week. It will get a vote on the Senate floor soon thereafter, although that may happen the week of Apil 11. We oppose.

E-Verify for state contractors (SB 637): The Senate State Government Committee is scheduled to consider this bill to mandate state contractors to use the federal E-Verify database program on Wednesday. Never mind that the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled in the Hazleton case that local governments can't do that. We want Pennsylvanians to make donations to the ACLU, but we want those to be private donations, not out of the general fund after we kick the commonwealth's a** in court. We oppose.

We don't have any published documents on E-Verify for this session, but if you're interested in more info, check out our webpage from the 2009-10 session.

Elimination of pre-HIV-test counseling and informed consent (SB 260): The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee will consider this bill on Wednesday. Under current law, a person getting an HIV test receives pre-test counseling and must sign a form, aka informed consent, to get the test. SB 260 wipes out the counseling requirement and requires patients to opt out of the test, rather than opting in. That's a violation! Again, no new info posted yet on this one, but our 09-10 session page has some commentary on why this is wrong. Also, national ACLU's HIV/AIDS project has a lot of info on why patient privacy in HIV testing must be protected.

Voter suppression (HB 934): The House State Government Committee will hold an informational meeting on Wednesday on HB 934, a bill to suppress votes by requiring photo ID at the polls. Members of the committee will debate the bill but not vote on it until a later meeting that is yet unscheduled. You guessed it....we oppose.

Did I forget anything? Oh, in what is sure to provide plenty of entertainment, representatives from the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) will meet with the House State Government Committee on Monday to discuss a resolution protesting TSA's extreme search tactics and a bill to create a new state crime of touching a person's genitals during a search.

Finally, Thursday is going to be action-packed for me. In the morning, I'll be testifying at the state capitol before the House Democratic Policy Committee on school vouchers. Then in the evening, it's off to Penn State for a panel discussion on sexting at the law school with Rep. Seth Grove (R-York County), Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico, and Riya Shah, a staff attorney at Juvenile Law Center. It's at 6pm on Thursday in the auditorium of the Lewis Katz Law Building. If you're in the area, come by and say, "Hola!"

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