HARRISBURG- Yesterday, October 27th, an Amendment to Law and Justice Act (Title 44) passed the House and Senate by a bi-partisan, Veto-proof majority in both chambers. The Amendment creates a ban on releasing police officers’ names after an event in which a citizen is killed or seriously harmed as a result of police action.
The bill was passed on the last day of a voting session with little debate offered in either chamber. If Governor Wolf vetoes the bill, it is unclear if the House and Senate will be reconvened in an emergency session to override the veto.
The House passed the Senate version yesterday, October 27th, by a vote of 151-32, with 20 non-votes. The House consists of 119 Republicans and 84 Democrats. While some media are calling this a largely partisan bill, it should be noted that more Democrats voted for this than voted against it.
The bill passed the Senate on the same day, 39-9. The Senate is comprised of 30 Republicans and 20 Democrats. All 30 Republicans voted for the bill, while 9 of 20 Democrats voted against the bill.
Here are key parts of the amendment that passed (the full amendment can be found at the end of the article):
The act allows for the withholding of police officers’ names for 30 days or until the completion of an investigation whenever force is involved that “results in death or serious bodily injury of an individual.”
Some exceptions apply, including in the instance where a court orders the release, where a District Attorney decides to release the name, or when the police officer signs a waver allowing his or her name to be released.
An exception to extend the prohibition from releasing an officer’s name was added in cases when “during any period in which the release of the information can reasonably be expected to create a risk of harm to the person or property of the law enforcement officer or an immediate family member of the law enforcement officer.”
The penalty for releasing the officer’s name is a 2nd degree misdemeanor. People convicted of a 2nd class misdemeanor can face up to 2 years in prison and up to a $5,000 fine.
The Bill was originally introduced by State Representative Martina A White (R) of the 170th District (Philadelphia County), who said this at the time she introduced the bill back in September of 2015, “As we’ve seen across the country, shootings involving police officers have become so politically charged that the officers’ lives and their families can be endangered even if the use of force was justified,” White said. “While we need transparency whenever police are involved in a shooting, we owe our officers basic protection from threats. My bill offers a way to protect them until the facts come out. I want to protect the good officers from being tried in public, while making sure those who break the law are tried in court.”
White won her seat in a special election in March of 2015. After the election results were in, White made her victory speech at the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5. Her ties to law enforcement have been strong right from the start.
Here are some of the quotes by leaders connected to this legislation:
President of the Police Union, John McNesby (speaking to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette):
“We’re just asking to put a lid on the boiling pot until things calm down, especially if it’s an investigation that could lead to protests in the community.”
State Representative Martina A White
“I was watching the television and just saw how officers are being gunned down and other officers in different states had been subjected to harassment and the very things that they are trying to protect citizens like ourselves from experiencing, and to me the 72-hour rule is really just an arbitrary number.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania:
“(this bill is) a policy that will heighten tensions between the police and the communities they serve. (The bill is) completely tone deaf to the needs of communities that are impacted by police brutality.”
Rep. Margo Davidson (D-Delaware County:
“(the bill undermines) the bridges that have been built between law enforcement and communities of color. This legislation will do nothing but breed suspicion.”
You can read an opinion editorial at Freedom Paradox.
Here is the amendment in its entirety:
DURING ANY PERIOD IN WHICH THE RELEASE OF THE INFORMATION CAN REASONABLY BE EXPECTED TO CREATE A RISK OF HARM TO THE PERSON OR PROPERTY OF THE LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER OR AN IMMEDIATE FAMILY MEMBER OF THE LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER, A PUBLIC EMPLOYEE OF THE OFFICER’S EMPLOYING AGENCY
An Act amending Title 44 (Law and Justice) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, adding provisions for law enforcement activities by providing for release of law enforcement officer information when firearm discharged or use of force.
(1) EXCEPT AS PROVIDED UNDER PARAGRAPHS (2), (3) AND (4), IF AN OFFICIAL INVESTIGATION HAS BEEN INITIATED INTO THE DISCHARGE OF A FIREARM OR USE OF FORCE BY A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER DURING THE PERFORMANCE OF THE LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER’S OFFICIAL DUTIES THAT RESULTS IN DEATH OR SERIOUS BODILY INJURY OF AN INDIVIDUAL, THE NAME AND IDENTIFYING INFORMATION OF THE LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER MAY NOT BE RELEASED TO THE PUBLIC BY:
(I) A PUBLIC EMPLOYEE OF THE LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER’S EMPLOYING AGENCY.
(II) THE AGENCY CONDUCTING OR PARTICIPATING IN THE OFFICIAL INVESTIGATION.
(III) A PERSON ACTING ON BEHALF OF A PUBLIC EMPLOYEE UNDER SUBPARAGRAPH (I) OR AN AGENCY UNDER SUBPARAGRAPH (II).
(2) A PUBLIC EMPLOYEE OF THE OFFICER’S EMPLOYING AGENCY, THE AGENCY CONDUCTING OR PARTICIPATING IN THE OFFICIAL INVESTIGATION OR A PERSON ACTING ON BEHALF OF THE PUBLIC EMPLOYEE OR AGENCY SHALL RELEASE THE NAME OR IDENTIFYING INFORMATION OF THE LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER AT THE CONCLUSION OF THE INVESTIGATION IF THE LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER IS CHARGED WITH A CRIMINAL OFFENSE ARISING OUT OF THE DISCHARGE OF THE FIREARM OR USE OF FORCE.
(3) EXCEPT DURING ANY PERIOD IN WHICH THE RELEASE OF THE INFORMATION CAN REASONABLY BE EXPECTED TO CREATE A RISK OF HARM TO THE PERSON OR PROPERTY OF THE LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER OR AN IMMEDIATE FAMILY MEMBER OF THE LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER, A PUBLIC EMPLOYEE OF THE OFFICER’S EMPLOYING AGENCY, THE AGENCY CONDUCTING OR PARTICIPATING IN THE OFFICIAL INVESTIGATION OR A PERSON ACTING ON BEHALF OF THE PUBLIC EMPLOYEE OR AGENCY MAY RELEASE THE NAME OR IDENTIFYING INFORMATION OF THE LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER:
(I) THIRTY DAYS AFTER THE DISCHARGE OF THE FIREARM OR USE OF FORCE; OR
(II) AFTER COMPLETION OF THE OFFICIAL INVESTIGATION.
(4) THE NAME OR IDENTIFYING INFORMATION OF THE LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER MAY BE RELEASED IF:
(I) THE THE LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER CONSENTS IN WRITING TO THE RELEASE OF THE INFORMATION.; OR
(II) DISCLOSURE DISCLOSURE IS MADE PURSUANT TO COURT RULES.
(B) PENALTY.–A PERSON WHO VIOLATES THIS SECTION COMMITS A MISDEMEANOR OF THE SECOND DEGREE.
(C) EXCEPTION.–THIS SECTION SHALL NOT APPLY TO THE OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OR A DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE.
(D) DEFINITION.–AS USED IN THIS SECTION, THE TERM “LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER” HAS THE MEANING GIVEN TO THE TERM “PEACE OFFICER” IN 18 PA.C.S. § 501 (RELATING TO DEFINITIONS).
(D) DEFINITIONS.–AS USED IN THIS SECTION, THE FOLLOWING WORDS AND PHRASES SHALL HAVE THE MEANINGS GIVEN TO THEM IN THIS SUBSECTION UNLESS THE CONTEXT CLEARLY INDICATES OTHERWISE:
“LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER.” HAS THE MEANING GIVEN TO THE TERM “PEACE OFFICER” IN 18 PA.C.S. § 501 (RELATING TO DEFINITIONS).
“SERIOUS BODILY INJURY.” AS DEFINED IN 18 PA.C.S. § 2301 (RELATING TO DEFINITIONS).
“USE OF FORCE.” ANY APPLICATION OF FORCE BY A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER AGAINST ANOTHER INDIVIDUAL.
Section 2. This act shall take effect in 60 days.