A bipartisan group of senators this week announced their hopes for an upcoming vote on a package of seven bills that address domestic violence in Pennsylvania.
The bills ultimately passed the Senate Wednesday, with one of the bills headed to the governor's desk.
“Now I’m sure each member would have liked to get more here or there in this bill, but this is what we can achieve together and it is significant,” Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) said.
The package includes SB 449 from Sen. Camera Bartolatta (R-Greene), also known as Tierne’s Law, which helps judges limit bail for domestic abusers, as well as SB 1011 from Sen. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Allegheny).
His bill, based off a bill used in other states called Marsy’s Law, would create an amendment to the state Constitution to add a victims’ bill of rights to codify a sufferer’s right to notice of release and a trial without delay, among other things.
To become law, it will need to pass the Legislature twice and then be voted on in a referendum.
However, the crowd of red-shirted “Mom’s Demand Action for Gun Sense in America” standing behind the lawmakers on the rotunda steps Tuesday gave their biggest cheer when Sen. Tom Killion (R-Delaware) spoke of his bill, SB 501, which would get rid of a loophole in Pennsylvania’s protection from abuse law.
Currently, those subject to a PFA over domestic violence must surrender any firearms but can put them into the ownership of friends and family. With SB 501, guns could only be surrendered to the police, a registered gun dealer or licensed attorney, and must be done within 48 hours of the order being issued.
“We’ve had several deaths that didn’t need to happen here in Pennsylvania because of the way that law was written,” Killion said.
Julie Bancroft, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, agreed. Looking at the package, she said SB 501 was the most important.
“Once someone seeks help, that can be the deadliest time for a victim,” she said.
The package also includes SB 313 from Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton) which would let abuse victims to be released from shared telephone plans with their abuser at no cost, SB 500 from Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny) to let police escort abuse victims while a PFA is still being served, SB 502 from Sen Tom McGarrigle (R-Delaware) to make extending PFAs easier, and SB 919 from Sen. Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia) which would let public housing tenants with proof of an abuse at the location move away.
In a statement, Gov. Tom Wolf expressed his support for the legislation, doubling down on support he showed last fall. Like Bancroft, he showed particular support for SB 501.
“There’s frankly no such thing as doing too much to protect and support victims of domestic violence,” Wolf said.
How the bills would be received in the House is uncertain — House Republican Caucus spokesman Steve Miskin did not respond to a request for comment.
But Corman said he expected the bills to get through the upper chamber tomorrow “unless we get three feet of snow.”
“It’s not a Republican issue, it’s not a Democrat issue, it’s not a rural, suburban, urban issue. It’s a Pennsylvania issue,” he said.
In their vote Wednesday, all seven passed unanimously. Tierne's Law is now ready for Wolf's signature, while the rest will need House approval.
Stephen Caruso is a staff writer for The PLS Reporter, a news website dedicated to covering Pennsylvania's government.