Pennsylvania bills cover statehouse shrinkage, police protection

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 9/25/2013

Pennsylvania lawmakers are back at work following a nearly three-month break. One issue already on the move would reduce the size of the General Assembly. Another issue that could get attention this fall would give municipalities that rely on the state police for coverage a little less money for transportation work.

The Pennsylvania State Police are relied on for full- or part-time patrolling in about two-thirds of the state’s 2,562 towns. Revenue to pay for the patrol service comes from the state’s motor license fund. The tab to pay for patrols is paid by all taxpayers in the state.

As a result, Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, has said that more than three-quarters of Pennsylvanians are paying twice for law enforcement services.

Sturla said in a news release that all Pennsylvania residents fund the state police through the taxes they pay, “but it’s also true that a large majority – 79 percent – are paying for both the state police patrols in municipalities without a local police department, as well as their own local police services.”

He said it essentially amounts to municipalities which pay for local or regional police departments funding the services in municipalities that rely on troopers as their sole provider.

His bill would offset the patrol fee by decreasing the money the state gives to those municipalities from motor license revenue.

Sturla said the change would make available to the state about $560 million each year for road and bridge work.

The bill – HB1143 – is in the House Transportation Committee.

A similar bill offered by Sturla would authorize a per capita fee to be paid by towns that rely solely, or partly, on the police force for patrols.

Municipalities that do not provide local police patrol services, and instead rely solely on the troopers, would pay a yearly $156 fee. Municipalities with part-time local departments would contribute $52 annually.

HB1017 is in the House Judiciary Committee.

Two more bills would shrink the size of the General Assembly.

The House State Government Committee voted on Tuesday, Sept. 24, to advance the legislative package that would trim the House from 203 members to 153 members and the Senate from 50 members to 38 members.

House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, said that reducing the number of members would make the General Assembly more efficient in debating and deliberating legislation because members would have a better understanding of how issues are viewed differently in different areas.

“It has become pretty evident reaching a consensus with 203 people on major and controversial issues has proven more difficult in recent times,” Smith said in a news release.

The bills – HB1234 and HB1716 – await further consideration on the House floor. If approved there, the bills would advance to the Senate.

If signed into law, the district changes wouldn’t take effect until after the 2020 reapportionment.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Pennsylvania, click here.

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