HARRISBURG, Pa., Nov. 27, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Governor Edward G. Rendell today announced that he has vetoed House Bill 1926, House Bill 2477 and House Bill 1231.
Editor's Note: The text of the Governor's three veto messages is attached.
House Bill 1926 - Veto Message
I am returning herewith, without my approval, House Bill 1926, P.N. 4477, entitled "An Act amending Titles 18 (Crimes and Offenses) and 42 (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, in general principles of justification, further providing for definitions, for use of force in self-protection, for use of force for the protection of other persons, for grading of theft offenses and for licenses to carry firearms; providing for civil immunity for use of force; and further providing for registration of sexual offenders and for sentence for failure to comply with registration of sexual offenders."
My veto of this legislation came after careful consideration and weighing of the bill's multiple provisions. I would have gladly signed the amendments to "Megan's Law" that were the initial substance of House Bill 1926. The original aim of the bill was to close loopholes in the statute related to the registration of out-of-state sex offenders and to require the registration of transient sex offenders. We made clear to the Legislature early-on that we supported these well thought-out changes.
I wish that the Legislature had sent a clean bill with these provisions to my desk. However, the "Castle Doctrine" amendment that the General Assembly subsequently approved and included in House Bill 1926 would have threatened – not enhanced – the public safety of Pennsylvania citizens, and for that reason I am withholding my signature from the bill.
Under current law, the use of deadly force is not justifiable to protect oneself when one can safely retreat, unless a person is attacked in his or her dwelling or workplace. I support the state's existing Castle Doctrine – which enables Pennsylvanians to protect themselves in their homes; however, I have grave concerns with the expansion included in this legislation. We should have the right to protect the sanctity of our homes at all times. This legislation has nothing to do with the right to protect one's home, but seeks to expand the Castle Doctrine to outside the home.
The bill as passed encourages the use of deadly force, even when safe retreat is available, and advances a "shoot first, ask questions later" mentality. I do not believe that in a civilized society we should encourage violent and deadly confrontation when the victim can safely protect themselves. As keepers of the public trust, we have the solemn duty to protect our citizenry, not put them in harm's way, and to protect the sanctity of human life.
It is noteworthy that even the original sponsor of this bill, state Rep. Rick Taylor – who championed the Megan's Law improvements contained in the legislation – voted to oppose the bill after it was amended to include the Castle Doctrine. In addition, respected organizations including the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence and CeaseFirePA have all asked me to veto House Bill 1926, and I agree with law enforcement that public safety is best preserved by refusing to expand the Castle Doctrine.
In approaching this decision, I spoke to Edward Marsico, the respected District Attorney of Dauphin County and the chair of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. He told me that "this bill is proposing a solution to a problem that doesn't exist" and that, if approved, it would create "great opportunities for defense lawyers of violent criminals." I agree.
Throughout my administration, I have asked you to pass common-sense bills that quell gun violence throughout our Commonwealth and save lives, and the Legislature has refused. In fact, in a show of real lack of courage, the Legislature resisted a chance to close the Florida concealed weapon permit loophole during its debate on this bill.
I cannot sign my name to a bill that contradicts the very anti-violence agenda I have worked so hard – along with many legislators – to achieve.
In addition to my concerns with the substantive provisions of this bill, there are issues with the procedure by which it was passed. Article III, Section 3 of our Constitution provides that "No bill shall be passed containing more than one subject, which shall be clearly expressed in its title." This bill as introduced and subsequently amended four times dealt with amendments to our statute related to the registration of sex offenders. However, the Senate later expanded the bill to include amendments to our statute related to one's duty to retreat when faced with an aggressor and amend Pennsylvania's Castle Doctrine. It created an untenable burden on legislators who were against the expansion but were fearful of voting against the positive amendments to Megan's Law. That is just what the Supreme Court intended to prevent by its decision in Pennsylvanians Against Gambling Expansion Fund, Inc. v. Commonwealth.
Pennsylvania Courts have held time and time again that the matters contained in a single bill must bear a "proper relation" to each other. It is not enough for the subjects to be linked by a broad and general topic. The issues in House Bill 1926, though they may have to do with "crime" generally, do not have anything to do with each other. The duty to retreat or the right to stand one's ground when confronted has nothing in common with sex offender registration requirements. House Bill 1926, therefore, is clearly unconstitutional and should not be enacted into law for that reason as well.
Edward G. Rendell, Governor
House Bill 2477 - Veto Message
I am returning herewith, without my approval, House Bill 2477, Printer's Number 4471, entitled "An Act amending the act of August 9, 1955 (P.L. 323, No. 130), known as The County Code, further providing for applicability, for enumeration of elected officers and for official records of coroner; adding provisions for required fiscal security through bonding, blanket bonding and insuring of elected and appointed county officers and employees; providing for determining the form, amount and payment of premiums for and the filing and recording of the required security, for the subsequent issuance of official commissions; further providing for the governing board of the convention center authority; and making related repeals."
While this legislation includes valuable modernizations to the County Code, I have decided to veto House Bill 2477 because it would also change current law to deprive the public of access to coroner records. In weighing the negative impact of restricting public information versus the good done by the other provisions in House Bill 2477, I have concluded that preserving open government must be our priority.
Although some in law enforcement, including Col. Pawlowski of the Pennsylvania State Police, endorse this change, I believe that the public right to information overshadows other concerns. The public has a right to the records produced with their taxpayer dollars, and we must preserve – not restrict – that access. It is my hope that the Legislature in January will move swiftly to enact the laudatory modernizations to the county code in a stand-alone piece of legislation.
Existing law requires that coroners provide their "official records and papers for the preceding year" to the prothonotary, who is required to make the records available "for the inspection of all persons interested therein." House Bill 2477 eliminates the requirement for public access, and would instead subject coroner reports to the Right to Know Law – which would dramatically narrow the information made available to the public and which, as several courts have ruled, was not meant to replace the public access provisions of the Coroner's Act.
As the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association wrote: "House Bill 2477 would amend that law to eliminate public access to virtually all coroner work product beyond name, cause and manner of death. In fact, the bill would limit access to even such basic information as the name of a decedent until 30 days after the end of the calendar year. There is no justification for such draconian restrictions – and significant public policy reasons why this information must remain public."
I agree, and must therefore withhold my signature from House Bill 2477.
Edward G. Rendell, Governor
House Bill 1231 – Veto Message
I am returning herewith, without my approval, House Bill 1231, Printer's Number 4393. I regret doing so, as I respect the sacrifices made by our firefighters; and our administration has greatly expanded state aid to our wonderful volunteer firefighter companies. However, this legislation threatens public safety by raising the specter of cuts to essential services, or of forcing local governments to raise property taxes at the same time that Pennsylvania families are struggling economically.
Unlike most occupational injuries or diseases, HB 1231 would establish a presumption that any cancer diagnosis would be a result of firefighting activities – and the benefit provider, in this case local government, would bear the almost impossible burden to prove otherwise. The current printer number of HB 1231 would only permit employers to rebut the presumption of occupationally caused cancer by attempting to essentially prove a negative by requiring "proof of conduct or activities outside of firefighting duties that posed a substantial risk of causing the cancer." This legislation also drastically differs from every other state cancer-presumption law, both because of this flawed rebuttable standard and because it would create the presumption for virtually every form of cancer when medical science simply does not know what causes most cancers.
While the total cost of this legislation is unknown – which is a problem in itself – experts predict that it would be significant, and the burden would be felt through tax hikes, cuts to local services, or both and, even worse, those cuts could be to firefighting activities. Municipal workers' compensation insurance trusts predict drastic rate increases and question their ability to even underwrite coverage of occupational cancer claims under this flawed bill. If municipalities lose this coverage, it could create a catastrophic financial situation.
As the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors wrote in their letter urging me to veto this bill: "Reduce commitment to public safety or raise property taxes? Those are the choices left to local governments if HB 1231 (PN 4393) becomes law." And the Pennsylvania League of Cities and Municipalities concluded, "The stark reality is that passage of this legislation will have a severe impact on the ability of municipalities to continue funding the current level of active and volunteer firefighters' services." The league strongly urged me to veto in a letter signed by 20 mayors -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- from some of our largest cities to some smaller boroughs. (See footnote for list).
An analysis done by the Pennsylvania League of Cities and Municipalities shows an increase of $362 million in workers' compensation claims for Pennsylvania local governments over a five-year period. The Delaware Valley Workers' Compensation Trust, which represents 54 municipalities in Southeastern Pennsylvania, warns of the "severe adverse potential fiscal impact" of the bill, and estimates a $50 million workers' compensation premium increase over five years.
The proponents of this legislation, such as Richard Bloomingdale, President of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, a leader I have enormous respect for, have contended that this bill will not increase costs to municipalities. However, the studies and analyses that I have seen simply do not agree with that assertion. Secondly, they point out that the legislation applies to a focused set of group 1 carcinogens. That is correct, but carcinogens are just the potential cause of cancers, and the bill does not limit the type of cancers that it would apply to. So, for example, a firefighter who contracts prostate or brain cancer would be entitled to this new presumption. There is no scientific evidence that suggests that conduct or outside activities of a firefighter could be the cause of such cancers. Clearly, there are genetic reasons people get prostate or brain cancer but since they are not caused by the "conduct or activities" of the firefighter, they could not be used to rebut this flawed presumption.
During the legislative process, my administration encouraged compromise language that would have protected firefighters and local governments. Our proposed amendment would have expanded workers' compensation cancer coverage for firefighters while providing municipalities with the ability to defend against cancer claims that are not occupationally related. We suggested the expansion of the presumption beyond lung cancer, but allowing municipalities to rebut the new presumption by a preponderance of the evidence that the cancer was not caused by the occupation of firefighting. Unfortunately, the Legislature chose to reject these efforts and instead sent me an untenable bill that I am forced to veto in order to protect Pennsylvania's taxpayers and public safety.
Lastly, it is important to note our firefighters already have substantial protection if their work exposed them to the risks of lung cancer – which science has shown is directly linked to many of the carcinogens they are exposed to in firefighting. In those instances, a presumption is created that can only be rebutted by "substantial evidence showing the cancer is not occupationally related" – that is a strong presumption that is fair and just, and protects our firefighters from the deadliest of all cancers.
For all these reasons, I must conclude that this legislation is critically flawed. At a time when our local governments are already feeling the strains of the economy on their operating budgets and families across the commonwealth can least afford higher property taxes, the provisions in this legislation represent a harmful unfunded mandate. Because this may jeopardize the local government's ability to adequately fund fire protections services, I must withhold my signature from this bill.
Edward G. Rendell, Governor
(Footnote: Altoona, Allentown, Reading, Lock Haven, Scranton, Pottsville, Lancaster, York, Erie, Washington, Greensburg, Williamsport, Lebanon, Warren, Meadville, Philadelphia and the Boroughs of Edinboro, Carlisle, West Chester and Indiana).
Media contact: Gary Tuma, 717-783-1116
SOURCE Pennsylvania Office of the Governor