BENNINGHOFF: Addressing Crime and Violence Through Smart Justice
Rising crime rates, led by spikes in violent crime, have been ravaging Pennsylvania’s major cities and are now spilling over into suburban and rural communities.
As we have continued to witness tragic news story after tragic news story of young lives ended too soon or businesses being forced to close or relocate due to preventable incidents of crime, the members of the House Republican Caucus have been working to respond with smart legislation designed to marshal state and local resources to keep Pennsylvanians safe and ensure criminals are off our streets.
Our efforts began in earnest at the beginning of the year with a package of “smart justice” bills that were aimed at providing state and local officials with more tools to combat increasing gun violence while also giving crime victims greater ability to exercise the rights afforded to them.
That first bill, House Bill 2275, would supercharge the Attorney General’s Gun Violence Task Force to help crack down on illegal gun crimes in Philadelphia, a place where shooting incidents and victims of gun crime have continued to increase over last year’s historic numbers. That legislation passed the House in April of this year.
Along those same lines, House Bill 2464, which was signed into law as Act 77 of 2022 in July, established standing for victims of crime to seek enforcement of the rights that have already been afforded to them in law. This law stops crime victims from being reliant on third parties to stand up for their protection and allows them to know the protections afforded to them by current law will be enforced.
As part of a truly historic budget passed in the beginning of July, House Republicans ensured providing tools to state and local law enforcement to keep Pennsylvanians safe was at the forefront of our discussions.
That budget secured $7.6 million for a joint local-state task force to focus on prosecuting illegal gun crimes and straw purchases of firearms in Philadelphia.
We included enough funding to hire to the Pennsylvania State Police to hire 200 additional State Troopers to help keep Pennsylvania’s communities safe, to provide the State Police with the latest law enforcement technology, and bolster their operation of the Pennsylvania gun background check system – one of the most comprehensive background check systems in the nation.
The budget set aside $75 million in one-time federal funds to supplement $30 million in state funding to community violence intervention and prevention initiatives. That is in addition to $1.7 million allocated for municipal police training and $50 million in federal funds to provide gun violence investigation and prosecution grants.
We also put an incredible amount of resources into getting at the root causes of crime and violence by allocating $135 million in federal relief funding for a collaborative care mental health initiative and efforts to keep our schools safe by including $100 million for school safety and security.
Contemporaneously with the passage of the budget earlier this summer, the House also took the historic step of forming the House Select Committee on Restoring Law and Order, which is a bipartisan committee designed to take a comprehensive look at the historic crime and violence in Philadelphia and help determine what solutions are available to ensure our laws are enforced and Pennsylvanians are kept safe.
As we reach the final days of our 2021-22 legislative session, we are continuing to run through the finish line on stopping crime and violence and working to keep Pennsylvanians safe.
Just this past week, the General Assembly concluded work on legislation sponsored by Rep. Aaron Bernstine (R-Lawrence) on a bill called “Markie’s Law.” This bill, named after Mark “Markie” Mason—an 8-year-old who was stabbed to death by a man paroled before the end of his sentence for violent crime—will postpone consideration of a violent inmate’s parole for two years following their minimum release date.
This legislation, awaiting Gov. Wolf’s signature, will keep children and other Pennsylvanians safe from criminals convicted of violent crimes by ensuring they stay where they belong: behind bars.
While crime and violence continue to persist, reversing the trend of out-of-control crime by providing state resources, passing tough-on-crime legislation, and using legislative authority to hold local officials accountable has been a priority of House Republicans over the last two years.
As we reach our remaining session days, we will continue to rise to the occasion to do what we can to keep Pennsylvanians safe and protect victims of crime.
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