LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: Waters Moves To Cut Prison Costs

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State Rep. Ronald G. Waters is backing a bill that would allow nonviolent offenders and offenders with short minimum sentences to serve their time in community corrections centers rather than State correctional facilities.
Waters, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said SB 1161 would not pose a public safety risk.

“Many times those who are given short minimum sentences are low- to moderate-risk offenders,” Waters said. “They are drug users who pose more of a threat to themselves than to society.”

Waters said he recognizes the need for violent offenders to be incarcerated, but said low- and moderate-risk offenders would be better served by methods that focus on addressing their behavioral problems rather than costly incarceration.

“That is why I support SB 1611, because it would help to cut prison costs,” Waters said. “Pennsylvania can reduce its prison population at a great cost savings to the taxpayer, while at the same time help offenders to work out their issues and get them back on track to reenter a law-abiding society.”

Waters said for every 2,000 new prisoners, the State must build a new prison at a cost of $200 million, a capital investment of $100,000 per prisoner and a yearly operating cost of $50 million to $60 million for each prison.

The bill is before the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.

THOMAS’ BILL WOULD  HAVE REAL-ESTATE ASSESSORS CERTIFIED

The State House has passed legislation (HB 2302) introduced by State Rep. W. Curtis Thomas that would require Philadelphia property assessors to be certified by the State.

“Philadelphia’s current exemption to the certification act has contributed to reported problems with property valuations performed by the Philadelphia Board of Revision of Taxes,” said Thomas, chairman of the House Urban Affairs Committee. “My bill would add a professionalism and accuracy that is lacking in the current system, thereby restoring confidence in the assessment process.”

In 66 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, the Assessors Certification Act requires people with responsibilities related to the valuation of real property to acquire certification from the State Board of Real Estate Appraisers.
Philadelphia is the only county exempt from the requirements of the Assessors Certification Act. HB 2302 would remove Philadelphia’s exemption, requiring the City to use only certified property assessors.

The certification process requires a minimum of 90 hours of course study related to appraisals and assessments. Certification also requires passing an exam which covers all phases of the appraisal process and assessment procedures established by State law.

Assessors also must complete a minimum of 20 hours of continuing education in order to maintain certification. The Board renews certifications on a biennial basis.

HB 2302 now moves to the Senate for consideration.

BISHOP’S CHARTER-SCHOOL BILL MOVES AHEAD
The House Education Committee has approved legislation introduced by State Rep. Louise Williams Bishop that would prohibit charter schools from operating within 300 feet from an entity licensed by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

Bishop said current law does not specifically prohibit this, and her legislation (HB 2507) would correct that oversight.

“I had an experience in my District where a charter school used an area of the building as a cafeteria during the day and after school hours allowed the cafeteria to operate as a night club with a liquor license,” Bishop said. “We need to get this legislation enacted in order to close the loophole in the law.”
Bishop’s bill now goes to the full House for consideration. She is chairwoman of the House Children & Youth Committee.

KENYATTA’S BILL CREATES A DRUG & ALCOHOL DEPT.

State Rep. Kenyatta Johnson said legislation he co-sponsored that would provide better access for people in need of drug and alcohol rehabilitation services has passed the House and Senate and will soon head to the Governor for his signature.

The legislation, HB 1186, would create a new State Dept. of Drug & Alcohol Programs that would be charged with developing a comprehensive statewide plan for preventing and combating drug and alcohol abuse and dependency problems.

Johnson said the new department would also work to ensure coordination among agencies, including local government agencies that deal with drug abuse and dependency, in an effort to avoid duplication.

“The goal is for this department to develop and implement a model plan to be used across the Commonwealth to deal with drug and alcohol abuse,” Johnson said.

“As a long-time advocate of treatment for the abuse of drugs and alcohol, I believe there needs to a better way for individuals and families to get the information they need to find help,” he added. “This new department will help advance the issues of drug and alcohol rehabilitation.”

HOUSING ALLIANCE HAILS ANTI-SLUMLORD BILL

 The Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania is applauding passage by the State Senate of a law that will give cities and towns more power to make delinquent property owners pay up and fix up.

The legislation – called the Neighborhood Blight Reclamation & Revitalization Act – also helps communities pursue out-of-state property owners and bring them to justice. It allows local governments to pursue the assets of owners who refuse to fix up the run-down places they own.

“The great majority of property owners are responsible and maintain the upkeep on their properties. Unfortunately, other owners neglect their properties. Just one or two of these run-down houses can ruin an entire block. This law will give communities the power to address these problems,” said Liz Hersh, executive director of HAP.

The legislation was sponsored by State Sen. David Argall, who took over the mantle after the original sponsor State Sen. James Rhoades was tragically killed by a drunk driver last year.

The bill has several components to combat negligent landlords. It allows municipalities to take actions against owners of buildings, housing or land that is in violation of building or housing codes by placing a lien against the owner’s total assets, not just against the building.

It provides for out-of-state owners of deteriorated property to be extradited to the Commonwealth for criminal prosecution.

It allows municipalities to deny applications for certain municipal permits and approvals if the applicant is delinquent on taxes or other municipal charges, or if the applicant owns property that is in serious violation of codes.

It encourages the development of education and training programs for judges related to blighted and abandoned property. It authorizes the establishment of housing courts.

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