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Identity & Community

Ordinances Limiting 911 Calls Outlawed in PA

Pennsylvania residents no longer need to fear the threat of eviction when calling 911.

“There were some municipalities that were adopting ordinances that penalized people for calling 911,” Representative Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery) said. “This bill ensures that everyone can call 911 if they feel that they need help or they need assistance.”

“Nuisance ordinances” were enacted, in large part, to help limit the amount of calls that 911 offices received from specific residences. These repeat offenders and their landlords were supposed to be penalized for the consistent need to send law enforcement officers on the premises.

“Unintended consequences” – namely silencing domestic abuse victims – made many of the “nuisance ordinances” counterproductive, according to Stephens.

With the passage of House Bill 1796, known as the Protection for Victims of Crime from Certain Municipal Ordinances, those who call 911 will not be threatened by local laws bent on curbing “nuisance” 911 calls.  

”I think the initial motivation was proper,” Stephens said. “I give these municipalities the benefit of the doubt that they were looking to reduce nuisance calls.”

HB 1796 “ensures that no municipality can take action against someone simply for calling for help,” Stephens said. “It will immediately provide protections for anyone who calls 911 who legitimately needs assistance.”

Eastern Pennsylvania became the focus of August 2013 New York Times article discussing the negative effects that “nuisance ordinances” and the fear of eviction had on domestic abuse victims. One specific case, which took place in Norristown, Pa., caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Stephens believes the case highlighted by the New York Times article is indicative of the “unintended consequences” of the local ordinances.

“The problem is I think they cast too wide a net and swept in a lot of other folks that they did not anticipate.”

HB 1796 passed both the state House and state Senate with unanimous support.

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