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Despite Controversial Amendments, House Passes Justice Reinvestment Bills

Marc Levy

The state House has taken a significant step toward passing a long-awaited package of criminal justice overhauls—moving two of the three bills out of the chamber and to the Senate for concurrence.

The measures are designed to save money on corrections and reinvest it in crime prevention projects.

One would create a parole advisory committee aimed at helping counties, another would expand crime victim compensation and the third would allow automatic parole for some low-level offenders.

But for a moment this week, it looked like that last bill might crash under the weight of several amendments adding controversial mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes.

The sponsor, Montgomery County Republican Todd Stephens, ultimately withdrew them. But many Democrats and the state ACLU are still unhappy with other GOP additions to the bill, like mandatory minimums for people convicted of harming minors.

Democrat Tim Briggs, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said he voted for it reluctantly and hopes the Senate strips it out.

“There is no evidence from research on mandatory minimum sentencing that they are effective at deterring future criminal behavior,” he said.

The state ACLU pulled its support for the bill completely.

Governor Tom Wolf has said he looks forward to signing the full package.