Op-Ed: New Laws Address DUI Penalties, Emergency Responders, Welfare Abuse

As lawmakers worked to complete the final voting days of the 2017-18 Legislative Session, the General Assembly took action on more than 80 bills – including three proposals I sponsored based on needs in local communities.

One of my highest priorities this year was creating tougher penalties against repeat DUI offenders. Local families have endured far too many completely avoidable tragedies relating to drunk driving. I am very grateful that a proposal I introduced was signed into law to create a felony statute for the most egregious habitual DUI offenders.

In addition to the measures targeting repeat DUI offenders, the new law also includes stiffer punishments for motorists who drive on a suspended or revoked license, including additional jail time for motorists who are found guilty of aggravated assault by vehicle or homicide by vehicle without a valid license while DUI.

Another bill I sponsored that was signed into law will better protect emergency responders who are part of Special Emergency Response Teams. These dedicated individuals are trained to handle some of the toughest emergencies, including hostage negotiations, kidnappings and barricaded gunmen. Under the new law, off-duty officers will be permitted to use flashing lights on their personal vehicles when responding to incidents in order to reduce response times and allow them to reach the scene more safely.

Lawmakers also gave final approval to legislation I introduced that would clarify laws relating to parking spaces for individuals who have a disability. This new law will ensure motorists are held accountable when they block access aisles – areas next to a handicapped parking space marked with diagonal lines to allow room for wheelchair lifts, ramps and other mobility-enhancing devices.

I also supported passage of a package of welfare reforms designed to prevent the abuse of public assistance programs. Although I was disappointed that Governor Wolf vetoed some of these measures – including a bill I supported that would have created commonsense work requirements for able-bodied Medicaid recipients – we were successful in creating tougher standards for other public assistance programs.

One of these reform bills tightens restrictions against providing welfare to non-compliant sex offenders and high-level drug dealers. The proposal also prevents abuse of taxpayer-funded programs by preventing the use of Electronic Benefit Transfer cards at casinos and adult entertainment venues. Another new law will help prevent individuals and businesses from trafficking Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

Education and school safety were also areas of concern. A new law will provide students with alternative paths to meeting graduation requirements instead of passing the Keystone Exams. Lawmakers also agreed on a plan that would allow school boards to discuss school safety plans in private executive sessions to prevent security procedures from being exploited by criminals.

All of these measures represented a great deal of progress on the issues that local individuals and community organizations identified as areas of concern, and I look forward to seeing even more progress when the General Assembly returns to voting session in the months ahead.


Trego (717) 787-6535

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