The Lead

Pa. House committee advances bill that would change how the state handles pardons

By: - November 13, 2023 5:30 pm
Pennsylvania Capitol Building. May 24, 2022. Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).

Pennsylvania Capitol Building in Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg for the Capital-Star).

The state House Judiciary Committee on Monday voted 14-11 along party lines to advance a bill that would change how Pennsylvania handles pardons. 

House Bill 1410 would amend the state’s constitution to change the requirement that the Board of Pardons must vote unanimously on whether to advance a pardon request to the governor. Under the bill, the BOP would return to the simple majority vote that was in place before the sentencing reforms of the 1990s.

“The reality is that we know that people age out of crime and that the longer that we hold people in prison, the more expensive it becomes,” Rep. Emily Kinkead (D-Allegheny) said Monday. “And when somebody is rehabilitated and they are willing to contribute to our community again,  they should have the ability to come back out into the community. It shouldn’t require a unanimous vote in order to do that.”

Rep. Rob Kauffman (R-Franklin) said while he saw “room for discussion” on how pardons should be handled, “I don’t believe that moving the bar from unanimous to a simple majority is the answer right now.”

House Speaker Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia), is the bill’s prime sponsor. She was not present at Monday’s committee meeting, but said in a statement that in her previous role as a public defender she had seen many people become caught up in the criminal justice system and incarcerated for long jail sentences.  

“It is time to move past the short-sighted policies of the ‘tough on crime’ era, which many agree did little to make Pennsylvania safer, and instead return to a fair and reasonable three-out-of-five votes requirement,” McClinton said after the hearing. “I’m glad that so many members of the Judiciary Committee see the need to replace an outdated policy with a policy of compassion, understanding and opportunity.”

Lt. Gov. Austin Davis, who serves as chair of the BOP, applauded the committee’s decision. “Pennsylvania should be a place for second chances, and we should have a system that represents that vision,” David said in a statement Monday. “This bill would improve the commutations process, empower each board member to vote their conscience and allow for meritorious applicants to have a greater opportunity for a second chance.”

Changing the state Constitution requires passage by both chambers of the Legislature in two consecutive sessions, and a voter referendum.

The bill now moves to the full House for consideration.

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Kim Lyons
Kim Lyons

Kim Lyons is a veteran western Pennsylvania journalist who has covered people and trends in politics and business for local and national publications. Follow her on Threads @social_kimly