A bad idea whose time has come (again). Pa. House panel to take up local gun preemption bill | Monday Morning Coffee

May 24, 2021 7:13 am

Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
Reminding us that some lawmakers are just fine with local control until they aren’t, the House Judiciary Committee is set to take up a bill on Tuesday that would force local taxpayers to pick up the check if someone successfully mounts a court challenge to a municipal gun ordinance that’s stronger than existing state law.

If the proposal, sponsored by Rep. Matthew D. Dowling, R-Fayette, sounds familiar, that’s because it is. In 2016, the state Supreme Court tossed an identical, National Rifle Association-backed law, passed under the administration of ex-GOP Gov. Tom Corbett, ruling that it was unconstitutional because it was sandwiched into a totally unrelated bill upping the penalties for stealing scrap metal, WHYY-FM in Philadelphia reported at the time.

Gun violence advocates hailed the high court’s ruling as a victory for common sense, arguing that it would have a chilling (and potentially bankrupting) effect on local municipalities’ efforts to combat an epidemic of gun violence that’s only gotten worse in the intervening years. In fact, small municipalities rolled back their gun ordinances rather than face costly litigation, WHYY-FM also reported.

But because there’s no idea in state government that’s bad enough that it can’t be tried twice, Dowling is upping the stakes in his legislation.

In a ‘Dear Colleague’ memo seeking support for his bill, Dowling wrote that his proposal also would allow people who “successfully “defends [themselves] against an illegal prosecution under one of these ordinances will also be entitled to collect reasonable attorneys fees and costs for defense. Second, to give municipalities even more fair notice, the Attorney General will be required to notify all municipalities of the contents of this bill before it ever goes into effect.”

In his memo, Dowling effectively argues that it’s only a matter of fairness, because, “where so many different ordinances are allowed to exist, citizens with no criminal intent are placed in danger of breaking restrictions where they don’t know they exist.

“Furthermore, it is unreasonable to require residents of Pennsylvania and citizens passing through from other states to memorize every firearm ordinance as they pass through each local jurisdiction,” he continued. “The end result is that citizens can be forced to incur significant expenses to hire attorneys to challenge these illegal and unconstitutional ordinances,” he continued.

Sen. Tom Killion, R-Montgomery, rallies in the Capitol for Senate Bill 90, which would create a Red Flag gun control law.
(Capital-Star file)

Gun violence reduction advocates, however, see something more insidious at work, casting it as a renewed effort to tie the hands of municipal officials, particularly those in the state’s largest cities, who are dealing with a wave of gun violence that’s worsened in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Pennsylvania has a gun violence problem,” Adam Garber, the executive director of the Philadelphia-based gun-violence prevention group CeaseFirePA, wrote to lawmakers last week, urging them to oppose the bill. “About 1,600 people are killed every year, the majority of them are suicides, often in our rural communities. Thousands more are non-fatally shot, and the ripple effects go further. In many municipalities, local officials are trying to respond to calls for action by local citizens to address a gun violence epidemic that has worsened in the last year. The Commonwealth is strongest when local municipalities can respond to their constituents’ requests to develop potential solutions to problems impacting the safety of their community.”

If the bill passes, Garber warned, “local officials may be too fearful to explore potential solutions to the gun violence problem because of the financial risk it poses to the municipality. Many legislators started in local government — would you want your hands tied to act on an issue that was impacting your community?”

Left out of Garber’s missive — though no less important — is that the bill would likely hit a brick wall in the form of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and his veto pen. Though it is possible, if not likely that Republicans will pick up votes from rural Democrats who are friendly to gun rights.

And as is the case with the resurgent GOP fight against abortion rights and voting right, Republican lawmakers already are looking beyond the Wolf era.

The Democratic governor is term-limited out of office in 2022. And if there’s an issue that excites the GOP’s Trump-dominated base it’s the Second Amendment. And that’s one big reason for pro-gun violence reduction Democrats to remain vigilant.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
In this week’s edition of The Numbers RacketCassie Miller crunches some recent Pew Research Center data showing that Asian-Americans and Hispanics are the fastest-growing segments of the nation’s population.

With new guidelines in place for the state’s emergency response, Marley Parish takes a look at how. Pa. lawmakers might address the state’s ongoing opioid crisis.

And even with Gov. Tom Wolf’s disaster powers clipped, Pa.’s mask mandate remains in place. Stephen Caruso explains why that’s the case.

On Capitol Hill, pols from Pa. and across the nation are jostling for federal transportation cash. Capital-Star Washington Reporters Laura Olson and Ariana Figueroa explain why the return of earmarks is making the fight over infrastructure funding even more interesting.

Reporter Ryan Deto, of our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper, post-games last Tuesday’s primary, finding all kinds of wins for progressives across Allegheny County.

Soul legend Marvin Gaye’s immortal record, ‘What’s Going On,‘ turns 50 this year. And in our era of change, its message remains as resonant as ever, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Dick Polman says Democrats shouldn’t negotiate with terrorists … er … Capitol Hill Republicans over a Jan. 6 commission. And an expert from New York City’s The New School explains how electric cars can advance the cause of environmental justice.

En la Estrella-CapitalTyler Titus marca una victoria histórica en la carrera primaria Demócrata para el ejecutivo del Condado de Erie. Y en una reprimenda pandémica, los votantes  de Pa. se mueven para limitar los poderes de emergencia de Wolf.

(c) dglimages –

With gun violence growing, one Philadelphia school community has decided it’s had enough, the Inquirer reports.
The Post-Gazette takes the pulse of police reform efforts in Pittsburgh and elsewhere.
PennLive talks to high school seniors about their pandemic graduating year.
The Morning Call looks at how candidates are adapting to the era of the mail-in ballot.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.has ripped into Republicans opposing the creation of a Jan. 6 commission, the Citizens’ Voice reports.
Pennsylvania’s police departments are whiter than the communities that they serve, the York Daily Record reports.

Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:


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A post shared by Nathan Taraska (@nathantaraska)

BillyPenn profiles new Philadelphia acting Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole.
Pennsylvania nursing homes, which have been hit hard by the pandemic, are seeking American Rescue Act assistanceWITF-FM reports.
GoErie takes a look at the effort to fight illegal drugs in Erie County (paywall).
PoliticsPA rounds up last week’s winners and losers in state politics.
Republican governors’ move to end COVID benefits is hitting rural America reports.
With the bill moving to the Senate, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.says it’s ‘too early’ to form a Jan. 6 commission, Talking Points Memo reports.

What Goes On.
The House comes in at 12 p.m. today, the Senate reconvenes at 1 p.m. Here’s a look at the day’s committee and event action.
10 a.m, Room 140 Main Capitol: House Education and Human Services Committee
10:30 a.m., 515 Irvis North: House Labor & Industry Committee
11 a.m, 523 Irvis South: House Transportation Committee
11 a.m, 60 East Wing: House Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee
11 a.m., Senate Chamber: Senate Health & Human Services Committee
11 a.m, Capitol Steps: Rally for reforming insurance prior authorizations
12:30 p.m., Senate Chamber: Senate Game & Fisheries Committee
12:30 p.m, Capitol Steps: Survivors of childhood sexual abuse rally for statute of limitations reform bill
12:45 p.m., Senate Chamber: Senate Communications & Technology Committee
Off the Floor, Senate Chamber: Senate Appropriations Committee
Off the Floor, Senate Chamber: Senate Transportation Committee
Call of the Chair, 140 Main Capitol: House Appropriations Committee

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition). 
8 a.m: Breakfast for Rep. Rosemary Brown
5 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Austin Davis
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Amen Brown
5:30 p.m: Reception for Rep. Mike Sturla
8:30 p.m.: Reception for Sen. Camera Bartolotta

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Belated best wishes go out this morning to Jacob Michaels, of the Morning Call, who celebrated on Sunday. Updated best wishes go out this morning to former U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, of Allentown; to Shavonia Corbin-Johnson, at the Pennsylvania Democratic Party; to Harrisburg community organizer Kia Hansard, and to veteran PennLive photographer Mark Pynes, all of who celebrate today. Congratulations and enjoy the day, friends.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s an old favorite from Lily Allen to get the working week off to a sunshine-y start. From her debut LP ‘Alright Still,’ it’s ‘Smile.’

Monday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Nashville evened up its playoff series with Carolina, defeating the ‘Canes 4-3 on Sunday. It was the Preds’ second double-overtime win in a row in its own barn. The series is tied 2-2.

And now you’re up to date. 

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.