Guns will be on the agenda during Sept. 24, 25 state Senate hearings

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne.

Pennsylvania’s state Senate Judiciary Committee, which is responsible for vetting criminal justice legislation, is set to hear expert testimony on gun control, statute of limitations reform, and parole practices in September, according to a press release issued Tuesday.

The Judiciary Committee’s two-day hearing on “behavioral health, Second Amendment rights, and other gun related issues” will take place on Sept. 24 and 25 in the state Capitol. According to the release, testifiers and other details will be announced closer to the hearing date.

The decision by committee Chairwoman Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, to hold public hearings on these topics indicates the policy priorities of the powerful Judiciary Committee as lawmakers prepare to return from their summer recess.

Baker, who took charge of the Senate panel in late 2018, announced her intent to hold hearings on gun control last week, after gunmen in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio killed 31 people in mass shootings.

“The rising and devastating toll from mass shootings obligates officials at every level to determine potentially effective remedies,” Baker said in an Aug. 6 statement. “That means not only examining what can be constitutionally accomplished in respect to weapons and ammunition, but the dire need to upgrade mental health services and to confront the climate of hate and bias that encourages supremacists and others to act in violent and destructive ways.” 

In the same statement, Baker rejected the notion that state lawmakers have been “blind and dumb” to concerns about gun violence, saying they have considered “a variety of bills” in the last year to address the problem. 

One such bill, introduced in February by Sen. Tom Killion, R-Delaware, would create extreme risk protection orders to allow law enforcement agents to temporarily seize firearms from people in crisis. Baker’s panel must vote to approve the bill before it can go to the full Senate for a vote.

The committee will also hold a hearing on statute of limitations reform on Wednesday, Oct. 2. 

The Senate failed to pass a bill last year that would reform Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations laws to enable victims of childhood sex abuse to sue and pursue criminal charges against their abusers. 

The bill was a recommendation of a 2018 grand jury report that uncovered a decades-long pattern of child sex abuse and coverup in Pennsylvania’s Catholic dioceses. 

Baker also announced a third hearing on “Pennsylvania’s parolee release process,” which will be scheduled following the completion of a report by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. 

The Department of Corrections is currently analyzing the events that allegedly allowed five Pennsylvania parolees to commit six homicides in just two months this summer. 

The murders prompted calls from county prosecutors and state corrections officers for a review of Pennsylvania’s parole system, according to the Associated Press

Corrections Secretary John Wetzel ordered a review of the parolees, including their disciplinary history in prison and the events that led to their release, to “try to determine if something should have been done differently,” the AP reported. 

In a July 26 letter, Baker invited Wetzel to appear at a public hearing before the Judiciary Committee to share the findings of his review and answer questions from committee members.

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