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Welcome to "Mike's Memo," an update on what's happening in the 48th Legislative District, the State Capitol, and the progress of my legislative priorities. If you haven't done so already, please take a few moments to visit my website at www.senatorfolmer.com to learn more about issues that may affect you and your family.

Week of August 7, 2017

Condolences: Retired Cleona Borough Police Chief Raymond Barry III
Friends, family and community are mourning the loss of Raymond James Barry III, who passed away on July 31. He served his country with honor as a member of the United States Air Force before beginning his career with First Aid and Safety Patrol. He continued on to work at Lebanon County Correctional Facility, then became a Lebanon County Detective before being named Chief of the Cleona Borough Police Department. After his retirement, he continued to work for the Lebanon County Sheriff’s Office and taught criminal justice at Lebanon Valley College and Harrisburg Area Community College. Ray represented many things to many people, among them a beloved family member, dedicated law enforcement officer and avowed community steward. His inspiring presence will live long in the hearts and memories of the many individuals whose lives he touched.

Lebanon City “Walk with the Mayor”
A “Walk with the Mayor” will be held on August 22 at 12:30 p.m., where participants will meet Mayor Sherry Capello at the 9th and Cumberland Street parking lot and walk one-mile through the downtown City of Lebanon. Each will receive a free pedometer, bottle of water and fitness tips from a YMCA Health Coach.

Column: Protecting Property & States’ Rights
Asset forfeitures are civil proceedings that allow law enforcement to take possession of the property of certain persons suspected of crime. Drug arrests are the most common examples of seizures: cash, cars, and sometimes homes. Law enforcement can seize personal property from citizens based only on the suspicion the property has been involved in criminal activity – without ever having to charge the owner with a crime.

Over time, forfeitures expanded. Once used to take profits from convicted criminals and deter them from benefitting from their illegal actions, forfeiture was sometimes used to take ownership of properties from innocent citizens. Cash, cars, real estate, and even personal property was taken from people who faced no criminal charges. In Philadelphia alone, one-third of those who had had their property forfeited were not convicted of a crime.

I was pleased to work with Senate President Pro Tempore Scarnati to spearhead changes in Pennsylvania law to better protect property rights – now Act 13 of 2017. Since then, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has announced federal changes to expand the scope of forfeitures. I have concerns with these policy changes as I believe they’re contrary to state laws and states’ rights.

Opponents of our efforts in Pennsylvania are now bemoaning Sessions’ proposals for property forfeitures while previously saying Pennsylvania’s reforms wouldn’t go far enough. Compare one op-ed about Pennsylvania’s changes, entitled, “To Think that SB 8 Becoming Law will Effectively Reform Civil Asset Forfeiture is Naïve,” with another opinion piece lamenting federal seizures that said: “ Jeff Sessions Is Aiding and Abetting Police Departments Who Want to Seize Property of People Convicted of No Crime.”

Fortunately, Senator Scarnati and I were able to overcome those who said our proposed reforms weren’t good enough. Our opponents were, in essence, protecting the status quo. We’re especially thankful for the help and support from the US Justice Action Network, a national organization working to curb civil asset forfeiture abuses, and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys’ Association.

For over two years, we worked to bring needed reforms to Pennsylvania law. The key was finding a proper balance between the uses of forfeiture against criminals with the property rights of innocent citizens who should not have their property taken by the government.

We also worked to include language in our legislation to maintain protections that prohibit state agencies from referring Pennsylvania property to the federal government and allowing forfeitures under the revised federal policies.

In addition to Pennsylvania’s new law protecting against federal overreach, it also:

  • Creates a higher burden of proof for forfeiture and protects third-party owners by placing additional requirements on government agencies;
  • Increases transparency in the auditing and reporting of forfeited property;
  • Prohibits any pre-forfeiture seizures without due process (i.e., a hearing), and;
  • Establishes an extra level of protection for anyone acquitted of a related crime who is trying to get their property back.

Without these protections, Pennsylvanians would have continued to face a complex civil court system, without the aid of an attorney, and would have continued to be forced to try to prove their property innocent against governmental power.

Now, if we could just get the federal government to adhere to the 10th Amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

I simply do not believe the federal government knows best – especially when it comes to property rights.

Residents & Businesses in 717 Area Code Should Prepare for 10-Digit Dialing
The PA Public Utility Commission is encouraging residents and businesses served by the 717 area code to prepare for the upcoming switch to mandatory 10-digit dialing for all local calls beginning August 26. The switch is required for the activation of a new “overlay” area code – 223 – which will serve the 16-county region included in the 717 service area because of the minimal remaining supply of available 717 telephone numbers. The list of devices that consumers should check, to verify they are configured for 10-digit dialing, includes:

  • Mobile and landline phones, tablets and fax machines
  • Line-safety and medical alert systems
  • Alarm/security systems and security gates
  • Call-forwarding settings and voicemail services
  • Internet dial-up systems
  • Automatic dialing equipment and software
  • Speed-dialers
  • Ankle monitors
  • Any other device that can save, store and automatically dial phone numbers

PennDOT Driver and Vehicle Services Update: Special Edition
I recently received the PA Department of Transportation Driver and Vehicle Services Update Special Edition, “County Fee for Local Use – Transfer Notice.” Act 89 of 2013 established a special fund within the state treasury called “Local Use Fund.” Counties may pass an ordinance to implement a $5 fee for each non-exempt vehicle registered to an address located in that county (in addition to the registration fee), which is collected by PennDOT at the time a vehicle is registered or renewed. Effective October 1, 2017, the $5 county fee will also apply to the transfer of registration. For more details, see below.

 

Contact Information
Please feel free to contact me at any time on state-related issues that are of concern to you. I may be reached through my website or my Lebanon or Harrisburg offices.

When contacting my office by e-mail, mail, or telephone, please be sure to share your e-mail, telephone number, and address so that we can follow up with you in a timely manner. Many inquiries can be handled with a phone call or email.

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