|New Laws to Ensure Fairness, Justice for Crime Victims
Working to ensure justice is served for victims of crime in the Commonwealth, several initiatives aimed at improving the effectiveness and fairness of court proceedings were recently signed into law.
Recognizing that children and people with intellectual disabilities are often targeted as victims and may have more difficulty handling the trauma of testifying in court, two laws expand the situations in which out-of-court statements by victims or witnesses may be used in lieu of in-person testimony.
Act 31 of 2019 adds several different crimes – such as human trafficking, sexual abuse and related offenses – to the statute allowing out-of-court statements by children. Act 30 of 2019 extends the ability of the court to accept out-of-court statements made by people with intellectual disabilities or autism.
Other measures recently signed into law to address court proceedings include Act 23 of 2019, which ensures a victim is permitted to be present at any criminal proceeding unless the court determines the victim’s own testimony would be altered by hearing other witnesses; and Act 24 of 2019, which prevents prosecutors from bringing up a victim’s sexual history or prior allegations of sexual abuse while prosecuting certain crimes.
Learn more about our victim protection initiatives here.
Supporting Foster and Adopted Children
Working to ensure success for children in the foster system and those who have been adopted, the General Assembly has enacted three new laws.
• Act 14 of 2019 promotes the placement in adoptive homes of children who have disabilities or are otherwise hard to place due to age, sibling relationships or ethnicity. The law allows family members who are granted permanent legal custodianship for qualified children up to 21 years of age to receive subsidies for their care.
• Act 16 of 2019 assists children in the foster care system with the challenges of accessing higher education opportunities by creating a tuition and fee waiver option for youth in foster care, who were adopted from the foster care system, or have aged out of foster care. Statistics indicate only 50% of foster youth graduate from high school, only 20% go to college and less than 10% complete their postsecondary education.
• Act 47 of 2019 simplifies the process for certain adoptions by allowing a prison employee to serve as a witness to the completion of an adoption consent form by an incarcerated birth parent. If a second witness is unavailable, the new law allows the consent to be acknowledged before a notary public. Under prior law, potential adoptions were delayed for months, leaving the child stuck in the system rather than under the care of adoptive parents.
Removing Barriers to Employment
Building on our long-term efforts to promote economic opportunity and remove barriers to work, the General Assembly has passed a new law improving the portability of professional licenses.
Act 41 of 2019 requires the licensing boards and commissions under the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs (BPOA) to provide licensure by endorsement for applicants who hold similar licenses in other states. It also offers a provisional endorsement license to quickly move these professionals into the work force.
Under prior law, professionals moving into the state – including members of the military and their families – faced a number of barriers and delays in obtaining the appropriate licenses to reenter the work force, creating a financial burden for them and their families. In some cases, the delays could lead to missed job opportunities or even a decision to avoid moving to the Commonwealth.
The law is a win-win for both employees and employers.
Help Track PA’s Thriving Bald Eagle Population
The Pennsylvania Game Commission is asking for the public’s help to track the state’s growing bald eagle population.
After reaching a low of just three nesting bald eagle pairs in the Commonwealth in the early 1980s, officials now estimate there are more than 300 nesting pairs here.
While bald eagles are no longer listed as a threatened species in Pennsylvania, they are still protected by the U.S. Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which prohibits taking of the birds, nests or eggs.
If you spot a bald eagle nest, please use proper etiquette to avoid disturbing the birds. To review bald eagle nest guidelines, or to report your nest sighting to the game commission, click here.