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Local News

Pa. House tackles child welfare, crowns a state candy, and axes an old law on bridge safety


Peter Hall, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
March 29, 2024

In its second week back in session after the winter break, the Pennsylvania House of representatives passed 18 pieces of legislation ranging from updates to the laws that allow county governments to function to outlawing purchase, sale, and production of “ghost guns.”

Here’s a look at some of the legislation that will be waiting for the state Senate when it returns for a bicameral session week on April 8.

Kayden’s law

Named for 7-year-old Kayden Mancuso, who was murdered by her father in 2018 during a court-ordered custody visit, Kayden’s Law would require family court judges to include safety conditions and restrictions when a parent has a history or ongoing risk of abuse.

Despite an evaluation that showed Jeffrey Mancuso had suicidal thoughts, depression, and violent tendencies, a judge granted Mancuso unsupervised visits with Kayden. 

“What happened to Kayen was a heartbreaking tragedy, but, unfortunately, not unique,” Sens. Steven Santarsiero (D-Bucks) and Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) said in a 2023 memo seeking support for their bill. They noted that in a review of 4,000 cases, an abusive parent was granted custody 81% of the time.

The bill, which passed 119-82 in the House, will go to Gov. Josh Shapiro’s desk after it is signed in the Senate. 

A bittersweet proposal

The Hershey Co.’s iconic Kisses would join the ranks of the noble mountain laurel and the less beautiful but still noble Eastern Hellbender as a symbol of the Keystone State.

Like the Hellbender salamander, the Hershey’s Kisses candy began its path to state symbol status with the support of students with a dream. 

A group of students in Bucks County’s Council Rock School District, who named themselves the Kiss Committee, started their effort to make Kisses the state candy as part of a civics lesson in middle school. They’re now in 11th grade, Rep. Kristin Marcell (R-Bucks) said.

On Tuesday, the students heard from the House gallery that even the most sugar-coated proposal can inspire heated debate. Rep. Paul Schemel (R-Franklin) suggested that picking Kisses as the state candy was unfair to the makers of Peeps or Mallo Cups, among other Pennsylvania-made confections.

Rep. Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon) raised Hershey’s history of labor strife and offshoring Pennsylvania jobs to warn about entwining the commonwealth’s name with that of a company beholden to stockholders that could be sold tomorrow.

Despite the spirited opposition, House Bill 1030, passed with a 130-71 vote.

Better chances

Pennsylvania residents returning to their families and communities after being released from prison face steep obstacles to success, the sponsors of two bills aimed at reducing criminal recidivism said.

House Bill 1678 would build on Pennsylvania’s investment in vocational training for incarcerated people by allowing those who complete programs to earn credit that would allow them to be considered for parole sooner. The credits would also count against the waiting period those with criminal records face before obtaining an occupational license. 

The bill, introduced by Rep. Napoleon Nelson (D-Dauphin), passed 152-49.

House Bill 1601, introduced by Rep. Emily Kinkead (D-Allegheny) would require the departments of Corrections, Health, and Transportation to coordinate to help inmates obtain documents needed to obtain employment and housing, such as work permits, state identification, birth certificates, and Social Security cards.   

The bill passed 102-99 along party lines, with Republicans in opposition.

Landlord accountability

When a rental property is condemned as a result of a landlord’s neglect, the consequences for tenants can be financially and emotionally devastating, Rep. Dave Madsen (D-Dauphin) said in a memo seeking cosponsors for his bill to hold landlords accountable.

The legislation would require landlords to pay permanently displaced tenants the equivalent of six months rent if property code violations lead to a building being declared uninhabitable. It would also require a landlord to pay one month’s rent to tenants who are temporarily forced out of their homes.

House Bill 1549 passed with a 106-95 vote.

Food allergies

Physician-lawmaker Rep. Arvind Venkat (D-Allegheny) said in a memo seeking cosponsors for House Bill 1869 that nearly half of fatal allergic reactions to food happen at restaurants. The bill would require food allergy awareness posters to be displayed in employee areas of restaurants. It would also require menus to list food allergens and request customers to inform their servers of any allergies.

The bill passed 148-53.

Bridge safety

A day before Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge was struck by a freighter and collapsed with the loss of six construction workers, the Pennsylvania House repealed a bridge safety law that had been on the books since 1836.

Enacted in a time when wooden covered bridges dotted Pennsylvania’s landscapes, the law made it illegal to take a horse or cattle across a bridge faster than a walking pace. It also prohibited carrying lighted lanterns across a bridge. The fine for doing either was $5. 

House lawmakers voted unanimously to repeal the archaic law.

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This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.