Address Burns’ bill promptly

Law-abiding Pennsylvania residents might ask “What’s not to like?” about a bill introduced by state Rep. Frank Burns, D-Cambria, aimed at stiffening penalties for attempting to flee police.

They’re probably right, although some defense lawyers probably can point to situations where the tougher penalties might not be appropriate, or at least be subject to special considerations.

The criminal justice system is capable of identifying situations where exceptions are necessary.

Still, what Burns proposes merits passage by the Legislature; many state residents who’ve heard about the bill no doubt regard passage as a no-brainer.

By way of a news release earlier this month, Burns announced that he has introduced House Bill 1857, which would raise the penalty for fleeing a police officer by motor vehicle to a third-degree felony from a second-degree misdemeanor.

The bill also would create a new first-degree felony charge for cases in which a police officer is injured seriously or dies during the pursuit of a fleeing individual.

Additionally, the Burns bill would — because not all suspects use a vehicle while attempting to flee — expand the offense of resisting arrest to include fleeing or eluding an officer no matter what the mode of transportation. Even in cases where an escape motor vehicle is not involved, the bill would stipulate a first-degree felony charge if that attempt to elude capture resulted in serious injury or death to an officer.

In the bill, Burns doesn’t ignore cases in which a member of the public is seriously injured or killed during an attempted escape.

The stiffer penalties sought by Burns via his bill would apply in those situations as well.

H.B. 1857 currently is before the state House Judiciary Committee. It will be evaluated in terms of how it squares with laws and provisions already on the books.

Presumably, input will be sought from interested individuals and entities, and consideration given to whether language should be added to clarify any provisions in the measure.

In his news release, Burns said he was moved to pursue the tougher penalties in response to a 2015 case in Scranton — a case in which a Scranton patrolman fell 15 feet to his death while pursuing three armed-robbery suspects on foot after they crashed and fled a stolen vehicle.

The release quoted Burns as saying that “by increasing the penalties for resisting arrest, fleeing or attempting to elude law enforcement, it is my hope that suspects will think twice before endangering these public servants.”

The Judiciary Committee should put in motion promptly the proceedings necessary for a committee vote, consideration by the full House and forwarding the measure to the Senate.

It will take some time for those steps to be completed, but the bill shouldn’t languish waiting for action.

Quick passage of the bill is a no-brainer, if any issues that might be raised can be expeditiously and appropriately addressed.

Law-abiding state residents should demand nothing less.

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