Legislature’s Act 67 fumble hurts Altoona

The Pennsylvania General Assembly’s error in late June, in which lawmakers stripped arrest powers from Altoona Area School District police — as well as police of other school districts — is not the first time the Legislature brought about unintended consequences from actions during the hectic last days of a fiscal year.

Mistakes-by-haste will occur no doubt in waning days of fiscal years in the future, maybe even at the end of the current one, which ends June 30, 2020.

The old saying “time will tell” is apropos.

Nonetheless, June’s error, an example of carelessness and inattention to detail, merits more than mild criticism, despite the fact that it occurred during the days when lawmakers were busy putting the final touches on the 2019-20 state budget.

Even though legislative leaders were caught up in last-minute budget preparations and negotiations, rank-and-file lawmakers had time to pay attention to other issues crossing their desks.

Those rank-and-file legislators included Blair County’s delegation in Harrisburg who, it is hard to fathom, failed to direct enough of their attention to a measure that would impact their county.

In fact, considering the number of changes that were being made to the legislation in question — Act 67 — it would have been wise for area lawmakers to have at least “touched base” with Altoona School District officials to ascertain whether any proposed provisions would be detrimental to the district.

Because those local lawmakers didn’t and thus were unable to alert legislative leaders that a problem was embedded in the measure, the Altoona district’s police have been undermined and the General Assembly now is in the position of trying to find the most efficient way to rectify the problem.

Meanwhile, the school year isn’t standing still as lawmakers try to figure out the best way to remove the dunce caps that they’ve unfortunately earned.

Sen. Mike Regan, R-Cumberland, had the right intentions when he proposed his legislation to remove ambiguities regarding the police in question and about arming security guards in schools.

However, other legislators introduced amendments that ultimately caused the unintended consequence of taking away arrest powers from officers solely serving schools under approval from county governments.

Included among those police were those employed by the Altoona School System.

The bill that ultimately was approved and forwarded to Gov. Tom Wolf, who also must share blame for the error, limits school police officers to issuing citations for summary offenses or detaining individuals on school grounds or in buses until local law enforcement is notified.

Of course, the bill doesn’t address problems that might occur if local police are not available at the time an attempt is made to summon them. Erin Marsicano, a spokeswoman for the Cumberland County senator, said lawmakers currently are working to find the quickest legislative vehicle to effect a correction. However, she suggested that finding the right vehicle could take weeks.

Since lawmakers’ haste and inattention created the mistake, they ought to be able to muster the initiative to fix it in a more reasonable amount of time.

The timetable expressed by Marsicano isn’t good enough, and Blair County’s legislative delegation should stand at the forefront to deliver that message.


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