By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
With no debate and a nearly party-line vote, the state House passed a bill that eliminates a loophole in the law state defining the crime of stalking.
As we detailed earlier this week, union members engaged in a labor dispute are now exempt from the state’s anti-stalking law, which defines the crime as “repeated activity which causes fear of bodily injury or emotional distress in another.” The bill was introduced last year, but it caught the eye of Republican lawmakers after last month’s indictment of 10 members of the Ironworkers Local 401 for crimes ranging from arson to assault.
Wednesday, the final vote was taken without any debate from either side of the aisle — an unusual sight in Harrisburg, where labor issues are usually subject to heated speech-making.
It passed by a vote of 115-74, with Republicans unanimously in favor and 10 Democrats joining them.
The bill now moves onto the state Senate. Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester, said he expected the chamber to consider it soon.
“We’re going to allow people to weigh in on it,” Pileggi said. “I haven’t heard any arguments against it yet (from members of the Republican caucus).”
Business groups like the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, which published a report last year highlighting the exemption in the law, pushed the bill.
“When it comes to instances of intimidation and harassment at the workplace, nothing should stand in the way of law enforcement having the ability to prosecute aggressive parties that cross the line into unlawful behavior,” said Gene Barr, president of the chamber.
Union leaders said the change was unnecessary because law enforcement already has the tools necessary to go after members who cross the line during labor disputes.
“They indicted the ironworkers without it, so clearly there are enough laws on the books to go after guys,” Rick Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, told PA Independent last week. “Let’s enforce the laws we have. That seems to be sufficient to get what you need in case there is a serious issue.”
State Rep. Ron Miller, R-York, who sponsored the bill, said allowing anyone to get away with a crime such as stalking could serve as a gateway to other, more serious offenses.
The bill leaves in place another loophole. That one prevents the prosecution of individuals who are engaged in “constitutionally protected activities,” like circulating nominating petitions for candidates.
Boehm can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com and follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.