Harrisburg, PA (STL.News) Governor Tom Wolf signed several bills into law today, including House bills 440, 1439, 1696 and 1984, and Senate Bill 1076, which focus, respectively, on expanding the state’s Clean Slate law, and supporting mental health parity, sexual assault survivors, and veterans.
House Bill 440 expands on the state’s historic Clean Slate law by removing an obligation to pay any outstanding court-ordered financial obligations before eligible cases can be sealed. Any restitution owed for convictions committed is not waived. The bill also requires that when a person receives a pardon, that record is automatically sealed and if they receive a not-guilty verdict the record is expunged.
“House Bill 440 furthers Pennsylvania’s role as a national model for commonsense, bipartisan criminal justice reforms by removing a significant barrier from obtaining a clean slate due to failure to be able to pay court costs,” Gov. Wolf said. “I believe in second chances and I am pleased that our legislature feels the same way and demonstrated it by passing this legislation.”
“Today once again proves that real criminal justice reform is possible,” House Democratic Caucus Chair Joanna E. McClinton said. “When I first introduced this bill five years ago, I knew it could change lives. Now, thanks to Governor Wolf and my colleagues in the House and Senate, countless Pennsylvanians will be able to move on with their lives after being found innocent or pardoned of a crime.”
In addition to pioneering an automated sealing process, Clean Slate also expanded the number of misdemeanor convictions that can be sealed after a petition is filed in court. Sealed records are not available to the public, helping people access employment, housing and education. Clean Slate is allowing thousands of Pennsylvanians to move past their old, minor criminal records, and even more people can take advantage of this second chance with the passage of HB440.
To date, almost 35 million cases have been automatically sealed without the cost of filing petitions in court. That’s more than half of the charges in the court’s database.
House bills 1439 and 1696 require health insurers that want to offer comprehensive health insurance coverage in Pennsylvania to verify that they have completed and fully documented analyses of their efforts to provide mental health and substance-use coverage that is comparable to physical health services with respect to cost sharing, in- and out-of-network coverage, and other treatment limits.
Insurers must also make that documentation available to the Pennsylvania Insurance Department, upon request, to demonstrate compliance with the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA). Documentation must also be available to policyholders and providers upon request.
The new requirements are one element of Gov. Wolf’s multi-agency effort and anti-stigma campaign, Reach Out PA: Your Mental Health Matters dedicated to expanding resources and the state’s comprehensive support of mental health and related health care priorities in Pennsylvania.
“We must continue to do all that we can to support the mental health needs of all Pennsylvanians,” Gov. Wolf said. “Mental health care is health care and we must not treat it any differently than any physical health care need.”
House Bill 1984 provides safety, protection and stability for survivors of rape or incest, and their children who are conceived as a result of the offense. The legislature passed this bill unanimously.
HB 1984 makes it possible for the victim of rape or sexual assault to terminate the parental rights of the person who committed rape or sexual assault that resulted in the birth of a child.
“I will always steadfastly support the rights of victims of sexual assault,” Gov. Wolf said. “This bill can do even more to help ease pain and support survivors of these heinous crimes.”
Senate Bill 1076 amends Title 51 (Military Affairs), in military leave of absence, further providing for military family relief assistance.
“Support for our veterans and their families is vital and is the least we can do for their dedicated service to our commonwealth and country,” Gov. Wolf said. “This bill supports our veterans by providing any needed financial help during these especially tough times.”
“The Military Family Relief Assistance Program has proven successful in providing financial security to veterans and their families during a time of temporary hardship,” said Sen. Pam Iovino (D – Allegheny & Washington), a 23-year Navy veteran who introduced Senate Bill 1076. “I appreciate the Governor’s and the General Assembly’s unanimous support to indefinitely extend this important program. The majority of veterans are thriving and playing important roles in their community by applying the skills they gained in our armed forces. But veterans can also face unique challenges as a result of their service to our nation, and it’s important that the Military Family Relief Assistance Program be there for them.”
Other bills signed by the governor today include the following: