HARRISBURG – Bipartisan legislation that would provide a standardized process as to how public safety facilities, including state prisons and state police barracks, are closed in the future is now headed to the Governor’s desk.
Senator David G. Argall (R-29) along with Senators Lisa Baker (R-20), Michele Brooks (R-50), Wayne Fontana (D-42) and John Yudichak (D-14) sponsored Senate Bill 748, which would establish the Public Safety Facilities Act, in response to recent state prison closures over the last few years that were undertaken with little or no input from the communities that were affected.
Senate Bill 748 was introduced in response to the Wolf Administration’s 2017 announcement to close down at least one state prison out of a potential five prisons from communities across the state, including SCI Frackville, SCI Mercer, SCI Pittsburgh, SCI Retreat and SCI Waymart. In 2015, Governor Corbett and Secretary Wetzel closed two state prisons – SCI Cresson and SCI Greensburg.
The five legislators convened a bipartisan hearing to learn about the process of how a state prison is closed, noting the shock to the communities that were notified in the 11th hour of a possible closure.
The Senate unanimously passed (49-0) Senate Bill 748 yesterday after amendments were made by the House of Representatives which voted unanimously (175-0) to pass the bill on Thursday, October 11th.
“I am pleased that the Senate approved this legislation again in such a speedy fashion” Argall said. “When the Governor and the Department of Corrections decided to close a prison within 20 days of the announcement, we believed this was an inadequate amount of time to solicit input and information from the directly affected parties and experts, including the facilities’ workforce or local government and the local community. I am certain that this bill will alleviate any future stress concerning prison closures.”
The bill establishes a minimum of seven months’ notice. Under the bill, the state must notify state and local stakeholders, including local lawmakers, at least three months prior to a planned facility closure announcement. The agency seeking the closure must thoroughly review any local implications of the planned closure as well as hold a public hearing in the county where the facility is located. The agency must provide a written report detailing the recommendations to the Governor and leaders in the General Assembly.
If all criteria are met, a public safety facility may close no sooner than four months from the announcement.