Pa. ACLU lays out legislative priorities for final session days

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania is hoping to complete several criminal justice-related bills in the legislature's waning session days. (WITF/istockphoto)

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania is hoping to complete several criminal justice-related bills in the legislature's waning session days. (WITF/istockphoto)

Pennsylvania’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is ramping up its efforts to change the way the commonwealth handles criminal justice.

On the national level, the ACLU is rolling out a Campaign for Smart Justice aimed broadly at ending mass incarceration.

In Pennsylvania, that means picking up a lot of loose ends lawmakers left when they recessed for the summer.

ACLU Legislative Director Elizabeth Randol said when lawmakers return to Harrisburg in September, one of the group’s priorities will be pushing a measure aimed at repealing automatic driver’s license suspensions for people with unrelated drug convictions.

“Between 2011 and 2016 Pennsylvania suspended the licenses of almost 150,000 drivers that were unrelated to traffic safety,” she said.

Another goal is getting a second package of bills in the long-gestating Justice Reinvestment Initiative over the finish line. The project is aimed at keeping onetime offenders out of jail and lowering incarcerated populations.

Scaling back what Randol calls Pennsylvania’s “draconian” parole laws is also high on the list. The issue came to the fore earlier this year when rapper Meek Mill was released from prison, where he’d been after a parole violation arrest.

Many of the ACLU’s priority bills are sponsored by Republicans — something Randol said is a pretty recent phenomenon.

“This is definitely one area that bipartisan agreement can be reached to effect some really great changes for the people in the commonwealth,” she said.

However, not everything on the group’s agenda is likely to see quite so kind a reception from both sides of the aisle.

The ACLU counts staving off reinstatement of mandatory minimum sentences among its goals. And Randol noted, that’s a platform that remains popular among a lot of Republicans.

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