New Pennsylvania Laws You Should Know About

Many new laws will be incorporated into the Pennsylvania legal doctrine beginning in the New Year or shortly thereafter. As always, there are only a few you really need to know about. Of the thousands of laws that were introduced into the state House and Senate, only around 100 were actually signed into law. Here are the most important ones.

Pennsylvania residents voted to limit the emergency powers of the governor, which will prevent the person in office keeping in place a state of emergency longer than necessary.

The courts also stripped the executive’s power to issue mask mandates in schools without using processes already in place (slow ones).

Are you a senior in need of prescription assistance? You might have an easier time now, because the caps were recently raised substantially.

A new law allows retired teachers and even educators with expired certification to help fill the void left by a substitute teacher shortage. This law is active until the end of the 2023 school year.

Another law will allow some students to take nurse aide training programs online. The purpose of the law is to provide students with the power to complete the training programs as quickly as possible by making them easier to schedule.

Government boards must now publish an agenda at least 24 hours before a meeting takes place. This law was written to eliminate the tradition of surprise votes before the public has an opportunity to make an opinion.

One law increases the penalties for anyone who helps a disabled person or minor commit suicide. 

Pennsylvania will enact the first state Persian Gulf Veterans Day on March 6, Global War on Terrorism Veterans Day on October 7, and First Responders Day  on September 27.

Lastly, a new law will stiffen penalties for those convicted of possessing, creating, or disseminating child pornography. The law also jumpstarts a new task force to review current child pornography laws in order to improve them.

Undocumented Immigrants Could Be Eligible For Drivers Licenses

One of the biggest sticking points in conservative circles is that undocumented individuals have no accountability. Although this is a verifiably false statement, it does make sense to ask undocumented immigrants to obey the same laws and rules as the rest of us. The Pennsylvania organization “Driving PA Forward” would like to see Pennsylvania House Bill 279 passed into law. The bill would extend the right to a drivers license to some undocumented individuals.

An anonymous lawyer for the Law Office of Robert Freeman explained that similar programs in other states work: “Ultimately, pilot programs aimed at giving undocumented individuals access to drivers licenses makes our roads safer and allows them to acquire insurance — which reduces the impact of insurance rate hikes for the rest of us. Most undocumented workers in states across the country have to break the law to drive to work. That gives anti-immigration groups the ammo they need to call all undocumented individuals ‘criminals.’”

The purpose of the law is the “passage of legislation regarding accessibility of a standard driver’s license with strict privacy and data protections for all Pennsylvanians regardless of immigration status.”

H.B. 279 would nix the current portion of the law that requires individuals to show proof of lawful status to be eligible for a license. 

Other advocates of similar programs in other states say that the push could even reduce the current supply chain shortages. 

President Tom Still of the Wisconsin Technology Council wrote, “Immigration reform can help the Wisconsin economy at a time when the demographics of an aging society are chipping away at the state’s workforce, from its kitchens, farms and resorts to its research laboratories and tech companies.”

Currently 16 states and Washington D.C. allow undocumented individuals to apply and receive drivers licenses regardless of legal status: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia.

Undocumented individuals still need to work to fulfill basic needs, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that at least 30 percent of jobs in the United States require a private vehicle. Undocumented individuals should be allowed to fill about 30 percent of the available jobs in the United States, and it should not be made more difficult than it already is. 

Executive Director Christine Neumann-Ortiz of Voces de la Frontera said, “The absence of driver’s licenses for undocumented workers at the state level impacts the construction industry.”

According to HousingWire, the “construction worker shortage has reached ‘crisis’ levels with there being currently 300,000 to 400,000 open construction positions on a monthly basis.”

Currently, Wisconsin is home to around 32,000 people who are ineligible to receive a license because of legal status. Other states are home to many more. 

Republicans have long argued against these measures, contending that undocumented workers would have an easier time voting illegally with valid identification — even though our system makes this near-impossible.

Should Marijuana-Related Crimes Be Expunged?

Many states are legalizing recreational marijuana. One of the biggest ideas has been to let everyone who was arrested for possession out of jail — and then subsidize starting a marijuana business for those individuals. Others go beyond “good ideas” and want legal action taken to expunge the records of those who were convicted of non-violent marijuana-related offenses. It’s not hard to figure out why. Society is starting to consider marijuana arrests, both past and present, as silly.

A bipartisan bill drafted by Republican Representative Dave Joyce of Ohio and Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York would fund these expungement programs at the state level.

Even this is difficult, though, because the government still classifies the drug as Category I — which, right along with heroin, is the most dangerous classification a drug can possess. Of course most of us know that the reasons behind these classifications are hardly scientific. No, they’re political.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) agrees. He tweeted, “The message across the country is clear: The vast majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana. @RonWyden, @SenBooker, and I are working to pass our Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act to end the federal prohibition and repair the harm done by the War on Drugs.”

The war, of course, was an abysmal failure — unless its underlying goals involved putting an enormous number of disproportionately African Americans in jail for non-violent crimes. 

Naturally, others have raised concerns to the presented legislation. Senator Robert Portman (R-OH) worries that marijuana will be laced with fentanyl to become much more dangerous than it is right now. 

And Representative Jay Obernolte (R-CA) tweeted his concern for “illegal marijuana operations in California that are stealing our water, inserting harmful pesticides into our ecosystems, and wreaking havoc on our public lands.”

It’s amazing how worried Republican representatives suddenly become regarding the environment when recreational marijuana filters into the debate! 

We’ll see where the legislation goes. But it seems unjust to continue putting people in jail for non-violent crimes that most states no longer criminalize.

Can Facebook Use Your Likeness Without Permission?

Facebook is seemingly always in legal hot water — and the case of one woman whose likeness was used without her permission might be enough to make your skin crawl. Karen Hepp is host to Philadelphia’s Good Day through Fox 29. A few years ago, she discovered that an image of her in a convenience store was pervasive on the Internet and being used as part of a Facebook advertisement on the dating App “FirstMet.” Naturally, she sued because she didn’t want friends and family to think she was a hussy.

Facebook proceeded to argue in court that it could not be held accountable due to the Federal Communications Decency Act (CDA), which says that service providers operating on the internet are not liable for third-party content. 

Hepp’s legal team fired back, arguing that the very same statute has limits on immunity when claims relate to intellectual property laws. They said that her initial claim was a just one, part of Pennsylvania’s right of publicity statute. 

The court eventually sided with Facebook’s counterclaim that the statute was limited to federal law — which of course didn’t apply in the state court. Facebook said that the CDA was proposed to make the internet strong and free, open to federal claims but not chained down or constricted by state claims. Federal law, therefore, standardized how Facebook and third parties could operate. 

An appeals court disagreed. 

They put the case in the context of IP law. The right of publicity does not allow the unauthorized use of someone else’s likeness or name, similar to how IP law prevents one company from stealing another company’s brand or other intellectual property. You can visit our website here for information or legal help on Intellectual Property Law, which can be quite intimidating to those who aren’t fluent. 

The appellate court used this argument to easily dismantle Facebook’s claim. This was made easier because the relevant laws did not expressly limit claims to federal law. State laws apply too. 

There was, however, a dissenting opinion. This judge stated that it would allow an influx of lawsuits against internet service providers. We expect the United States Supreme Court to decide this matter sometime in the future. For now, though, individuals have a lot more power in matters deciding how their own intellectual property or right of publicity cases are handled in court. Because now…there is precedent. 

Describing publicity rights claims, law professor Eric Goldman of the University of Santa Clara said, “It would be easier to establish a prima facie case that would survive a motion to dismiss than it would with other doctrines that are more rigorously defined. Courts may open up doors for lawsuits that would ordinarily be shut down by Section 230.”

Intellectual property attorney Naomi Jane Gray of Shades of Gray Law PC said, “Given platforms’ national, even international reach, it’s very problematic for them to have a differing set of liability standards on this question.”

Gray worries that some services will “shop” for states with the most favorable laws before heading to court. 

Are Mask Mandates In School Unconstitutional In Pennsylvania?

It might come as a surprise to some of us that people would resist mask mandates. But the general push to keep people healthy has been met with resistance from anti-vaxxers and conservative groups that have made vaccines and mask mandates political. Why should someone be forced to get vaccinated or put a mask on, they ask. The answer of course, is simple, and has plenty of legal precedent: because your rights as an individual don’t trump those of the community as a whole.

Those precedents are at least a century old. And they’re under direct attack from groups looking to assert their own dominance in the political sphere or bring President Biden’s policies to a halt. Lawsuits are cropping up and mask mandates will soon find themselves in the United States Supreme Court. But not before they reach our own state Supreme Court here in Pennsylvania.

Although these legal attacks will always be decided by laws in place, those laws can sometimes be contradictory — which is why one lawyer might rule one way while another rules a second way. And with political beliefs seemingly altering every possible decision, we don’t really know which way Supreme Courts, or even lower courts before them, will rule. Former President Trump managed to fill many vacant federal court seats after all.

U.S. District Court Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw, Jr. wrote in reference to a Tennessee complaint, “The record at this stage shows that temporary universal mask mandates adopted by the Williamson County and Franklin school systems have been, and likely would continue to be, effective in curbing the spread of COVID-19.”

This opinion came in response to actions taken by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, who signed an order allowing parents to opt out of mask mandates put into place by school districts. 

Meanwhile, our own Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the mandate was “designed to preserve in-person education and protect students and teachers in the midst of a global pandemic.”

And protecting all the kids from one set of parents is a task the law takes seriously.

Delaware County Sued After COVID-19 Death

An adult care facility is in hot water after one of their residents died of COVID-19 last year. The complaint alleges that the Fair Acres Geriatric Center and Delaware County are responsible for the death of the resident, and a wrongful death suit has been filed targeting them both.

The complaint was filed in a Pennsylvania District Court by attorney Stephen J. Pokiniewski, who represents the family of 63-year-old former Fair Acres resident Christopher Beaty Sr. The family, Christopher Beauty Jr. and Nichole Garcia, say that Fair Acres rightly halted visitation as of March 13, 2020 (after the pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization), but failed to prevent unnecessary close contact between caretakers and residents when possible. 

The complaint also says that residents weren’t even tested for coronavirus until late May: “Although decedent’s roommate exhibited symptoms of COVID-19, while decedent and his roommate’s COVID tests were pending, they remained in the same room and in close proximity to each other. Later on June 1, 2020, Fair Acres contacted plaintiffs and indicated that decedent had contracted a low-grade fever, which can be a symptom of COVID-19.”

County solicitor Bill Martin said, “The matter has been referred to our insurance company for review. The county takes any such allegations very seriously and will review the facts to make sure that Fair Acres continues to provide the best possible care to its residents.”

Beaty Sr. tested negative for the virus on June 2, 2020. At this time his roommate was removed after testing positive. Beauty Sr. continued to show symptoms and deteriorate. He was admitted to Riddle Hospital one day later, re-tested, and tested positive for COVID-19. He was diagnosed with pneumonia, respiratory failure, urinary tract infection, and other serious complications related to COVID-19. He died Jun 6, 2020.

Beaty Sr. is one of 94 residents who died due to COVID-19. There were 293 confirmed cases among the resident population, which 211 confirmed cases among employees likely helped to spread.

An anonymous associate for Bernal-Mora & Nickolaou, P.A. said, “This is precisely why so many care facilities have seen their resident population completely gutted by COVID-19. They failed to take the necessary precautions, which were in both their own interests and the interests of their residents. It makes no sense. And they should be held accountable for this kind of gross negligence.”

Pokiniewski said, “It’s been very hard on the family. It’s obviously always a tragedy when anyone passes away, but Mr. Beaty was very, very close with his family. It’s one of those situations where even during lockdown, the family couldn’t really see him, but he had an iPad and they would Facetime with him a couple times a day, so they were able to stay in close communication with him.”

The lawsuit contends that the care facility is responsible for gross negligence in failing to comply with state and federal regulations, which cause Beaty Sr. to suffer immeasurable from emotional distress, anxiety, and death.

Strange Litigation: Woman Contracts Herpes While Getting Makeup Done…Maybe

One woman got more than she bargained for at the MAC cosmetic counter in Willow Grove Mall a couple years ago. Allegedly, she contracted ocular herpes because the makeup artist was not using disposable brushes. When an ABC news team tried to learn more from MAC, they never responded. 

Tammeka Hill said, “She did a wonderful job with my makeup.”

Unfortunately, a few days later the pain started. Hill visited the emergency room to find out what was wrong, where they informed her of the ocular herpes.

Hill added, “I literally cried myself to sleep that night because I just was like, this is unbelievable.”

The makeup artist who she complimented earlier had been using disposable brushes. Hill knew this wasn’t the way it worked, and so she specifically asked why disposable brushes weren’t being used. 

Hill said, “I asked her, ‘Aren’t you supposed to be using disposable makeup?’ And her exact words were, ‘Girl, you know, I can’t beat no face with no disposable brushes.’”

According to Hill, life only got worse. She had another condition — Lupus, an autoimmune disorder — that made the herpes outbreaks flare up at the most inopportune times, and she lost her job. When she approached MAC about her woes, she told ABC, she only wanted them to issue an apology — and pay for her unexpected bills.

Hill said, “I was having flare up after flare up after flare up after flare up. So at this point, my eyesight was continuously blurry, and I am missing weeks at a time at work. I’ve lost my job, I’ve lost my income. So this has completely destroyed my life.”

According to Rowan University Biological Sciences professor Dr. Elizabeth Brooks, makeup counters “do have some really good protocols. Unfortunately, not every counter follows them.”

Believe it or not, there was another case of alleged negligence — and a herpes outbreak — in 2013. In both Hill’s case and the 2013 case, MAC denied responsibility.

What Pennsylvanians Had To Say About The Chauvin Trial Verdict

It might be that the Derek Chauvin trial goes down in history as one of the most important of the 21st century — one of those landmark cases that prove the tides are turning against racial disparities and injustices. Or it might mean nothing at all. In April, the jury deliberated to find Chavin guilty on charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter after the man kneeled on George Floyd’s neck, asphyxiating him.

Pennsylvanians have had a lot to say on the matter.

A prominent lawyer at Nagel Rice firm in the New York metropolitan area said that the jury’s verdict wasn’t exactly unexpected: “Public opinion matters almost as much as the evidence in cases like these, and there was a lot of both. Witness testimony was a slam dunk for the prosecution, successfully showing exactly what happened that day. But without the witnesses? It might not have happened. For now, we think we’re moving in the right direction and tackling racism where it matters most. But we’ll remain skeptical until the waves crash down on these guys harder.”

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said, “Today’s conviction is one step of accountability on a long road toward justice. The failures of our system haunt our country’s history, from Dred Scott to Rodney King to Trayvon Martin, but we can write a new chapter.”

Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Bob Casey agreed: “While Derek Chauvin will be held accountable for the murder of George Floyd, it’s not enough. Countless others have died at hands of police because of a broken system that must be reformed.”

Governor Tom Wolf didn’t waste any time commenting: “We know that one verdict will not, by itself, change the course of our nation. But this verdict was made possible by the bravery and ceaseless advocacy of people who stood up and called for change, and it marks a turning point.”

The jury had been deliberating from late evening one day and much of the next day — ten hours in total — to find the defendant guilty on the aforementioned charges. Most leaders accepted that part of the problem was accountability related to discriminatory practices. 

Wolf added, “The work of changing policing, of fighting for racial justice, of ending centuries of discriminatory and traumatic policymaking, is hard and painful. It is also, above all, necessary.

President Biden said, “Enough of these senseless killings. Nothing can ever bring [George Floyd] back… but this can be a giant step toward justice in America.”

Now, the long walk toward justice reform begins. Many advocates of change say the first step is legalizing marijuana due to the obvious racial disparities in doling out punishments. Caucasians and African Americans use marijuana at about the same rate — but the vast majority of all related arrests fall on the shoulders of the African American community.

Pennsylvania State To Receive $700 Million In SNAP Funds

To say that Pennsylvanians are in need due to the novel coronavirus is a massive understatement. Savings have been gutted. Family members have passed away. And there’s been little relief amidst a bureaucratically divided Congress. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has provided many families with food stamps to pay for meals they couldn’t otherwise afford during these trying times.

But not enough.

A chunk of the emergency relief provided by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act went to SNAP benefits, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) used an equation to determine where exactly those extra funds went — and somehow, those who were hurting the most were left out.

That’s because anyone who already received the maximum benefit couldn’t receive anymore. Not so coincidentally, those were the people who were most likely to be living in poverty — and therefore the ones who needed the extra help to survive more than anyone.

Feeding America released an October 2020 survey that shed light on the rise in food insecurity in Pennsylvania. The new settlement should rectify some of those huge obstacles.

The Community Legal Services of Philadelphia recently tweeted: “HUGE NEWS: Community Legal Services in Philadelphia and pro bono co-counsel @MorganLewisLaw have secured a litigation settlement that will deliver significant emergency SNAP (food stamps) benefits to the neediest Pennsylvanians…We are so pleased that USDA is revisiting this issue so that people across the country can receive the help they need. Over 650,000 households in PA will finally be getting the extra SNAP they were previously denied. This will help parents put food on the table for their kids.”

Another 12 million families across the United States are eligible for the extra funding they missed out on the first time around.

Benefits Data Trust (BDT) contact center supervisor Yvonne Clintron said, “Food is always at the top of the list. You don’t work, you don’t get paid, you can’t buy food, so SNAP is always at the top.”

Commonwealth Of Pennsylvania And State Police To Pay $2.2 Million Settlement

The United States government pitted itself against both the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) in a recent lawsuit, contesting that the state trooper hiring process was gender-biased and in direct contradiction to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII guarantees a person’s right to find employment or sign a lease free from discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

An attorney for neighboring NYC Lipsky Lowe employment law firm anonymously commented: “We were surprised it took so long for the Justice Department to recognize the wrongdoing by the PSP as far back as 2003. The tests employed by the PSP were very obviously discriminatory and disrespectful to women.”

According to the lawsuit, the PSP violated the rights of several applicants by testing for skills not required to perform tasks related to the job. 

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela S. Karlan of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said, “Employers cannot impose selection criteria that unfairly screen out qualified female applicants. When the Pennsylvania State Police use a physical fitness test as part of the process for choosing state troopers, they must ensure that the test complies with federal law. This settlement agreement reflects the Civil Right Division’s continued commitment to removing artificial barriers that prevent women from becoming law enforcement officers.”

The settlement means that the PSP will pay a surprising $2.2 million into a fund that will become available to the women who were involved in the lawsuit. PSP will also be forced to alter its work environment to be more beneficial for the women who already work there. PSP will offer hiring relief and retroactive seniority to at least 65 women for the jobs that they were barred from receiving. The applicants must still pass all relevant physical examinations.

Both parties requested a court order to approve the settlement deal. 

Cases like these are on the rise, but the aforementioned Title VII does nothing to help those who are discriminated against based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The recent Equality Act passed through the House of Representatives, but faces a major hurdle in the United States Senate, where Democrats hold the slimmest of minorities. They need to convince at least ten Republican colleagues to vote for the piece of legislation at a time when Republicans across the country are set on waging war against trans rights. It’s a high bar.

It seems likely now that the only way Biden’s agenda will become law is to remove the filibuster — but the conservative-leaning Democratic Senator Manchin has already put his foot down, saying he will never change his mind to favor the idea. Republicans seem poised to obstruct every piece of major legislation that Biden has set his sights on.