How Pennsylvania has to this point failed to enact a felony DUI charge is beyond me.
As is so often the case with changes in rather common-sense legislation, Pa. was behind the curve on this. The commonwealth was but one of four states that prior to Dec. 23 did not have a felony classification for DUI.
One of the things we as journalists see on a daily basis is affidavits describing DUI arrests. There are those who are impaired, then those who are inebriated. It often makes for frightening reading. It’s not uncommon to see reports detailing those who were caught with blood-alcohol content readings that would kill most people.
We have to consider the victims.
Imagine being notified a loved one was killed in a crash in which the other driver was DUI. After mourning their loss and attending all the court cases that followed, you learn the maximum allowable sentence for homicide by vehicle while DUI was just three years. That’s what it was in Pa.
The new law will make all fourth DUI offenses felonies while some third DUI offenses — based on impairment — will be felonies. Homicide while DUI now carries a mandatory minimum of five years in prison for offenders with at least one prior DUI conviction and seven-year minimums for those who have two or more DUI convictions.
While that still seems a bit light, it’s a step in the right direction.
Making a choice to drink and drive must come with consequences. A slap on the wrist, then another, is plenty. After that... it’s time to face real consequences.
In other state news, an East Pennsboro Township accounting firm reported the Pa. House and Senate are sitting on $137.9 million in reserves, a 45 percent increase over last year, and highest its been in four years.
Thing is, that’s our money — taxpayer money.
Don’t expect to see a tax decrease, though.
The fact that lawmakers have a reserve is good, however a reserve that large concerns many as legislators have a knack for changing the rules so that such funds can be used for pet projects or other areas of government.
The news is not all good though. Interestingly, a Republican lawmaker from Lehigh County, who happens to be a certified public accountant, noted that more than half of the $43 million increase in the budget reserve can be attributed to a change in accounting rules that no longer require the General Assembly to factor in the cost of retirement benefits on an annual basis.
Legislative pension obligations are $390 million. Another $1 billion in other post-employment benefits — nearly all health care — was also noted.
To add insult to injury, legislative employees have $22.6 million in unused vacation, sick and personal leave.
It’s easy to criticize public employees. After all, it’s our money that pays their salaries, benefits, etc.
Lawmakers — elected by the citizens — should be even more cautious, if not downright stringent, with the public’s money.
Chris Brady is managing editor at The Standard-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.