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Pennsylvania House of Representatives
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MEMORANDUM

Posted: August 13, 2013 04:24 PM
From: Representative Vanessa Brown
To: All House members
Subject: REQUIRING RACIAL IMPACT STATEMENTS FOR CERTAIN LEGISLATIVE MEASURES
 
In the near future, I will be introducing legislation proposing to make the preparation of racial impact statements a prerequisite for the final consideration of certain legislative measures that would amend the Pennsylvania Crimes Code or Sentencing Code. For the purpose of preparing such a statement, the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing (PCS) would be tasked with this specific duty (A duty of which the Commission has communicated that it has no objection in fully assuming).
 
It is no secret that our nation’s prison population is disproportionately represented by minorities. According to a report released earlier this year by the Sentencing Project, racial/ethnic disparities concerning incarceration in the United States remain significant --- in 2009, the last year for which applicable data was available, African-Americans and Latinos constituted more than 60% of imprisoned persons. African-American males were incarcerated in state and federal prisons at 6.4 times the rate of white males, and Hispanic males at 2.4 times the rate of whites. The numbers for inmates in Pennsylvania are even more distressing, 9.5 times greater and 5.62 times greater respectively. While I will forgo speculating and lamenting about the myriad social, political, and economic factors contributing to this phenomenon, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that this is a real and existing issue within our society.
 
Many of the measures that we as legislators propose, not excluding myself, have the potential to exacerbate the aforementioned disparity. This is principally due to the fact that --- despite our noble intentions --- such measures would adversely impact one segment of our population to a greater extent than another. However, it is my sincere belief that racial impact statements would provide an effective mechanism for analyzing the true scope and unforeseen ramifications of our proposals.
 
As many of you are aware, there is an effort afoot in state legislatures across the country to institute the use of racial impact statements as a means of examining the consequences of legislative proposals prior to their ultimate adoption and enactment. For instance, last month the State of Oregon became the latest state to pass such a law, and many others are examining similar proposals. As such, it is now my goal to assist our Commonwealth in taking this important step towards addressing racial disparity, as well as to provide a means for reigning in rancorous and unproductive debates on the subject of race when it is unnecessary and inapplicable.

Similar to the utilization of fiscal notes for measures that require the expenditure of Commonwealth funds, racial impact statements would serve as an additional piece of information that would enable legislators to make a more informed decision on the related bills before them. More importantly, racial impact statements would provide us as lawmakers with a clarifying document that separates truths from falsehoods, all the while helping to make the legislative process more efficient by curtailing the rampancy of unfounded and baseless rhetoric concerning race and the creation of public policy. Specifically, the process of instituting racial impact statements would be as follows:
 
  • Following the adoption of any bill in committee that proposes to create a new offense, significantly change an existing offense, change the existing penalty for an offense, or change existing sentencing procedures, only the majority or minority chairman of the related committee in either the House or Senate chamber may exclusively request the preparation of a racial impact statement for said measure.

  • Upon its receipt of the request, the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing (PCS) would be tasked with the duty of preparing a racial impact statement for said bill.

  • Until the requested racial impact statement has been prepared and received accordingly, the bill for which the statement was requested shall not be considered on third consideration in either chamber of the General Assembly. This statement would be filed with the standing committee of the requesting chairman, the presiding officer of either the House or Senate chamber, and uploaded and made available on the Legislative Data Processing Center (LDPC).

  • If it has been properly determined in a statement that a related bill will have an adverse racial impact, the prime sponsor of the bill may:
    • Withdraw the bill;
    • Amend the bill accordingly; or
    • Identify in writing his or her reasoning for proceeding with the bill, as is, despite the indication of its adverse racial impact.
Lastly, it is my earnest belief that the use of racial impact statements would foster bipartisanship by vindicating the pure and altruistic intentions of those within our legislative body whose only motive is to make Pennsylvania a much safer and secure place to live and raise our families. To be clear, my primary intent is to streamline the legislative process, not to encumber it. Therefore, I wish to take this opportunity to appeal to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to please join me in advancing this important and commonsense measure.
 
Should you have any questions or concerns regarding this measure, please contact Brandon J. Flood at (717) 772-6955 or BFlood@pahouse.net.