McClinton advocates for pardons reform before House Committee

Harrisburg, Oct. 30 – State House Speaker Joanna McClinton, D-Phila./Delaware testified before the PA House Judiciary Committee today about H.B. 1410, a bill she introduced to amend the state Constitution to create greater opportunities for incarcerated Pennsylvanians to receive a pardon or have their sentences commuted.

McClinton, a former public defender, has introduced the measure during several legislative sessions. She said her bill would change the unanimous vote requirement of the Pardon Board to a three-out-of-five votes requirement, which would save taxpayer resources by reducing the burden on the state’s correctional institutions while contributing to overall reform of the criminal justice system.

“As a legislature and a commonwealth, we’ve made tremendous progress on reforming the justice system by implementing meaningful -- and bipartisan – updates, including Clean Slate and state funding for indigent defense,” McClinton said. “But there is more to be done including reconsidering the standards for recommending a pardon or commutation.

“There is no proper, good, or just reason to continue to overburden our correctional system or detain people when they no longer pose a threat to society.”

McClinton added that updating the law to require a three-fifths vote would return Pennsylvania to its historical standard. The commonwealth implemented the unanimous pardon vote requirement in the 1990s when, like many other states, it adopted a “tough on crime” approach to justice, which many agree did little to make Pennsylvanians safer.

Returning to the three-out-of-five votes of the Pardon Board to make a recommendation to the governor to commute a sentence or issue a pardon would not offer nor guarantee a pardon or commutation to any person. It simply provides more deserving individuals a chance that, after their specific case is thoroughly reviewed and a majority of the Pardon Board is thoroughly convinced it is appropriate, their case can be put before the governor for review and action as appropriate.

To take effect, the language of the bill must pass both chambers of the General Assembly in two consecutive sessions and be put to the voters as a referendum.

At a news conference earlier this month, Lt. Gov. Austin Davis, chair of the state Board of Pardons, endorsed McClinton’s legislation.

State Rep. Stephen Kinsey, D-Phila. is a co-prime sponsor of the bill.

“This piece of legislation is a win-win for Pennsylvania, saving taxpayer dollars and providing greater chances for individuals who have served their time and pose no threat to society the chance to return to their communities,” Kinsey said. “We have a great opportunity with this legislation to move Pennsylvania forward in a compassionate, just and sensible way -- we must act swiftly. I thank Speaker McClinton for allowing me to partner with her in addressing this crucial issue.”

McClinton’s testimony and a recording of the hearing are available online.

House Bill 1410 will be considered for a vote at a Judiciary meeting in November.