February 2011 Column - House Passes Bills Designed to Improve Laws on Gaming, Sex Offender Registration

By Dave Hickernell, state representative
98th Legislative District 

When lawmakers pass a bill, we make every effort to ensure that it is written clearly and that every possible eventuality is addressed.  Occasionally, however, situations develop which require us to take another look and make improvements to ensure that the law achieves the goals we had in mind when we passed it. 

Recently, my House colleagues and I passed several bills intended to improve existing laws.  Two of the bills were designed to restore integrity to Pennsylvania’s gaming industry and address problems that have surfaced since the inception of casino gambling in the Commonwealth. 

House Bill 262 removes the Bureau of Investigations and Enforcement (BIE) from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) and transfers it to the Office of Attorney General.  The bill was introduced to address investigatory problems revealed under the current system, including the awarding of licenses to a convicted felon and an operator who was not in a financial position to hold a license.   

The second measure, House Bill 391, prohibits a legislator or executive-level public employee from being appointed to the PGCB during his or her term or time of employment and for a period of one year after.  The Gaming Control Board was created to oversee the gaming industry.  As such, its members should be highly qualified regulators with a thorough knowledge of the issues the board faces.   Membership on the board should not be a patronage position elected officials use to reward colleagues or staff, and it should not be a place for lawmakers to land when they retire from the Legislature.   

Two other bills which recently passed the House are designed to close dangerous loopholes in Pennsylvania’s Megan’s Law, which identifies sexually violent predators, requires them to register with the Pennsylvania State Police and notifies the communities where those individuals reside.  Since its passage, thousands of sex offenders have been required to register with the state, and parents have been able to make informed decisions and take appropriate steps to protect their children.

Unfortunately, in its current form, Megan’s Law makes it possible for some sex offenders to escape the registration requirement.  The law requires an offender to register his residence with local police.  But the law does not address an offender who is homeless or transient, such as carnival workers, fair amusement employees and gas line workers.    

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that the current version of Megan’s Law does not specifically provide for the registration of sexually violent predators or sex offenders who are homeless.  In other words, offenders who are homeless or transient do not have to register. 

The state Superior Court recently pointed out another loophole in the law concerning sex offenders who move to Pennsylvania from out of state.  Ruling on the prosecution of a New York man for failing to register here in Lancaster County, the court held the crimes code as written “does not criminalize the failure to comply with sexual offender registration requirements.”  As a result, a convicted sex offender who is required to register for the rest of his life in another state can simply move to Pennsylvania and avoid registering here.  As a result, Pennsylvania could become a haven for serious sex offenders who move here to escape registration requirements in other states. 

Recently, the House passed two bills to address these issues.  House Bill 68 would require sex offenders without a residence to register every 30 days with the Pennsylvania State Police as transients.  House Bill 75 would provide for specific criminal sentences for sex offenders who fail to comply with registration requirements.   

As lawmakers, it is our responsibility to ensure the laws we pass are clear and serve the purpose for which they were written.  The Megan’s Law and gaming law reforms we passed will go a long way toward strengthening existing laws and making sure they accomplish their intended aims.  

State Representative Dave Hickernell
98th District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Contact: Sean Yeakle
[email protected]