State senators move bills creating new criminal charges, enhancing guardianship protections

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Jun. 6—HARRISBURG — State senators voted three bills out of committee Tuesday that look to protect Pennsylvanians against porch pirates, unwanted tracking devices and elder abuse.

The measures are now on track to receive floor votes and if ultimately advanced out of the Senate, would move to the state House for further consideration.

Sen. Frank Farry, R-Bucks, introduced Senate Bill 527 in response to thieves — that is, porch pirates — swiping delivered packages from front porches and such. The act already falls under the crime of theft, however, the bill proposes a specific crime: Theft of mail.

Anyone who steals delivered goods or knowingly participates in the trade of such would be charged with the offense.

The bill defines "mail" as letters, of course, along with anything delivered by a private or commercial interstate carrier such as clothing, electronics and prescription medication.

A first offense for the theft of goods valued below $150 would be a summary violation. Additional convictions or the theft of goods worth more than $150 would bring misdemeanor charges. Defendants could be charged with a felony if the items are valued at $1,000 or more, or if it's at least their third conviction.

Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Cambria/Centre/Clearfield, introduced Senate Bill 159. It also proposes a new criminal offense: Unauthorized use of an electronic tracking device.

"What this really grew out of was the proliferation of Apple Air Tags and the low cost to purchase and subsequently track individuals," Langerholc told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The devices are relatively cheap. A four-pack of the standard tags sells for less than $100. They emit a secure Bluetooth signal detectable by nearby devices, and their location can be tracked through a mapping application.

They're marketed as a way for the forgetful to find lost keys and wallets, and some are designed specifically to track pets. They're easy to use, which is the danger Langerholc and others have identified as the devices that have been used to stalk victims of domestic violence, for example.

There are exceptions built into Langerholc's bill including for law enforcement when conducting investigations as well as for companies tracking fleet vehicles, and for guardians and relatives of the elderly and disabled to ensure their safety.

Parents and legal guardians, unless barred by court order, can use them to track their children, too. However, a parent without primary custody and without the permission of the parent or guardian who has primary custody couldn't use the devices for tracking their kids.

Senate Bill 506 comes from Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne/Pike/Susquehanna/Wayne/Wyoming, and Sen. Art Haywood, D-Montgomery/Philadelphia. In a statement read at Tuesday's hearing, the bill was inspired by the experience of Haywood's neighbor who was a theft victim while under a guardian's care.

And, the senators pointed to a case first investigated by the Philadelphia Inquirer where three former court-appointed guardians were charged with embezzling more than $1 million from 108 people in six Pennsylvania counties.

Courts can appoint guardians, family or professionals, for adults who are found unable to care for themselves. Guardians make decisions on their behalf, be it financial, medical or otherwise. There are over 19,000 such guardianships in place in Pennsylvania, according to a legislative memo for the bill. Not all are good-natured.

The proposed bill would have courts appoint an attorney for anyone entering guardianship regardless of their ability to pay, create a certification process largely applicable to professionals who have three or more guardianships, require the court to consider less restrictive alternatives to guardianship and, if that's not possible, show that alternatives were considered and were not feasible.