PA Senate advances preemption bill doomed for veto

The Pennsylvania Senate approved a preemption measure Tuesday doomed for Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto pen.

The chamber passed Senate Bill 5, a rebooted proposal invalidated by the Supreme Court last year, on a vote of 34-16, sending the measure to the House for consideration.

Senate Local Government Minority Committee Chairman Sen. John Blake, D-Lackawana, said during a committee meeting last month Wolf said he would veto the bill.

“Quite simply because I think this bill is doing something unprecedented in allowing a membership organization to sue a local government and allow injunctive relief,” he said. “When I consider the things our local governments are facing, I don’t know why we are considering this.”

The bill would discourage the state’s 2,500-plus municipalities from enacting gun ordinances stricter than state law lest they face litigation from membership organizations, like the National Rifle Association, or other Pennsylvania residents. A similar measure is advancing through the House.

“When local governments enact regulations that clearly exceed state law, law-abiding citizens comply while criminals don’t, leaving innocent people unarmed and unprotected,” said bill sponsor Sen. Wayne Langerholc, Jr., R-Clearfield, after the bill passed Tuesday. “When local officials overstep their legal authority in passing severe gun ordinances, law-abiding citizens rarely possess the time, money and legal skills to fight their citation and overturn the law. This bill takes steps to remedy that imbalance and preserves the Second Amendment rights of good Pennsylvanians.”

SB 5 seeks to correct Act 192 of 2014, which the state’s highest court threw out in a June 2016 ruling because it violated the single-subject rule.

In October 2014, state Republicans amended Act 192 into a scrap metal theft bill and sent it to then-Gov. Tom Corbett’s desk. Described at the time as the “strongest firearms preemption statute in the country” by the National Rifle Association, state Democrats balked at the notion of gun rights groups suing municipalities over local firearm ordinances.

The NRA filed suit against Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster less than two weeks after Act 192 took effect in January 2015.

In Commonwealth Court later that same year, the bill’s detractors argued the law violated the state’s single-subject rule — meaning it addressed too many unrelated issues in the same bill. Six out of the panel’s seven judges agreed, overturning the law. The state Supreme Court upheld that decision in June.

“Although legislation similar to Senate Bill 5 was enacted in 2014, a state Supreme Court ruling overturned the law based upon procedural grounds that did not speak to the content or constitutionality of the law,” Langerholc said.