After a year dominated by the pandemic and the presidential election, we look ahead to what the ACLU of Pennsylvania expects to see and hopes to achieve in the state legislature during the 2021-2022 session. 

In 2021, we expect a number of legislative fights.

If there is one fight we can count on, it’s battling the legislature’s bad habit of expanding the criminal code with new laws that often duplicate existing law, stacking the deck against people facing criminal prosecution. You can read more about this persistent problem in our More Law, Less Justice report.  

After this unprecedented and surreal election year, we expect some lawmakers to push for an end to mail-in voting, to require an ID when voting, and to change how presidential electors are chosen. Indeed, we’re seeing a flurry of such bills being filed already. We didn’t stop fighting to protect the vote in Pennsylvania this year; we certainly won’t stop in 2021. 

Another fight on the horizon will likely be regarding a woman’s right to an abortion. With a newly configured United States Supreme Court, we won’t be surprised to see a raft of anti-choice legislation designed to curtail women’s constitutional right to an abortion. 

As the pandemic raged across Pennsylvania, we saw a number of lawmakers introduce legislation to curtail, restrict, or override the governor’s executive and emergency authority pertaining to the COVID disaster declaration. We weighed in on a few of those bills, but we are keeping our eyes peeled this coming session for vaccine-related bills that may have civil liberties implications.

We also successfully beat back fake probation reform last session; we hope any reform legislation this session will not suffer from a similar amendment process that renders the effort moot, or worse, counterproductive and harmful.

We will continue our work to advocate for more just sentencing by the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing. Thanks to the advocacy efforts by ACLU of Pennsylvania and other advocates we’ve partnered with, the commission is delaying implementation of the State Parole Guidelines and State Recommitment Ranges until they are reviewed by an external academic review panel

We’re planning to advocate, for at least the third legislative session in a row, bipartisan legislation to stop powerful people, groups, or corporations from engaging in Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) that punish or silence individuals from criticizing those entities in public. And, after nearly two decades, it’s far past time for Pennsylvania lawmakers to pass legislation that protects LGBQ&T people from discrimination.

Other issues we expect to work on in the Pennsylvania legislature this coming year include eliminating three-strike felonies for retail theft offenses; compassionate release for medically vulnerable or elderly people who are incarcerated in Pennsylvania jails and prisons; reforming the commonwealth’s life without parole laws; and allowing undocumented people to access driver’s licenses. 

Stay tuned in 2021 for how you can help in these legislative fights and more!