HARRISBURG - Legislation to prohibit municipalities from punishing property owners and residents for calling authorities during emergencies passed the Pennsylvania House of Representatives today. The bill was introduced by Representative Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery County) and passed the House after the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit on behalf of Lakisha Briggs, a resident of Norristown, Montgomery County, and a survivor of domestic violence. The ACLU of Pennsylvania supports House Bill 1796.

“The House vote today was a strong vote both for victims of crime and for civil liberties,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The people have a fundamental right to contact the police in an emergency. The House stood for that concept today in passing this bill.”

In April, the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed its lawsuit on Ms. Briggs’ behalf after Norristown tried to evict her under an ordinance that penalizes tenants who require police assistance three or more times in a four-month period. During an attack by her ex-boyfriend, Ms. Briggs did not call for help despite a serious stab wound to her neck and was only given medical care when her neighbors intervened. Ms. Briggs feared that she would be evicted from her home because she had called for police help twice previously during attacks by the same man.

According to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, at least 23 municipalities in the commonwealth have similar ordinances, including Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Allentown, and Scranton.

“One would certainly hope that the negative impact on crime victims is an unintended consequence of these ordinances,” said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Nonetheless, it is a consequence that has real, lasting impact on people’s lives. This bill provides intervention to create a statewide standard for these types of ordinances.”

House Bill 1796 now heads to the state Senate for its consideration.