Each legislative session thousands of bills and amendments are introduced in the Pennsylvania Legislature. Only a fraction become law, and an even smaller portion receive wide media coverage.
These bills impact the lives of people living in Pennsylvania every day.
Each week The Sentinel will highlight one bill that has not received widespread attention.
About the bill
Nearly 400 cases of retail theft were filed in Cumberland County in 2017. Most of these cases are considered petty crimes, not rising above a summary offense, the same grading as something like running a stop sign in a vehicle.
However, there are circumstances that push retail theft up to a felony.
Rep. Dan Miller, D-Allegheny County, and Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Montgomery County, have introduced a bill to limit those circumstances.
Currently, a third offense, regardless of the value of the item stolen, is classified as a felony.
That means a person charged multiple times with stealing very small-value items can be charged with a felony offense.
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House Bill 2098 would remove the three-strikes provision, meaning the highest grading retail theft could reach is a misdemeanor unless the items stolen were a gun, an automobile or something with the value exceeding $1,000.
In Cumberland County in 2016, a woman was charged with felony retail theft for stealing two folding chairs priced at $10 a piece from a local store, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed against the woman.
She later returned one of the chairs and was ordered to pay the store $10 for the other, police said.
However, her amount owed court fines, fees, costs and restitution for the case added up was more than $4,100, court records show. Nearly $190 of that amount went toward a “plea fee,” which is a court-imposed fee for pleading guilty to a crime.
She pleaded guilty in two other cases earlier in 2016, each of which included a “plea fee,” according to court records.
In total, stores lost less than $25 worth of merchandise as a result of the woman’s thefts, but she was ordered to pay more than $6,000 in fines, fees, costs and restitution, according to court records.
Miller and Dean contend in their co-sponsorship letter that most people who are charged with retail theft suffer from substance abuse issues and that the felony grading similar to involuntary manslaughter or institutional sexual assault is overly harsh.
“Simply put, a third degree felony for a tube of toothpaste while in the midst of drug addiction is an unwarranted and unhelpful barrier to a productive life,” the two wrote.
Currently, the only way to have a felony conviction expunged from a person’s record is through a petition to the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons.