Crime: Higher penalties for hit-and-runs?

Legislators pushing for increased hit-and-run penalties in Harrisburg saw their efforts stalled last year when Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman said concerns about budgetary strains and prison overcrowding made it “difficult to support.”

That came several months after the Senate Transportation Committee voted 11-1 to catch up with neighboring states by raising the minimum sentence for leaving the scene of an accident where a victim suffers serious injury from 90 days to a year, and from one to three years for fatal hit-and-runs. This weekend, state Sen. Larry Farnese said he and several co-sponsors are going to try again.

Bills introduced last week would increase the hit-and-run offense from first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony and require mandatory minimum sentences if serious bodily harm or death resulted.

Additionally, if a hit-and-run occurred in an active work zone, or if the victim was an emergency service responder, it could result in a two-year prison sentence. It also changes the language to considering a crime when someone hits another with a vehicle and flees to “assault with a deadly weapon.”

Farnese, a Democrat, said he’s confident that Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery), the transportation committee chair who backed last year’s bills, will again push the legislation as he’s assured Farnese.

“I get a sense that there’s enough support to move this out of committee and pass the full Senate. It’s a significant issue, because of the ramifications of people’s lives, the families on the day it happens, the police officers who have to go tell them what happened,” Farnese said. “I don’t think Sen. Rafferty would be reintroducing this of he didn’t think it had a chance.”

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