Pennsylvania Capitol

The Pennsylvania Capitol is shown in Harrisburg, Pa., Monday, March 22, 2021.

HARRISBURG — Legislation that would end Pennsylvania’s ban on the use of radar for speed enforcement by local police officers is awaiting a final vote in the state House, the closest the proposal has come to passing in that chamber.

Legislation to OK local police to use radar — state police have been allowed to use radar for speed enforcement for 50 years — has passed in the state Senate previously, most recently in 2019. That year, the state Senate approved a local radar bill by a vote of 49-1. The measure was never put up for a vote before the full House.

In March though, the House transportation committee unanimously approved House Bill 606 — which would allow local police to use radar and would also give state police the freedom to use radar for speed enforcement while the patrol car is moving.

While the committee was unanimous in approving the bill, some lawmakers balked at the move to give police the ability to use radar while the patrol car is in motion. Under current law, state police troopers can only use radar while the police vehicle is stationary.

The proposal to allow local police to use radar for speed enforcement has been championed by the Pennsylvania State Mayors’ Association, whose members argue that the change is needed to make it safer and easier for local police to conduct speed enforcement in areas where it’s difficult to monitor for speeders with other technology.

Pennsylvania is the only state that bars local police from using radar. Other states also allow police to use radar while in motion, said state Rep. Mike Carroll, R-Luzerne County.

House leaders have not committed to holding a final vote on the legislation.

“Discussions are still ongoing” about when or whether to vote on the bill, said Jason Gottesman, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre County.

State Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Cambria County, the chairman of the Senate transportation committee, said he supports giving local police the ability to use radar for speed enforcement. He also doesn’t object to allowing state police to use radar while the patrol car is moving, he said.

“We’ll take a look at it” if the House passes the legislation, Langerholc said.

Critics have long argued that giving local police the right to use radar is unfair because there’s not enough oversight of the speed limits set by local municipalities.

James Sikorski Jr., Pennsylvania Advocate for the National Motorists Association, also objected to the fact that the legislation would allow police to write tickets for motorists exceeding the speed limit by as little as 6 mph.

The move to allow state police to use radar while moving only makes the proposal worse, he said.

“Moving radar is quite complex and the possibility of getting inaccurate readings is surely there. This has nothing to do with the stated purpose of the bill and the committee is hoping to sneak it in without notice,” he said. “I want to emphasize that right now, Pennsylvania police can issue speeding tickets. There is no need for more devices."

His group is urging people to notify their lawmakers that they should oppose the legislation. On the other hand, the mayors’ association is urging its members to contact state lawmakers to support it, said Joe McGranaghan, Shamokin Dam Borough mayor and vice president for the North Central Region for the state mayors association.

Considering that Pennsylvania is the only state that bars local police from using radar, “the problems they bring up aren’t problems in other states,” McGranaghan said.

House Bill 606 would require local municipalities to pass a local ordinance before allowing police to use radar. It also requires a 90-day period in which police can only give warnings, it requires police officers undergo training before they use radar and the law would bar local governments from using speeding tickets to generate more than 10 percent of the municipality’s revenue.

“You can’t use it to balance your budget,” McGranaghan said. “There are plenty of safeguards. It seems like a no-brainer,” he said.

At the committee meeting, lawmakers said the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association had thrown its support behind the measure because of that change.

State Rep. Doyle Heffley, R-Carbon County, said he feared the move to give state police the freedom to use radar while moving would “kill the bill” and said that there hadn’t been enough conversation about that change.

“We’re going to get tremendous blowback” over the proposal to allow state police to use radar while moving, he said, adding later that he supports the move to allow local police to use radar. The legislation would only allow local police to use radar while parked.

“What our local police need is radar so they can keep school zones and 25-mile zones that go through communities safe, and we’re just loading this up with things that are going to kill the bill,” he said.

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