Gov. Tom Wolf signed a cascade of bills passed by the Legislature in the last hours of the 2018-19 legislative session, including a measure that diminishes the importance of standardize testing, another clarifying the law about breaking into vehicles to save hot animals, and one aimed at cutting the number of untested rape kits held by police.

Wolf on Thursday said Senate Bill 919, which he signed into law as Act 148, represents the last of five bills passed by the General Assembly intended to combat domestic violence since he threw his support behind them a year ago.

The new law makes it easier for domestic abuse victims living in public housing to get permission to move to get away from their abusers.

Senate Bill 1095, now Act 158, will provide students who do not score proficient on Keystone Exams with alternative pathways to demonstrate their readiness to graduate from high school.

“The goal of creating graduation requirements is to ensure students can demonstrate the knowledge and skills they need to enter the workforce. There is certainly more than one way to show proficiency,” said Sen. Thomas McGarrigle, R-Delaware County, the prime sponsor of the legislation.

The measure had been backed by the major education lobby groups, including the teachers’ union.

“Today is a victory for all Pennsylvania students,” said Dolores McCracken, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association. “Now, students will be able to draw on multiple academic achievements to demonstrate that they are college and career ready.”

House Bill 1216, now Act 104, empowers police and other first responders to enter unattended vehicles to rescue animals in hot weather. The law allows first responders to break into vehicles if they believe there are animals in “imminent danger” inside. The law also provides those first responders with immunity from liability for damages that occurs while the animal is rescued. The law also requires that rescuers leave a note for the vehicle owner explaining where the animal was taken.

Act 164 of 2018 will reduce the backlog of untested rape kits by creating a commission of local and state agencies to review funding needs and communications. The law, authored by Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Cambria County, also establishes a hotline for hospitals to call if a rape kit is not picked up within 72 hours and clarifies ambiguous language in existing state law.

Wolf on Oct. 24, 2017, called on the General Assembly to move on the domestic violence bills. The other bills in the package backed by Wolf had become law earlier in the year, including a measure intended to get guns out of the hands of abusers which the governor signed into law earlier this month.

All of the domestic violence bills had Republicans lawmakers as their main sponsors or as key co-sponsors.

“Signing this final domestic violence bill into law is gratifying and I thank the General Assembly for getting this bill to my desk,” Gov. Wolf said. “But, this doesn’t stop the need to continue to push for additional legislation to decrease the prevalence of domestic violence and to protect victims.”

The final bill, sponsored by Senator Art Haywood, D-Philadelphia, is a victim protection bill regarding housing options and emergency transfers. The bill allows a housing authority tenant who is a victim of domestic or sexual violence to request relocation if the domestic or sexual violence occurred on or near the home within 90 calendar days of the request.

“Every person needs and deserves access to safe housing environments where they can thrive,” said Donna Greco, policy director for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. “Too often, sexual assault undermines the housing security of victims throughout the commonwealth. In fact, most sexual assaults occur in or near victims’ homes, making relocation one of the most common and urgent needs following these crimes.”

CNHI PA State Reporter

CNHI State Reporter John Finnerty covers the Pennsylvania Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Follow him on Twitter @cnhipa. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com.

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