Bill allowing towns to contract with state police to be aired
A controversial bill to permit communities without police departments to contract with state police for protection will take center stage at a public hearing Thursday in Hempfield.
Members of the state Senate Law and Justice Committee will hear testimony beginning at 10 a.m. at the Courtyard by Marriott, off Route 30 near Greengate Centre.
The bill, introduced by Republican Sen. Kim Ward of Hempfield, is designed to derail other pending legislation that would levy hefty fees for state police protection in municipalities such as Hempfield, where there is no police department and officials do not want one. Her bill has been stalled in committee because of last year's budget impasse.
"As this debate concerning police protection continues to move forward, it's encouraging that my bill, which gives municipalities options rather than mandates, may be part of the solution," Ward said.
Several large townships in Westmoreland and Fayette counties — such as Hempfield, Unity, Derry, Mt. Pleasant and South Union — rely solely on state police.
Officials in municipalities such as Greensburg, which has its own police force, complain that residents must pay to support their own forces while also paying to fund the state police.
Ward's proposal calls for assigning troopers to specific municipalities under contract between the state and local governments.
Ward said communities without departments would negotiate a price with the state for a specific number of troopers to patrol at certain times of the day.
"They would just contract for what they need," she said.
Greensburg Mayor Karl Eisaman, who will testify, said he wants any bill to include financial assistance for communities supporting local forces.
"If they're going to write a bill, then let's do something that will benefit all communities," he said. "We could get more of a cut of fine money or more help with pensions or be able to buy into a health insurance plan. I want to create attention for communities who provide police services, but don't get the same help."
Officials from the state police, along with representatives of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association and the state township supervisors association, also are expected to testify.
In addition to Eisaman, Unity Supervisor Mike O'Barto and Supervisor Robert Schiffbauer of South Union, Fayette County, will appear before the committee.
Other lawmakers have tackled the issue.
Rep. John Pallone of Arnold twice introduced a bill that would impose a $100-per-resident fee in large municipalities that rely on state police protection.
Rep. Mike Sturla of Lancaster introduced a plan to assess fees on residents of communities dependent on state police coverage. These fees might amount to as much as $6 million annually for communities the size of Hempfield.
Both proposals are tied up in committee.
The specter of paying for state police protection has driven some smaller municipalities to consider banding together to create local, unified police departments or joining established regional departments.
New Stanton, Youngwood, Hunker and Madison have been discussing the idea of joining the Southwest Regional Police Department or other neighboring departments.