Pennsylvania Passes New Laws: Stricter Penalties for Package Theft and Organized Retail Theft, Expanded Access to Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Programs, and More

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – While Pennsylvania politicians face challenges in passing certain laws, they have had no trouble enacting legislation to recognize unique observances such as Certified Public Accountant Week and William Penn Landing Site in Chester Month. However, beyond these seemingly trivial proclamations, a slate of recently passed laws will have a significant impact on millions of Pennsylvanians this year. From cracking down on porch pirates to expanding access to specialized healthcare programs, here are some noteworthy laws that will come into effect in Pennsylvania.

One law, known as Senate Bill 527, aims to address the rise of stolen packages by porch pirates. According to the Philadelphia Police Department, more than 3,000 packages are stolen annually in the city. The new law increases the penalties for mail theft, with repeat offenders and high-value thefts potentially leading to felony charges. The aim is to reduce the prevalence of package theft and protect residents’ property.

Another recently passed law, Senate Bill 596, lowers the monetary threshold for charging someone with a felony for organized retail theft. Under the new law, individuals can face felony charges for thefts valued between $2,500 and $9,999. Previously, the threshold for a felony charge was between $5,000 and $19,999. By strengthening penalties for organized retail theft, the law aims to deter and punish those engaged in this criminal activity.

In a significant step toward supporting survivors of sexual assault, Senate Bill 414 expands access to Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) programs in Pennsylvania hospitals. These programs provide trauma-informed care and forensic nursing to better serve survivors of sexual assault. The law allows more hospitals to establish SANE programs and requires the department of health to publish a list of each county’s hospitals with SANE programs. The expanded access to these specialized programs will enhance the support available to survivors across the state.

Senate Bill 683 focuses on Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana industry. The law allows all medical marijuana growers to sell their products directly to approved patients, leveling the playing field for smaller, independent businesses. Previously, only a limited number of growers were permitted to sell directly to patients. The law also allows independent dispensaries to apply for grower-processor licenses, enabling them to cultivate their own medical marijuana. While this law loosens restrictions around medical marijuana, the prospect of recreational marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania remains uncertain.

Repealing a century-old restriction, Senate Bill 84 brings Pennsylvania in line with the rest of the nation. The law allows public school teachers to wear religious garb, overturning the state’s “garb statute.” Pennsylvania was the last state in the U.S. to repeal such a prohibition. The restriction had its roots in the Ku Klux Klan’s anti-Catholic stance, and its repeal is seen as a significant step forward in protecting teachers’ religious freedom.

Finally, Act 40 of 2023 creates a special prosecutor role in the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office to handle crimes that occur on mass transit, including Philadelphia’s SEPTA system. Previously, prosecuting these crimes fell under the authority of District Attorney Larry Krasner. The move to strip some of Krasner’s authority is part of a larger effort by Pennsylvania Republicans to challenge the progressive district attorney. However, Krasner’s impeachment by a Republican-led House was put on indefinite hold pending a Senate trial.

As these new laws take effect throughout the year, Pennsylvania residents will experience changes in mail theft penalties, retail theft charges, support for sexual assault survivors, medical marijuana regulations, religious freedom in schools, and the prosecution of mass transit crimes. These legislative developments reflect ongoing efforts to address important issues affecting communities and individuals across the state.