In 2013, the state House introduced a bill that would make it harder for caregivers to get away with abusing or neglecting adults unable to defend themselves – like the elderly and people with disabilities.
How good was the bill, which would amend the Pennsylvania crime code?
So good that it passed unanimously in the House, whose members rarely agree on what day it is.
They then lobbed it to the Senate, where it died without even a look-see. When they took another stab in 2015, the bill met an identical fate.
At the end of the last year, the men and women of the House, gluttons for punishment, re-introduced the proposed legislation – now called House Bill 1124 – passed it unanimously and again sent it to the Senate.
This time, the bill made it all the way to the governor, who signed it into law last Thursday.
Who made the difference?
Readers of this column, that’s who. And just in time, too.
Pull up a chair. Because this story’s good.
On June 14th, I wrote about Jill Daly, whose non-verbal, intellectually disabled son Tommy, 29, is often covered in bruises his caregivers won’t explain and local law enforcement won’t take seriously.
Daly, who has an aggressive cancer, has nightmares about what will happen to Tommy once she’s no longer around to notice the mysterious injuries he sustains. I wrote that if House Bill 1124 ever became law, it would give people like Tommy a better shot at safety and justice.
I begged readers to hound members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where HB1124 had been snoring since January, to consider the bill before the spring legislative session ended on June 30. I included contact info for Senate Judiciary members Daylin Leach, Larry Farnese and committee chair Stewart Greenleaf.
I won’t lie: I wasn’t confident the bill would go anywhere during the 16 days remaining in the session, because it had no champions.
Until readers got wind of it.
Within hours of the column going live that Thursday, readers lit up the phones, inboxes and social-media feeds of Farnese, Leach and Greenleaf.
They sent emails like this one, from Sharon Furlong of Feasterville, who was aghast at how often crimes against the elderly and people with disabilities go unpunished:
“Hit a man in his thirties and cause injuries, and you can be hauled before a judge,” Furlong wrote. “Hit a woman in her eighties or a boy who is autistic and non-verbal and you get to go home and watch a ballgame on television. What?”
Philly reader Cindy Singer, whose intellectually disabled son died last year, wrote that passing HB1124 “is a matter of human decency and kindness. It is a matter of dignity. It is a matter of life and death. It is a matter of LOVE.”
And Patricia Smith of Havertown nailed it when she wrote, “We all need to stand up for the protection of those unable to do so for themselves if we are to deserve to be considered a human being.”
By June 28th — just 12 days after the column was published — HB1124 was law and is now known as Act 53.
Oh, you guys.
She’d had conversations with Judiciary chair Greenleaf about it, she said, but he feared it would lead to the punishment of untrained family caregivers who unknowingly harm kin in their care.
“But you have to include family members in this bill,” said Gingrich, describing despicable cases of family-caregiver abuse and neglect she learned of while in office (like selling a loved one’s medication and other necessities, like boxes of Depends, on the street). “Everyone needs to be held accountable for their actions.”
Although HB1124 is already law, state Rep. Jim Cox is arranging for a ceremonial signing later this month so that Gingrich can be acknowledged for getting this ball rolling five long years ago.
“Your readers deserve credit, too,” said Cox, who took on the bill after Gingrich left office. “They nudged this over the finish line.”
Damn right you did.