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Legislators mount challenge to new joint and several liability law

A Petition for Review in the nature of a Complaint was filed by House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese and Democratic Whip Mike Veon on August 15 in Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg.

The Petition for Review challenges the unconstitutional procedure leading to the amendment and passage of Senate Bill 1089 by the Pennsylvania Legislature. This bill deals primarily with DNA evidence as it concerns criminal sexual offenders. However, at the end of the bill there are provisions relating to the civil justice system, more specifically the partial abrogation of joint and several liability.

The petition explains that on June 4, 2002, the Rules Committee of the House of Representatives reported and voted out Senate Bill 1089. The bill originally dealt with DNA testing and related matters, but was amended to include a significant and completely unrelated and non-germane amendment concerning civil tort liability. On June 4, in the House of Representative Rules Committee, Senate Bill 1089 became a bill amending Title 42, Judiciary and Judicial Procedure, by adding a completely new chapter to the Title, Chapter 47, DNA Data and Testing.

Upon return to the Senate, this new bill was not referred to committee but rather was placed on the calendar and ultimately amended on the floor of the Senate on June 12. 

At 1:30 a.m. on June 13, the Pennsylvania Senate passed this bill with a technical amendment. The bill returned to the House and was referred to the Rules Committee on June 17, whereupon it was immediately reported out and passed that same day.

The Governor signed the bill on June 19.

Article III, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution provides that no law shall be passed except by a bill and no bill shall be altered or amended on its passage to change its original purpose. There is a serious reason why Article III of the Pennsylvania Constitution exists and that is to make sure that the legislators and the voters are aware of what is being voted upon, how it will affect the laws of the state and to discourage the practice of using unrelated bills as vehicles for the passage of certain legislation.

The petition also challenges legislation as a violation of Article III, Section 2, 3 and 4 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. 

Petitioners are asking for Declaratory Judgment that the bill is unconstitutional and for an injunction preventing the codification or enforcement of the bill.
Lee C. Swartz, Esq., of Harrisburg will respond to any inquiries. Other counsel are Professor Robert Williams, of Rutgers University School of Law in Camden, NJ and John W. Morris, Esq., of Philadelphia. 

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