HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Senate voted Tuesday to approve legislation introduced by Senator Lloyd K. Smucker (R-13) that once again gives county commissioners the option of abolishing the jury commissioner row officer position.
Senate Bill 808 was approved by the chamber 37-12 and now moves to the state House of Representatives.
“As counties all across the Commonwealth have already demonstrated, quick passage of this measure is necessary,” Senator Smucker said after the votes were cast. “I am confident our colleagues in the House will concur.”
The bill is similar to legislation Sen. Smucker introduced in 2011 as part of a package of county reforms that eventually became Act 108 of 2011. The law was applicable to all counties of the third through eighth class and allowed local governments to eliminate the position of Jury Commissioner by a majority vote. Following passage of the Act 108, 42 of the Commonwealth’s 67 counties passed resolutions to abolish the position at the end of the current Jury Commissioner’s term on Dec. 31, 2013.
The Jury Commissioner position was originally created more than a century ago to help prepare lists of prospective jurors for criminal and civil trials. Computers now compile these lists much more quickly using the state’s driver license database, which has prompted court officials and county commissioners across Pennsylvania to call for the elimination of the post.
On March 14, 2013, however, Act 108 was struck down by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court because of the method used pass it. Passed as a rider to legislation dealing with how counties may sell personal and farm property, the court ruled Act 108 violated the Commonwealth’s “single subject rule” requiring legislative packages to pertain to the same general subject.
The ruling was surprising, Senator Smucker said.
“Both our legal folks and the County Commissioners Association thought this package was well within the bounds of the law, because both issues pertained to the county code and the duties of a county commissioner,” he said. “The court differentiated between the legislative and executive functions of the commissioners and concluded it violated the single subject rule.”
With so many counties voting to abolish the office and with primary elections set to take place on May 21, a Commonwealth Court judge decided to let parties nominate candidates for jury commissioner for the fall general election.
After Senator Smucker introduced the bill on April 4, it was voted out of the Senate Local Government Committee less than a week later on April 9. On Monday, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the measure 22-4. While it is unusual for a bill to move so quickly, Senator Smucker said this case is an exception.
“The court’s decision could have a significant impact on elections this year, so it was important to move this bill and act on it swiftly,” Senator Smucker said. He added that this stand-alone legislation should eliminate the need for an additional court ruling.