The new speaker of the PA House
The media coverage of new PA House Speaker Dennis O'Brien (R-Phila) has been largely positive. If you never heard of O'Brien before yesterday, you're now learning that he is a friend of organized labor, a "people person," and has "a passion for making the lives of people better" (the last one according to Governor Rendell).
All of that may true, as I've had little reason to notice Rep. O'Brien. He might be really great in a lot of ways. But here is what I do know about him. His stances on the Innocence Commission Act and the death penalty for those with mental retardation do not indicate a man who is fair or a decent person. His positions on those two issues lead me to question who he is.
The ICA passed the Senate unanimously in April. It would establish a commission to study the reasons why innocent people are convicted of crimes and then make recommendations for legislation to prevent it from happening in the future.
But after passing the Senate without a single dissenting vote, the bill sat in O'Brien's judiciary committee. It never saw the light of day. O'Brien couldn't be bothered to allow the state to study why innocent people are convicted.
Does this sound like someone who is fair?
On the death penalty and persons with mental retardation, O'Brien defied the disabilities community (you know, the people who actually work with folks with disabilities on a regular basis) to side with Attorney General Tom Corbett and the PA District Attorneys Association. The disabilities community, including the Arc of PA and the Disabilities Law Project, supported the process in which a defendant's mental capacity would be determined by the judge before trial. The DAs and Corbett believe the jury should make that determination after they've convicted the defendant of first degree homicide. This procedure was called "clearly prejudicial against the defendant" by Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery), who is the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
This might be a bit of hyperbole, but O'Brien believes it's fine that innocent people are convicted of crimes and it's fine to execute persons with mental retardation. Ok, of course he doesn't believe that, but what can one be expected to believe in light of these stances he has taken?
This jury is still out on just how "fair" Dennis O'Brien really is.