The General Assembly moved forward last week with a bill that would punish local governments for passing their own gun regulations, while some municipalities move to firm up their own pro-gun policies.

A Senate committee passed a bill that would leave municipalities on the financial hook for legal challenges to their own gun restrictions. The bill, introduced by Rep. Matt Dowling, R-Fayette, is cosponsored by dozens of his GOP colleagues.

State law already restricts local governments’ ability to pass their own, tougher gun regulations. Despite that, as Dowling noted in a memo to colleagues, some governments have sought to pass their own gun regulations.

“Where so many different ordinances are allowed to exist, citizens with no criminal intent are placed in danger of breaking restrictions where they don’t know they exist,” Dowling said when he first introduced the bill.

Since then the bill has passed the House 124-79 and a Senate committee 9-5, setting the stage for a full Senate vote. State Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Cambria – who has introduced his own gun-law preemption bills in the past — was among those backing the bill in committee.

Gov. Tom Wolf vowed last year to veto similar legislation.

“Pennsylvanians deserve safety,” Wolf said at the time. “Republicans are dealing them peril with this irresponsible bill.”

Liberal- and conservative-leaning municipalities have been busy passing their own gun policies, leaving the state with a patchwork of decisions. Philadelphia has moved to restrict 3D-printed guns and require quick reporting of firearm thefts, prompting lawsuits from pro-gun groups.

On the other side of the aisle, municipalities in Blair County began working this month toward a “Second Amendment sanctuary” policy that would bar the use of public funds to enforce gun restrictions. County voters approved the policy in a referendum last year.

Congressional trades questioned

A growing number of Pennsylvania’s Congress members back efforts to limit congressional stock trading.

Several bills have drawn fresh attention in Washington this month, after a series of scandals and controversies around lawmakers’ stock trades.

Several lawmakers in both parties faced questions about their stock sales in the first days of the coronavirus pandemic, although ensuing investigations ended without charges.

One prior effort to restrict those trades — the TRUST in Congress Act — earned at least 10 new cosponsors this month, a year after it was first introduced. The bill would require members of Congress, their spouses and their dependent children to put some investments into blind trusts — instruments that keep the holders from knowing exactly which stocks they own.

Among its supporters are Rep. Fred Keller, R-12th District, and Rep. Conor Lamb, D-17th District. In all, three Democrats and three Republicans from Pennsylvania had joined as cosponsors as of this week.

“This policy will make it easier for Members of Congress to do their job — representing their constituents — without being seen as doing it for a financial motive,” one of the bill’s original backers, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas said when the bill first appeared.

A Senate bill with similar goals was introduced last week, and other efforts to restrict trades are underway.

Congressional stock trading has taken root as a bipartisan issue, but support is far from universal. At a press conference last month, Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., defended congressional stock trading.

Wolf, GOP approach court deadline

The standoff over Pennsylvania’s next congressional map intensified last week, as a state panel passed a Republican-supported map that has already drawn Wolf’s ire.

Republicans, including Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre, and Sen. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, backed the map in a 7-4 committee vote Jan. 18. By pressing forward with the map – which Democrats have criticized as unfairly drawn – they moved a step closer to a showdown in court.

Lawmakers and the governor have just a few days to meet deadlines imposed by the state courts and the Department of State, the agency responsible for elections. The department needs a congressional map in time for candidates to circulate petitions to run in this spring’s primaries.

Wolf released a map proposal of his own, pushing negotiations forward publicly. But the two sides have yet to reach a deal.

Pennsylvania must draw a new map to account for the loss of a representative since the latest census. Under the new arrangement, the state will have 17 U.S. House members instead of 18.

Ryan Brown covers statewide politics for Ogden Newspapers. He can be reached at rbrown@altoonamirror.com.

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