State Rep. Stephens Heads to Harrisburg with Wish List

Residents and local officials in Stephens' legislative district seek help with flooding, traffic, transportation and police radar.

Over smoothies at in Horsham, marveled at the difference a year can make.

In a year’s time, Stephens, of Horsham, transitioned from prosecutor to freshman politician, and more recently, added father-to-be to his busy repertoire. But, his son’s expected Dec. 30 arrival – during winter break – will make for good timing as he can spend at least the first few weeks with him, without his hour and 40-minute commute to Harrisburg.

“It’s going to be a lot of work,” Stephens said of juggling his political career and family life.

But, work is something Stephens is accustomed to doing. He spent his summer recess touring flood-damaged properties, meeting with interest groups, attending committee hearings and meeting with local officials to find out what issues were in need of state funding and either new or better legislation. Central to his time home were talks with residents from his district, which comprises Horsham, Ambler and portions of Abington, Upper Dublin, Montgomery Township and Lower Gwynedd.

“Spending the summer dealing one-on-one with constituents has been the best part of the job,” Stephens said. “When you’re in Harrisburg and you’re dealing with things at the macro level … it’s sometimes difficult to feel like you’re making a difference in someone’s life.”

This week, armed with a laundry list of community wishes ranging from the use of police radar to traffic abatement and transportation issues, dam improvements, stormwater management concerns and solutions for flood-prone areas, Stephens began resuming his daily commutes to the Capitol.

Radar detection for police

have asked Stephens to work on legislation to make it legal for cops to use radar to write speeding tickets. Of the measure, which has been proposed – and stalled - in Pennsylvania many times before, Stephens said radar is “more accurate” and “safer.”

“It’s a tool really that local police ought to really be utilizing,” Stephens said.

Horsham Police Chief Robert Ruxton agreed and said he’s been fighting for it for many years – but said the effort to put radar guns in the hands of local police likely won’t go anywhere.

“There’s certain representatives in the House that do not want radar. They do not want it operated by local police,” Ruxton said of the speed-detection tool used only by Pennsylvania State Police. “They have used every excuse I can think of.”

Ruxton, a member of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, said the group has been battling since 1999 to have legislation passed. The use of radar, Ruxton said, would make speed detection a one-person job as compared to the two-person job that it is now. Currently, officers have to set up speed detection tape, which counts the number of vehicles and their speed on roadways, in advance of the detail.

“To take two people and assign them one job is difficult,” Ruxton said. “We’d like to be able to go out and do a detail and have one officer handle it.”

To further complicate matters, Ruxton said most speeding complaints are on small residential streets and setting up equipment in front of someone’s home, or on their property is cumbersome and intrusive, if not impossible.

Transportation upgrades

As Horsham officials look to the 25-year build-out of the 860-acre , , particularly on the already congested Route 611, is a concern shared by many. Officials have said developers will be made to foot the bill for some of the new infrastructure needed as the base is redeveloped. Still, more funding is needed.

“No matter what goes on the base, there’s more traffic coming,” Horsham Land Reuse Authority Executive Director . “We need help from the feds. We need help from the state.”

Stephens said alleviating traffic concerns, not only in Horsham, but throughout his district, is a major issue. Even though development is not expected to begin at the air base until 2014 at the earliest, Stephens said it’s never too early to start putting the funding wheels in motion. Some transportation projects, he said, are planned 20 years out.

“We are the economic engine for the Commonwealth and we need to be able to get to work,” Stephens said.

Without taking a stance on the controversial topic of tolling Route 422, Stephens said the state needs to “come up with a way to properly fund transportation.”

“Right now we’re not doing that,” he said, adding that southeastern Pennsylvania is already paying more than its fair share of tolls. “Twenty percent of tolls statewide come out of Montgomery County.”

Alternatively, he said drivers of Interstate 80 are “not paying a penny” and said that drivers in the northern part of the state are getting a “free ride.”

Stephens’ agenda

Along with the wants of the people he represents, Stephens said moving a welfare reform bill he sponsored out of the senate and into law is a priority, along with a bill he supports which would make it a felony for teachers to have sex with students.

He also hopes to amend proposed unemployment compensation reform to make provisions to restore benefits for victims of domestic violence and sexual violence, who, in some cases, may not be able to go to work.

Strengthening legislation as it pertains to dog fighting is another goal. As of now, he said there’s nothing in the statute outlining the “tools of the trade” commonly used in dog fighting. With the inclusion of items such as treadmills and other equipment used to train dogs to fight, Stephens said law enforcement would have more power to prosecute. He likened it to scales, bags and similar items that drug dealers commonly use in packaging and distributing drugs. If police raid a house and find no drugs, but find these tools, Stephens said it could be enough evidence to make an arrest. If the dog fighting legislation is stepped up, the same could be true in those instances, he said.

Controversial issues

The widely discussed matters of school choice and liquor store privatization are both areas where Stephens said he has not yet made a commitment one way or the other.

“Conceptually, I agree a child should not be sentenced to a bad school by virtue of a ZIP code,” Stephens said, adding that the schools within his legislative district – including his alma mater, the Blue Ribbon award-winning - provide a good education.

A prosecutor at heart, Stephens said he wants evidence, i.e. “the numbers” to see if it would be feasible to sell the state-owned liquor stores. “Philosophically I agree,” Stephens said, adding that government should not be in the liquor-selling business. “I just don’t know if we can afford to do it right now.”

Moving ahead

Like all things in government, Stephens has no expected timetable for progression of the bills, or when they might become law.

“I have a whole new appreciation for the challenges associated with legislating,” Stephens said. “It’s difficult to build a consensus with a state as diverse as ours.”

With a new baby on the way and nine months as a freshman under his belt, Stephens said people are constantly asking him what’s next.

“I feel like I’m just getting started in the House,” Stephens said. “I’ll see where it takes me.”


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