HARRISBURG, May 10, 2016 – Sparked by the tragic death of a Berks County mom who died after being imprisoned for her child’s delinquent truancy fines, Sen. Judy Schwank has won the Pennsylvania Senate’s approval of a bipartisan bill to keep parents from this kind of punishment.

Senate Bill 359 is heading to the House on a 48-0 vote.

“There are many causes for truancy, but we have largely been relying on a single solution to it: treating it as a crime with the unfounded belief that that would fix the problems,” Schwank said today during floor debate. “Mrs. Dinino died in prison, with her children at home alone, simply because she could not pay $2,000 in fines that had accumulated against her.”

The Berks County Democrat said the 2014 death of Eileen DiNino – a widowed mother of seven who was placed in Berks County Prison because Pennsylvania law mandates a five-day sentence for failing to pay truancy fines – was the “wake-up call.”

“It was a shock … to learn that Pennsylvania mandated a prison sentence in truancy cases. It was an even greater shock to discover that not only do we have this bad idea of mandating prison for parents who are unable to pay truancy fines but, even worse, it is randomly applied.”

Should Senate Bill 359 win the approval of the House and governor, Schwank said no parent will go to jail for a delinquent truancy bill under most circumstances.

Also, the senator emphasized that the bipartisan legislation, which she worked on with Republican Sens. Stewart Greenleaf (Montgomery County) and Lloyd Smucker (Lancaster), will remind people that getting children an education is the most important reason for updating the law.

“Eileen’s death, sadly, put a human face to this ineffective injustice, and this bill today will not bring her back to her family and friends,” Sen. Schwank said. “But it did prompt a very deep and serious reconsideration of the issue that resulted in SB 359.

“The causes of truancy are much deeper than a child simply choosing not to go to school. There are reasons for these choices, and they reflect many other concerns than whether or not a child attended class on a given day.”


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