Gov. Rendell today vetoed three bills, including a measure to expand a person's right to use lethal force against a perceived threat outside of the home.
The current law, the so-called castle doctrine, already protects residents' right to defend themselves inside their homes, or "castles." The bill would have extended that right beyond the home and removed a person's "duty to retreat" to avoid a potentially violent confrontation.
"The bill as passed encourages the use of deadly force, even when safe retreat is available, and advances a 'shoot first, ask questions later' mentality," Rendell said in a statement issued Saturday afternoon. "I do not believe that in a civilized society we should encourage violent and deadly confrontation when the victim can safely protect themselves."
Rendell also vetoed a bill that would have made it easier for firefighters who develop cancer to collect workers' compensation benefits. He did so with regret, but said the potential cost could force cuts in public safety service or place an onerous burden on taxpayers already struggling in a tough economy.
Rendell also refused to back a bill that would have restricted public access to autopsy and death reports.
Rendell's veto of the expanded castle doctrine was a victory for law enforcement agencies that opposed the bill, arguing that it would lead to increased gun violence.
But the win probably won't last long. Gov.-elect Tom Corbett, who replaces Rendell in January, supports the measure. And the bill passed with overwhelming support in the House and the Senate this year.
"The governor is really out of step with literally all of Pennsylvania," said State Rep. Scott Perry, (R., York), the prime sponsor of the castle doctrine element of the bill. "This had strong bipartisan support. . . . It's not about protecting your home. It's about protecting yourself or your family against attack."
Perry said the bill will be reintroduced in 2011.
The self-defense elements were part of an otherwise noncontroversial bill to close loopholes in the state's Megan's Law related to registration of sex offenders.
Rendell said he would have gladly supported the Megan's Law provisions. Adding the self-defense element may have rendered the bill unconstitutional, he said, because it linked matters only loosely related to one another.
Rendell, a former Philadelphia district attorney and mayor, scolded state lawmakers for passing a bill he said would incite greater gun violence.
"I cannot sign my name to a bill that contradicts the very antiviolence agenda I have worked so hard - along with many legislators - to achieve," he said.
The right of citizens to protect themselves from harm is already strong enough, Rendell argued. That position was echoed by the various law enforcement groups that also opposed the measure, including the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, the Pennsylvania State Police, and dozens of police chiefs from across the state.
"Pennsylvania already has a strong castle doctrine," said Dauphin County District Attorney Edward M. Marsico Jr., president of the state's District Attorneys Association. "Citizens already possess the right to defend themselves in their homes."
At least two dozen other states protect a person's right to use lethal force in places outside their homes, including their businesses.
On the workers' comp measure, firefighters disputed Rendell's view on the possible costs of a bill that would have helped firefighters collect benefits for job-related cancers that appear later in life.
At least 32 other states have similar laws on their books, said Pete Huf, a captain in the Upper Darby fire department and the vice president of the Pennsylvania Professional Firefighters Association.
"This wasn't cutting-edge by any means," Huf said.
The bill, which has been in the works for more than two decades, also received strong support in the House and the Senate.
"Rendell's veto was a slap in the face of our firefighters on his way out the door," said Drew Crompton, counsel to Senate President Pro-tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson).
But municipal leaders, including Mayor Nutter, argued that the bill would be too costly and unfairly put the burden on municipal governments to prove that cancers were not job-related.
"The mayor is gratified by the governor's veto of this particular bill," said Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald. "If the General Assembly decides to revisit this issue next year, the mayor hopes that legislators will take into consideration our concerns."