HARRISBURG - A day after Mumia Abu-Jamal addressed graduates of a Vermont college, a House committee advanced a bill to give the family of the police officer he was convicted of killing a way to shut him up.
The bill, believed to be the first of its kind, would let crime victims or their relatives seek injunctive relief if the criminals that harmed them seek publicity from the crime in any way.
Rep. Mike Vereb (R., Montgomery) called it unconscionable that Abu-Jamal - serving life for the 1981 slaying of Philadelphia officer Daniel Faulkner - could get national exposure with a "taxpayer-funded rant."
"The words of the victims should be louder than the criminals who sit behind concrete and steel," said Vereb. He drafted the bill after revelations that Goddard College invited Abu-Jamal to speak to graduates Sunday in prerecorded remarks.
The full House could vote on the bill as soon as Wednesday.
Abu-Jamal, who maintains his innocence despite rulings against him, is a 1996 graduate of the college.
In a memo on the bill to fellow lawmakers, Vereb said it would allow crime victims or prosecutors acting on their behalf to bring a civil action to halt conduct by an offender if it causes the victim or the victim's family severe mental anguish.
Gov. Corbett made a rare appearance at a legislative press conference to support the bill.
Sen. John Rafferty (R., Montgomery) said Abu-Jamal was perpetrating a new crime against the Faulkner family. Rafferty said he wondered how the school could pick "a cold-hearted killer for speech-making."
He urged the 23 Goddard graduates to speak with Faulkner's widow, Maureen, or ride with a Philadelphia police officer.
The ACLU said the bill could restrict free speech rights of all felons - even those who have paid their dues. "The legislature doesn't have the power to punish speech it doesn't like," said Andrew Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "Former offenders who left prison decades earlier could be penalized for the mere act of speaking publicly about their experience, about public interest issues, or about any unknown thing."