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A new Pennsylvania law aims to restrict Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner's powers to prosecute crime has been receiving criticism (Photo by Jared Piper | CC BY-NC 2.0).

A newly passed Pennsylvania state law is receiving criticism for undermining Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s ability to prosecute crime in the city.

Act 40, which was signed into law on Dec. 14, 2023, will allow the Pennsylvania attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to handle crimes 500 yards or less from SEPTA property in Philadelphia — but not outside of the city. Various city officials have claimed that Act 40 is trying to undercut the voices of the Philadelphia voters who elected Krasner.

Republicans blame Krasner — who was first elected in 2017 on a progressive platform — for an alleged increase in violent crimes due to his policies. Krasner was reelected in 2021, and in November 2022 was impeached by the then-Republican majority Pennsylvania House of Representatives — but his impeachment trial was halted indefinitely by the state senate in January 2023 after a court order. 

In a statement, the DA’s office called Act 40 — which was sponsored by state Senator Wayne Langerholc Jr. (R-35) — “an unprecedented assault on a locally elected official’s authority and on the rights of voters,” since the special prosecutor is a political appointee. The statement also suggested that the legislation would move state funding from Krasner’s office to the new special prosecutor.

Krasner is attempting to block the implementation of Act 40 through litigation, arguing that it erases the voice of the voters and his authority as Philadelphia's elected district attorney.

“Act 40 purports to be about public safety on SEPTA properties,” Krasner said in a statement. “In actuality it is an unworkable display of word salad that practically begs to be litigated in court.”

Krasner has also urged Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry — who is responsible for making the appointment of a special prosecutor — to “recognize the unconstitutionality and unenforceability of Act 40.” 

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office pointed out that Langerholc’s district is closer to Allegheny County than Philadelphia, and it said that Langerholc “baldly stated its intent is to usurp the authority of the elected district attorney in Philadelphia County only.”

Neither Langerholc nor Krasner responded to a request for comment. 

In a press release, Langerhold wrote that Krasner was “continuing his campaign of disillusionment and falsehood,” and said that Act 40 does not take away the DA’s ability or jurisdiction to prosecute. 

Several local officials and Penn community members voiced opposition to Act 40.

“The city of Philadelphia knows best how to handle what goes on in Philadelphia,” College sophomore and Penn Democrats President Ellie Goluboff-Schragger said to The Daily Pennsylvanian. “We should give voters the power to decide who our DA is and that DA should have the power.”

Philadelphia Councilmember Kendra Brooks echoed concerns that Act 40 will undermine the voice of Philadelphia voters in a statement to the DP.

“Real public safety comes from deep investments in our communities, including affordable housing, fully funded schools, and guaranteed jobs for young people,” Brooks wrote. 

Councilmembers Kenyatta Johnson and Jamie Gauthier said in a joint statement that a special prosecutor for crimes on SEPTA property is not necessary and that the DA’s office should continue to spearhead the investigation and prosecution of crimes in Philadelphia. Gauthier represents Philadelphia’s Third District, which includes Penn and much of West Philadelphia. 

“Act 40 will only make it harder for City Council to spend our constituents’ hard-earned taxpayer dollars on services that actually reduce crime,” Johnson and Gauthier wrote. 

Chair of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party and state Sen. Sharif Street (D-3) also called Act 40 “blatantly unconstitutional” in a statement

“It’s convoluted, it’s poorly drafted, and it disparately impacts the only majority Black and brown county in Pennsylvania,” Street wrote. 

The passage of Act 40 comes amid SEPTA riders expressing discontent with the transportation system's lack of funding.

“We strongly believe that Governor Josh Shapiro should have been working hard to pass something that actually matters — funding for public transit,” the Philadelphia Transit Riders Union said in a Jan. 10 statement. “Transit riders statewide are waiting for the governor to sign into law legislation that will be transformative and life-changing.” 

On Jan. 29, Shapiro announced his plan to increase state funding for public transit in the upcoming state budget for the 2024-25 fiscal year.