Non-discrimination Bill Reintroduced in the State Senate

For the sixth legislative session, an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination bill covering employment, housing, and public accommodations was introduced in the State Senate. Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh) and Sen. Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia) are again prime sponsors of the bill, now SB 613. Upon reintroduction, the bill has 16 co-sponsors, which includes three Republicans and 13 Democrats. The bill was referred to the State Government Committee, chaired by Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon).

Pennsylvania Birth Certificate Update

On August 8, 2016, the Pennsylvania Department of Health announced it has updated its policy on how an individual can change the sex marker on their birth certificate. 

The new policy allows for a Pennsylvanian to amend their birth certificate’s sex marker through a note from a physician stating they have received gender transition care. This is a change from the prior requirement to demonstrate gender confirmation surgery as the threshold to update a birth certificate. 

The National Center for Transgender Equality has posted a quick summary of the steps that need to be taken here.

Below is the updated policy from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

June Non-Discrimination Update

LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination legislation has languished for over a decade in the General Assembly. A comprehensive non-discrimination law would protect LGBT people from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations – just as it does for 11 enumerated characteristics today.

In an attempt to see at least one protection through for LGBT Pennsylvanians this legislative session, Senator Pat Browne (R-16, Lehigh) introduced three separate LGBT-inclusive bills in June, SB 1306 for employment, SB 1307 for housing, and SB 1316 for public accommodations.

On June 22, Senator Scott Wagner (R-28, York) held a Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee to consider SB 1307, LGBT-inclusive housing protections. Senator Wayne Fontana (D-42, Allegheny) successfully amended the bill to include LGBT-inclusive employment protections. Senator Mario Scavello (R-40, Monroe) attempted to add a significant religious exemption amendment, which failed. In the end, the amended bill, with housing and employment non-discrimination protections, was voted out of the committee in a 7-4 vote, with the following vote breakdown:

Yea  Nay
Sen. Scott Wagner (R-28, York)
Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-46, Washington)     
Sen. John Blake (D-22, Lackawanna)
Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-42, Allegheny)
Sen. Art Haywood (D-4, Philadelphia)
Sen. Tom Killion (R-9, Chester)
Sen. Shirley Kitchen (D-3, Philadelphia)
Sen. David Argall (R-29, Berks)
Sen. Michele Brooks (R-50, Mercer)
Sen. Mario Scavello (R-40, Monroe)
Sen. Joseph Scarnati (R-25, Jefferson)

The amended bill was moved to the Senate Rules and Executive Nominations committee. Here, it must wait for action by the Senate leadership to be called for a vote on the floor. If adopted by the State Senate, it would then be sent to the House of Representatives for concurrence.

Public accommodations protections is not currently part of SB 1307 that awaits action.

Governor’s LGBT Workgroup Formed

The Governor’s LGBT Workgroup has been formed to bring together senior staff in the Gov. Wolf’s administration to work on important policy issues for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians. The group is chaired by Physician General Dr. Rachel Levine, and includes senior staff from nearly a dozen state agencies. Also at the table are three statewide LGBTQ organizations, including representatives from the Pennsylvania Youth Congress. This group will meet monthly.

Physician General Dr. Levine on World AIDS Day

Today on World AIDS Day 2015, Physician General Dr. Rachel Levine held a press conference in the State Capitol to highlight the HIV/AIDS healthcare to be advanced in Pennsylvania. The brief event was held in the Capitol Media Center at 3:30pm.

Dr. Levine noted how “World AIDS Day is held on the first of December every year…[as] an opportunity to come together – to show support to those living with HIV, to commemorate those whom we have lost, and to renew our commitment to the prevention and treatment of HIV disease.” She declared that  “If an infection does occur, Pennsylvania is committed that every person diagnosed with HIV has unfettered access to high-quality, life-extending care – free from stigma, and free from discrimination.”
Our Physician General reflected on her personal connection to HIV and AIDS, sharing that:

“I actually have a long standing professional connection to the HIV epidemic. I was a resident physician in pediatrics, at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, from 1983 to 1988, right through the beginning of this outbreak and epidemic. At that time, at the beginning, there was no understanding, but eventually, [the] very limited understanding of the disease during the 1980s was significant stigma, and really no treatment. A diagnosis of AIDS at that time was literally a death sentence. We have made such significant progress since that time. But, in 2015, HIV disease continues to be a serious public health problem. Every year, almost 50,000 Americans are newly infected with HIV – with more than 1,000 of them right here in Pennsylvania. HIV affects everyone. Regardless of gender, regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or socioeconomic circumstances. We still do see specific segments of our population who experience higher rates of HIV disease. Men who have sex with men [MSM] still represent two-thirds of new HIV infections. Injection drug users now account for nearly one in ten new infections. And young people, aged 13-24, are 16% of the population in general, but account to nearly 26% of all new HIV infections.”

As an ambassador for Governor Wolf, she noted how the “[Governor] and this administration take this crisis very seriously. The Wolf Administration is committed to a broad policy to respond to this significant public health problem, with a focus on both reducing infections and improving treatment.”

Stressing the importance of prevention she noted that “The first line of defense is always prevention. The Pennsylvania Department of Health encourages all Pennsylvanians to know their status by getting HIV tested. It is estimated that nearly 20% of those infected with HIV are actually not aware that they are infected.” She emphasized how “the Pennsylvania Department of Health makes HIV testing available at a number of sites through a whole network of providers throughout the state.”

Dr. Levine recognized Governor Wolf’s decision to expand Medicaid and the special pharmaceutical benefit program – which increase the ability for those living with HIV or AIDS to access medical care and medications.

She then praised the “the usage of pre-exposure prophylactics, also called PrEP, for individuals who are at high risk for HIV, is now available…the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, recommends that clinicians offer PREP to those who are at high risk of acquiring HIV infection.”

Dr. Levine concluded her remarks by sharing:

“Our goal is to help Pennsylvanians learn their status and get linked to care. If they fall out of care, if individuals fall out of care, we are committed to working with them, to reconnect them to the medical community and the care that they need. This is not an easy task, and will certainly require a clear plan and clear action. I am very pleased to be working with Secretary of Health Karen Murphy, and Governor Wolf and the administration, on this important initiative. And together, working all together, we will make Pennsylvania a place where all new HIV infections are rare, [where] all HIV+ Pennsylvanians have access to appropriate medication and healthcare, and where all HIV+ Pennsylvanians have a high quality of life.

A reporter then asked Dr. Levine what message Pennsylvanians should take from World AIDS Day, and how much the state spends in addressing HIV and AIDS.

Jose De MarcoFollowing the reporters, Jose de Marco from ACT UP Philadelphia asked Dr. Levine to speak to the social injustice that surrounds addressing HIV and AIDS.

“It’s really wonderful to know that this World AIDS Day that the state of Pennsylvania is going to address HIV and AIDS in this state, but in this day and age it is so much more than people not using a condom. Social injustice issues, especially in poor communities of color, homelessness, poverty, drug addiction – all these things are fueling HIV infections in Latino and African American communities. I think we should be doing a better job with PrEP. I’m from the first generation – I remember the time AIDS activists would be screaming on the roof “there is pill out there that can stop you from getting AIDS!’ But until we start to address social injustice issues – and if you look at incarceration rates of African American and Latino men – there tends to be a mirror of HIV infection. So there is obviously an issue of social injustice – and it’s almost proof positive that HIV is a social injustice in 2015. I’m hopeful the Wolf Administration will take a lot of this into consideration, especially when it comes to HIV infections. Generic medicine is much cheaper than a lifetime of AIDS medication.

Dr. Levine responded by saying that

“I agree that we need to get the word out about PrEP to the populations at risk. We need to get the word out there to physicians and healthcare providers and clinics that PREP exists and that it can prevent this illness in people who are at risk. The word I would use is the social determinants of health. All the different types of issues you have talked about are certainly critical in healthcare in general. In the Department of Health we are working on healthcare innovation, which will try to make sure we will have access for the urban, rural populations that need access to medical care in general, and to HIV prevention, testing, and treatment.”

Levine3The final question was asked by Paul Yabor, another member of ACT UP Philadelphia.

“One of my concerns going forward is in prevention – this is not going to be an easy task. But there are some policy changes that we feel are necessary, and we have the data to back it up, to make this dream come true – to end AIDS in PA. More specifically, a statewide syringe exchange – and it may be a bit out the realm of health, but it’s still relevant, but housing and Medicaid.”

Dr. Levine responded that “I’m not actually prepared to speak on those issues at this time, but we would certainly take all of your recommendations under advisement into the Governor’s office.”

Confirmed as Physician General on June 9, 2015, she is the fifth person to hold the position of the state’s top doctor since it was created in 1996. At the time of this posting, we could not find information on any internal or public World AIDS Day events held by any of her predecessors.

We applaud Dr. Levine and all those in the medical community advocating for increased and responsible healthcare for those living with HIV and AIDS, as well as policy efforts that directly respond to the complex social justice issues that are intertwined with the crisis in Pennsylvania.

Governor Corbett Announces Support of LGBT Nondiscrimination Legislation

Governor Tom Corbett recently announced his support of HB 300, an amendment to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act which will provide protections against discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations based upon sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. This statement may come as a surprise to Pennsylvanians, as Corbett’s opposition to same-sex marriage has been well publicized over the past year.

The Philadelphia Gay News reported that a meeting was held in October between Corbett and Mark Segal, publisher of PGN, and representatives of several LGBTQ organizations, including the HRC and the PERSAD Center in Pittsburgh. Segal said that Corbett’s administration has been discussing publicly supporting the bill for the past three years. In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Corbett said he previously believed the federal government protected against LGBTQ discrimination, despite having served three terms as Attorney General.

Corbett was named as a defendant in a federal lawsuit between the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the state government over the constitutionality of banning same-sex marriage. When asked about his position on marriage equality in August, Corbett first compared it to a marriage between twelve year olds, before retracting that statement in October and saying, “It was an inappropriate analogy, you know… I think a much better analogy would have been brother and sister, don’t you?” Corbett issued an awkward apology video after his comments went viral, and said he meant to compare only the legal stature of same-sex marriage with incest. Corbett was released as a defendant from the lawsuit in November, and has stayed quiet on the matter since then. He reiterated in his interview with the Inquirer today that he still does not support marriage equality.

Corbett’s support on HB 300 is not entirely unprecedented; he renewed the Schapp Order, which protects state government employees from discrimination in employment based upon sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. In 1974, Governor Milton Shapp signed an executive order banning discrimination based upon sexual orientation in state employment, making Pennsylvania the first state in the country to have any form of employment protection based upon sexual orientation. In 2011, Ohio’s Republican Governor, John Kasulich, allowed a similar executive order to expire, and later renewed it without protection based upon gender identity.

Regardless of Corbett’s support for HB 300, the law is unlikely to go anywhere while it is in the State Government Committee, chaired by Republican Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, an outspoken opponent of any legislation in support of LGBTQ individuals. Corbett reportedly shrugged and said he did not know how to overcome Metcalfe’s stalling of the bill when asked by the Inquirer.

Corbett is far from the first Republican Governor to support LGBTQ inclusive  nondiscrimination legislation. Wisconsin was the first state to protect against discrimination in employment based upon sexual orientation in 1982. Republican Governor Lee Dreyfus signed the bill into law, despite a religious fundamentalist campaign urging him to veto the bill, citing the “fundamental Republican principle that government should have a very restricted involvement in people’s private and personal lives.”

This announcement comes four days after the annual gathering of the Pennsylvania Society, a weekend seen by many state leaders as one of the most important barometers to measure support for political candidates. Corbett’s approval ratings have steadily dropped through 2013, and his administration is likely anticipating an uphill battle for reelection. When the Pennsylvania General Assembly concludes session today, the state legislature will be on winter recess until January 7. When legislators return to Harrisburg in 2014, advocates will be able to access the impact of Corbett’s statement of support for LGBTQ nondiscrimination.

Final House Select Committee on School Safety Hearing

On Monday, July 15, the House Select Committee on School Safety held its final hearing. In the Irvis Office Building at the State Capitol, legislators listened to expert testimony from a variety of educational community stakeholders on the issue of school safety. CommonGround PA submitted testimony in support of including the student voice in the committee’s recommendations – and in support of the Pennsylvania Safe Schools Act, HB 156.

Testimony was given by the experts listed below and covered the noted areas:

Dr. John Sygielski President, Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC)
Emergency preparedness for an active shooter on school grounds

Michelle Twersky, Pennsylvania Associate Regional Director, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, Member of PA CAPE
Dr. David Hegedus Associate Director of Christian Schools International, Member of PA CAPE

How faith-based schools work with local law enforcement and their communities to prevent violence and combat prejudice.

Christopher Budano Assistant Director of Education Services, PA State Education Association (PSEA)
General testimony on the importance of effective safe schools policies and a presentation on the main points of Solutions that Work.

Sallie Lynagh Children’s Advocate, Disability Rights Network of PA
Articulating the experience of students with disabilities in the discipline framework for schools and support for school-wide positive behavior support.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale PA Department of the Auditor General
Explained how the Auditor General’s office conducts audits of how schools use funds for safe schools and called on legislators to support more efficient use of violence prevention grants.

The testimonies are available online here.

Chairman Rep. Gary Day (R-Carbon) convened the hearing with Vice-Chair Rep. Cherelle Parker (D-Philadelphia). Committee members present for the hearing included Rep. Seth Grove (R-York), Rep. Mike Regan (R-York/Cumberland), Rep. Todd Rock (R-Franklin), Rep. Marcy Toepel (R-Montgomery), Rep. Patty Kim (D-Dauphin), Rep. Jim Christiana (R-Beaver), Rep. Patrick Harkins (D-Erie), and Rep. Dom Costa (D-Allegheny).

Committee members that were absent: Rep. Michelle Brownlee (D-Philadelphia), Rep. Mary Jo Daley (D-Montgomery), Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny), Rep. Joe Hackett (R-Delaware), and Rep. Tarah Toohil (R-Luzerne).

The House Select Committee on School Safety will issue their recommendations for legislation to be adopted by the General Assembly by the end of September 2013.

Photo: Rep. Todd Rock and Rep. Marcy Toepel


House Adopts Child Abuse Prevention Reform Package

Today the Pennsylvania House of Representatives adopted HB 435, the last bill of the Pennsylvania Task Force for Child Protection legislative package. HB 435 and seven other pieces of legislation were championed by House Children and Youth Committee Chair Rep. Kathy Watson (R-144, Warrington) and several other House members following the recommendations of the Task Force. The group of policy experts was convened by the General Assembly following the discovery of Jerry Sandusky’s crimes in order to bolster protection of children against sexual abuse.

HB 435 introduced by Rep. Dan Moul (R-91, Gettysburg) to expand the practice of background checks for anyone who closely works with or volunteers in a capacity where they supervise children. The bill was unanimously passed in the House.

Another bill passed today dealing with child abuse, but not explicitly part of the Task Force package, was HB 726. This legislation was sponsored by Rep. Scott Petri’s (R-178, Richboro) to clarify the definition of child abuse. Rep. Petri’s co-sponsorship memo on this bill circulated on December 18, 2012, with the following points that the legislation will:

-Bring the standard for physical abuse in line with the language defining “simple assault” in our Crimes Code. In other words, the same conduct that would constitute assault would constitute child abuse.
-Expand the definition of “sexual abuse or exploitation” to include conduct, with regard to a child, that would constitute the criminal offenses of institutional sexual assault, indecent assault and unlawful contact with a minor.
-Remove the term “non-accidental,” and replace it with varying standards of culpability (reckless, knowing and intentional), which relate to the conduct constituting “child abuse.”
-Make several technical corrections.
-Bring the standard for abuse that is committed by creating imminent risk for a child more in line with the language defining “endangering the welfare of a child” and “reckless endangerment” in our Crimes Code.
-Create an exception in the definition for the use of justifiable force by a parent, guardian or other person responsible for the care and supervision of a child. Again, this language is based on language in the Crimes Code, so that conduct constituting assault will constitute physical abuse of a child.

HB 726 garnered 24 co-sponsors – 14 Republicans and 10 Democrats. The bill passed the House with 191 votes in favor and six votes against the measure. Republicans Rep. Michele Brooks, Rep. Fred Keller, Rep. Tim Krieger, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, Rep. Carl Metzgar, and Rep. Rosemarie Swanger voted against the legislation.

In review, the Task Force’s recommendation lead to the introduction of eight House bills. The bills are currently being considered in the State Senate. They were adopted as follows:

HB 430, HB 433, HB 434, HB 436 were adopted by the House on June 20, 2013.
HB 431 and HB 432 were adopted by the House on April 17, 2013.
HB 429 was adopted by the House on April 10, 2013.

House Advances Holocaust Education Legislation

ClymerToday the House unanimously adopted a bill by Rep. Paul Clymer (R-145, Quakertown) providing for Holocaust education in Pennsylvania public schools.

HB 1424 empowers public school districts to offer curriculum dealing with the Holocaust, at any grade level. The legislation allows educators to receive continuing education credits for academic programs on the Holocaust that they attend.

The bill was championed by the Anti-Defamation League of Eastern Pennsylvania/Southern New Jersey working with Rep. Clymer who introduced the measure. HB 1424 had 35 co-sponsors – including Majority Leader Rep. Mike Turzai (noteworthy because he rarely co-sponsors legislation) – of which 18 were Republican and 17 were Democrat.

Every Jewish member of the Pennsylvania House was a co-sponsor of the bill. The three Jewish House members are: Rep. Michael Schlossberg (D-132, Allentown), Rep. Mark Cohen (D-202, Philadelphia), and Rep. Dan Frankel (D-23, Pittsburgh). As the bill was adopted, Rep. Schlossberg and Rep. Cohen took to the House floor to press the legislature to eventually adopt mandated education on the Holocaust, rather than a simple suggestion to school districts that they do so.

Yes, unfortunately, in no way does HB 1424 mandate the teaching of the Holocaust. Last session, Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-170, Philadelphia) introduced a similar measure in May 2012which would have required public school students to learn about the Holocaust. HB 2396 garnered 23 co-sponsors, including Rep. Clymer. There were five Republicans and 18 Democrats on the bill.

Rep. Boyle introduced an amendment on the floor to mandate the education,A02263, changing “may” to “shall” throughout the bill. Above you can see moving remarks delivered to House members by Rep. Schlossberg. The amendment failed in a 99-99 vote, with every Democrat voting for it. The Democrats were joined by the following nine Republicans in calling for Holocaust education to be mandated in the Commonwealth:

Rep. Mike Fleck (R-81, Huntingdon)
Rep. Mark Gillen (R-128, Reading)
Rep. Lee James (R-64, Senaca)
Rep. John Maher (R-40, Bethel Park)
Rep. Carl Metzgar (R-69, Somerset)
Rep. Thomas Murt (R-152, Hatboro)
Rep. Scott Petri (R-178, Richboro)
Rep. Mario Scavello (R-176, Stroudsburg)
Rep. Todd Stephens (R-151, North Wales)

HB 1424 now sits in the Senate Education Committee. We do not yet know if Senate Education Committee Chair Sen. Mike Folmer will take up the bill.

Pennsylvania funded Holocaust education in our Commonwealth’s schools until 2009, when Gov. Ed Rendell, who is Jewish, cut the $60,000 line item from the state budget. That funding was distributed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education to the Pennsylvania Holocaust Education Council for educational programs and trainings.

CommonGround PA strongly supports a mandate of Holocaust education for every student in the commonwealth.

[Update: Video of Rhonda Fink-Whitman interviewing Pennsylvania public school graduates about the Holocaust added November 16, 2013]

Rep. Farina’s Suicide Prevention Bill Up for Committee Vote

House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Clymer (R-145, Quakertown) has called a committee vote this coming Thursday, June 27th, on a landmark suicide prevention bill. HB 1559 was introduced today, June 20th, 2013, by freshman Rep. Frank Farina’s (D-115, Eynon). There are now 42 co-sponsors – 11 Republicans and 31 Democrats.

Co-Sponsors of HB 1559 (as of June 25, 2013): Rep. Frank Farina, Rep. Karen Boback, Rep. Edward Neilson, Rep. Mike Schlossberg, Rep. Greg Vitali, Rep. Mike Peifer, Rep. Mike Rozzi, Rep. Susan Helm, Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, Rep. Michelle Brownlee, Rep. Gerald Mullery, Rep. Daniel McNeil, Rep. Stephen McCarter, Rep. Sid Kavulich, Rep. Dan Truitt, Rep. Mike Vereb, Rep. Patty Kim, Rep. Marty Flynn, Rep. Mark Cohen, Rep. Tim Briggs, Rep. Vanessa Brown, Rep. Kevin Haggerty, Rep. Thomas Caltagirone, Rep. Dom Costa, Rep. Mark Longietti, Rep. Ryan Sankey, Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, Rep. Bernie O’Neill, Rep. Tim Mahoney, Rep. Micheal McGeehan, Rep. Rosita Youngblood, Rep. Jaret Gibbons, Rep. Pat Harkins, Rep. W. Curtis Thomas, Rep. Mike O’Brien, Rep. Scott Conklin, Rep. James Clay, Rep. Joe Emrick, Rep. Thomas Murt, Rep. Ed Pashinski, Rep. Hal English, and Rep. Anthony DeLuca.

Rep. Farina’s suicide prevention bill would mandate all professional educators for students in grades 6 to 12 to have four hours of training on the issue every five years. If adopted by the State Senate, it would go into effect during the 2014-2015 school year.

On April 25, 2013, the House Education Committee under Rep. Clymer held a hearing on school bullying and youth suicide. CommonGround PA expects this measure to easily pass the House Education Committee next Thursday, and soon thereafter the full House. We await notice from the Senate Education Committee if they are interested in concurring on this bill.