Three Mass Shootings and Two Vigils with One Hitting Close to Home

There have been three mass shootings across the country in the last week.

On January 23, 2019, a 21-year old man entered a Suntrust Bank in Sebring, Florida and killed all five people present, none of whom he knew according to news reports. His victims were all women: Cynthia Watson, Marisol Lopez, Debra Cook, Ana Pinon-Williams, and Jessica Montague. The alleged shooter is Zephen Xaver, who is currently under arrest for five counts of premeditated murder.  A vigil in honor of these victims was held on January 27, 2019.

On January 26, 2019, a 21-year old man from Livingston Parish, Louisiana killed his girlfriend, her father, and her brother at their home then drove to his parents’ house and killed them. His victims were: Summer Ernest; her father, Billy Ernest; and her younger brother, Tanner Ernest, 17 as well as his parents Elizabeth and Keith Theriot. His name is Dakota Theriot. He was arrested at his grandparents’ home near Richmond, VA and now faces five counts of murder. According to a comment I received (see comments below) the community did not hold a vigil in honor of these mass shooting victims. The first funeral was held on Saturday,  February 9, 2019, two weeks after the shooting occurred.

And on January 24, 2019, the third mass shooting occurred in my community.  In this case, a 21-year old man from Bellefonte, PA who graduated high school with my son shot and killed four people in State College, PA. The victims included himself, two men visiting State College from Ohio, and an 83-year old man who was killed on his 60th wedding anniversary. He also critically wounded a fifth person.

The shooter was Jordan Witmer, a 2015 graduate of Bellefonte Area High School who had just finished a 3-4 year stint with the US Army. The critically-wounded woman is Nicole Abrino, who was or may have been his girlfriend at the time of the shooting. The father and son were Dean Beachy (age 62) and Steven Beachy (age 19) from Ohio; they had attempted to intervene in the argument between Witmer before the shooting occurred.  George McCormick was murdered in his home after Witmer fled the scene at P.J. Harrigan’s Bar and Grille. After crashing his car, Witmer broke into the McCormick home in Ferguson Township and then shot and killed Mr. McCormick. Witmer then died by suicide.  George’s wife, Joann Shaw McCormick was unharmed; she had locked herself in their bathroom and called 911.

Abrino (age 21) of State College was shot in the chest and is currently in stable condition at UPMC in Pittsburgh. She has had two surgeries so far to deal with her injuries, and a GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help her family pay for her medical expenses.

After the shooting, McCormick’s family reached out to the other victims with a message of condolence. Kristine McCormick Vahey, younger sister of George McCormick, offered her condolences to the other victims of this mass shooting, which was published in StateCollege.com:

“The family of George McCormick would like to offer our condolences to the Beachy family on the loss of their loved ones and prayers for Nicole Abrino and her family. We would also like to offer our condolences to the family of Jordan Witmer. While we don’t understand and may never understand why this happened, we know that the Witmer family is also grieving a loss.”

And, just like in Florida, our community held a vigil to honor these mass shooting victims.  I attended this vigil.  We came together to honor the first responders, the victims (including Jordan Witmer) and the families of this shooting and called for some actions to end this type of violence.

Picture of several of the vigil attendees at the Allen Street Gates holding candles at the vigil for the victims of the mass shooting in State College. In the background is a Penn State Police officer, the Engineering building, and the main gates to Penn State University.

The State College and Bellefonte, PA communities come out to honor the victims and first responders of the mass shooting in State College. Vigil hosted by Standing at the Gates for Justice, Third Way Collective and Ni-Ta-Nee NOW.

Due to the solemnity of the event, I did not create a video.  So that you get to an idea of what was said, I have culled several news reports of the vigil to obtain quotes from the speakers and some of the people who came to the vigil.  Here are these comments:

“In the wake of the violence that has taken four lives and left one hospitalized, we thought it was fitting to have it this week, honor those victims and remember their lives.” (quote from WJAC-TV)

”We enter into silence today, remembering the employees of P.J. Harrigan’s and the Ramada Inn and Conference Center. First responders, law enforcement and medical professionals. Nicole Abrino, the single gunshot survivor, and her family as they mourn and heal. Those whose lives have been taken forever: 19-year-old Steven Beachy, his father, Dean Beachy, and 83-year-old George McCormick, a longtime State College and Penn State community member. And Jordan Witmer, the Bellefonte grad who perpetuated the crimes, and his family as they make sense of what happened.” (quote from The Centre Daily Times)

  • Ben Wideman, campus pastor for 3rd Way Collective at Penn State and chief organizer of this vigil

“The violent loss of our friends and neighbors is all but unbearable. And so, God, we come today asking you to help us fathom that which is unfathomable.” (quote from WPSU Radio)

—Carol Thomas Cissel, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in State College

“I just feel a little lost, actually, because I don’t totally know what the solution is. We need a different way of expressing or dealing with issues, more sensible gun regulation but also mental health, but I don’t know totally what the answer is or what formula it should be.” (quote from The Centre Daily Times)

Michele Hamilton, President of Ni-Ta-Nee NOW, one of the co-hosts for this vigil

“I think certainly something like what happened this evening, to draw people together and say, ‘this didn’t just affect those families that were involved, but it affected all of us.’ This to me is actually the beginning of healing — allowing people to connect to each other and finding resources, whether it’s faith, communities, Tides or just one another, to band together and say ‘let’s support each other.’ The very first thing is to know you’re not alone.” (quote from The Centre Daily Times)

  Tides Program Director Evelyn Wald (Tides is a local non-profit organization offering no-cost support to families coping with the death of their loved ones)

Yes, we all need to heal.  Here in Bellefonte, many people knew Mr. Witmer. My son didn’t know him personally but said he recalls that Witmer was well liked. At one time, Witmer lived about two blocks away from us. The community, his former neighbors and family state that they had no idea of any violent tendencies. All are hurting.  We can’t condone what any of these shooters did.  But we can mourn.

I agree.  We should never have to deal with any form of violence against others. Mass shootings or otherwise.  But we can come together to mourn and then work to reduce these kinds of incidents in the future.

Meanwhile, I think Patty Kleban sums up the thoughts of those of us who attended the vigils both here in Pennsylvania and Florida. She wrote the article titled, “In the Face of Tragedy, a Victim’s Family Responds with Grace”  After quoting Kristine McCormick Vahey, she eloquently ends her article:

Life is short, and we never know what we have beyond right now. Hug those close to you. Forgive your enemies. Show others grace and compassion. Perhaps by sharing our love, we may give others — and ourselves — hope.

A Shout Out to a Mensch of a Santa

Rick Rosenthal looks the part. He has a white beard. He wears red suits all the time. His job for the last seven years has been that of a surrogate Santa Claus. And he’s an Orthodox Jew. Here’s his story of giving back to kids.

https://wp.me/p7hv2i-92W

(JTA) — Just like any other Santa Claus, Santa Rick will spend much of the next couple of weeks sitting children on his knee, asking whether they’ve been good and listening to their Christmas wishes.

If it’s a Saturday, he may have slept overnight in the building. And he’ll only accept payment after nightfall.

For Santa Rick’s last name is Rosenthal, and he’s an Orthodox Jew who does not drive or handle money on Shabbat. But that doesn’t stop him from doing his job.

“I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t help a child,” said Rosenthal, 66, who lives in Atlanta and attends Young Israel of Toco Hills. “If you look at the world as children do, that’s a better feeling. I’m a better person and a better Jew because I’m Santa.”

Rosenthal — a full-time, professional Santa — sees no contradiction between serving as the symbol of Christmas and living as an observant Jew. To him, Santa is a nonreligious spiritual figure who provides trust, reassurance and comfort to the young and old.

He says that anyone who is inclined to criticize him for working as a Santa should consider ways they help non-Jews observe holidays — like working a shift on Christmas when Christians take the day off.

“As a Jew, we are to be a light unto the world,” Rosenthal said, paraphrasing a famous Jewish aphorism from the Bible. “That’s one of our jobs. If we can help make people’s lives better, we should do that. It’s a mitzvah. If we can ease tensions between Jews and non-Jews, we can do that….”

A Gift to Me from a Good Friend

Happy Holidays, everyone!

It’s almost December at the White House, and Donald Trump orders his aides to put up a nativity scene on the lawn. They all grovel before him and begin their task.

After working for a few hours to set one up, the aides step back to look at their work.

“It looks pretty good,” says the first one.

“Yeah, but I’m not sure the boss will like it,” says the second….

https://wp.me/p1vpbG-2ik

Voters: ‘Don’t Take the Bait’

Remember to get out and vote. Election Day is Tuesday, November 6. Here in Pennsylvania, the polls open at 7 am and close at 8 pm.

Nel's New Day

Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) came up with a new diversion today. He doesn’t want people to notice that the Republicans plan to get rid of pre-existing conditions on health plans and eviscerate Social Security and Medicare. He doesn’t want people to notice that the national debt is ballooning and the deficit is rapidly increasing because he is giving money to the wealthy and big business that he had promised to use for help to the other 80 percent. And he certainly doesn’t want people to know—right before the midterm elections—that they will suffer from his new policies. His strategy is to tell them that he is taking care of the non-existent immigration problem.

Today he told today that he plans to sign an executive order to overturn an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to strip people in the United States of their citizenship. The Fourteenth Amendment that specifically stated that almost…

View original post 1,058 more words

Traveling While Muslim: The Case of the Exploding Chocolate

This is an excerpt from and a commentary on a Politico article dated August 11, 2018, by this same name.

end racism now image from facebook

End Racism NOW.

He’s a Muslim.

He’s an American citizen.

He has a passport. And a Global Entry Card

He travels. A lot. He estimates that he goes abroad six to eight times a year.

And he regularly is pulled aside by Customs and Border Patrol. He estimated that he gets pulled over for additional screening at least half of the time.

This time it was at Dulles International Airport. Not once. Not twice. But four times.

The second agent ripped up his kids’ chocolate present to check and make sure it didn’t explode.

The third agent confiscated his Global Entry Card because he was “noncompliant” and he “mocked us for checking your chocolate for explosives.”  

The fourth agent then came forward.  This conversation was their interchange:

“I’m the supervisor on duty. So you think because you have Global Entry you’re exempt from screening?”

“What? No. I said I’ve been screened and cleared three times so far. But despite that, your officer took my Global Entry card and said I’m being non-compliant. And he said that I’ve broken the law. But he refuses to give me any example of non-compliance or cite what law I’ve broken. Please explain this to me.”

The supervisor turned to the confiscating officer and asked, “Why’d you stop him?”

“Well, he was laughing at us.” (It’s true, I did chuckle in disbelief. Guilty as charged.)

“But did he refuse orders?”

“No, I mean, he harassed us.”

I didn’t yell at this point, but I raised my voice. “This is ridiculous. You have the power. You’re detaining me. You have my property. But somehow I’m harassing you? What? Do you hear yourself?”

I turned back to the supervisor. “I’m asking for about the 10th time now. How was I non-compliant and what law did I break?”

“Well those are his words—not mine,” the supervisor said. Now we were getting somewhere.

“Great, so you won’t even stand by your own officer’s words. Meanwhile, you have my Global Entry card. I’m still detained. Why am I still here, then?”

At that point, the fourth agent asked a question. “What do you do for a living?

So he told them. “I’m a civil rights lawyer with expertise on racial and religious discrimination and profiling.”

And then he asked again.

“I’m asking for the last time. What law have I broken? How was I non-compliant?”

Rather than answer, he [the fourth agent] responded, “Well, I think everything checks out. You can go.”

Who is this man? His name is Qasim Rashid (@MuslimIQ), He’s “an attorney, author and national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. He’s [also] a Truman national security fellow.”

As the article states, and I agree, why should someone have to be a lawyer to be treated equally under the law? Why should an immigrant seeking asylum who has little knowledge of the English language be subject to intimidation and removal of their children from their care?  Why should any person of color, because of their name or what they wear (e.g., a hijab), or what they look like be profiled, pulled aside, and intimidated when they travel?

And how do we let people know their rights when interacting with law enforcement?  According to Mr. Rashid, you should check out the ACLU’s booklet entitled KNOW YOUR
RIGHTS WHEN ENCOUNTERING LAW ENFORCEMENT.

And Speak Out.  Just like with the #MeToo movement that has more and more women speaking out on their experiences with sexual harassment and sexual assault, individuals who have been profiled because of their race, religion, or national origin should also speak up about their experiences.  Then people will, like the #MeToo women, begin to see and push back against the maltreatment, harassment, and discrimination of people of color by those in power.

Resisting the “Zero Tolerance” Immigration Detention Program

People throughout the United States gathered in communities and cities around the country to protest the separation and detention of asylum-seeking families. The largest one was held in Washington, DC.  The one I attended was on the other side of the country at one of the Federal Detention Centers where adults, but not their children, have been sent to.  This detention center is located just south of the Seattle-Tacoma (SeaTac) International Airport.  Thousands of people came out to protest the US Department of Justice’s “Zero Tolerance” policy of separating children from their parents when the parents attempt to cross our borders seeking asylum.

People were passionate and peaceful. The following shows our thoughts in pictures and words.  I posted some of these pictures on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.  My thoughts were attached to those pictures. The rest I believe speak for themselves.  Here’s my photo gallery of the day.

Heading to the Rally

Due to the expected crowds and lack of parking near the Federal Detention Center, we parked at the north end of Seattle at the University of Washington. This is the northern terminus of the Seattle Light Rail line.  Angle Lake is the southern terminus of the the rail line and is located about 2 blocks from the detention center.

picture of My selfie of my twin sister and myself on the Seattle Light Rail heading to the #BringFamiliesTogetherMarch at Angle Lake south of SeaTac, WA. We are sitting on the train. My sister in the white hat is on the left and I'm on the right wearing a fushia-colored hat.

Selfie of my twin sister and myself on the Seattle Light Rail heading to the #BringFamiliesTogetherMarch at Angle Lake south of SeaTac, WA.

The Crowds

The light rail train we were on had standing room only when we arrived.

picture of the Federal Detention Center with cars driving down street and people walking towards the rally in front of the building
The Federal Detention Center at Angle Lake just south of SeaTac, WA. This ominous structure with the slit-like windows was what loomed over us as we stepped off the train.

There were police everywhere but the road was open. People kept coming; the crowd continued to grow. Several times the speakers asked people to “slowly move forward and south” so that more people could enter the area. By the time we left we could see why…

20180630_123114 crowd

The police closed the road at the Federal Detention Center due to the 1000’s of people who came out to say #enddetentionnow, #bringfamiliestogether, #FreedomForImmigrants and #EndFamilySeparation at one of several #FamiliesBelongTogetherMarch in the Seattle area. – at Federal Detention Center (from my Twitter feed).

The Police Presence

They were everywhere. At the train station. Standing on the street. In their cars. On the rooftops. All in uniform.  I didn’t “see” any in the crowd within the rally site, but I did assume they were there in civilian clothing.

It was a bit overwhelming.  My thoughts about the police presence were expressed with this photo:

picture of a federal agent surveilling the crowd attendees.

Is this what we have come to here in the US?! Asylum is a human right. SHAME! #enddetentionnow #KeepFamilesTogether – at Federal Detention Center (as posted on my twitter feed).

Only about a 1,000 people had been expected to show up for the rally. Yet, we came in droves.  According to Sgt. Cindy Sampson, spokesperson for the King County Sheriff’s Office, police estimated that there were around 10,000 demonstrators.  She told the Seattle Times that we we showed up for a highly emotional, but peaceful, demonstration full of strollers, grandmothers and a small contingent from the Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club.”  [This Gun Club, according to the Seattle Times, is an “anti-racist, anti-fascist organization, standing in opposition to organized white supremacists and attacks on people from vulnerable communities”]

What We Had to Say

According to NPR, between May and June 19, 2018, a estimated total 2,342 immigrant children have been separated from their parents. These children are scattered across 17 states. And their parents have been scattered elsewhere.  One of these separated families is known to be detained at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac where we demonstrated. According to the New York Times, Jelsin Padilla is being held in New York City. His mom, Yolany Padilla, is being detained at the Federal Detention Center in Washington State.  She hasn’t seen her son in over a month.

Ms. Padilla is one of over 200 immigrants —174 are women — detained as of June 19 in Washington state.  We came by the thousands to say “no more; this incarceration and separation of families must end and end now!

Here’s the postcard letter I wrote to Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) calling upon him to use his powers in the Senate to end these torturous incarcerations and separations of families:

Text of letter to Senator Bob Casey (D-PA)

Letter to Senator Bob Casey calling for the permanent ending of the detention of children and their family members. This postcard letter was written onsite at the Federal Detention Center and will be hand-delivered to Senator Casey’s office by an organization called #FreedomForFamilies.

Many, many others wrote similar messages:

And so that you can see what else was said, the following pictures and social ,media postings will give you a flavor of our outrage.

My Social Media Postings Calling on the US Government to End this “Zero Tolerance” Policy

Instagram Posts

Pictures of the Federal Detention Center at SeaTac with a sign saying, "In the name of humanity, Stop Terrorizing Immigrant Children. RefuseFascism.org"

tostivasey Stop Terrorizing Immigrant Children. #keepfamiliestogether #enddetentionnow #bringfamiliestogether #endfacism

Picture of a girl sitting in a stroller with her mother and sister holding signs that say, "Families belong together."

tostivasey This little girl and her mother and sister say it all, “Keep Family Together.” Separating immigrant kids from their parents and other family members is a criminal act. #enddetentionnow #keepfamiliestogether❤

picture of a heart-shaped sign decoration with babies' and toddlers' shoes

tostivasey #WhereAreTheBabies?! The shoes of the babies need to be put on their feet by their mothers and fathers and their sisters and brothers. Babies are innocent kids and should NEVER be used as pawns. #enddetentionnow #bringfamiliestogether

Picture collage of the Federal Detention Center, a list of numbers to call Congress (202-224-3121), HHS (202-690-7000), DOJ (202-353-1555), DHS (202-282-8995), and the White House (202-456-1111), and two signs saying, "Separating children from families really is nothing less than government-sanctioned child abuse!" and "Where are the children?"

tostivasey Separating Children from their families is nothing less than #ChildAbuse and #torture. Call your representatives, Senators, @jeffsessions212, #DHS, & @realdonaldtrump. Ask them #wherearethebabies And Tell them to #enddetentionnow #bringfamiliestogether.

Tweets

Joanne Tosti-Vasey added,

@tostivasey “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” No more separation and detention. !

Large sign with an impression of the New Colossus (aka the Statue of Liberty) with the following words that are engraved at the base of the statue: "Remember?! 'Give my your tired, your poor, you huddled masses yearning to be free. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed t me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.' Emma Lazaras 'New Colossus' What is happening to our country??!"

Quote from New Colossus (aka the Statue of Liberty) with the words that are engraved at the base of the statue. My previous blog on Lady Liberty is about immigration as well.

Signage Expressing Our Outrage at this Maltreatment of Our Fellow Human Beings

Messages without Words

Why We March

Why Now?

What Should Be Done to End this Outrage

 

NOW IT’S Your turn! If you are in the Seattle Area, here’s some additional actions you can take this week:

Families Belong Together Activities in Seattle on ending Zero Tolerance Policy

If you’re elsewhere in the country, do as the sign says above and call

  • The White House (202-456-1111);
  • The Executive Branch departments that are causing this crisis
    • Health and Human Services (202-690-7000);
    • Department of Justice (202-353-1555);
    • Department of Homeland Security (202-282-8995); and
  • Your federal legislators (202-224-3121)

Tell them

  1. Families Belong Together
  2. Stop Separating Familes
  3. End Family Detention
  4. Stop Torturing Children
  5. End this fascist behavior. We are better than this (or should be).
  6. Get rid of the “Zero Tolerance” Policy

 

WLP Testified in Opposition to HB 861, Preemption of Local Labor Protections — WLP Blog

The conservative, right-wing, anti-labor General Assembly in Pennsylvania is once again attempting to take away local control over their local labor ordinances. They want to preempt all labor protections that local municipalities have enacted since 2015.  This includes paid sick leave as well as all local anti-discrimination ordinances that go beyond protections provided in state law.  This would include protections for LGBTQIA people, marital and familial status in general (other than familial status protections in housing).  The current bill being debated is HB 861, also known as the “Preemption of Local Labor Protections.” This morning, the Women’s Law Project testified before the House Labor and Industry Committee.  Below is there blog summarizing this testimony.

The bill was not voted on today.  So you have two chances in the House to stop this bill. First, contact members of the House Labor and Industry Committee and ask them to vote no during the committee vote. Second, you can also contact your Representative to raise your voice in opposition to this bill.  You can find your legislator here.

So take a couple of minutes, read the WLP blog on this issue, and then make your calls/emails. Thank you!

 

via WLP Testified in Opposition to HB 861, Preemption of Local Labor Protections — WLP Blog

Today, WLP Staff Attorney Amal M. Bass testified in opposition to House Bill 861(preemption of local laws protecting workers) before the Pennsylvania House Labor & Industry Committee. The Women’s Law Project strongly opposes HB 861, which is sponsored by Rep. Seth Groves of York County.

You can read Amal’s testimony in full here.

What is Preemption?

Preemption bills like HB 861 prohibit local governments from passing local ordinances to meet the needs and reflect the values of their own communities.

HB861 Would be Retroactive

HB 861 is even worse than a typical state preemption bill because it includes a retroactivity clause designed to strip away local protections that have already been implemented, including protections for LGBTQ workers and paid sick days ordinances that provide protections for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

HB 861 Would Nullify a Broad Range of Workplace Protections

The way it is written, HB 861 could apply to almost any local government’s attempt to protect its own workers.

HB 861 Targets Paid Sick Days in Philadelphia & Pittsburgh   

HB 861 would retroactively strip hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania workers of their right to paid sick days.

The Women’s Law Project testified in support of Philadelphia’s paid sick days ordinance, which City Council passed and the Mayor signed on February 12, 2015 after a thorough, multi-year process that drew upon the recommendations of a Task Force representing many perspectives on the issue, including employers.  The local law that resulted from this process provides forty hours of earned paid sick time in a calendar year for workers of employers with ten or more employees, and it provides unpaid sick time to workers of smaller employers.

Philadelphia’s paid sick days ordinance also provides paid leave to employees whose absence is related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. This ordinance is vital for the health and well-being of women and their families in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties, giving paid sick leave to more than 200,000 workers.

In 2015, Pittsburgh joined Philadelphia in recognizing these benefits when it used its home rule authority and its authority to pass public health laws to pass a modest earned paid sick leave ordinance. The Women’s Law Project and attorneys from the Partnership for Working Families filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Pittsburgh’s paid sick days law on behalf of fifty-one organizations committed to women’s health and safety.

However, the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association has challenged this local law, halting its implementation, in a lawsuit currently before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

This is typical in that special-interest groups often seek to block and stall protections from workers so that they may profit from the lack of protections. That doesn’t mean lawmakers representing hard-working constituents should allow them to succeed.

HB 861 is a Direct Attack on LBGTQ Pennsylvanians

House Bill 861 also affects discrimination laws. More than forty municipalities in Pennsylvania have local ordinances prohibiting discrimination on the basis of many protected characteristics, including sexual orientation, which our employment laws at the state and federal levels, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, do not explicitly cover.

HB 861 is equipped with a retroactive provision that could strip protections for LGBTQ workers passed places such as Ambler Borough, Bridgeport Borough, Carlisle, Dickson City, Mount Lebanon, Kennett Square Borough, Narberth Borough, Phoenixville, Royersford, Stroudsburg, and Wilkes-Barre. All of these municipalities passed anti-discrimination laws after 2015, and therefore could trigger HB 861’s retroactive preemption. The bill could also prohibit every municipality in the state from altering or adding to their antidiscrimination provisions in the future.

Local Governments Pass Laws Protecting Workers Because the State Fails to Do So

Pennsylvania is a patchwork of worker protections in part due to the failure of the Pennsylvania Legislature to pass meaningful worker protections, despite overwhelming evidence of the need to do so. HB 861 would undo and prohibit progress at the local level, taking rights away from the citizens of Pennsylvania without filling the void with statewide legislation.

Absurdly, an argument sometimes made for preemption is that Pennsylvania’s patchwork of protections is confusing. If Pennsylvania’s patchwork of protections is a problem, it should be solved by ensuring all Pennsylvania workers are treated fairly with state-level protections, not state-level efforts to nullify local protections.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Follow us on twitter and like us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

Redistricting Reform May Be Stalled in PA: Let’s Get it Moving

Despite a majority of PA House members cosponsoring or supporting a bill for an independent state and redistricting amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution in the PA General Assembly, the effort to pass a state constitutional amendment is being stalled by one person – Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler County).

On April 11, 2018, Rep. Metcalfe, chair of the House State Government Committee called for a voting meeting of all committee members that was scheduled and held with no notice as to what the meeting was about.  On April 12, he held a half-hour meeting where he gutted and substituted language to HB 722 to eliminate the proposed non-partisan, independent redistricting commission with language that would entrench control of redistricting with the party in majority control of the PA General Assembly.  Essentially this amended bill gives the party in control 2/3 of the votes on redistricting to the party in power. Fair Districts PA described what happened:

“So rather than an independent commission, or rather than the five-person commission currently in place, which has two from each party and the fifth chosen by the state Supreme Court, [Metcalfe’s] amendment would allow the majority leaders of both houses to select a person, which would give two from each party, and then both houses would vote for a third person from that house. Which in effect would give the majority party four members of a six-person commission composed entirely of Legislators.

What we’ve seen is the incredible unaccountable government that results from that kind of gerrymandering, and this was a demonstration. So – at 10:30 this morning, the members of this committee were given a bill which they then voted on and passed by 11:00. They had not read the bill, they had not discussed the bill, they had not invited the prime sponsors of the original bill to explain their bill or to answer questions. There was no debate. There was no transparency. There was just this blatant attempt to bypass the public interest in an independent commission.”

However, the PA Senate has done a bit better.  The Senate State Government Committee has passed an amended version of SB 22 that creates a semi-independent redistricting commission. The original bill only allowed the two controlling parties in the General Assembly to strike up to six names from the pool of commission applicants before the Department of State Secretary selects at random those qualified to serve on the independent redistricting commission.

The selection process in the amended bill allows the majority and minority leaders to select their party representatives (4 for each party) and the Governor would then select the remaining three members who have been registered as either third party or independent voters.  The final list would then be subject to approval by a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly. Once approved, this Commission would then create a map by majority vote with at least one person from each of the three pools voting for the selected plan. If this commission is not able to reach a majority decision, they would then create three maps open for public comment with a final selection vote among these three maps made by a 2/3 vote of the General Assembly.

SB 22 is expected to pass the full Senate this coming week; it will then be sent to the House for consideration.

BUT…

If it is referred back to House State Government Committee, then the effort to reform redistricting in PA is essentially dead for several years since Daryl Metcalfe will not allow a vote on any form of independent redistricting within his committee.

And we only have four weeks left to meet the constitutionally mandated process deadline to amend the PA Constitution in time for the next round of redistricting after the 2020 Census.

SO…

 

Fair-Districts-Equal-Fair-Elections courtesy FairDistrictsPA

Fair Districts = Fair Elections. Graphics courtesy of Fair Districts PA

 

Here’s what YOU can do!

 

  1. Ask your state Senator to vote for SB 22 as amended. You can find your PA Senator’s phone contact information here; and
  2. Lobby PA Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R- Allegheny County) to not assign a single redistricting bill to the State Government Committee.  That includes both SB 22 and HB 2402. HB 2402 is the reincarnated rewrite of the original HB 722 that Metcalfe gutted in April. Alternative House committees could be either the House Local Government Committee OR the House Rules Committee; and
  3. Ask your state representative to support and vote for both HB 2402 (in my opinion the better bill since it makes the redistricting commission entirely independent) and SB 22 if it passes the Senate without further amendment. You can find your state representative’s phone contact information here

Here’s a press release from the Centre County chapter of Fair Districts PA explaining in more detail what has happened and what we expect to happen throughout June:

Press Release-Redistricting Reform from CC FairDistrictsPA 5-30-2018

Fair Districts PA also has an online letter-writing campaign that you can use. However, it’s best if you also make the phone calls as suggested in the above to do list.

Trust in our elections will improve if we have fair redistricting.  Do your part! Make the phone calls and write your letters asap.  Let’s get this done!

 

 

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