ALEC and Preemption in Pennsylvania

Help Stop ALEC

Help Stop ALEC (Graphic courtesy of and permission to use by Keystone Progress)

Two days ago, the Guardian released some papers that were leaked from the August 2013 ALEC – American Legislative Exchange Council.  The initial papers that were leaked shows that ALEC is in financial trouble due to some of the mega-corporations having let their memberships lapse due to concerns over ALEC’s lobbying for “stand-your-ground” or “shoot-to-kill” laws and for suppressing voting rights, environmental protections.  Despite this run with the money, ALEC is continuing to push this right-wing agenda throughout the country and here in Pennsylvania.

ALEC’s Funding, Task Forces, and Agenda

Ninety-eight percent of ALEC’s funds come from corporations, corporate trade groups, and corporate foundations.  The remaining funds come from dues paid by conservative Republican legislators.  These funds are then used by the organization to craft so-called model legislation that the corporations believe will positively affect their bottom line.  This legislation is crafted within one of nine task forces.  According to ALEC-Exposed, “The organization boasts 2,000 legislative members and 300 or more corporate members. The unelected corporate representatives (often registered lobbyists) sit as equals with elected representatives on nine task forces where they have a “voice and a vote” on model legislation.” 

These task forces create state-level one-size fits all model bills that are designed to remove regulations on corporations.  Corporations have veto power over any bill that is crafted.  Legislator members are then indoctrinated at regular meetings of the organization (often paid for by ALEC “scholarships” or by the state travel budget for legislators). These legislators then return home and introduce these bills as their own.  Among the types of bills crafted within the task forces are bills to privatize education, limiting access to the voting booth through voter id laws, union-busting bills, and an anti-green agenda that, for example, penalizes homeowners who install solar energy.  One of ALEC’s newest targets is preempting local communities from adopting and enforcing their own laws on paid and unpaid sick days, a higher minimum wage and other workplace standards.

Pennsylvania Legislative Involvement in ALEC

Preemption and Who in the PA Legislature is a Member of ALEC

In Pennsylvania, there are currently 39 Republican state Representatives who are members of ALEC.  One of them is Representative Seth Grove (R-York).  He is a member of ALEC’s Telecommunications and Information Technology Task Force, one of the committees that focuses on limiting local control through preemption bills.  Using ALEC and his membership, Representative Grove introduced a new preemption bill – HB 1807 – that preempts or prohibits county and municipal governments from adopting and enforcing their own laws on paid and unpaid sick days.  The bill specifically prohibits any local control over paid or unpaid leave of any type; it states:

A political subdivision in this Commonwealth may not enact or administer a mandate requiring an employer to provide an employee or class of employees with vacation or other forms of leave from employment, paid or unpaid, that is not required by Federal or State law, and may not require an employer to compensate an employee for any vacation or other forms of leave for which Federal or State law does not require the employee to be compensated.

The other co-sponsors include Representatives R. Lee James (R-Butler & Venango), Ryan P. Aument (R-Lancaster), Tina Pickett (R-Bradford, Sullivan, & Susquehanna), Garth Everett (R-Lycoming), Mindy Fee (R-Lancaster), RoseMarie Swanger (R-Lebanon), Stephen Barrar (R-Chester & Delaware), Ron Miller (R-York), Susan Helm (R-Dauphin), Will Tallman (R-Adams & York), Kurt Masser (R-Columbia, Montour, and Northumberland), Marguerite Quinn (R-Bucks), Duane Milne (R-Chester), Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland), Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin) and Gordon Denlinger (R-Lancaster).  Five—Barrer, Helm, Marsico, Pickett, and  Ron Miller—of  these sixteen co-sponsors are also members of ALEC.

Status of this Preemption Bill

The bill was introduced into the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and referred to the House Labor and Industry Committee on October 23, 2013 on which Representatives Grove and Aument  sit.    It immediately became one of the fastest moving bills in the legislature. On November 18, this committee amended the bill to grandfather local communities that have already passed a preemption ordinance prior to January 1, 2014 and then passed the bill out of committee along party lines (15-9).  It immediately came up and passed under first consideration and is now set for second consideration where amendments may be offered.

As of today, the House has announced that they are at least temporarily tabling the bill.  Supporters however are saying that they will pass the bill out of the house by the end of the year.    So we need to keep up the pressure and tell our legislators to vote NO on HB 1807.  The following are some talking points you can use when writing or calling your Representative.

Talking Points

The following talking points were created by a coalition of organizations in Pennsylvania concerned about this preemption bill.

  • Across the country, grassroots efforts to enact paid sick days, higher minimum wages and other common sense workplace reforms are gaining momentum. These policies improve the lives of working men and women, their families, communities and local economies.
  •  To stop this progress, corporate lobbyists and the state legislators they control have quietly begun to enact dangerous and undemocratic “preemption” laws.
  •  Preemption” laws passed at the state level prohibit cities and counties within that state from adopting their own laws on paid sick days, a higher minimum wage and other workplace standards.
  •  Laws that preempt local decision-making strip cities and counties of their right to adopt policies that will benefit their communities, in violation of core conservative and democratic principles.
  •  Preemption has been a nationally coordinated, go-to strategy of special interest lobbyists for years, used to undermine and eviscerate smoking bans, nutrition labeling laws and other food safety measures, and gun violence prevention measures. Now this strategy is being used by the National Restaurant Association and the corporate group ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, to target modern economic policies that help working people and their families.
  •  ALEC is the industry-backed organization responsible for “stand-your-ground” or “shoot-to-kill” laws and for suppressing voting rights, environmental protections and more. It is comprised of both lobbyists for multi-million dollar corporations and legislators who are aligned with and take contributions from those corporations.
  •  Preemption is yet another way that ALEC is attempting to “steal” democracy from voters. In addition to trying to control who gets to vote, ALEC also wants to control what citizens can vote on.
  •  Instead of fighting grassroots paid sick days and minimum wage efforts city by city, corporate lobbyists are working with their legislator allies in the state capitals, where they have more influence, to keep local governments from doing what’s best for their people and communities. In fact, they’re pushing paid sick days preemption law in states that don’t even have any municipal efforts to pass the measure – just to head off grassroots momentum before it starts.
  •  Nine states have already passed paid sick days preemption laws – Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia and Wisconsin. And the opposition is getting more aggressive: Six of these nine laws were passed in 2013. A tenth state – North Carolina – has passed a narrower preemption bill that affects state contractors. Bills are pending in at least six other states – with more expected in 2014. It’s obvious that they’re being coordinated on a national level.
  •  Local innovation is the lifeblood of progress. Preemption efforts, driven by special interests, should not stand in the way of local innovation or self-rule, which historically has paved the way for meaningful statewide and then federal action on minimum wage, family leave and other issues. Bills like this represent an ominous attempt to remove power from locally elected officials and make the voters mere bystanders in the democratic processes that define the character of their communities.
  •  Strong statewide earned sick days and minimum wage standards are preferable, but in the absence of statewide policies, localities must have the freedom to do what’s best for their people and communities. Millions of workers without paid sick days are too often forced into going to work sick, sending sick kids to school, putting off needed health care, or losing pay and even their jobs if they stay home. Local lawmakers are increasingly recognizing that paid sick days policies are both an economic and a public health imperative, and are learning from the positive experiences with paid sick days standards in San Francisco, Seattle and Connecticut.
  •  Even if preemption bills seem to have a narrow focus, passage of this type of legislation could result in preemption of a wide range of local ordinances, whether passed through voter referendum or by city councils, in municipalities throughout the state. These include efforts to expand protections for those who have experienced domestic violence, laws prohibiting wage theft, consumer protection initiatives, and many more. Corporate lobbyists don’t want any regulations standing in the way of their profits.

What You Can Do to Stop This Bill

We need to have members of the House of Representatives called to tell them to vote NO on this bill.  Keystone Progress has set up a call-in page for us to use. Let’s start getting calls in to legislators right now! Once you make your call, please forward this email to your constituents, members, friends, family – anyone who can make a call. Here’s the contact call page:

You can also tweet about this – here are a few Sample Tweets:

  • PA’s House Labor Cmmte just passed a bill taking local control from YOUR local officials. Tell them what you think: http://bit.ly/1aNdZLe
  • Stop corporate vetoes on our local laws: call your legislators now! http://bit.ly/1aNdZLe #paidsickdays
  • ALEC attempting to preempt local control of paid and unpaid sick leave in PA. Tell #PALegis what you think: http://bit.ly/1aNdZLe
  • ALEC attempting to preempt local control of paid and unpaid sick leave in PA. Tell @PAGOP what you think: http://bit.ly/1aNdZLe
  • #Preemption is another way that ALEC is attempting to “steal” democracy from voters. Tell @PAGOP what you think: http://bit.ly/1aNdZLe
  • #Preemption is another way that ALEC is attempting to “steal” democracy from voters. Tell #PALegis what you think: http://bit.ly/1aNdZLe
  • #Preemption bill threatens local efforts to assist Domestic Violence survivors. Call your legislators now! http://bit.ly/1aNdZLe

You can also let your friends, family, and neighbors know about this corporate threat to local control by talking, emailing, using social media, and/or forwarding this blog on to them. There are several links at the bottom of this blog: choose what works for you.

And thanks!

Does @Walmart provide good healthcare? NO!

Does @Walmart provide good healthcare benefits? Find out at @ChangeWalmart: (Short answer: no) #WalmartStrikers

Here are some bullet points from this article:

  • Walmart’s health care plans stopped covering any employee working less than 24 hours per week in 2012;
  • States are forced to cover hundreds of thousands of Walmart employees under their state’s Medicaid and state-based low-income health care plans.  In fact, of the 23 states making reports disclosing employers of recipients receiving state assistance, 21 report that Wal-Mart has the largest number of employees on the public roll; and
  • According to a Wal-Mart Manager (Gretchen Adams in 2003), the company encourages employees to enroll in public assistance.

And there’s more damming evidence.  Take a moment and read the full article.

And then join in your local Black Friday Wal-Mart Protest.

Pennsylvania’s Proposed Women’s Health Agenda

Kate Michelman

Kate Michelman discussing strategy with women’s health care advocates and members of the General Assembly Health Care Agenda Caucus.

Yesterday (Monday, September 30, 2013), I attended a two-hour meeting with Pennsylvania’s House and Senate members of the joint Women’s Health Agenda Caucus led by Representative Dan Frankel of Pittsburgh. Some of the advocacy groups attending the meeting included the Women’s Law Project (WLP), Women Vote PA, and members of the Pennsylvanians for Choice coalition including Pennsylvania NOW whom I represented.

For a very long time Pennsylvania has focused on restricting women’s access to abortion services – currently accounting for over 1270 pages of legislation and regulations in the state.  This wrong-headed approach to health assumes that women’s sole need is to protect them from safe, legal access to decent abortion care services.  In other words, the state has wrong-headedly been crafting laws and regulations to deny access to abortion, sending more and more women to the back alleys similar to the Gosnell clinic and ignoring the broader issues of women’s health equity.

Women’s concerns about their health are broadly based in bias based on gender. Terry L. Fromson, Amal Bass, Carol E. Tracy, Susan Frietsche of the Women’s Law Project  created a report entitled Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women in 2012.  The WLP is Pennsylvania’s feminist legal organization that engages in litigation, advocacy, and education to ensure women’s equality and treatment in Pennsylvania. This report set the context for yesterday’s meeting.  The WLP framed the health care agenda as follows in this report and in the meeting this morning:

The legal and social status of American women has changed dramatically in the last fifty years. Half a century ago, it was legal to segregate jobs by sex, to refuse to hire or promote on the basis of a person’s sex, to fire women who became pregnant, and to limit the number of women admitted to professional schools such as law and medicine. Sexual and domestic violence were hidden from public view and public policy. Abortion was illegal and the birth control pill was not yet on the market. Today, women have taken their place in the working world and educational opportunities for women have expanded exponentially. Sexual and domestic violence are recognized as crimes and some resources are available to its victims. Abortion is legal and birth control is available.

Despite these advances, deeply embedded cultural biases and stereotypes about women’s place in society continue to impede women’s equal participation in society. In our homes and communities women are subjected to violence, poverty, and the burden of care taking responsibilities. In the workplace, women are paid less than men for the same work, remain concentrated in stereotypically female low-paying occupations, are subjected to sexual harassment and discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and care giving, and are denied advancement to managerial and higher paying positions. In school, young women are denied their fair share of sports opportunities and are sexually harassed and violated. Women are denied essential reproductive health care and subjected to discrimination in access to insurance coverage. Women pay more than men for the same coverage, and pregnancy is a preexisting condition that often denies pregnant women access to insurance coverage and therefore maternity care.  Access to abortion has been limited by burdensome legislative requirements, and providers and patients have been terrorized by an increasingly violent opposition. Attacks on access to contraceptive services have grown.

While many laws have been adopted to eliminate sex discrimination at work and at school, gaps persist that must be filled and enforcement needs to be strengthened. This is particularly true in Pennsylvania. While some Pennsylvania cities have outlawed employment discrimination on the basis of care-giving responsibilities and provide other accommodations for women who work, the Pennsylvania legislature has failed to adopt a statewide prohibition on discrimination on the basis of caregiver status or to provide family leave for caregivers. In Pennsylvania, the law permits insurers to price the cost of health insurance higher for women than for men, resulting in women paying more for individual health insurance policies and small employers paying more for health insurance for a predominantly female workforce. Pennsylvania’s sexual assault laws have for the most part eliminated discriminatory provisions, but the myths and stereotypes that continue to infect the criminal justice system hinder the investigation and prosecution of these crimes. The health care perspective on domestic violence and sexual assault is far too limited. Sexual assault is treated as a health care matter primarily in the immediate aftermath of a rape, even though the physical and emotional health consequences can be long lasting. Although a number of health care providers recognize that domestic violence is also a health issue, screening for domestic violence in health care settings is not universal. Poverty, which disproportionately impacts women, exacerbates the impact of sex bias in all of these realms….

Pennsylvania, with 6.5 million women, has consistently been found deficient in national studies on women’s health care measures. In their 2010 health report card, the National Women’s Law Center and Oregon Health & Science University placed Pennsylvania 32 among the 50 states and graded it unsatisfactory with respect to the status of women’s health….

To alleviate women’s health problems, it is necessary to eliminate adverse experiences — discrimination and bias — early in life and throughout life — and to improve access to health care, with an emphasis on care essential to women (pp. x-xii).

Representative Frankel heard this call to refocus the legislature from attacking women’s reproductive health to focusing — just like New York state’s “10 Point Plan for Women’s Equality” — on redirecting legislation in the General Assembly towards a women’s health equity agenda. So yesterday, almost 20 legislators from both houses attended a meeting with advocates seeking to improve women’s lives and health through a broad review and revision of Pennsylvania law.  The agenda covers reproductive health, women’s economic security, and women’s safety.

The ideas for change come from real-life stories of women in the state.  Calls to service agencies. Cries for help on hot lines. Requests for advocacy. And of course lots of research to back up the anecdotal stories.  The 24 suggested changes to Pennsylvania law that were presented are in areas where either no legislation has been introduced or where legislation to improve the bias are lagging or need to be revisited.  We, as advocates, understand that there are other areas of concern, but believe these health care agenda items are a good start.

Some of these ideas are conceptual at this point. Some have some preliminary model wording for new legislation, and some are already in the works.  Here’s the agenda:

Protect and Expand Women’s Reproductive Health Rights

  1. Pregnancy Accommodations:  Require employers to provide accommodations to pregnant employees with temporary pregnancy-related conditions to allow workers to remain employed throughout their pregnancies while imposing minimal burdens on employers.
  2. Support for Breastfeeding Mothers in the Workplace: Require all employers to provide compensated break time and a private, sanitary (not a bathroom) for all employees who need to express milk.
  3. Buffer Zones:  Enact a statewide reproductive health care clinic buffer zone statute to protect safe access to essential health care.
  4. Inmate Shackling: Strengthen pregnant inmate shackling law (Act 45 of 2010) to cover the entire pregnancy and a reasonable post-partum period for mother-child bonding and to eliminate the tasering of any woman known to be pregnant.
  5. Medical Professional Conscientious Right to Refuse to Deliver Medically Inaccurate Information: Protect physician-patient relationships from political intrusion.

    Improve Women’s Economic Security

  6. TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) Grant Amount: Increase TANF cash assistance grant levels.
  7. TANF Asset Limit: Increase the TANF eligibility asset limit to encourage saving and financial independence.
  8. Earned Income Disregard: Increase the earned income disregard and apply it to applicants as well as recipients.  FYI, the earned income disregard allows very-low income workers to continue receiving TANF, food stamps, and Medicaid if they make 50% or less of the poverty level.  This proposed legislation would raise this “disregard” level to 75% and would apply to applicants as well as recipients.
  9. Childcare Works Waiting List: Eliminate the childcare works waiting list.
  10. TANF Pre-Application Job Search: Eliminate or modify the TANF pre-application job search requirements.
  11. Minimum Wage: Increase Pennsylvania’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.00/hour.
  12. Gender Wage Gap: Strengthen Pennsylvania law to eliminate the 24% gender wage gap by prohibiting retaliation against employees for discussing wages (“pay secrecy”) and closing the “factor other than sex” defense to apply only to bona fide business-related factors.
  13. Family Responsibilities Employment Discrimination: Prohibit family responsibilities discrimination in employment by amending the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to prohibit family status discrimination in employment pursuant to an expanded definition of familial status to encompass the true scope of familial responsibilities shouldered by employees.
  14. Paid Family and Sick Leave: Require all employers to provide employees with paid family and sick leave
  15. Spousal Pension Benefits: Require spousal consent when a retiring state employee chooses how his or her pension benefits should be paid consistent with federal law protecting each spouse from his or her spouse’s selection of a pension benefit in all privately-sponsored pension plans and laws adopted by other states.
  16. Domestic Worker Protection: Amend Pennsylvania anti-discrimination laws to provide domestic workers protection from employment discrimination
  17. Sexual Harassment: Extend the prohibition on sexual harassment in employment to all employers, even small employers.

    Protect Women’s Personal Safety

  18. Paid Leave for Domestic Violence, Sexual Violence, and Stalking Victims: Require employers to provide paid leave to obtain assistance for and pursue legal protection against domestic and sexual violence and stalking.
  19. Housing Discrimination: Prohibit private and public housing discrimination against domestic violence victims.
  20. Civil Orders of Protection for Sexual Violence and Stalking Victims: Authorize courts to issue civil orders of protection for sex crime and stalking victims.
  21. Absolute Privilege for Student Victims: Protect victims/witnesses of sexual assault who testify in school grievance proceedings from being sued by their harassers.
  22. Human Trafficking: Strengthen Pennsylvania’s criminal statute on human trafficking.
  23. Veterans’ Real Estate Tax Exemption: Amend Pennsylvania law to provide veterans real estate tax exemption for veterans suffering from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) due to sexual victimization during service and appoint women representatives to the House and Senate Committees on Veteran Affairs and to the Pennsylvania State Veterans Commission.
  24. Voting Reform: Reform voting rules to provide online registration, same day in person registration, early voting, including early in person voting on weekends.

These ideas will be discussed in continuing meetings between members of the General Assembly’s Health Care Agenda Caucus and advocates for women’s equality.  I’ll post more on these issues as this legislative program becomes better defined.

Where Is the ‘Dream’?

Another great commentary on the current state of civil rights in light of the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington.

Nel's New Day

Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech at the March on Washington. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act passed the year after King’s speech and followed that with the Voting Rights Act. The United States, however, has failed to address the March’s goals for economic opportunity and equality, ten demands in civil rights legislation, public school desegregation, voting rights, job training, and an increased minimum wage.

  • Congressional comprehensive and effective civil rights legislation without compromise or filibuster-to guarantee all Americans access to all public accommodations, decent housing, adequate and integrated education, and the right to vote.
  • Withholding of federal funds from all programs in which discrimination exists.
  • Desegregation of all school districts in 1963.
  • Enforcement of the fourteenth Amendment, reducing Congressional representation of states where citizens are disfranchised.
  • A new Executive Order banning discrimination in all housing supported by federal funds.
  • Authority for…

View original post 1,246 more words

Let’s Strengthen, Not Weaken Social Security

Social Security.  It’s been around for 78 years.  It’s a benefit that everyone (and their family members) who has worked in the United States is eligible to receive. You pay into the system when you are working and then when you retire or become disabled, you, your spouse, and your dependent children receive monthly benefits based on you earned income history.  Currently almost 58 million Americans receive $816 billion annually in Social Security benefits.  Most (70%) are retirees and their family members.  The rest are either disabled (19%) or are survivors (11%) of a deceased spouse or parent who would have otherwise qualified for Social Security.  We all like, expect, and will, if not already, depend upon Social Security to sustain our financial well-being and independence.

Dwight D. Eisenhower Supported Social Security

Yet it is under attack.  And has been for almost a decade.  Until 2005, both political parties fully supported Social Security.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower in a letter to his brother Edgar on November 8, 1954 said:

Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

This was right after he responded to a letter to a constituent shortly after signing a bill into law expanding Social Security.  In that letter dated September 30, 1954, President Eisenhower said:

The actual fact is that by and large the productivity of a national economy must [emphasis added], at any given time, support the people then living in the nation. This means that, roughly, the people from twenty to sixty bear the burden of supporting themselves, and in addition, support those from birth to twenty years of age, and those from sixty to eighty.

The Three-Legged Stool

At that point in our history, both sides of the aisle fully supported the idea of Social Security as the third leg of the financial stool (the other two legs being pensions and savings).

Over the years fewer and fewer people have had employment that contained a defined benefit pension.  And fewer people have retirement savings. People need all three legs.  With the other two legs being cut or chipped away at, Social Security remains potentially their only source of income should they retire or become disabled.

The Bush Administration Starts the Attacks on Social Security

The attacks on Social Security really started hard and heavy in 2005 when then President George W. Bush called for the privatization of Social Security and a redesign of Medicare that created the so-called “doughnut hole.”  I first started working on this issue that year, organizing a protest rally on the Penn State University-University Park Campus when Bush came to town to try to tell the Future Farmers of America that Social Security was a lost cause.

Over 500 people were at that protest.  Holding up signs like:

 

 2005 Rally at Penn State University Protesting the Privatization of Social Security

Bush is Wrong! Ike was Right! Hands Off My Social Security: 2005 Rally at Penn State University Protesting the Privatization of Social Security

  • Hands Off My Social Security
  • Bush is WRONG!
  • Ike was RIGHT!
Sign at Protest that says: "No! No! No Social Security Privatization Fiddle"

2005 Rally at Penn State University Protesting the Privatization of Social Security

  •  No! No! No Social Security Privatization Fiddle and

 

Banner at 2005 PSU Protest saying: "Social Security: Don't Gamble with Our Future"

Don’t Gamble with Our Future: 2005 Rally at Penn State University Protesting the Privatization of Social Security

  • Social Security: Don’t Gamble with OUR Future (referring to privatizing and placing Social Security payments in the volatile stock market).

Organizations and individuals fought back and Social Security was not privatized but Medicare was compromised when the prescription drug benefits (Part D) were written into law in 2006. This hole forces individuals on Medicare in 2013 to pay 100% of their drug costs once  you reach their Medicare Part D plan’s initial coverage limit of $2,970 and ends when you spend a total of $4,750.

This was the opening gambit to destroy Social Security. These attacks are continuing to this day.  Now it is the Tea Party Republicans who are doing the attacking.  And if they succeed, women and people of color in particular will pay the penalty.

The Seven Principals to Strengthen Social Security

Rather than decimate our safety net that we all paid for and for which we are due, we should be strengthening rather than weakening Social Security. According to StrengthenSocialSecurity.org – a coalition of over 300 national and state organizations representing over 50 million Americans, there are seven principles to fully support and strengthen our Social Security system:

  1. Social Security did not cause the federal deficit; its benefits should not be cut to reduce the deficit.  And anyone who tells you Social Security is going broke is either misinformed or deliberately trying to mislead. The Social Security Trust Fund is viable through 2033.
  2. Social Security should not be privatized in whole or in part.  Unlike Wall St. and the stock market, Social Security is a reliable, risk free source of income. These benefits are guaranteed every month and are adjusted to the rise in the cost of living.
  3. Social Security should not be means-tested.
  4. Congress should act in the coming few years to close Social Security’s funding gap by requiring those who are most able to afford it to pay somewhat more. This means that the cap on payment into Social Security should be lifted for higher income individuals.
  5. Social Security’s retirement age, already scheduled to increase from 65 to 67, should not be raised further. Increasing the retirement age disproportionately affects low-income women. The life expectancy for low-income women has decreased over the last 25 years and they are more likely to have jobs that compromise their health. Increasing the retirement age would amount to a 15% benefit cut for low-income women workers.
  6. Social Security’s benefits should not be reduced, including [benefit-reducing] changes to the COLA or the benefit formula. Republican leaders want to impose a less accurate COLA formula – the chained-CPI. The current COLA (Cost of Living Alliance) formula is based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) which estimates the price of stuff we need (like food) changes over time.  The chained-CPI assumes that when the prices of something goes up, people will automatically replace it for something cheaper (e.g., beef would be substituted with chicken and maybe even eventually with dog food); therefore the COLA can be calculated at a lower rising level.  That con only work for the short-term since in some cases (e.g., health care) there are no substitutes and for others (e.g., the food example), people either can’t or won’t go that far without compromising their lives. Over a 30-year retirement, that means that a person would be losing a full month’s worth of Social Security every year. For senior women who often don’t have extra savings or a pension, the gap between their regular expenses and what would be covered over time under a chained-CPI would be disastrous.
  7. Social Security’s benefits should be increased for those who are most disadvantaged. This would include low-income workers, LGBTQ families in states that don’t recognize same-sex marriages, college students whose working parent has died, and people who have to drop out of the workforce to provide caregiving to their family members.

Increasing the Benefits for the Most Disadvantaged

I’d like to look at this last principle in more depth by focusing on women and Social Security because women make up the combined majority of people in these four groups.  So, why should benefits for these four groups be increased?

Low Income Workers

Low Income workers are disproportionately made up of women and people of color. Living hand to mouth, this group of working-age people have little ability to build up any retirement savings.  So one leg of the stool is cut very short.  And unlike high-income workers who worked at a company with full benefits, they are less likely to have any retirement pension at all.  The second leg is also cut very short. As a result, nearly 80% of a low-income worker’s retirement income is made up entirely of Social Security benefits.  And because of the cutbacks in Medicare with the aforementioned doughnut hole, this group of retired people – mostly women who live longer – are further squeezed.  This group of retirees, rather than having their livelihood threatened by a chained-CPI reduction should, instead have and enhanced benefit by creating a Special Minimum amount of Social Security benefits for lifetime low-income earners.

In 2012, the National Organization for Women Foundation, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research released a report called “Breaking the Social Security Glass Ceiling: A Proposal on How to Modernize Women’s Benefits.”  This report presents a proposal to enhance this baseline level of Social Security benefits for low-income workers. They suggest improving the Special Minimum Benefit by:

  • Increasing the benefit to equal 150 percent of the aged poverty level for workers with 30 years of credit;
  • Reducing the wages required to receive a year of credit toward the minimum benefit to the amount required for four Social Security credits;
  • Indexing future increases in the minimum benefit to growth in wages rather than the CPI;
  • Providing up to ten family service years of credit toward the computation of the benefit; and
  • Increasing the Supplemental Security Income (aka SSI) general income exclusion to $100 and adjust it in future years for inflation.

LGBTQ Families

In June, the US Supreme Court, in a case known as United States v. Windsor, overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act. They declared that committed same-sex couples who have had their relationships legally recognized as marriage must receive all of the federal benefits, including Social Security, associated with legally-recognized marriages.

Same-sex couples, who live in states that don’t recognize their marriages, however are currently out of luck.  In the 37 states without marriage equality, same-sex couples and their families are considered legal strangers. A same-sex household with one wage earner forfeits $675 monthly, the equivalent of two months’ worth of groceries for two people.

The Glass Ceiling report makes the following proposal to address continuing discrimination in these 37 states that don’t recognize same-sex marriages:

  • Amend the Social Security Act to define “wife,” and “husband” so that they no longer rely on gender-specific pronouns;
  • Provide eligibility to spousal benefits to individuals who are members of same-sex marriages, domestic partnerships, civil unions, or any other such relationship as the states, by law, may prescribe;
  • Extend to the children of these relationships, benefits under the same terms and conditions as children of heterosexual couples; and
  • Directly address the issue of disparate state-based DOMA laws by declaring that all federal family eligibility determinations under Social Security be exempted from the provisions of state-based Defense of Marriage Acts.

College Students and their Parents

Up until 1981, students attending college whose working parent had died, become disabled, or retired were eligible for Social Security benefits under their parent’s Social Security until they reached the age of 22.  That year, all post-secondary benefits were eliminated.  Most of the recipients of this benefit were disproportionately children of parents in blue-collar jobs, African-Americans, and those with lower incomes than other college students.  As a result of this change in the law, single parents—again most often women—would often defer saving funds for their own retirement in order to assist their kids through college. This decision results either in a a lower level of retirement funds for his/her parent(s) and/or a reduced likelihood of the student attending college if the parent and child are unable to fund the student’s post-secondary education.

The Glass Ceiling report makes the following proposal to address this issue:

  • Reinstate benefits for children of disabled or deceased workers until age 22 when the child is attending a college or vocational school on a full-time basis.

Caregivers

In addition to the disparity in pay between men and women, one of the main reasons women’s Social Security benefits are lower on average than that of men is that they are more likely to take time off from work to care for children or elderly and sick adult family members (spouses, parents, in-laws, and other family members).  The Social Security Administration uses a calculation known as the “average Indexed Monthly earnings primary insurance amount” (aIMe PIa) to calculate the benefit levels of all beneficiaries. Because of the way that the Social Security Administration calculates the benefit level, any temporary interruption in one’s income can significantly reduce how much Social Security a person can receive.

This affects single women as well as married women since both can and do have children and do have other family members that may need some care. Currently the only way to compensate for this care-giving duty is to provide the caregiver a spousal add-on benefit. This unfair treatment of caregivers in the Social Security formula needs to be changed so that we can continue to care for our family members without jeopardizing the financial security of the caregiver.  The Glass Ceiling report also addresses this issue by recommending a change in the way the aIMe PIa is calculated:

  • Compute the AIME PIA by imputing an annual wage for each family service year so that total earnings for the year would equal 50 percent of that year’s average annual wage index. Family service years would be those in which an individual provides care to children under the age of six or to elderly or disabled family members. Up to five family service years could be granted to any worker.

These Improvements are Affordable: With Some Changes

We can pay for these improvements, and simultaneously ensure the solvency of our Social Security system for 75 years or more. Changes to how Social Security could be funded are well-known. We just need to do it!  The funds for these changes are available IF we:

  • Remove the cap on wages subject to the Social Security payroll tax.  Rather than capping employee, employers, and the self-employed person’s payroll taxes on the first  $113,700 of income, the law should be changed to entirely remove this cap and require millionaires and billionaires to pay the same rate as the rest of us.  This one change would provide most of the needed resources.  According to Virginia Reno and Joni Lavery of the National Academy of Social Insurance, this option [by itself] would eliminate much of Social Security’s current actuarial deficit by producing revenue equal to about 2.17 percent of taxable payroll.”
  • Slowly increase the Social Security contribution rate by 1/20 of one percent over the next 20 years.  This option, according to Reno and Lavery “would provide revenue equal to 1.34 percent of taxable payroll.”
  • Treat all salary deductions like 401(K) plans.  Currently we pay Social Security and Medicare taxes on any retirement plan, such as a 401(K), a 403(b), or a 527 plan.  We do not pay these taxes on that portion of our salary we put aside to pay for any flexible spending account, such as a medical savings account.  If we were to  treat and tax flexible spending accounts just like our retirement plans, Reno and Lavery report that we would provide an about  an additional 0.48 percent of taxable payroll.

These three changes amount to 3.99% of payroll taxes and would fully close the current actuarial deficit (2.67 percent of payroll) according to Reno and Lavery.  The additional 1.32% would fund the proposals to strengthen Social Security as recommended in the Glass Ceiling report without hurting women, people of color, LGBTQ people, caregivers, college student, and low-income families.

The funds are there.  Let’s make it happen. Let’s strengthen, not weaken Social Security for everyone.

 

King’s Dream in 2013: Interlocking Destinies

It’s been 50 years since Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. One of his colleagues at that event was the Rev. Jessie Jackson, Sr.  Rev. Jackson has continued speaking and advocating for that dream of “uniting people on common ground across race, culture, class, gender, and belief.”  This idea of interlocking destinies was presented during his plenary speech at the National NOW Conference held in Chicago on July 5, 2013.

I was in the room during Rev. Jackson’s speech and took several video clips with my smart phone.  One of them came out clear enough to post on this blog.  So after getting back home, participating in a family reunion, and then spending a week and a half looking for a replacement car for our 253,000+ mile vehicle, I was able to upload the video and present it to you.

Video of Jessie Jackson at the 2013 National NOW Conference in Chicago, IL

The following quotes, along with the time tags are some of the best comments, IMHO, that Jessie Jackson made during this speech discussing the intersection between the women’s movement and the civil rights movement, which at 13:59 into this video, Jackson calls a “sharing of interlocking destinies.” He started off by discussing these Interlocking Destinies and shared rights.

3:10 Fifty years after the “I Have a Dream” speech, we still need the ERA [Equal Rights Amendment].

3:52 The right to vote should not be a state right. It’s a constitutional right for everyone.

4:10 Every child should have access to have access to high-quality public education.

4:20 No matter if you are in Mississippi, Maine, or in California, we live under one flag; you should have equal protection under the law.

5:52 Our goal is to learn to live together.

6:20 Civil rights cannot be another word for “black” and NOW cannot be another word for “white women.”  Black women, in big numbers, should be members of NOW now!

7:00 We must pull down the walls [of cultural resistance] that leave us in the shadow of fear…. When the walls come down, we can all grow bigger, better, stronger with greater productivity.  When the walls come down.

9:00 There’s a new South today that can have the Super Bowl, CNN, high-tech universities [showing that we are] learning to live together.  Yet…

At this point, Rev. Jackson starts talking about some of the interlocking issues of racism and sexism still present that need to be addressed in the United States:

9:56 It’s interesting to me that during the Republican Primary, in my [home] state [South Carolina] with an open primary, not one candidate went to a single school or church of the black community.  Not one! 33% black.  Not only did they not go, the media did not challenge them to go.  This instance [of the] reinforcement of apartheid was natural because it’s [still] normal.

Jackson then spends a bit of time framing these interlocking destinies and the problem of economics and access to justice.  He gave several examples of this framework.  The one that resonated with me was the one about the automobile industry, considering that my car had died the weekend before the conference and knowing that I would soon be car shopping. He said,

12:38 What does it mean that there are 21,000 automobile dealerships? 200 black-owned. Almost no women. Pepsi: one black franchise. Coke: zero. When you go get educated. You get your masters and PhD degrees. Business people, you cannot buy one of these franchises, by the way, because they were sold under the laws of perpetuity. Those that got the territories [back in the day] have the territory eternally.  So it’s not about getting on the ball field.  If you get on the ball field, there are no balls left…. Even money can’t buy them.

And finally, just as the battery in my smart phone died, he ended on a high note using history to look towards the future. He said that as in the past, we have not and can never be at loss for continuing to advocate for reform.  This is what I caught on the video as it beeped “bye-bye:”

13:59 The agenda of race and gender equality are inextricably bound.  We share interlocking destinies.  African-Americans won the right to vote in 1879 – 15th Amendment. Women in 1920 – 19th Amendment. We [finally] got the right for blacks to vote in the Deep South in 1965 [with the Voting Rights Act] while women got the right to serve on juries in 1967 – 2 years later [as a result of the US Supreme Court decision in Taylor v. Louisiana]Eighteen year olds got the right to vote in 1970; [before that] those [young people] serving in Vietnam could not vote…

Save Centre Crest: A Public Nursing Home and Long-Term Care Facility

Here in Centre County, we have a county-run nursing home facility.  It is located in the county seat of Bellefonte, PA.  Centre Crest Nursing Home in Bellefonte has been county-owned and operated for 73 years. On June 18, Commissioners Steve Dershem (R) and Chris Exarchos (R) called for a surprise and unannounced vote (which may have violated Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Law) to transfer the facility to a private organization to be run as a non-profit.  If the transfer goes through:

  • We, citizens of Centre Co., will lose our say in the operation and funding of Centre Crest;
  • Our tax investments could be subsidizing a private company through a rent-free agreement, yet we’d have no say in how Centre Crest would be run;
  • Current Centre Crest employees will have their benefits and pensions cut;
  • The Bellefonte community would lose over $1 million when employees lose benefits and when jobs involving payroll, purchasing, and benefit administration services are outsourced to a private company based in outside of Centre County; and
  • We expect that costs will rise for the residents, most of who are lower-income and cannot afford any of the very expensive private nursing home care that is elsewhere available in the county.

Most of the citizens in the county are opposed to this transfer.  Some oppose the transfer because of the inability for citizens to have a continued say in how the nursing home should be run.  Some oppose the transfer for fear that their loved ones will no longer be able to afford the care and will be forced to move.  Some oppose the transfer because of the expected loss of benefits, including a defined pension plan, should the nursing home be turned into either a non-profit or for-profit nursing home. And some oppose the transfer due to the costs involved.

In 2012, the cost to the average household (not taxpayer, but household) to operate Centre Crest was $25 (5.6% of the county taxes) and it was less than that in each of the four years before that.  The third commissioner, Commissioner Michael Pipe (D) spent several months doing a cost-benefit analysis of either keeping Centre Crest as a fully county-run facility or selling it off.  The cost of Commissioners Pipe’s proposal to upgrade facilities at Centre Crest is less than $11.50 for the average household.  The cost of a suggested subsidy to the county to turn it into a nonprofit is $3 million.  In addition, the proposed plan involves this non-profit receiving the current and proposed new site rent free.  Should the facility be moved, the county could incur an additional cost of $700,000 to $900,000 to acquire the suggested new location (Bellefonte Armory) with no reimbursement from the non-profit.

The current set up, according to Commissioner Pike is a win-win for the county and for seniors.  As he argued before the vote, keeping Centre Crest as an upgraded county-run facility is both an “excellent use of our investments (taxes)” and “provides a home and medical care to our most vulnerable citizens–our seniors.”

The transfer is NOT A DONE DEAL.  Although the initial vote was taken to transfer the home, none of the legal paperwork has yet to be signed and there are some legal actions that are being considered to stop what has happened so far.

There is a better alternative.  Commissioner Pipe presented a plan to keep Centre Crest county owned and upgrade the facility for only $11.50 per year for the average household.

Together we can make this alternative happen.

If you live in Centre County, PA; have family in Centre County; or are concerned about the idea of profit over compassionate care for vulnerable seniors, then you can help stop this decision from coming to fruition.

  1. If you live in Centre County, attend the County Commissioners’ meetings.  They occur at 10:00 am every Tuesday morning. Voice your objection to the transfer during the public comment session at the beginning of each meeting;
  2. No matter where you live, you can donate $5 or $50 to “Centre County Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility.” Mail to: 148 Thornton Rd., State College. PA  16801;
  3. Write a letter to the editor. The local papers include the Centre Daily Times, Voices of Central PA, the Lock Haven Express, the Progress News, and the Centre County Gazette;
  4. Contact the Commissioners directly:
    • Via Letter*: Commissioners Steve Dershem, Chris Exarchos, and Michael Pipe, 420 Holmes St., Bellefonte, PA  16823
    • Email*:  BOC@centrecountypa.gov
    • Phone*:  814-355-6700
  5. Go to http://saveCentreCrest.org, click on “petition,” download, print and then sign it.  You can then, if you desire, you can gather more signatures.  Once your petition is complete, mail it to: Save Centre Crest, P.O. Box 262, Bellefonte, PA  16823

You can also obtain more information and background on Centre Crest, what’s happening, and what you can do by visiting the Save Centre Crest website.

War on Women in Pennsylvania: At Least a 20-Year Happening

Last week, Governor Tom “Just Close Your Eyes” Corbett signed into law Act 13 of 2013, also known as HB 818.  This newest attack in the War on Women denies women the ability to use THEIR OWN FUNDS to purchase coverage for an abortion within the new healthcare exchange that Corbett decided to fob off onto the federal government.  Although the state couldn’t be “bothered” with running this exchange, they have no problem in denying women the ability to purchase coverage for an abortion even in cases in which her life is endangered.

At the time of final passage of the bill I sent out an email to several friends listservs. Here are some of the comments I received back:

What is going on in PA?  It’s beginning to sound more & more like a North Dakota or a Kansas [or a Mississippi or an Arizona or a Wisconsin or a Texas or any other state that’s been taken over by misogynists and racists].  Terrible!!

If women aren’t allowed to spend money on their healthcare the way they deem medically necessary, then it’s time to face the fact that we’re not even citizens in our own states.

I agree with all of these sentiments.  Yet, these types of legislative actions have been going on in Pennsylvania for a long time, despite Pennsylvania having an ERA in our state Constitution and having already ratified the national ERA.

Bit of history of the War on Women in Pennsylvania.  We’ve been battling this War for over two decades in our legislature.  The battles started with attacks on reproductive justice and have now spread to other areas of women’s lives.

Reproductive Justice Battles

The Pennsylvania General Assembly has basically been co-opted by the radical right-wing on both sides of the aisle.  The Democrats do have more pro-choice people than the Republicans.  The Senate is a bit better than the House of Representatives.  And this has basically been true since the late 1980’s.

  1. Which is why Governor Bob Casey, Sr. (D) pushed through Pennsylvania’s Abortion Control Act that initially mandated parental consent, spousal consent, a 24-hour waiting period, and a state-mandated script about the “detriments” to health in abortion procedures.  Planned Parenthood contested the law that went all the way to the US Supreme Court in a case called Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey. Decided on June 29, 1992, the Court threw out spousal consent as an “undue burden,” but upheld the rest of the law. This was one of the first battles partially won by the emerging War on women.  That was 21 years ago this week.
  2. Which is why Title X and state Family Planning monies are split 50/50 each year in the state budget between crisis pregnancy centers and legitimate family planning clinics.  And this has been happening for over a decade now. And in 2012, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R) proposed eliminating ALL funding for family planning for Planned Parenthood or any other clinic that provides abortion services.
  3. Which is why we are losing stand-alone abortion providers due to the TRAP (Targeted Regulations on Abortion Providers) law passed in December 2011 following “Dr.” Gosnell’s arrest and guilty verdict for murdering 9 live-born infants and one woman in a filthy, rat-infested facility that the state had not inspected despite complaints from legitimate providers for about 10 years.
  4. Which is why we almost had a transvaginal ultrasound law last year.  And for Governor Corbett’s “Just close your eyes” statement (Corbett’s comments on the ultrasound bill start at 14:28).  The main reasons I think it ultimately died in committee is thanks to the activists in VA who created the uproar there and because so many people, including doctors were outraged by the invasiveness of this bill and for Corbett’s insensitive statement (of which he is becoming more or more well-known for – he’s his own worst enemy).

Other Battles in the War on Women in Pennsylvania

And on other issues – similar actions have occurred.

Increasing Conservatism in the Legislature and Governorship

In 2010, the Tea Party and the radical right swept into office an even more anti-woman legislature and governor here in Pennsylvania.  The War on Women went into full swing.  Both houses of the General Assembly became even more heavily conservative, with the House switching from a Democratic- to a Republican-controlled majority and the state elected an anti-choice, anti-woman, and in my opinion, racist governor – Governor Tom Corbett (R).

To highlight how conservative the Pennsylvania General Assembly has become, just look at the 2012 ratings of legislators by the American Conservative Union.  They indicated that 51% of members in the combined Assembly are solid conservatives; 105 or 42% are given a score of 100 and an additional 22 or 9% are rated at 63 or higher.  The entire leadership of the majority party in both houses and thus those with the power to deny women, people of color, people with disabilities and people living in poverty their basic rights are listed in their report as so-called “Defenders of Liberty” or “Conservatives” because of their rating of, respectively, either 100 (13 of the 16 leaders) or 80 (the remaining 3 leaders).

Attack on Hate Crimes Protections

An updated hate crimes bill was initially passed in 2002 that added gender, gender identity, national origin, disability, and sexual orientation.  Because the radical right didn’t want to vote against adding sexual orientation coupled with disability and gender and thereby anger multiple constituencies within their district, a member of the House, proposed a late-night, end of session amendment in the 2001-2002 legislative session that substituted the hate crimes bill for an agricultural crimes bill.  The vote was overwhelmingly in favor, mostly because the legislators didn’t want to appear to be supporting hate crimes via a no vote (prior to this the then Republican majority had refused to bring up the bill for a committee vote). The radical right-wing appealed saying that this substitution violated the state’s constitutional mandate that any amendment has to be germane to the original intent of the bill.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed in July 23, 2008 that this procedure (but not the underlying intent) was unconstitutional and threw out the law.  It has been reintroduced every session since then with no hearing or vote in any committee in either house.

Attacks on Marriage Equality

In addition to having a state-based mini-DOMA (a state-level Defense of Marriage Act) on the books, Pennsylvania has had several attempts at adding this form of discrimination to our state constitution introduced every session for the last decade.  The major reasons they have not passed is that the House is even more conservative than the Senate and the two houses can’t agree on how extreme to make it.  There is another one that has been introduced in the General Assembly this year, but due to increasing support by the public for civil unions and marriage equality (almost 2/3 support throughout the state), they haven’t yet held any hearings.

Budgetary Attacks

One of the spears attacking women, families, and people of color since the takeover of our legislative and executive branches of government here in the state is the budget.

We have had severe cutbacks in state funding for education, health care, and human services since 2011.  According to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, spending on these three areas in the final budget for 2012-2013 that ends this week was either flat-lined (“welfare” programs) or reduced by 0.3% (for public school education), 15.9% (for higher education), and 37% to 45% (for Medical Assistance inpatient and outpatient care).

The proposed budget plan for 2013-2014 continues these cuts. Here are a couple of examples of this budgetary war:

Attacks to Eliminate Equality for All

In the very first budget introduced by Governor Corbett, every advocacy Commission in the Executive branch was eliminated in the 2011-2012 budget – this includes the Pennsylvania Commission for Women (which I served on until it was abolished), Latino Affairs, Asian-American Affairs, and African-American Affairs.  As you will see from the links to these commissions, there is no public information on who the commissioners are nor is the any information on the services any of these commissions provide.  Prior to the elimination of these commissions in 2011, the Commission for Women, for example, had an extensive web presence which included our mission (the only thing that now remains), hotline contact information, copies of reports written by the Commission, information on the advocacy being conducted by the Commission, and links to programs and services to broadly assist women.  Transparency has disappeared; this is another spear in the attacks with the War on Women here in Pennsylvania.

Like every other state, Pennsylvania has a commission that monitors, reviews and adjudicates alleged acts of discrimination; here in Pennsylvania that is the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC). Severe budgetary cut-backs have occurred in the funding for the PHRC in every budgetary cycle since 2011.  An individual who works within the PHRC told me last month that as a result of these cuts, they are down 50% in staffing and that long-time civil rights advocates in the agency have either retired (some early) or left for other work.  And it’s not getting any better. The PHRC is flat-lined in this year’s budget.  We don’t yet know if this will still be true once the budget is passed, which theoretically must be done this week since our state constitution requires passage by June 30 of each year.

Gerrymandering

Gerrymandering is part of the War on Women due to its impact on legislation directly affecting women’s lives. Gerrymandering here in Pennsylvania, aka the “Gerrymander of the Decade,” has entrenched the right-wing Republicans in both the General Assembly and the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation.  This, despite the fact that there are many more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state.

Being a Democratic legislator, as we all know doesn’t guarantee concern for women’s rights (think Senator Bob Casey, Jr. and his father, former Governor Bob Casey, Sr.). But in these days and times, it’s less likely to cause a problem for us than do the Tea-Party dominated Republicans.

The most recent vote in the General Assembly is a clear example of what gerrymandering has done to the legislature.

Gerrymandering, combined with the elections resulted in the passage of HB 818/Act 13 this month. Tea Party Republican conservatives won many of their races in 2010 and 2012, taking control and leadership of both houses in 2011.  In the House there are 111 Republicans and 92 Democrats.  On April 24, 2013, all but 2 Republicans (98%) voted against and all but 32 Democrats (65%) voted for women’s reproductive justice. In the Senate there are 28 Republicans and 22 Democrats. On June 5, 2013, all but 2 Republicans (93%) voted against and all but 5 Democrats (77%) voted for women’s reproductive justice.

State and Federal ERA

Another comment that was made when I sent out my email was about passing the federal Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The person said,

This is the reason we need to be included in the Constitution of the United States!  One of main ways to stop bills like this is to pass the ERA and thus be admitted as full-fledged citizens of the US.

Before the War on Women started, Pennsylvania passed a state-based ERA that was voted on by the electorate and placed into Section I of the Pennsylvania Constitution in 1971.

Yet even with this state-based ERA, the War on Women is being raged here in Pennsylvania.  Sometimes the state ERA works and sometimes it doesn’t.  It worked back in the 1980’s when Pat and Twiss Butler worked with Pennsylvania NOW to get gender-based auto insurance rates eliminated.  But it didn’t work in 2008 when a woman sued her employer using the state ERA based on sexually offensive comments made by her supervisor but not stopped by the company.

Many people, in frustration have made statements or created nicknames to replace the official monikers of “City or State of Brotherly Love” and the “Cradle of Independence.”  A couple of the pejoratives include “Pennsyltuky” and “Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in the middle” (this latter one is attributed to James Carville)  The progressive parts of the state (for the citizenry, but not necessarily the full legislature) are currently Philadelphia and SE PA, the capital Harrisburg (to some minor extent) and Centre County where I live.  Pittsburgh is still itself progressive, but Allegheny County (where Pittsburgh is located) has become very, very conservative and thus more like the “T” (the term used to describe the rural part of the state outside of the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia regions).

Yes, it is frustrating.  But as a “cock-eyed optimist” (something I’ve often been called), I continue to push back and sometimes we get things that are a bit better than they would have been otherwise.  Much of our work is being done in coalition these days.  I won’t stop my push-back against this War on Women.  I will continue my multi-decade work and will continue to shout from the mountain top whenever and wherever needed.  As will others (see for example, an article in Politico about the War on Women battle for the Pennsylvania governorship gearing up here in Pennsylvania).

Be a “cock-eyed” optimist.  Get the ERA passed and stop this state and national War on Women. As Margaret Mead said,

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Civil Rights Denied: PA’s Proposed Constitutional Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Logo of Freedomt to Marry, Inc.

“working to win the freedom to marry in more states, grow the national majority for marriage, and end federal marriage discrimination. ” http://www.freedomtomarry.org/pages/about-us

A couple of days ago I posted a blog about the dueling marriage equality and same-sex marriage ban bills recently introduced into the Pennsylvania General Assembly.  Today I thought I give a more detailed argument as to how discriminatory the same-sex marriage ban is to gays and straights alike.

As previously stated, on May 7, Pennsylvania State Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R-12 Butler County) introduced his legislation (HB 1349) to create a constitutional amendment defining marriage OR its “substantial equivalent” solely as a union between a man and a woman.  That bill would amend Article I of the Pennsylvania state Constitution – the Declaration of Rights section – to take rights away from unmarried couples in Pennsylvania, whether they are same-sex or heterosexual couples.  Here’s the constitutional amendment as written in HB 1349:

“Marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife and no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”

Until the spring of 2012, 31 states across the country had created constitutional amendments to outlaw marriage or anything that looks like marriage between same-sex couples. The last successful attempt at this form of discrimination occurred by referendum in North Carolina in the spring of 2012; all other attempts since then to deny marriage equality have failed.

Marriage equality however has had many successes since then. Three states – Delaware, Rhode Island, and Washington – either passed a referendum OR legislation legalizing marriage equality following North Carolina’s referendum. One state – Minnesota—is expected to pass their marriage equality bill today; note, this is only 6 months after the voters in Minnesota by referendum killed their proposed same-sex marriage ban.  And one state – Colorado – passed legislation recognizing civil unions even though they have a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Instead of moving forward, right-wing legislators would like to have Pennsylvania join the 31 other states that constitutionally ban-same sex marriages and/or other legal forms of relationships such as domestic partnerships and civil unions.  These Pennsylvanian legislators are making their fourth attack on same-sex couples and on unmarried people – gay or straight.  If HB 1349 passes, Pennsylvania for the first time in its history would enshrine and mandate discrimination into the state Constitution.

This amendment would take rights away from unmarried couples in Pennsylvania, whether they are same-sex or heterosexual couples.  The way this amendment is written would affect all unmarried couples, victims of domestic violence if they are not married to their abuser, and could threaten Pennsylvania’s anti-discrimination laws

Effect on All Unmarried Couples – Gay or Straight

Currently, Pennsylvania statute recognizes only marriages between one man and one woman.

Pennsylvania does not recognize either (1) same-sex marriages or (2) civil unions, domestic partnerships, or any other coupled-household status—whether entered into by same-sex or opposite-sex couples.  Those affected by this amendment would therefore, for example, include senior citizens who live together but are not married because of economic considerations, couples who believe they have a “common law marriage” (which is no longer recognized in Pennsylvania), and gay or straight couples who have any type of intimate relationship.

It could also threaten the lives of unmarried domestic violence victims and allow unmarried individuals to be discriminated against in housing, employment, and public accommodations.

Effect on Domestic Violence Victims

In 2004, Ohio passed their discriminatory anti-marriage constitutional amendment, which was quickly and unexpectedly used to deny protections to unmarried victims of domestic violence.  Here’s what happened.  Almost immediately, unmarried batterers argued that since they were not married, Ohio could not enforce their domestic violence law because that was treating their relationship with their partner as “equivalent to marriage.” The 2nd District Court of Appeals in Ohio agreed and ruled that the Ohio domestic violence law runs afoul of the “Defense of Marriage” amendment, passed by voters in 2004, and does not apply to “a person living as a spouse.”  As a result, unmarried defendants, who could have faced felony domestic violence charges, only faced misdemeanor assault charges.    It took several years for the Ohio Supreme Court to reverse this ruling.  In the interim, unmarried women were at the mercy of their batterers in several counties in Ohio.

The Ohio amendment is very similar to that of the one proposed for Pennsylvania.   In Ohio, by providing protection to persons living as spouses,” the domestic violence statutes created a legal status for cohabiting relationships that is “equivalent to a marriage,” according to the appeals court. The appeals court decision in Ohio then denied protection from abuse to unmarried individuals – gay or straight – because the domestic violence law gave legal standing to an unconstitutional relationship – that of an unmarried couple. The courts argument overturning these domestic violence protections utilized similar language found in Pennsylvania’s HB 1439, which states that no other legal union… or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.

We have no way of knowing how the courts would rule on a similar argument should this amendment pass and become part of Pennsylvania’s Constitution.  Who knows if Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court would protect the victim or allow batterers to circumvent Pennsylvania’s Protection From Abuse (PFA) law?  We need to protect all people from domestic violence and sexual assault.  Passage of this amendment could deny the protection offered by Pennsylvania’s domestic violence and protection from abuse laws; it could even risk the very lives of unmarried people–gay or straight–because this constitutional amendment denies the rights, privileges, and protections of law to people who are not legally married or who have a relationship that is “functionally equivalent” to traditional marriage.

Effects on Employment, Education, Housing, and Public Accommodations

It also looks like current and proposed employment, education, housing, and public accommodations anti-discrimination laws at both the state and local levels might be jeopardized for unmarried individuals.  Discrimination based on marital status and family responsibilities is unlawful under a variety of existing laws. With a few exceptions, under current state and federal law, people who experience this form of discrimination must fit their claims into an appropriate legal theory—as discrimination based on gender, a violation of family and medical leave laws, or another legal theory.  In addition, many municipalities throughout Pennsylvania have passed or are considering ordinances that would make it illegal to discriminate in employment, housing, and in some cases, public accommodations specifically based on sexual orientation, gender identity and marital status.   Will the state courts, the PA Human Relations Commission, or local Human Relations Commissions be able to enforce these laws if Pennsylvania’s constitution has been amended to require unmarried couples to be treated differently from married couples?  We do not know.  Passage of HB 1439 as a constitutional amendment could put all of these protections at risk since any person, company, or school could argue that their business is mandated to deny employment, hiring, and benefits to any person who is not married.

Civil Rights Denied, Reiterated

Last, but not least, exclusion, discrimination and inequality are not the principles this state was founded upon. This discriminatory “Marriage Protection Amendment” denies unmarried heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families the protections and fairness they deserve. Heterosexual married couples and their families are afforded more than 1,000 legal protections and economic benefits provided through state and federal law, benefits and protections that are currently inaccessible to unmarried couples.  Passage of this amendment would therefore subject same-sex couples and their families to exclusion, discrimination and inequality.

The proposed amendment could also take away existing legal protections for committed long-term couples and their children, such as second parent adoptions, cohabitation agreements, co-parenting agreements, wills, living wills, powers of attorney, etc., regardless of their sexual orientation.

Gay and lesbian Pennsylvanians are our neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family member.  They pay taxes.  LGBT people should not be bullied.  They deserve the same rights, protections, and responsibilities that all residents desire and have.

Let’s all work to stop this bill now!  So I’m once again recommending that you keep up-to-date on this horrible bill as well as other LGBTQ legislation at  Equality Pennsylvania’s website.

Call for Paycheck Fairness Act Co-Sponsorship

The wage gap shows that women, particularly women of color are paid significantly less than white men.

The Wage Gap: Lack of Equal Pay

On April 9, I did a blog on Equal Pay Day discussing the lack of equity in pay between men and women’s work.  In that blog, I discussed the need to pass the federal Paycheck Fairness Act.

Part of the process of obtaining passage of a bill is to get as many legislators as possible to sign on as a co-sponsor of the bill you are interested in.  In the US House of Representatives, there are currently 206 co-sponsors of the House version of the bill – H.R. 377. In the US Senate, there are currently 46 co-sponsors of the Senate version, S. 84.

The main coalition pushing for paycheck fairness and pay equity is the National Committee on Pay Equity.  This morning, I opened up an email from a listserv I’m on regarding the Paycheck Fairness Act. Michele Leber, Chair of the National Committee on Pay Equity sent out the following message, asking everyone to spread the word to their friends and colleagues in Virginia. Here’s what she said:

“We learned yesterday [April 24] from the office of Rosa DeLauro, our pay equity champion in the House of Representatives, that every Democrat in the House is now a PFA cosponsor! To reach that goal in the Senate, we need just a few more Democrats, among them Mark Warner of Virginia.

At a meeting yesterday in Warner’s office, his legislative aide said the best way to get Warner’s cosponsorship was to send the senator messages of support for the bill. So please rally any contacts, groups, or chapters that you have in Virginia, asking persons to contact Sen. Warner’s office by phone at 202-224-2023 and/or by e-mail at http://www.warner.senate.gov/public//index.cfm?p=ContactPage, asking him to cosponsor the Paycheck Fairness Act, S.84.

With the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Equal Pay Act coming up on June 10, this is particularly important now.”

So…

If you live in Virginia and are a constituent, please follow Michelle’s request and contact Senator Warner regarding co-sponsorship.

If you don’t live in Virginia, you can find out where your US legislators stand on the Paycheck Fairness Act by going to http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.php. In the search box in the middle of the page, type in “Paycheck Fairness Act” and click search.  On the next page, two bills will show up—S. 84 and H.R. 377.  This page provides several links to information about both of these bills—text, bill history, co-sponsors, etc. If you click on “cosponsors” for each bill, you can determine if your representatives are publicly supporting the bill or not. If they are a sponsor, thank them and then ask them to call for a hearing and vote on the bill.  If they are not, ask them to sign on.

Thanks.