Throwing Gun Safety Away in PA

Stop Violence Against Women NOW diamond

Stop Violence Against Women NOW

I received an email late last night from CeaseFirePA  regarding pending legislation in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.  Here’s the main part of that email regarding two bills designed to reduce gun safety within the state:

There has been a MAJOR development in our state House that is designed to seriously undermine our safety as Pennsylvanians. IT IS UP TO YOU TO ACT TODAY.

Our state House Judiciary Committee just released a surprise agenda for… March 18 and it’s a doozy. The legislators controlled by the gun lobby are trying to railroad five firearms related bills-at least two of which are extremely dangerous for Pennsylvania-through the legislature without giving the public time to weigh in on them. These dangerous Bills are:

-HB 921, which would eliminate Pennsylvania’s background check system (PICS)–a system that our state police swear by and that contains thousands of records, particularly mental health records and records of PFAs [Protection from Abuse orders]/domestic abuse, that are not included in the National Instant Check System (NICS);

-HB 2011, which would-for the first time EVER in Pennsylvania history-allow a special interest group (in this case, the gun lobby and groups like the NRA) and the interest group’s entire membership base special, automatic standing to sue towns and cities because the group does not like the ordinances that these towns have passed to increase the safety of their citizens, even when the ordinance has not been enforced against any member of that group.

—Rob Conroy, CeaseFirePA, Western PA Regional Director

Based on the Gun Safety resolution that both Pennsylvania NOW and National NOW passed, respectively, in January and February 2013, Pennsylvania NOW decided to oppose both of these bills.  [FYI for disclosure purposes, I serve on both of these organizations’ boards — as a member of the Executive Committee for Pennsylvania NOW and as a member representing the Mid-Atlantic Region on the National NOW Board of Directors]. For more information on this NOW policy, go to the end of this blog to see the text of the resolution passed on February 25, 2013 by the National NOW Board of Directors calling for Sensible Gun Safety Legislation; this policy passed following the many concerns raised by the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.  My very first blog on this site was written the day of these shootings.)

Why Pennsylvania NOW Opposes these Bills

Pennsylvania NOW opposes HB 921 that eliminates PA’s background check for gun sales and increases the threat of gun violence to victims of domestic violence who have or want to seek out a Protection From Abuse (PFA) order.

Pennsylvania NOW also opposes HB 2011 since it allows special interest groups without legal standing to sue to overturn any local ordinance they don’t like.  This second bill could overturn not only local gun-related ordinances, but also other ordinances such as local anti-discrimination ordinances that have added marital status, familial status, family responsibilities, gender identity, and/or sexual orientation to the list of protected classes in preventing discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations.

Status of these Bills

The members of the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee met at 10 am this morning.  I talked to Rep. Thomas Caltagirone’s (D-PA 127) office (he’s the Minority Chair of the House Judiciary Committee).  The woman I talked to said that his entire staff (except herself) was in the Committee meeting and she had no idea as to whether or not these bills had been voted on.  At 2 pm today, I checked the General Assembly’s website.  As of that time, nothing had been posted regarding a committee vote on these bills.

Based on the make-up of the Judiciary Committee, we suspect that both bills will be voted out if they haven’t already been.  So all members of the legislature need to be contacted to tell them to vote no on both bills when they come to the floor.

Be/Become an Activist for Gun Safety

We don’t need to throw away our gun safety laws.  We need, instead, to make sure gun safety rules are in place to protect our loved ones.

So, please take time to contact your legislator.  Here’s where to find your legislator’s contact info. Tell him/her to vote NO on HB 921 and HB 2011 to protect the lives of our loved ones from unsafe gun sales and preemption of local ordinances that improve our local communities.

Addendum

CALL FOR SENSIBLE GUN SAFETY LEGISLATION

WHEREAS, the National Organization for Women (NOW) “[E]nvision[s] a world where non‑violence is the established order”; and

WHEREAS, we, along with the rest of the nation, have witnessed in horror and, with deep sadness, the most recent massacre on December 14, 2012, by an individual with assault weapons, of his mother first, then innocent children and teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut; and

WHEREAS, this horrific incident is the latest in a string of recent, shocking gun attacks, all of which have been perpetrated by individuals with assault weapons and which have mostly targeted women and children around the country, including at:

  • a shopping mall in Portland, Oregon in December 2012;
  • the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in July 2012;
  • a shopping mall in Tucson, Arizona in January 2011, where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was grievously injured, and where other casualties included the death of 9-year old Christina Taylor-Green; and
  • an Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania in October 2006 where 5 young girls were slaughtered and 5 more girls were seriously injured after the shooter released the boys and the adults; and

WHEREAS, according to the Congressional Research Services, there were more than 310 million firearms in private ownership in the United States in 2009, and another 5.2 million are manufactured annually and another 3.2 million imported annually, and according to the National Center for Health Statistics, more than 30,000 people in the US are killed each year by firearms, and the vast majority of female homicide victims in the U.S. are killed with handguns by intimate partners rather than by strangers; and

WHEREAS, we respect the rights conferred under the Second Amendment but believe that the right to bear arms does not mean that assault weapons—which are designed solely to kill people—should be sold to members of the public; and

WHEREAS, as President Obama said in Newtown, “These tragedies must end;”

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that NOW calls upon our federal- and state-level elected representatives to protect and defend our children, our communities and our nation from further gun violence by immediately implementing sensible gun safety  legislation, including:

  • Reinstituting the ban on assault weapons that was in effect prior to 2004; and
  • Banning the sale, transfer, transportation and possession of large clips of ammunition containing more than 10 bullets; and
  • Closing the “Gun Show Loophole” which allows individuals to purchase guns without a background check; and
  • Appointing a permanent position as Director of Tobacco & Fire Arms Department; and
  • Retaining the results of all Federal background checks for five years; and
  • Requiring universal background checks, including checks  for domestic violence for the purchase of any legal weapon; and
  • Creating a national gun registry that will allow law enforcement to track weapons; and
  • Requiring devices be added to weapons which would limit the use of any privately-owned gun to the registered owner; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that NOW encourages our chapters and members to:

  • Lobby their elected officials for effective legislation to end gun violence, with the NOW Action Center providing educational information to assist in such efforts; and
  • Contact entertainment providers and their sponsors to ask that they do not manufacture or sponsor video games, movies, television shows or music that glorify gratuitous violence; and
  • Lobby and/or protest professional organizations in the entertainment industry that honor exceptionally violent content; and
  • Advocate for programs and their funding in schools to teach tolerance and conflict resolution; and

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that NOW endorses actions advocating for solutions to end gun violence when it can be done in accordance with NOW’s Coalition Guidelines.

—Passed by the National NOW Board of Directors, February 25, 2013

Honoree, Distinguished Worldwide Humanitarian Award

Three days ago I got a call asking if I would accept a Distinguished Worldwide Humanitarian Award from Worldwide Who’s Who. I said yes. This is their announcement.

Marquis Who's Who Humanitarian Award

Tosti-Vasey, Joanne 1385793Dr. Tosti-Vasey is an optimist and believes that in the civil rights field, one oftentimes runs up against barriers; being flexible and being willing to look for a different way to achieve goals helps in the movement towards equality.

 
 
 
 

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DOMA and LGBTQ Rights in PA

I just finished reading an article in PhillyNOW, a weekly blog that touts itself as an alternative to the mainstream press in Philadelphia to “bring you news and politics with an attitude, whether you like it or not.”  This article, in light of yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in UNITED STATES v. WINDSOR overturning the definition of marriage as described in Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), calls on the Democratic Party at both the state and national levels to “stand up on LGBT rights.”

I would go even further. Not only should Democrats step forward, but Republicans need to step of to the plate of equal access as well.

It doesn’t matter what party you belong to.

The Declaration of Independence says,

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [sic] are created equal, that they are endowed … with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The  5th amendment to the Constitution, in part says,

“No person…shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…”

(FYI, It was this constitutional “due process” amendment that was used to overturn DOMA in yesterday’s majority opinion).

That means equality for all. Including in marriage and an end to hate and discrimination for all, gay or straight.

Our laws need to be changed here in Pennsylvania to live up to the Declaration of Independence and our Constitutional right to democracy and freedom for all. That includes, but are not limited to:

  1. revoking Pennsylvania’s DOMA law;
  2. passing marriage equality;
  3. adding sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as gender, disability, and ancestry (click here and here for current bills) back into PA’s hate crimes law;
  4. adding sexual orientation and gender identity (bill not yet introduced into the PA General Assembly) into PA’s Human Relations Act;
  5. passing the proposed the Pennsylvania Safe Schools (PASS) Act that focuses on bullying and harassment in public schools; and
  6. changing state inheritance tax laws to give the same exemptions to the tax that heterosexual couples have (as far as I can tell, there is no pending legislation in the PA General Assembly to do this).

Let’s do it sooner rather than later. Let’s come together.

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.

What is Equal Pay Day and Why Should I Care?

For the last three years, my local NOW chapter—Ni-Ta-Nee NOW—has organized community education events surrounding Equal Pay Day and paycheck fairness.

A frequent question we have is, “What’s Equal Pay Day and why should I care?”  To help answer that question, we have done op-eds and interviews with the local press (See here and here).  We also create a flyer that we update each year.  As President of Pennsylvania NOW, I wrote another blog on this issue in 2011. And elsewhere on my blog site, I have commented on the need for fairness in pay.

Today, we will once again be distributing Equal Pay Day flyers in front of the gates of The Pennsylvania State University over the dinner hour today.

Why today? Because Equal Pay Day moves from year to year. For 2013, that day is April 9.

The following is a web-based version of this flyer.  The hard-copy version focuses on Pennsylvania.  I have kept that information here; I’ve also added commentary and links for information and contacts in other states.

TUESDAY APRIL 9TH 2013

EQUAL PAY DAY

IT’S THE DAY ON WHICH WOMEN’S WAGES CATCH UP WITH MEN’S WAGES FROM THE PREVIOUS YEAR.

Equal Pay Day symbolizes how far into the year a woman must work full-time, on average, to earn as much as a man earned the previous year.  In 2013, it took 2 days MORE than in 2011 and 8 days LESS than in 2012 for a woman to earn as much as a man earned in the entire year.

THE WAGE GAP

National Perspective

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

The Wage Gap: Lack of Equal Pay

The wage gap is the ratio of women’s to men’s median annual earnings for full-time, full-year workers. Based on these earnings, women earned just 82% of what men earned (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013).

Nationally, Asian American women have the smallest wage gap, earning 88% of what the average white man earned in 2012. White women are next, earning approximately 81% of white men’s average income. African-American women (68%) and Hispanic women (59%) have the largest wage gaps compared to white men (Institute for Women’s Policy Research, March 2013).

A typical woman earns $431,000 less in pay over 40 years due to this wage gap. (Center for American Progress, 2012)

At the current rate of progress, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates that it will be 2057 before women’s wages reach parity and Equal Pay Day will finally be on December 31 rather than somewhere in April of the following year!

Pennsylvania Perspective

The wage gap is just as bad, if not worse, in our state. When ranked among the other 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, Pennsylvania’s wage gap placed it 34th (Women’s Law Center calculation based on American Community Survey Briefs, April 2013).  You can look up your state’s pay equity ranking at this site as well if you don’t live in Pennsylvania.

The median annual income for a woman working full-time, year round in Pennsylvania in 2011 was $37,089, compared to men’s $47,956. This is a wage gap of 77% (Women’s Law Center calculation based on American Community Survey Briefs, April 2013). A typical woman in PA earns $459,000 less in pay over 40 years due to this wage gap. This gap rises to $722,000 for women who have earned college degrees. (Center for American Progress, 2010)

WHAT CAN I DO??

If You are an Employer

If you are an employer, you can get help in examining pay practices by conducting an equal pay self-audit using the guidelines from the US Department of Labor (available at www.pay-equity.org/cando-audit.html).

If You Believe You Are Experiencing Wage-Based Discrimination

Tell your employer if you are being paid less than your male co-workers. Click here for some tips on negotiating for pay equity.

If there’s a union, ask for their help.

If discrimination persists: There are three places to file complaints – at the federal level, at the state level, and at the local level.

At the Federal Level

You can file under federal law with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Go to this link and follow the instructions.

At the State Level

You can find your state’s anti-discrimination agency website and contact information in a pdf file created by Legal Momentum starting on page 28.  Most of the agencies have a website address that you can copy and paste into your browser.  All of the agencies have a phone number that you can call for assistance.

If you live in Pennsylvania, you can file a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission in Harrisburg.  Contact information is available by region.  Just go to their website and look for your county’s name.  The phone number and address for your regional office is listed directly above the names of the counties served by each office.

At the Local Level

There are a few communities throughout the country that have created local ordinances that include the state-based anti-discrimination protections and have also expanded coverage to other areas (such as protections based on sexual orientation, family status, and/or family responsibilities across the life-span).

You should therefore check to see if your local county, city, or community has an ordinance providing similar protections for wage-based discrimination. If so, you can more conveniently file a wage-based complaint at the local level.  Check with your state’s anti-discrimination agency (see info above under “At the State Level”) to see if there is a local ordinance in your community.

In Pennsylvania, there are about 30 communities with such an ordinance. Your regional office of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission can give you this information, along with whom to contact.

One of these 30 communities in Pennsylvania is State College, PA, where the main campus of The Pennsylvania State University is located. Their ordinance covers wage-based discrimination based on sex as well as color (race), religion, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, familial status, marital status, age, mental or physical disability, use of guide or support animals and/or mechanical aids.  If you work within the State College, PA borough, you can file a complaint with them under their Employment Anti-Discrimination Ordinance at 814.234.7110 (Side note: I was one of the people instrumental in crafting this ordinance).

Supporting and Advocating for Paycheck Fairness

Ask your Congressional representatives to co-sponsor the Paycheck Fairness Act – HR 377 in the US House of Representatives and S 84 in the US Senate).  The Paycheck Fairness Act updates and strengthens the Equal Pay Act of 1963. It gives women the tools they need to challenge the wage gap itself.

You can find out where your representatives 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—SR 84 and HR 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 on vote on the bill.  If they are not, ask them to sign on.

And For More Information

Visit http://www.pay-equity.org – the website created by the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE).  NCPE is a coalition of women’s and civil rights organizations; labor unions; religious, professional, legal, and educational associations, commissions on women, state and local pay equity coalitions and individuals.”  They are dedicated to ending wage-based discrimination and achieving pay equity. If you like what they are doing, you can join and become a member.