picture of an empty seat at the table for Dr. Jones

An Empty Seat at the Table: In Memory of W. Terrell Jones

On Tuesday, August 19, I received a forwarded email from PSU Executive Vice President and Provost Nicholas P. Jones:

It is with deep sorrow that I’m writing to inform you that our colleague and friend, Dr. Terrell Jones, Vice Provost for Educational Equity passed away this morning.  Terrell had been on medical leave the last few months.  He will be greatly missed across the University not only for the impact of his contributions to Penn State, but also for simply the wonderful person that he was.  We will share with you the details regarding funeral arrangements as they become available.  Please keep Carla [Roser-Jones] and Terrell’s children in your thoughts and prayers.

This short note brought tears to my eyes and a great sense of loss. W. Terrell Jones was a civil rights advocate par excellence both in and out of work. He brought humor and caring to everything he did.

picture of Terrell Jones & Carla Roser-Jones

W. Terrell Jones (pictured with his wife Carla Roser-Jones). A Civil Rights advocate in and out of work.

I first met Terrell in the early 1990’s when I attended a meeting of the Centre County Advisory Council to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC). Soon after that, I was appointed to this Council and served with Terrell up until his death. Until March of 2013, Terrell chaired the monthly meeting of the Advisory Council. His passion for low-income students of color, concern for community diversity and acceptance, and a love of knowledge was quite apparent.

He was a teacher, a counselor, a fountain of trivia on people and ethnicities across the country and around the world. And did his work—both paid and unpaid with a sense of humor and dignity. Here’s a sampling of his ability to teach with humor in the classroom; this is one of the many classes on race relations and cultural diversity that he taught over his 35 years of work at the Pennsylvania State University and one year at Lock Haven University.

On Thursday, August 21, I attended the bimonthly meeting of the Inter Agency Task Force on Community Activities and Relations in Harrisburg. According to the PHRC,

The task force is made up of [the] PHRC, the PA Attorney General’s Office and the PA State Police, working in conjunction with other state and federal agencies, community organizations, advocacy groups, local government and law enforcement agencies.  The primary function of the group is to quickly and appropriately address civil tension when conflicts occur, and to promote positive community relations among various groups in order to prevent tension.

The meeting was opened at 10:30 am by Tameka Hatcher, Program Analyst for the PHRC. We usually open these meetings by going around the table and introducing ourselves. This morning was slightly different. Tameka held up Terrell’s name plate and announced that he had passed after a four-month battle with cancer. She asked for a moment of silence and then asked Martin Kearney, Investigative Supervisor at the PHRC and me to say a few words about Terrell. We then placed the name plate at the table to honor our missing comrade.

picture of an empty seat at the table for Dr. Jones

An Empty Seat at the Table: In Memory of Dr. W. Terrell Jones

Here’s some of the accomplishments we talked about:

Local Ordinances

Terrell helped organize a community public forum on discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity about 8-9 years ago. Based on the feedback from that forum, the State College Borough decided to review their Fair Housing Ordinance that had passed in 1994 and decided to expand it as well as create an employment anti-discrimination ordinance in 2008. Working with the Centre County Advisory Council, Terrell and I worked with the town council to help craft the new ordinances that now contain the broadest anti-discrimination protections in the state. The employment ordinance includes marital status, familial status, family responsibilities, gender identity, and sexual orientation in addition to the state-level protections found in the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. The public accommodations and fair housing ordinance includes marital status, familial status, gender identity, sexual orientation, and source of income in addition to the state-level protections of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.

Tension and Hate

Calming down communities when tensions rise due to religious, racial, gender, or LGBTQIA intolerance, vandalism, and/or hate speech was a forte for Terrell. He created trainings on racial equality, worked with groups to figure out how structurally and organically they could improve their communities to be more accepting and tolerant. He did this for the entire Penn State University community at all of the campuses, within Centre County and across the state. Working with Unity groups, the PHRC, and coalitions, he helped bring together people.

Statewide Leadership

At Penn State University

Seen as an expert on race relations and diversity, Terrell was often called upon to lead programs and organizations dealing with these types of issues. When he started his position as Vice Provost of Educational Equity in 1998, he created “A Framework to Foster Diversity.” According to the Centre Daily Times, this document is a regularly updated plan outlining Penn State University’s diversity and equity goals. As part of his leadership in this position, Terrell oversaw many different offices and commissions to achieve his vision of “an inclusive and welcoming environment for all.” These offices and commissions include:

Units and Programs

College Assistance Migrant Program
Educational Opportunity Center (Philadelphia)
Multicultural Resource Center
Office for Disability Services
Office of Veterans Programs
Student Support Services Program
Talent Search
Talent Search York
Upward Bound
Upward Bound Math and Science Program
Upward Bound Migrant

Commissions and Committees

Equal Opportunity Planning Committee
President’s Equity Commissions
Commission on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Equity
Commission on Racial/Ethnic Diversity
Commission for Women

And according to the PSU Office of the President, Terrell led other programs and events throughout his tenure at the University: “He served on the University’s Forum on Black Affairs for many years, and was its president from 1986-87. He also was chair of the Equal Opportunity Planning Committee from 1989-96 and Penn State’s Representative for the Global Sullivan Principles from 2000-2005.”

Community Leadership

As I previously stated, Terrell was appointed to and later led the Centre County Advisory Council to the PA Human Relations Commission for over 20 years. We met 10 out of the 12 months of each year and then held a family picnic for members every August. Our meetings brought together members of the community who act as the “eyes and ears” of diversity in the community. We gathered each month to discuss concerns about injustice and joys of acceptance of people of all backgrounds within Centre County.

Both of us also handled the Blue Pages phone hot line answering questions about unfair treatment and potential discrimination.  As appropriate we gave these individuals information on how to contact the PHRC to file a complaint and/or provided on other resources to assist them in resolving their issues.

Over the years, several different representatives from the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission would attend these meetings so that we could pass on the news – both good and bad – to help the state monitor issues of inclusion and tension throughout the state.

We also had a good time, always looking forward to Terrell’s “main dish” offerings at our picnics. He fed us with fried turkeys, roasted pork, and tons of catfish over the years – all his own handiwork!

Terrell was also active in his local church – the Jacob Albright-Mary McLeod Bethune United Methodist Church. I understand that he was one of the leaders of this church, having served from 1990 until his death as a member of its Administrative Council. At the funeral, Reverend Kathleen Danley described his leadership by telling about her arrival at the church this past January. She said that members of the church seemed very tense or sad about their former preacher’s departure. Until Terrell arrived. She said with his arrival, the tension left the room and everyone felt better and got to work. Having that kind of presence is rare.

Leadership across the Commonwealth

Terrell also brought his wisdom and expertise to all corners of the Commonwealth. I asked Martin Kearney, the Investigative Supervisor for the Harrisburg Regional Office of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission to put this part of Terrell’s leadership into perspective. Here’s the email he wrote in response:

You asked me about Terrell’s work with PHRC.  I have had the pleasure to have worked with Terrell for nearly a decade when he was Chair of the PHRC Advisory Council for Centre County.  Other colleagues, such as Homer Floyd, Kaaba Brunson, and Ann Van Dyke have known and worked with Dr. Jones for three decades or more.  I am grateful I had the opportunity to learn from him and his work.

Essentially, from the state standpoint, Terrell was key in helping make PSU a more welcoming place for persons of all protected classes, particularly but not exclusively students of color, in his career.  He kept the PHRC apprised of these efforts, especially in regard to academic achievement and safe learning environment for these students.  His work in the vineyard has borne fruit, but as we know, more labors need to be made to make education more accessible and affordable for students in need.

Terrell was active with the Pennsylvania Black Conference on Higher Education (PBCOHE) [he served as its President from 2008-2010], which attempted to get all universities in the Commonwealth, public as well as private, achieve equal education opportunity for students of color.  Our Commission was very active in this initiative as well and Terrell’s work helped to increase the numbers of students of color going to college and successfully graduate.  He was also key in helping to investigate and resolve tension situations related to race and ethnicity not only at PSU but on other campuses as well.  For instance, he led an investigation in 2007 at Bloomsburg University campus involving allegations of excessive force and misconduct by campus police toward African American students.  He conducted this investigation with skill, transparency and thoroughness, recommending better communication between students and police and cultural competency training for campus police.

Terrell’s presence in Centre County was well known, especially in his and the Advisory Council’s efforts in State College Borough’s consideration and passage of the Fair Housing (1994) and Human Relations Ordinances (in 2008), efforts of which you know so well (since you were so key in both of these), which had expansive protections beyond Commonwealth law for sexual orientation, marital status and family responsibilities.  Through the work of Terrell and the Council, relationships were built, to create a constituency that supported these ordinances.  It is notable that when the Fair Housing Ordinance was passed, there was [a large and very] vocal opposition to it.  The opposition to the expanded Human Relations Ordinance over a decade later was not only much smaller but much less vocal.  It was consciousness raising of our growing notions of equality, led by Terrell and the Council, that helped to foster this change.

Finally, Terrell not only knew issues of diversity and equality, he knew this state very well.  He pored over the bias reports that the Commission created, reported incidents of which he knew, but also added a historical perspective of these incidents for our state and nation.  In my dealings with him, I always walked away having learned something of value, lessons I carry in my work to this day and which our Commission carries on as well.

A place at the table for our Commission’s Inter-Agency Task Force is missing.  While none of us can fill this space that he leaves, his spirit and the knowledge he passed on will continue for decades to come.

The Farewell Tribute

At Terrell’s funeral on Saturday, August 23, the love for Terrell showed throughout the church. It was overflowing with people. The vestry was full. The room across the hall from the vestry was full. And those who couldn’t find seats in either of these rooms went downstairs to the reception hall. Fortunately all of us got to see the service since the church provided video access to the full service. I think the “Affirmation of Faith” affirms Terrell’s life-long passion for equity and justice. In part, here’s what was proclaimed

Affirmation of Faith by Canaan Banana (edited by Rev. Grey)

I believe in an almighty God

Maker of all people of every color and hue,

Who does not rank people according to their color or gender,…

Who provide[s] abundant resources for

Equitable distribution among all people….

[Who] overturns the iron rule of injustice.

From henceforth He shall continue to judge hatred, racism, sexism,

And every manner of dehumanizing exclusiveness and arrogance.

I believe in the properly placed spirit of reconciliation,…

The Power that overcomes the poverty, abject ghetto life,

Abject rural life, drug and alcohol addiction,

women and children abuse, and pimping, prostitution, and pushing in all of their forms.

And I believe in the … Resurrection of personhood

And equalizing justice, and equality…

Amen

 

Terrell, we’ll miss you at the table of equality and justice for all. You will be missed greatly. Rest in peace my friend.

 

Addendum: According to the obituary that appeared in the Centre Daily Times on August 21, the family has requested that in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Albright-Bethune United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 153, State College, PA 16804 or to the Dr. W. Terrell Jones Scholarship Memorial Fund at the Pennsylvania State University, by visiting www.GIveNow.psu.edu/TerrellJonesMemorial.

Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health: Phase Two

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women's Health

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

On June 3, I gave an update on the second roll-out of bills associated with the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health. At the time, I did not have the bill numbers associated with each of these new bills nor did I have the information on where they were sent to. Now I do. Here’s that information.

Phase Two

Curbing Political Interference in Providers’ Medical Decisions:

H.B. 2303 will soon be introduced by Rep. Dan Frankel (D—Allegheny) to protect the doctor-patient relationship from directives to practice care in a manner that is not in accordance with standards of care. Senator Mike Stack (D—Philadelphia) has agreed to introduce the Senate version of this bill

Identifying gaps in health care for women veterans:

S.R. 262 has been introduced by Senator LeAnna Washington (D—Philadelphia and Montgomery) establishing a 17-member Task Force on Women Veterans’ Health Care that will study health care issues unique to women veterans, along with the quality of and access to care for women veterans. It is currently in the Senate VETERANS AFFAIRS AND EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS Committee. The House version is sponsored by Representatives Pam DeLissio (D—Philadelphia an Montgomery) and Kevin Schreiber (D-York); their co-sponsorship memo is currently being circulated, but no bill number has yet been assigned.

Fighting deep poverty among women with children:

There are three different bills designed to address this issue.

    1. S.R. 62 has been introduced by Senator Chuck McIIhinney (R—Bucks). This resolution “directs the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) to study approaches to family work support programs which will increase income, keep families working and mitigate the circumstance referred to as the cliff effect.  This effect occurs when working parents receive a minor increase in their income that makes them ineligible for various programs that allow them to work such as child care assistance, transportation, food stamps and free and reduced school lunches.  The phenomenon often creates disincentives for poor families to achieve self-sufficiency.” It was sent to the Senate Aging and Youth Committee for review. On June 10, this committee unanimously voted in support of the bill and the bill is now waiting for the next review by the full Senate.
    2. H.B. 2305 will soon be introduced by Rep. Madeleine Dean (D—Montgomery). It will increase the monthly Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits for women in need. This bill will increase the maximum TANF grant amount to 50% of the Federal Poverty Level and would allow annual adjustments to be made based on revisions to this index of poverty.
    3. H.B. 2306 will soon be introduced by Rep. Michelle Brownlee (D—Philadelphia). It will increase in the TANF Earned Income Disregard from 50% to 75% to encourage individuals to work by acknowledging that working families have unique expenses that take up a large percentage of their take home pay. This increase would help offset the additional taxes, transportation, clothing, and child care co-pays associate with working. The current disregard level is not enough to offset these additional costs.  A Senate version to be introduced by Senator Judy Schwank (D—Berks) is circulating a co-sponsorship memo to introduce this same legislation in the Senate; a bill number has yet to be assigned.

Ensuring widows of state and municipal employees get fair pensions:

There are two different bills designed to address this issue. These bills require that a public employee select a retirement plan payment structure that provides no less than a fifty percent (50%) survivor annuity to the employee’s surviving spouse. These bills would bring spouses of public employees the same survivor protections that all other employees currently have. This is necessary since the federal Retirement Equity Act of 1984 does not cover employees of the state, local municipalities, or public schools. These bills mirror the spousal protections provided in federal law. Rep. Steve Santarsiero (D—Bucks) is circulating the co-sponsorship memo in the House for H.B. 2307 and H.B.2308. Senator Vincent Hughes (D—Montgomery and Philadelphia) is circulating the co-sponsorship memo in the Senate to introduce similar legislation in the chamber.

Protecting all employees against sexual harassment:

H.B. 2300 has been introduced by Rep. Michael Schlossberg (D-LeHigh) to amend the PA Human Relations Act to extend the prohibition on sexual harassment to all employers in the state. Currently law only affects employers with four or more employees. This bill is currently in the House LABOR AND INDUSTRY Committee.

Taking Action on the PA Agenda for Women’s Health

Ni-Ta-Nee NOW logo of a woman successfully scaling Nittany Mountain and working for equality

Ni-Ta-Nee NOW logo

And FYI, my local chapter of the National Organization for Women — Ni-Ta-Nee NOW — will be circulating a petition in support of this Agenda at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts in State College, PA on July 10-12, 2014. Our table will be located in front of Freeze Thaw Cycles, 109 S Allen St, State College, PA 16801 from 10 am to 8 pm each day. Please drop by, learn more about this Agenda, sign the petition, register to vote, and join NOW.

Pennsylvania for Women’s Health Agenda Update

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women's Health

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

Last September, a bicameral, bipartisan caucus was created in the Pennsylvania General Assembly to review, discuss, and propose legislation to improve the health of women in the Commonwealth by addressing the genuine needs and concerns of women in the state. The Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health was created as a comprehensive plan to address the real-life stories and concerns of women in terms of protecting and expanding women’s reproductive health, improving women’s economic security, and improving safety in their lives.

The First Set of Bills

On December 11, the first five bills were presented and introduced into both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The first set of bills addressed a variety of concerns for women by:

  • Making sure that women receive pregnancy accommodations in their workplace;
  • Creating a 15-foot buffer zone around entrances to health to make sure women seeking reproductive healthcare are able to access it in an orderly and safe manner;
  • Addressing “pay secrecy” and the “factor other than sex” loophole will help to end practices that have enabled employers to pay women less than men for the same work;
  • Expanding access to cervical cancer treatment. This bill is a state Pay Equity bill similar to the federal Paycheck Fairness Act;
  • Eliminating local ordinances that penalize landlords and/or tenants who call the police or emergency services “too frequently;” and
  • Outlawing “revenge porn,” a form of digital intimate-partner violence.

Of the first six set of bills, four have had some movement since my first detailed look at the bills on January 22.

Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act

The House version of the Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act (HB 1892) was formally introduced and referred to the House Labor and Industry Committee where it is still awaiting a hearing. The companion Senate bill (SB 1209) was introduced on March 31 and was referred to the Senate Labor and Industry Committee; it too is awaiting its first hearing.

Pay Equity

The Pay Equity Bill basically hasn’t moved since being introduced. The House version (HB 1890) was introduced and referred to House Labor and Industry Committee on February 19. The Senate version (SB 1209) was introduced and referred to Senate Labor and Industry Committee on March 31; it has not moved since its introduction. However, the House sponsors of HB 1890 have filed a “Resolution to discharge committee from further consideration.” This was filed on April 7. This type of resolution is a rarely used tactic to force debate on a bill when the chair of the committee the bill is assigned to refuses to hold hearings on the bill. We are now waiting to see how the full House will respond to this resolution.

Victims of Crime

The bill protecting victims of crime by eliminating local ordinances that penalize landlords and/or tenants who call the police or emergency services “too frequently” (HB 1796) was introduced on October 22. After its introduction, the House Local Government Committee amended the bill to clarify that bill only applies to cases that involve victims of violence, abuse, or “individuals in an emergency” if the person making the call had a reasonable belief that police intervention or emergency assistance was needed. It unanimously passed House January 14, 2014. It was then referred to Senate Local Government Committee. January 21, 2014. Unfortunately, on March 11 the Senate Local Government Committee was tacked on an ALEC bill as an amendment, turning this good bill into a bad bill. This local ordinance sick-leave preemption bill undermines the safety of domestic violence victims. Under the amendment, local governments would lose their authority to require employers to offer paid or unpaid leave to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Leave from employment is often critical to a victim’s survival in both the short- and long-term. This amendment adds another purpose and intent to HB 1796 that conflicts with its original commitment to protect victims. Advocates, including but not limited to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Women’s Law Project, and Pennsylvania NOW, are urging the legislature to support the version of HB 1796 that was passed by the House of Representatives and to remove the problematic language that was adopted in Senate Local Government Committee. We still support the portion of HB 1796 that would eliminate local nuisance ordinances that penalize a victim for seeking help from emergency services. As a result of our subsequent lobbying to remove this amendment, the Senate has temporarily tabled the bill.

Revenge Porn Prohibition

The “Revenge Porn” bill is the most successful of this first round of bills. The Senate version (SB 1167) was amended in Senate Judiciary Committee January 14, 2014 and sent to the floor for 1st consideration. It unanimously passed the Senate on January 28, 2014 and is now residing in the House Judiciary Committee alongside HB 1901.

The Second Set of Bills

Today, the Women’s Health Agenda Caucus announced the second package of bills to be introduced. They include five bills intended to:

  • Curb political interference in providers’ medical decisions. This bill protects the doctor-patient relationship from directives to practice care in a manner that is not in accordance with standards of care;
  • Identify gaps in health care for women veterans by establishing the Task Force on Women Veterans’ Health Care to study health issues facing women veterans;
  • Fight deep poverty among women with children. This bill Includes a study of family work support programs in the Commonwealth, increases the monthly Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits for women in need; and increases in the TANF Earned Income Disregard;
  • Ensure that widows of state and municipal employees get fair pensions by requiring public employees to obtain spousal consent for benefit payment structures that do not provide at least a 50% survivor benefit; and
  • Protect all employees against sexual harassment by extending the prohibition on sexual harassment to all employers in the state.

Pennsylvania NOW is one of the organizations supporting this full agenda to improve women’s health. I am their lobbyist. At the press conference this morning, I handed out our statement of support. In that statement, I supported each of these bills, saying, “It’s high time that doctors were supported in their right to refuse to provide medically inaccurate information. The increases to TANF cash assistance grant levels and the eligibility asset limit will encourage saving and financial independence. We’re also glad to see sexual harassment protections extended to all workers, and see that female veteran’s health concerns finally get the attention it deserves.”

As advocates for women’s health and equity we are pleased to see the legislature taking a pro-active stance to help improve the lives of women here in Pennsylvania. As Caryn Hunt said in the Pennsylvania NOW press release, ““The women of Pennsylvania need – and now finally have – champions in the legislature who recognize that government must work for all of the people, women included.” We are pleased and “strongly support this Agenda that puts the health and well-being of women and their families first.”

(note: The bill numbers associated with each of these bills will be announced on this blog as soon as I know what they are or will be.)

 

Montana! Again! More Victim Blaming

Stop Violence Against Women NOW diamond

Stop Violence Against Women NOW

In several earlier blogs, I’ve written about the minimal sentence given to convicted rapist Stacey Rambold. This sentence was overturned by the Montana Supreme Court at the end of April. The case was remanded back to Yellowstone County District Court to a new judge for resentencing for a minimum of two years. At the end of last week, Rambold’s attorney, Jay Lansing, appealed the decision calling for a rehearing in the case. And what was his argument? “It was her fault.” In other words, more victim-blaming.

Attorney Jay Lansing is appealing the MT Supreme Court’s decision to re-sentence Stacey Rambold for raping Cherise Morales, a 14 year old student he taught at the high school. She later died from suicide.

Lansing said in the appeal filed with the Court on May 14:

In the Opinion in this case … the Court held that Judge Baugh’s statements reflected an improper basis for his sentencing decision. Specifically, the Court stated that consideration of any control that C.M. could have had of the situation is directly at odds with the law which holds that a youth is incapable of consent and therefore lacks any control over the situation; and that there was no basis in the law for the District Court’s distinction between C.M.’s chronological age and the District Court’s perception of her maturity.

Mr. Rambold interprets this ruling by the Court to mean that a sentencing court may not consider the victim’s role in the offense, the victim’s level of participation in the offense, or the victim’s actual consent in determining a reasonable sentence for a defendant.

Mr. Rambold contends that such a decision is in direct conflict with [previous decisions] where the Court stated the established rule that a sentencing court may consider any relevant information relating to the nature and circumstances of the crime, the defendant’s character, background, history, and mental and physical condition, and any other information that the court considers to have probative force.

Lansing then goes on to say that his argument “is not ‘victim blaming.’”

I completely disagree with this. Lansing, just like Judge Baugh, minimizes the rape of C.M. He says that Cherise knew her teacher and accepted his advances, and that this isn’t as “bad” as stranger rape. He suggests that the court should consider a victim’s “role, level of participation, or consent” [emphasis added]- in a crime against the victim. This truly flies in the face of the law and absolutely is victim blaming. To compound this upside down view of the law, he then goes on to present two hypothetical situations — one  between a 19 year old and his 14 year old “girlfriend” and a second one dealing with stranger rape.

Lansing then concludes that Rambold and Cherise share the blame for the rape. He seems to say that the circumstances surrounding this rape of a minor to her teacher’s advances isn’t all that bad and therefore no change in the original sentence should be made.

He states:

One point that must be clearly stated and emphasized is that there is a distinction between consideration of C.M.’s role and participation as a defense to the charge and consideration of C.M.’s role and participation in determining a reasonable and appropriate sentence. … C.M.’s role, level of participation, and consent are relevant information relating to the nature and circumstances of the offense and are to be considered in fashioning a reasonable sentence.

In justifying his victim blaming, Lansing uses this truly twisted argument that is nothing but victim blaming. Yes, a court may consider relevant evidence for purposes of determining guilt or sentencing. But then to say that the blame is shared and therefore the rape is, in some sense justifiable, is outrageous and appalling.

Judge Baugh’s original victim-blaming comments were bad enough. Just like Baugh, Lansing uses similar rape myths in his argument to the Court. He first blames the victim (while denying this in the same breath). Then he goes on with his hypothetical relationship and stranger rape examples to imply that this rape was non-violent—thus using the myth of the Nonviolent Rapist and Implied Consent to justify the minimal sentence given to Rambold last summer. Rambold’s lawyer’s attempt to use these myths to somehow justify both the rape and the minimal sentence originally handed down are, IMHO, stupendously horrendous.

In this case, both Judge Baugh and Attorney Lansing use outdated, victim-blaming myths about women and sexual assault in order to justify both their actions and the actions of the defendant. They both represent parts of the legal justice system. If they are representative of the Montana judicial system, our judicial system is failing our communities.

Gender bias in the courts is unacceptable. Whether that is in Montana, where this case is occurring; in Pennsylvania where I live and where the Gerry Sandusky child sexual assaults happened; or anywhere else in the country.

In Montana NOW’s and Pennsylvania NOW’s original complaint to the Montana Judicial Standards Commission, we asked that the Court implement a mandatory educational program for the judiciary. We stated in that complaint that we want the Montana Supreme Court to:

Implement a mandatory judicial education program for the judiciary on the fair adjudication of sexual assault cases to help the Montana justice system develop techniques to minimize victim re-traumatization while safeguarding the rights of the defendant. – See more at: http://www.legalmomentum.org/national-judicial-education-program#sthash.hxAEGz8p.dpuf.

I believe that this proposed mandatory educational program should be extended to all of the participants within the legal justice system – judges, lawyers, law enforcement and anyone else within the system that could impact the treatment of victims and survivors of sexual assault. Then and only then will we start addressing this problem of victim blaming. Let’s stop it now.

Equal Pay Day 2014: Another Year of Inequity

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.  We have focused on this issue because of the continuing inequity in women’s wages as compared to the male coworkers.

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 last year, I commented on Equal Pay Day 2013 as well as the need for fairness in pay.

Like last year, my local NOW chapter will once again be distributing Equal Pay Day flyers in front of the gates of The Pennsylvania State University over the dinner hour.

Why today? Because Equal Pay Day moves from year to year. For 2014, that day is April 8.

The following is a web-based version of this flyer updated from 2013 to reflect today’s stats and information. The hard-copy version focuses on Pennsylvania. I have kept that information here and added additional commentary and links for information and contacts in other states.

TUESDAY APRIL 8, 2014 is EQUAL PAY DAY

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

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 across the US earned just 77% of what men earned (AAUW, 2014).

Equal Pay Day symbolizes how far into the year a woman must work, on average, to earn as much as a man earned the previous year. In 2014, it took 1 day LESS than in 2013, 9 days LESS than in 2012, and 2 day MORE than in 2011 for a woman to earn as much as a man earned in the entire year. 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!

 THE WAGE GAP

The Wage Gap - Lack of Equal Pay

The Wage Gap – Lack of Equal Pay

Nationally, Asian American women have the smallest wage gap, earning 87 percent of what the average white man earned in 2012. White women are next, earning approximately 78 percent of white men’s average income. Hawaiian and Asian Pacific women (65 percent), African-American women (64 percent), Native American and Alaskan Native women (60 percent), and Hispanic women (53 percent) have the largest wage gaps as compared to white men (AAUW, 2014). A typical woman earns $431,000 less in pay over 40 years due to this wage gap. (Center for American Progress, 2012)

THE WAGE GAP IN PENNSYLVANIA

The wage gap is even worse, in Pennsylvania. When ranked among the other 50 states plus the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania’s wage gap placed the state at 40out of 51 states. The median annual income for a woman working full-time, year round in Pennsylvania in 2012 was $37,414, compared to men’s $49,330 or 76% of what a man earns. This is a wage gap of 24%.

Of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the nation, only Seattle ranks worse than Pittsburgh (with a gap of 27%); Philadelphia fairs better than the state with a gap of just 20%. 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 at your place of work, 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 PA 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.

You should also check to see if your local county, city, or community has an ordinance providing similar protections for wage-based discrimination. You can also file under federal law with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

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). If so, you can more conveniently file a wage-based complaint at the local level. Check with your state’s anti-discrimination agency 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. Check with your state’s anti-discrimination office if you live in another state to determine if your state allows such local ordinances and if such an ordinance exists in your community.

As I just stated, there are about 30 communities in Pennsylvania that have such a local ordinance. One of the most progressive and expansive ordinances is in State College, PA, home of the main campus of The Pennsylvania State University. 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. Four of these categories – sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, familial status and family responsibilities across the lifespan, and marital status—are not covered under state law. State College is the only locality in Pennsylvania (and one of only a handful nationwide) that protects you in employment if you have family responsibilities for adult members of your family whether or not they live in the home with you. If you work within the State College, PA borough, you can file a complaint with the State College Borough under their Employment Anti-Discrimination Ordinance at 814.234.7110814.234.7110 (Side note: I was one of the people instrumental in crafting this ordinance).

If You Want to Support and Advocate for Pay Equity

Both the federal and many state legislatures—including New York and Pennsylvania—are attempting to address the issue of pay equity. I previously summarized what happened in New York with its Women’s Equality Act. The following summarizes the current status of the bills currently moving through Congress and the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

The Federal Paycheck Fairness Act

Ask your Congressional representatives to co-sponsor the Paycheck Fairness Act – HR 377 in the US House of Representatives and both S 84 and S 2199 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. HR 377 was introduced in January 2013 and currently has 207 cosponsors; S 84 was introduced in 2013 and has 55 cosponsors; and S 2199 was introduced on 5 days ago and cosponsors are being sought by Senator Barbara Mikulski.

These bills have several different but related requirements. These include:

  • limiting wage differentials to bona fide work-related factors such as education, training, or experience;
  • prohibiting employer retaliation against employees who discuss their wages with each other or who supports and cooperates with a wage discrimination investigation;
  • authorizing the US Secretary of Labor to provide wage negotiation training grants for women and girls;
  • requiring employer-level data collection wages broken down by sex, race, and national origin; and
  • directing the Secretary of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to provide technical assistance to small businesses so that they can comply with this paycheck fairness law.

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, three bills will show up—SR 84, S 2199, and HR 377.  If you then 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.

Pennsylvania’s Workplace Opportunity Act

This bill is a smaller version of the federal Paycheck Fairness Act. Current Pennsylvania law prohibits sex-based wage discrimination between men and women but it suffers from several deficiencies that continue to allow for sex-based wage discrimination. There are two bills in the Pennsylvania General Assembly – HB 1890 and SB 1212. This two bills help to close these loopholes in current state law. Like the federal bill, the Workplace Opportunity Act requires equal pay for equal work. Employers would have to show that that the wage differential is legal if and only if they can demonstrate that the wage differences:

  •  Are not based upon or derived from a sex-based difference in compensation;
  • Are job-related with respect to the position in question, and
  • Are consistent with business necessity.

And again like the Federal bills, retaliation against employees who discuss their wages with each other or who support and cooperate with a wage discrimination investigation would be prohibited

HB 1890 has 54 cosponsors. It was introduced on January 2, 2014 and sent to the House Labor and Industry Committee. Yesterday the prime sponsors of the House bill – Representatives Erin Molchany and Brian Sims—along with Representative Frankel and several of their colleagues held a press conference on this bill. Here’s three short videos from that media event.

During that conference (but not stated in these videos), they announced  that they have introduced a Resolution Petition to Discharge Committee from Further Consideration of this Bill. This is being done because the ranking committee chair is refusing to hold hearings or hold a vote on this bill. Such a resolution is relatively rare, but is used when legislators believe that there is support for the bill by the members of the legislature despite a committee chair’s refusal to consider the bill.

SB 1212 has 18 cosponsors. It was introduces on February 4, 2014. It is currently sitting in the Senate Labor and Industry. Like the HB 1890, it has had no movement in committee. But like most bills, it has not had a “Resolution to Discharge” petition as of today.

If you live in Pennsylvania, you can contact your PA representative and senator regarding pay equity. So, please take time to contact your legislator.  Here’s where to find your legislator’s contact info. And then tell them to bring both of these bills to the floor for a vote.

Finally…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.

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

Shenanigans in the PA Senate

Stop Violence Against Women NOW diamond

Stop Violence Against Women NOW

Shenanigans in the Senate. Yesterday, the Pennsylvania Senate Local Government committee added an amendment to HB1796. This bill passed unanimously out of the House of Representatives on January 14, 2014.  As it arrived in the Senate, it was designed to make it illegal for communities to evict a domestic violence victim from her home for calling 911 “too often.” The amendment that was added would outlaw local communities from passing/enforcing local paid or unpaid sick leave ordinances.

The amendment added by the  Senate Local Government Committee—shown in all caps here—basically guts this bill. On one hand, it protects victims of domestic violence from being evicted but, on the other hand, it threatens them with loss of their livelihood if they have to take off from work to protect themselves or their family members and cannot get paid or unpaid sick leave that goes beyond federal or state law.  Note, federal and state law only protect people who take sick leave who are employed by companies with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees.  Since the majority of employers have fewer than 50 employees, this amendment could threaten a victim of domestic violence in two ways:

  1. She could lose both of her livelihood and her home should she be unable to pay the rent as a result of her job loss.
  2. She might be forced into continuing the violent relationship should she want to leave if she fears losing her job and can’t take off time from work to productively deal with the violence and injuries that have been inflicted, even after having emergency service intervention.

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee need to be contacted asap to ask them to strip the “paid/unpaid sick leave preemption” amendment out of the bill. See note below.

The members of the committee are as follows. You can get their contact info by either going to the Senate Appropriations page or by linking directly to your state Senator below.

Majority Chair of Senate Appropriations Committee

Minority Chair of Senate Appropriations Committee

Minority Members of Senate Appropriations Committee

Thanks for contacting your legislator if she/he is on the Appropriations Committee.  Tell her/him to call for the removal of the paid/unpaid sick leave amendment that was added to the bill in the Senate Local Government Committee and then send the clean bill to the Senate floor for a full vote.

The French Way or the Broken US Way of Healthcare?

Advocates for Single Payer Healthcare Rallying in 2009 in Harrisburg, PA

Advocates for Single Payer Healthcare Rallying in 2009 in Harrisburg, PA

Anya Schriffrin has just written a wonderful piece on universal health care from the French perspective called “The French Way of Cancer Treatment.”  She discusses the differences in the treatment her father received at Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital v. his treatment at Cochin Hospital, a public hospital in Paris.

The differences she saw in her father’s cancer treatment in both countries included:

Issue

At Sloan Kettering (United States)

At Cochin (France)

 

Average length of treatment day

7.5 hours

90 minutes

How specialists see patients

Patient traveled to each specialist’s office

All specialists came to see patient either in home or in the hospital room.

Treatment received

Chemo selected based on insurance company’s formulary

Chemo selected based on doctor’s determination of best treatment

Who paid for meals while in hospital

Patient

Hospital: Included in treatment

Who paid for transportation to and from hospital

Patient and/or Insurance Company

Hospital: Included in treatment

Type of medical care

Insurance based, for-profit

Universal Health Care

Average cost/person for medical care in each country (2011)

$8,608

$4,086

% of Country’s Gross Domestic Product for Health Care

17.9%

11.6%

 

The one statement that stood out for me on the French system was this:

“There were other nice surprises. When my dad needed to see specialists, for example, instead of trekking around the city for appointments, he would stay in one room at Cochin Hospital, a public hospital in the 14th arrondissement where he received his weekly chemo. The specialists would all come to him. The team approach meant the nutritionist, oncologist, general practitioner and pharmacist spoke to each other and coordinated his care. As my dad said, ‘It turns out there are solutions for the all the things we put up with in New York and accept as normal [emphasis added].’

As a cancer survivor, I can attest to similar experiences in the United States just about a quarter century ago.  Nothing has changed.  Like Ms. Schriffrin’s father, my visits to the hospital often took 7-8 hours after getting up way before the break of dawn to travel 3 hours to the hospital to be one of the first people to wait in line to see the doctors and other specialists.  I too had one doctor who wandered in to the clinic for my chemo 7-8 hours AFTER he was scheduled for treating patients. In that particular case, he kept patients and nursing staff waiting until about an hour after the clinic should have closed for the day.  And I had to fight for my life with two insurance companies in order to get the bone-marrow transplant I needed.

My story is similar to many others here in the states.  That’s why I support national universal, single-payer healthcare via Congressman John Conyers’ (D-MI) HR 676 in the United States.  It’s why I support federal legislation to expand the Affordable Healthcare Act to all states to create a state-level single-payer plan like what Vermont has already passed and signed into law. It’s why I support the plan that Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has crafted; it’s called the American Health Security Act of 2013 bill and it creates state-level single-payer healthcare programs with Federal support.   It’s why I am a board member of Health Care for All PA Education Fund.  And it’s why I support the Pennsylvania Health Care Plan proposed by Pennsylvania State Senator Jim Ferlo.

We can do better here in the US.  Better than what Ms. Schriffrin’s father and I have both experienced.

Let’s fix this broken US healthcare system.  Let’s create access to quality healthcare for all via a universal, single-payer healthcare program in the United States.  Check it out.  Let’s do healthcare the French Way in the American style as suggested by Congressman John Conyers Jr. (D-MI), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT),  PA Senator Jim Ferlo, the state of Vermont, and Health Care for All PA.

Sample Letter Opposing Sick Leave Preemption Bill

Help Stop ALEC

Help Stop ALEC

Yesterday afternoon, the Pennsylvania House Labor and Industry Committee forwarded a sick leave preemption bill — HB 1960 — to the floor of the Pennsylvania House of Representative without amendment.  I have previously written about this ALEC-initiated bill and a similar one on this blog.

The vote on the amendments and on referral of the bill “as committed” was completely along party lines.  All 15 Republicans voted to limit local control and disallow exceptions to the bill for pregnant women and victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking; all 10 Democrats voted for the amendments and against the bill.

Now the bill goes to the full floor for debate.  In Pennsylvania, bills can be amended from the floor ONLY on “Second Consideration.”  And that is expected as early as tomorrow, Wednesday, January 29.

Every legislator—Republican and Democrat—needs to know our concerns about this type of  bill.

So in an effort to assist my readers on contacting their representatives about a preemption bill such as this one, I decided to post my letter to Representative Kerry Benninghoff (R-171, Centre & Mifflin Counties) on this blog. FYI, he is a conservative Republican, but is not a member of ALEC.

If you live in Pennsylvania, now is the time for you to write a similar letter OR call your state Representative(click here to find your Representative).

This bill is also being “shopped” around the country by ALEC. So… if you live elsewhere in the country, keep this in mind, as a sick leave preemption bill is likely to show up in your state.

Hi Kerry,

I’m writing to strongly urge that you oppose and vote NO on  HB 1960 when it comes up for second consideration as well as on final consideration.  Voting and debate on several amendments is expected on the House floor tomorrow, January 29 under the rules for Second Consideration.

I want you to vote NO on HB 1960 because:

  1. 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;
  2. It represents attempts by national businesses to circumvent policy at its most basic level; and
  3. 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. 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.

I’m particularly concerned about its effect on victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.  This proposed law will threaten the lives of victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking who need this form of leave to receive critical services to protect their and their families’ lives – like medical treatment, counseling, and dealing with all court and law enforcement related business.  If local communities can’t make laws that allow victims who work for employers with less than 50 employees, you will be potentially sending these victims back into the hands of their violent perpetrators because they will be unable to financially stand on their own two feet.

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 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.

Based on all of these concerns, I am therefore also requesting that you vote for any amendment that makes this bill less onerous.  I understand that several such amendments will be offered, including ones that

  • Allow municipalities to have paid or unpaid leave programs with respect to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
  • Allow municipalities to have paid or unpaid leave programs with respect to maternity leave.
  • That grandfather in any existing local ordinance.

Please vote for all of these life-protecting amendments.  And when the bill comes up for a final vote, VOTE NO!  on HB 1960.

Please let me know what you will do regarding this bill. Thank you.

Underhanded Attempt to Pass a Paid/Unpaid ALEC Sick Leave Preemption Bill?

Help Stop ALEC

Help Stop ALEC

In December, I posted a blog about some Pennsylvania legislators’ connections to ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.  Among those legislators is Representative Seth Grove of York County, PA.  In that blog, I focused on his paid and unpaid sick-leave preemption bill that would prohibit any local control over paid or unpaid leave of any type.  His bill – HB 1807 – ran into a lot of opposition after a party-line vote in the House Labor and Industry Committee in mid-December.  This bill has been placed on – and pulled off – of the floor calendar after 14 other Representatives offered at least 24 amendments for floor debate.

So on January 16, 2014, Representative Grove introduced a “new” version of his bill – HB 1960 – in what looks to me like an effort to avoid any changes to his original legislation.  And this bill was introduced without, as far as I can tell from the General Assembly website, any circulation of a “Co-Sponsorship Memo.” I have been reviewing legislation on this website for years.  This is the first time I have ever seen a bill introduced since co-sponsorship memos started being posted that has not included such a memo.  HB 1807 had one; HB 1960 does not.

Differences in the Two Preemption Bills

Upon reading both bills, there appears to be little if no difference at all.  Except for the addition of one new cosponsor (Rep. Fred Keller (R-85, Snyder & Union Counties)), the style of wording to prohibit paid or unpaid sick leave ordinances at the local level is the only change I can see. The result is exactly the same. The original bill – HB 1807 – creates the preemption with a one paragraph “Mandate prohibition.” The new bill – HB 1960 – creates the preemption by changing the prohibition wording to three paragraphs within two subsections titled “General Rule” and “Inconsistent mandate.”  Both bills prohibit any local jurisdictions to pass ordinances that

“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.”

Both bills grandfather any currently enacted ordinance but prohibit all future local paid or unpaid sick leave legislation.

So by adding one new cosponsor and reorganizing the way the bill is presented without circulating a co-sponsorship memo allows Representative Grove and his cohorts a “do-over” chance to ram this bill through the House without the current “baggage” of 24+ amendments.

Is there some subterfuge going on here? Is Representative Grove trying to get this ALEC-initiated bill passed under the radar?

If so, this under-the-radar effort doesn’t appear to be working.  Both progressive members of the legislature as well as members of the Coalition of Healthy Families and Healthy Workplaces have found out about this bill and are starting to push back.

Status of Bills

Due to the high number of amendments on HB 1807, the leadership of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has apparently decided not to bring forth the bill for floor debate.  So the new bill will be a start-over.  And eleven days after its introduction (January 16, 2014), HB 1960 will be heard AND voted on in the House Labor and Industry Committee (scheduled for Monday January 27, 2014).

This bill has no more leadership backing than original. That’s a good thing.  This means that there is not likely to be a GOP caucus push to have all Republicans vote for this bill.

All legislators – Democratic and Republican — can therefore either vote their conscience OR their constituents’ views without fear of repercussion from leadership.

What You Can Do

As of right now, the focus will be to attempt a majority no vote in the House Labor and Industry Committee.  So if you personally know OR are a constituent of a member of this Committee, please contact her/him by Monday morning at 11 am EST.  Tell this legislator that you are a voter and that you want her/him to vote NO on HB 1960 because:

  1. It violates of core conservative and democratic principles,
  2. It represents attempts by national businesses to circumvent policy at its most basic level, and
  3. It will threaten the lives of victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking who need this form of leave to receive critical services to protect their and their families lives

For more talking points on this preemption bill, click here.

Here’s a list of the targeted members of the House Labor and Industry Committee. Each link will take you to the legislator’s personal legislative web page where you can find full contact information – addresses, phone numbers, faxes, and email.  And for some of the legislators, you will also have links to either their Facebook and/or Twitter accounts so you can contact them that way as well.

Officers

Scavello, Mario M.

Chair

Keller, William F.

Democratic Chair

Majority

Minority

Thanks for taking time to help stop this bill and to stop this underhanded attempt to ram through a proposed law that threatens, among others, the lives of victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking who need time off from work to create a safety plan or obtain needed services and protections.