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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUT…

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

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

SO…

 

Fair-Districts-Equal-Fair-Elections courtesy FairDistrictsPA

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

 

Here’s what YOU can do!

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

PA Supreme Court Overturns Congressional Map

picture of the US Capital

View of the US Capital

 

This morning, the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court overturned Pennsylvania’s Congressional District map as being unconstitutional and ordered that a new plan for the 18 Congressional districts in the state is to be redrawn.  Five of the seven Supreme Court Justices ruled that the maps were unconstitutional.  And four of the seven Justices ordered that the maps be redrawn in the next few weeks.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly has until February 9 – 18 days from now to redraw the lines. Governor Tom Wolf has until February 15 to sign off on this plan.  If the legislature fails to meet its deadline and/or Governor Wolf fails to sign off on the plan submitted to him, the PA Supreme Court will create their own map based on information received by the lower, Commonwealth Court.

The state is then expected to publish the new districts by February 19 and, if necessary, readjust the election petitioning process to ensure that the May 15, 2018, primary takes place as scheduled.

This decision is based on Pennsylvania’s Constitution.  In its order, the state Supreme Court used words directly from our state constitution describing why creating districts based on partisan association is unconstitutional.

I located the order from the Supreme Court.  The case is known as League of Women Voters et al. v The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania et al.  Here’s the statement that says the current map is unconstitutional.

First, the Court finds as a matter of law that the Congressional Redistricting Act
of 2011 clearly, plainly and palpably violates the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and, on that sole basis, we hereby strike it as unconstitutional.
Accordingly, its further use in elections for Pennsylvania seats in the United States
House of Representatives, commencing with the upcoming May 15, 2018 primary, is
hereby enjoined.

And using text from the state Constitution, the Court mandates that the new map be redrawn to the following specifications:

Fourth, to comply with this Order, any congressional districting plan shall consist
of: congressional districts composed of compact and contiguous territory; as nearly
equal in population as practicable; and which do not divide any county, city,
incorporated town, borough, township, or ward, except where necessary to ensure
equality of population.

If the PA Senate GOP appeal to the US Supreme Court to stay this decision is turned down, all 18 districts will be redrawn. This includes the highly gerrymandered PA’s 7th Congressional District (aka “Goofy Kicking Donald Duck”) in the southeast and the 12th Congressional District (aka “The Hammer”) in the southwest.

Here’s what the current Congressional District map looks like with 13 Republicans and 5 Democratic US House Representatives.  There are many possibilities as to what the new, non-partisan districts might look like.  Stephen Wolf has presented one possible non-partisan alternative that could result in as many as 11 or as few as 6 Democratic Congressional seats.  The revised map will almost certainly differ from this initial idea designed by a single, non-elected person. But it does show that it is possible to create a non-partisan district map.

 

Pennsylvania_Comparison_2018 potential non-partisan districts

Current Gerrymandered and Hypothetical Nonpartisan Pennsylvania Congressional Districts. Attribution: Stephen Wolf https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2018/1/22/1733876/-Huge-Court-strikes-down-Pennsylvania-s-GOP-congressional-gerrymander-and-orders-a-new-map-for-2018

Thank you to the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania for taking the lead in this case.

 

Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health Initial Roll-Out

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women's Health

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

On December 11, the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s Health Agenda Caucuses rolled out the first set of bills that are part of the Pennsylvania Women’s Health Agenda.  The Agenda was spearheaded by Representative Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny), Senator Judy Schwank (D-Berks) and Senator Chuck McIlhinney (R-Bucks and Montgomery). These legislators were assisted by several of their colleagues, including  Representatives Mary Jo Daley (D-Montgomery), Tina Davis (D-Bucks), Maria Donatucci (D-Delaware and Philadelphia), Erin Molchany (D-Allegheny), Mark Painter (D-Montgomery), and Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) made the announcement of the roll-out. They announced that this first set of bills would soon be going to committee.

Video Statements

During the media advisory session, several of the Representatives were videotaped by the Pennsylvania House.  Here are those videos:

Representative Dan Frankel Announcing the Roll-Out of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

Representative Brian Sims and Erin Molchany Introducing the Pay Equity Bill

Representative Sims spoke first:

Then Representative Molchany followed up with additional information:

Representative Tina Davis Introducing Digital Intimate Partner Violence Bill.

This bill would “make revenge acts that include pictures of partners who are naked or involved in sexual acts illegal.”

Representative Mark Painter Introducing Employment Discrimination Protections for Pregnant Women Bill

Representative Mary Jo Daley Introducing Bill to Require Sanitary Conditions in the Workplace for Breastfeeding Women

Representative Maria Donatucci Introducing Bill to Expand Access to Cervical Cancer Screenings

Advocates Support the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

Standing next to the legislators were representatives of many different advocacy groups who stood in support of this agenda.  The Women’s Law Project was the lead organization in working with the legislators to help create this agenda.  Pennsylvania NOW was also there.  None of the organizations present spoke at the press conference but did deliver their Statements of Support to the media.  Here are the statements from these two organizations.

Women’s Law Project

This statement is currently posted on the Women’s Law Project Legislative Action page and is repeated here just in case the URL is moved:

Women’s Law Project Commends Groundbreaking State Legislative Initiative
To Improve Women’s Health

Harrisburg, PA – The Women’s Law Project and its civic engagement action arm, WomenVote PA, commend the Women’s Health Caucus, a bipartisan, bicameral caucus of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, as it unveils the first phase of a comprehensive Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health. Led by Representative Dan Frankel and Senators Judy Schwank and Chuck McIlhinney, the Caucus is taking a proactive, positive approach to helping women by addressing a wide range of legal and policy barriers to women’s health and equality.

Each component of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health arises out of the struggles of real women in Pennsylvania. The first phase of the agenda includes legislation protecting pregnant women in the workplace, filling gaps in protection for nursing mothers at work, ensuring that women’s health centers are safe and accessible, prohibiting wage secrecy, extending health screenings to more women, stopping intimate partner harassment, and ensuring that domestic violence victims are not punished for contacting law enforcement.

“Although we’ve made progress over the years, it’s a well-documented fact that women’s health and well-being are still not a priority in Pennsylvania,” said Carol Tracy, Executive Director of the Women’s Law Project. “This legislation will address real problems that real women have every day, solutions as simple as enabling a pregnant woman to carry a water bottle during her shift and ensuring that women earn the same amount as a man doing the same job. This legislation is the beginning of a full-scale effort by the Pennsylvania Women’s Health Caucus focused on leveling that playing field for good.”

“This new legislative focus on real women’s real health needs is long overdue,” said Sue Frietsche, Senior Staff Attorney with the Women’s Law Project’s Western Pennsylvania office. “For far too long, the Pennsylvania legislature has obsessively focused on restricting women’s access to reproductive health care. That is not what women want or need. We want sensible laws that improve the lives of women, not more roadblocks to women’s health.”

Kate Michelman, renowned feminist and co-chair of WomenVote PA, stated, “Rather than helping women achieve the equality they deserve, the Pennsylvania legislature has spent unprecedented time and energy on creating barriers to contraception and abortion.” She continued, “We can’t afford to continue to be one of the worst states in the nation for women,” citing a recent report assigning Pennsylvania a “C-” grade, and ranking the Commonwealth 28th out of the 50 states in its treatment of women. “The Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health has the potential to change that, and it deserves the support of every person in this state.”

For more details on the proposed legislation, please visit our web site in the coming weeks for updates, as well as visiting the WomenVote PA web site.

WomenVote PA is the non-partisan action arm of the Women’s Law Project. For more information go to www.womenvotepa.org

Pennsylvania NOW

This statement was crafted by Caryn Hunt, President-Elect; Susan Woodland, Secretary-Elect and current  At-Large Member of the Executive Committee, and myself.

Pennsylvania NOW Supports the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

HARRISBURG, December 11, 2013—The Pennsylvania state chapter of the National Organization for Women (PA NOW) applauds the work of the House and Senate Women’s Health Caucuses as they roll out a comprehensive plan to address the real issues affecting Pennsylvania women today. Spearheaded by Representative Dan Frankel, Senator Judy Schwank and Senator Chuck McIlhinney in conjunction with the Women’s Law Project, and then developed by a broad coalition of Pennsylvania advocacy organizations that work on behalf of women every day, it is based on years of experience about what women want and need to stay healthy. This Agenda goes a long way to redressing entrenched inequities for women in Pennsylvania.

“Pennsylvania Republicans, like their counterparts in other state legislatures, have obsessed about women’s reproductive rights and have waged a non-stop campaign to control them from the capital, rolling back not just access to safe, legal abortion, but also the sense that women are full citizens entitled to a government and society that also works for them,” said Pennsylvania NOW President-Elect Caryn Hunt. “This agenda provides an antidote to the shallow, rhetorical policy-making of those in the General Assembly who have led the calls for women’s restrictions and called it concern for women’s health. It’s refreshing to see so many bills introduced that will genuinely help women, and that together provide a much truer portrait of the needs women want their representatives to address.”

These first bills address a variety of concerns for women: pregnancy accommodation is a common sense step to ensure that pregnant women are treated not as liabilities, but as persons with a temporary need for reasonable accommodations in the workplace; the bill to provide at 15-foot buffer zone around entrances to health clinics is a necessity in our state to make sure women seeking reproductive healthcare are able to access it in an orderly and safe manner; bills targeting “pay secrecy” and the “factor other than sex” loophole will help to end practices that for too long have enabled employers to pay women less than men for the same work. Other bills fill gaps in existing protections for nursing mothers, victims of intimate partner harassment and of domestic violence.

“The ideas for change in this package of bills come from real-life stories of women,” added Joanne Tosti-Vasey, President Emerita and Lobbyist for Pennsylvania NOW. “They include calls to service agencies, cries for help on hot lines, requests for advocacy, and lots of research to back up the anecdotal stories. As advocates, we realize there are other areas of concern, but believe the Women’s Health Caucuses’ agenda items are a great start.”

Pennsylvania NOW has high hopes for the Women’s Health Agenda. Finally, the concerns and needs of Pennsylvania are being honestly addressed by their representatives, rather than attacked and abridged.

I will report on more of these bills as they are announced.

Pennsylvania’s Proposed Women’s Health Agenda

Kate Michelman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protect and Expand Women’s Reproductive Health Rights

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

    Improve Women’s Economic Security

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

    Protect Women’s Personal Safety

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

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

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.