Just In: Unlocking Abortion Coverage in the Keystone State

Info and link to a guide on abortion access under Pennsylvania’s Medicaid Program. As this shows, we need to have Congress repeal the Hyde Amendment.

Women's Law Project Blog

unlocking

The Women’s Law Project, in collaboration with the National Health Law Program, just published Unlocking Abortion Coverage in the Keystone State, an initiative of the Reproductive Health Data and Accountability Project.

Unlocking Abortion Coverage in the Keystone State is a report and guide for abortion providers that addresses rules governing coverage of abortion under Pennsylvania Medical Assistance, Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program.

Pennsylvania Medical Assistance provides public health coverage to low-income people who meet certain eligibility criteria. Though coverage of abortion care under Medical Assistance is extremely limited, federal and state laws and policies require Medical Assistance to cover abortions in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment.

You can download or read the guide here.

Last week, Philadelphia became the 11th city to officially call on Congress to repeal the Hyde Amendment, the federal law that prohibits federal dollars from funding abortion through Medicaid except in these narrow…

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meme detailing the hypocrisy of the majority of the PA House of Representatives taking 9+ months to pass a budget but just 3 days to move a anti-abortion law to the floor for a final vote.

Hypocrisy: Abortion Ban More Important than the PA State Budget

With dangerous proposals like House Bill 1948, Pennsylvania politicians are once again inserting themselves in the most private and personal medical decisions best left between a woman and her doctor.

This bill would ban abortion at 20 weeks and ban one of the most common types of abortion procedures. Almost 99% of abortions take place before 21 weeks, but when a woman seeks a later abortion it’s often n very complex circumstances. Yet anti-abortion access legislators in Harrisburg want to make this private and personal medical decision for women & families in Pennsylvania by passing HB 1948.

It took this same legislature over 280 days to pass the 2015-2016 budget, yet it only took THREE DAYS to introduce (April 1) and send (April 4) this bill to the full House for a floor vote. The debate and final vote in the PA House of Representatives is expected as early as Tuesday, April 12.

The Hypocrisy? 3  days to make war on women’s bodies. 9+ months to pass state budget funding critical government safety programs, education, and the general running of state and local services!

meme detailing the hypocrisy of the majority of the PA House of Representatives taking 9+ months to pass a budget but just 3 days to move a anti-abortion law to the floor for a final vote.

The Hypocrisy of the PA Legislature

What’s wrong with this picture? If it were to become law, HB 1948 would create one of the most restrictive, harmful, and unconstitutional abortion bans in the United States. It would change the states abortion ban from 24 weeks (that’s the edge of viability) to 20 weeks.

It would also outlaw the safest form of 2nd trimester abortion procedure known as dilation and evacuation, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). According to a statement released by ACOG, “these restrictions represent legislative interference at its worst: doctors will be forced, by ill-advised, unscientifically motivated policy, to provide lesser care to patients.”

Although relatively rare, 2nd trimester abortions done in a safe and timely manner are necessary. Here’s one woman’s story. As Julie says in this video, “This has nothing to do with politics. This has to do with the choices my husband and I needed to make.”

And here’s another story. This one is from Evelyn, who says, “It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. Whether or not to have an abortion is a decision that should always be made between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her god.”

As you can see from these two women who were willing to come forward with their personal stories, it’s clear that lawmakers should not interfere with personal medical decisions. A woman considering an abortion is already facing challenging circumstances. We’re not in her shoes. We should not deny her the ability to make a decision in consultation with those she trusts. And no matter how we feel about abortion, we can all agree that a woman’s health, not politics, should drive important medical decisions. Lawmakers are not medical experts and this is not an area where lawmakers should be intruding.

HB 1948 also places women at risk by ignoring individual circumstances and health needs. Her health and safety is paramount. Providers and their patients may determine later abortion care is the best medical option for a variety of reasons. HB 1948 would take the decision out of the hands of patients and their trusted medical care providers and put it in the hands of politicians. This would endanger women and jeopardize safe, legal abortion care.

These types of attacks are aimed at criminalizing abortion and attack women’s constitutional rights. 20-week bans are unconstitutional and a clear attempt to erode Roe v. Wade at the expense of women’s health. In fact, 20-week ban proponents are outspoken about their goal to challenge the 1973 Supreme Court decision protecting a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion. Eliminating access to safe, constitutional and legal abortion services is a war on women from legislators attempting to impose their morality and narrow view of religious

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade also recognized that different moral and religious traditions have differing views on abortion. Protecting a woman’s ability to make her own decision about ending a pregnancy is critical to respecting her religious freedom. It is unjust for lawmakers to privilege the views of those who oppose abortion and seek to impose those beliefs on everyone, as doing so would directly block a woman’s ability to make her own faith-informed decision on this personal matter.

Bottom Line: While a majority of abortions in the United States occur in the first trimester, it is important that a woman, her family, and her doctor have every medical option available whenever she needs it. Laws banning later abortion would take that deeply personal decision away.

If you are part of the majority of voters who opposes these bans, contact your legislator today and urge them to oppose HB 1948.

 

Action Alert: Help Prevent Domestic Violence Homicides in Pennsylvania

Stop Violence Against Women NOW diamond

Stop Violence Against Women NOW

Women's Law Project Blog

We need you to take one minute to help hold domestic abusers accountable.

Strangulation is the single most accurate predictor of a future domestic violence homicide. In fact, one widely accepted study indicates that strangulation domestic-violence victims are 800% more likely to be killed by their intimate partner during a future assault.

Last year, 141 Pennsylvanians were killed by domestic violence.

Historically, strangulation has been difficult to prosecute. Sometimes victims don’t show visible injuries, though in many cases, their esophagus swells later and they suffocate to death. Experts also recognize that strangulation is a uniquely terrifying form of physical abuse and psychological control used by domestic abusers.

In the last ten years, in response to a growing awareness of strangulation as a predictor of preventable homicides, at least 35 states have passed statutes to enhance victim safety and offender accountability.

Rep. Becky Corbin (R-Chester) has introduced a similar bill (

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Helping Reduce Rape Culture: Two Legislative Ideas

Picture of a sign at the Window of Opportunity rally that says "End Rape Culture."

What we need to do to reduce/eliminate sexual assault, stalking, and harassment in our community.

I live close Penn State University where the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity’s online cyber bullying activities using Facebook to show explicit pictures of nude and/or inebriated women occurred. As a result of this action and the now ongoing investigations by both Penn State University and the State College Police, Erin Matson’s idea of reducing the legal age for alcohol consumption might be something that states might want to consider. I don’t know where I stand on this, but Erin does make a decent argument here.

Drinking age is a state, not a federal issue. So, if the drinking age were to be lowered, it would have to go through the state legislatures and be signed into law. Just like when the drinking age was raised back in the 1980’s.

To some extent, the same is true for any law that might be enacted to deal with online cyber-bullying and stalking, often known as revenge porn. If interstate commerce is involved in the bullying and stalking, federal law can and has been created (see here and here). If not, then this issue has to be dealt with at the state level.

States across the country have recently enacted or are considering bills to punish perpetrators of revenge porn and online cyber bullying or stalking. Here in Pennsylvania, legislators passed a “revenge porn” bill known as the “UNLAWFUL DISSEMINATION OF INTIMATE IMAGE AND DAMAGES IN ACTIONS FOR UNLAWFUL DISSEMINATION OF INTIMATE IMAGE Act;” it became law on September 8, 2014. It however does not cover online bullying outside of dating or marriage relationships since the law restricts coverage to a victim who is a “current or former sexual or intimate partner.” This law makes the non-consensual dissemination of such images a misdemeanor offense.

I understand that the PA legislature may now revisit this bill to expand the law to cover such types of bullying activities outside of an intimate relationship as a result of the KDR incident. When they do, I would recommend that they expand the law to all forms of cyber bullying and stalking in addition to any non-consensual dissemination of such images. This would include severe harassment and bullying threats that place a person in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury.

This proposal would, I believe, help create a state-based law similar to federal law (18 U.S.C. 875 and 18 U.S.C. 2261a) that “ makes it a federal crime to transmit threats of bodily injury in interstate commerce and criminalizes the use of electronic communication to place a person in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury.”

Finally, there will be a Congressional hearing on on-line cyber-bullying and stalking on April 15. This hearing is being set up by Representative Katherine Clark (D-MA) with the assistance of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. This hearing will focus on concerns about gender violence in all forms of social media. I’ll post a comment here once I find out where and at what time the hearing will be held.

Universal Health Care: Let’s Do It!

I am not an economist. But I am a strong advocate for universal access to healthcare in the United States. See why here.

A couple of days ago, Thom Hartmann at The Big Picture RT posted a YouTube video on why economists are demanding a universal national healthcare plan. In this video he reports that more than 100 economists sent an open letter to Vermont’s Governor Peter Shumlin (D) after Shumlin “bailed” on implementing Vermont’s state-based single-payer healthcare plan.

Governor Shumlin stated that he was stopping the implementation process because he believes that “This is not the right time” for enacting single payer. He stated that there were too many costs associated with the program and could not go forward with the plan “at this time.”

The economists argued otherwise:

As economists, we understand that universal, publicly financed health care is not only economically feasible but highly preferable to a fragmented market-based insurance system…. Public financing is not a matter of raising new money, but of distributing existing payments more equitably and efficiently. Especially when combined with provider payment reforms, public financing can lower administrative costs, share health care cost much more equitably, and ensure comprehensive care for all.

We support publicly and equitably financed health care at federal and state level, and we encourage the government of the state of Vermont to move forward with implementing a public financing plan for the universal health care system envisioned by state law.

Hartman then goes on to say that part of the economic concerns about Vermont’s single-payer healthcare plan arises from its small population base. He believes that the economy of scale makes it harder for a small state to go it alone in “innovating” new healthcare plans as allowed by the Affordable Care Act starting in 2017. Then he goes on to urge the federal government to expand Medicare to all citizens over a 10-year period of time.

I agree that it would be great to have universal Medicare for All across the United States. But I also believe that the only way that will happen is if some states implement single-payer healthcare at a state level to concretely show that a universal healthcare plan is economically viable and distributes existing healthcare payments more efficiently and equitably while lowering administrative costs WITHOUT raising the overall cost to individuals, businesses or communities. In fact, in many instances, cost would be lower.

Studies on how this might happen have been done by well-known economists across the country. For example, Dr. Gerald  Friedman, Professor of Economics and Department Head at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst has done several of these studies, including one for Pennsylvania, one for Maryland, and one for expanding Medicare to all at the national level. Every economic impact study on implementing universal healthcare plans that I have read indicates that “A single-payer health care finance system would produce substantial health and economic gains” when implemented at either a state or the national level.

At least 14 statesCalifornia, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Washington—have community advocates and state legislators working towards implementing a state-level form of universal healthcare. And advocates across the nation continue to work for Medicare for All at the national level.

Whichever way comes first is fine with me. We just need to get moving and create healthcare for all in the USA.  Let’s make it sooner rather than later.

The Supreme Court, the ACA, Healthcare.gov, and an Alternative Plan

The US Supreme Court will be hearing a case – known as King v. Burwell – this coming week on whether or not the federal healthcare exchange program, known as Healthcare.gov, is legal. The question before the Court is whether or not the Affordable Care Act (ACA) allows for subsidies for healthcare premiums in any of the 34 states that refused to set up their own healthcare exchanges under the ACA.

The plaintiffs – four people from Virginia – argue that the federal government misinterpreted the ACA in regards to the subsidies. They argue that the law only allows for subsidies in states that set up a state-based exchange. Virginia in one of the 34 state who opted out of a state-based exchange. These four individuals, who don’t want to purchase insurance, say that without the subsidies, they would not have to either buy insurance or pay a penalty since they do not make enough to afford healthcare without the subsidy*. The Obama administration argues that this is a politically motivated argument to narrowly interpret a couple of words found in the ACA in order to gut it.

If the US Supreme Court invalidates the Healthcare.gov websites in all of the states that refused to set up their own healthcare exchanges, everyone who gets a subsidy to purchase their health care through the exchange will lose that subsidy. According to the Washington Post, this type of ruling would affect about eight million people across the country. That’s about 87% of all Healthcare.gov users nationwide in the 34 states that did not set up a state-based exchange receive. In Pennsylvania, somewhere between 70-84% of all users of healthcare.gov receive these subsidies.

The subsidies in Healthcare.gov currently reduces healthcare premiums by up to 72% of the full premium, depending on the size of one’s family and family income. So if the Court holds that subsidies within the Federal Healthcare exchange are illegal, premiums for individuals needing these subsidies will dramatically increase; out-of-pocket premium increase could amount to an average increase of 256%. This increase could begin in as little as 25 days after the ruling is made in June 2015. OR the Court could set a date further in the future to allow some time for transition.

What would the end of these subsidies mean?

Healthcare in the 34 states in the federal exchange program would destabilize. The predictions include lots of people – mostly the young and the healthy – ending their insurance, insurance companies pulling out of the exchanges in these states, lots of layoffs, and a return to uncovered people attempting to get care in hospitals without any coverage. Those left in the exchanges after the young and healthiest leave are the older and the sickest individuals. Insurance companies will begin to feel the pain and start to pull out of the exchanges as participation in the exchanges would no longer be financially viable. With fewer people seeking care on the federal exchange, thousands of people hired by the insurance companies and by the federal exchange system will likely face layoff. In addition, hospitals will once again see a surge in the uninsured arriving on their doorstep for care.

Here’s how the Kaiser Family Foundation summarizes this issue:

People Leaving the Market Followed by Premium Increases for Those Who Remain. As a result, the elimination of the subsidies would destabilize the individual insurance markets in states not running their own marketplaces. Under the ACA, insurers would still be required to guarantee access to coverage irrespective of health status and prohibited from charging sick people more than healthy people. Even without the subsidies, many people who are sick would likely find a way to maintain their insurance in the face of substantial premium increases. However, people who are healthy would likely drop their insurance.

Insurers in the affected states would immediately find themselves in a situation where premiums revenues were insufficient to cover the health care expenses of the remaining enrollees, who would be far sicker on average than what insurers assumed when they set their premiums for 2015. This would trigger a classic adverse selection “death spiral,” where insurers would seek very large premium increases, which in turn would cause the healthier of the remaining enrollees to drop coverage….

Insurance Companies Leave the Market and Layoff Employees…Under ACA regulations, premiums for insurance sold inside the marketplaces are locked in for a full calendar year. So, the earliest those premiums could change would be January 1, 2016, though even that would be tricky since insurers will have already submitted proposed 2016 premiums to state insurance departments by the time the Court issues a decision. Depending on state laws, premiums for products sold outside of the marketplaces could potentially be increased more quickly. And even if insurers could adjust rates, establishing stable and sustainable premium levels in this type of environment is extremely difficult, because as rates move higher, more of the relatively healthy enrollees drop their coverage.

Because this may all happen very quickly, it is possible that many or all insurers would choose to exit the individual markets in these states rather than facing significant losses in a quickly shrinking market. Insurers that remain in the market risk being one of the only carriers continuing to guarantee access to coverage to people in poor health (since people who lose coverage from exiting insurers have special enrollment periods to choose new coverage).

Since it is unlikely that Congressional opponents to the ACA would be willing to craft a law allowing for subsidies within Healthcare.gov should the Court overturn this portion of the ACA regulations, the burden of the fix falls upon each of the 34 states. Some of these 34 states will allow the healthcare exchange to die with the dire predictions quickly coming to fruition. Others, in advance of the Court’s hearing and decision of this case, are starting to talk about alternatives should the Court outlaw the subsidies in their states.

One of these states attempting to deal with this possibility is Pennsylvania, where I live. The insurance companies and hospitals throughout the state, fearing for their livelihood, are lobbying the PA General Assembly to set up a state-based exchange system. Tom Wolf (D), our new Governor, has said he is interested in setting up a state-based exchange.

The question then becomes, where would the money for the set-up of a state exchange come from in a state that has a large budget deficit since federal dollars for such a set-up are no longer available.

Might this be a great time to lobby for a universal health care plan for Pennsylvania? As well as in the other 21 states currently working towards such a solution as well?

Healthcare for All PA, in conjunction with some of our state legislators, are working on re-introducing the Pennsylvania Health Care Plan. This bill, if it becomes law, would

…create one insurance plan that has one single payer, to cover all Pennsylvania taxpayers.  The premiums for The Pennsylvania Health Care Plan would be a flat rate of 3% of income for individuals and 10% of payroll for businesses.  The Pennsylvania Health Care Plan would place you and your healthcare provider in charge of you and your family’s healthcare. The plan will be a public/private hybrid with the insurance function provided by the state government and the medical care would be privately delivered.

It’s cost effective. It covers everyone. It’s comprehensive in that it covers all medical treatment, dental care, eye care, physical therapy, mental health treatment,  hospice care, treatments for addiction, long-term care, access to wellness programs, prescription drugs and emergency transport. And you won’t need an army of navigators in either a state- or a federal-based healthcare exchange to help you interpret your plan.

Check out Healthcare for All PA for more information on this bill and become a citizen lobbyist for comprehensive health care that allows you access to the healthcare you need and want without bankrupting you, your family or your neighbors.

_________________________________________

*NOTE: The four plaintiffs in this case before the Supreme Court–David King, Douglas Hurst, Brenda Levy and Rose Luck—appear to be either ideologues and/or guinea pigs for the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). CEI is an organization committed to overturning the Affordable Care Act. If the subsidies are overturned, all four of these individuals may not even be affected by the Court’s ruling according to a February 9 article in Mother Jones. Three of the four – Levy, King and Hurst – are now or soon will be fully eligible for Medicare. Two of them – King and Luck – already qualify for a hardship exemption from purchasing healthcare and/or paying a penalty due to their relatively low-income levels. However, the issue of “standing” (the legal argument that they would actually be harmed if the law were to continue), for some reason, has not been raised in this case by the Obama administration and will not be considered when the Court hears the case next week.

Home-Stretch Election Rallies

vote button

Go Vote Button

It’s the home stretch. Candidates and volunteers are working overtime to get people out to vote on Tuesday, November 4. As part of that effort, prominent politicians are canvassing the country to assist candidates running for the US Senate, the US House of Representatives, and state Governorships.

Pennsylvania

In my home state of Pennsylvania, President Barack Obama came to Philadelphia to stump for Tom Wolf (D) on Sunday November 2. He is running for Pennsylvania Governor to replace the current Tea Party Governor Tom Corbett (R). I’m so looking forward to a victory tomorrow for Tom Wolf (see some of the reasons why here). It will be a win for the environment, for women, LGBTQIA people, low-income individuals who can’t access healthcare, and for better jobs and wages for everyone in the state.

New Hampshire

In New Hampshire the fight is not to replace a right-wing slate of elected officials, but to retain and reelect the four progressive women leading that state – Governor Maggie Hassan, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Representative Ann McLane Kuster (NH-2), and Representative Carol Shea-Porter (NH-1). New Hampshire is the only state in the nation to have women in 100% of the top leadership positions in the state. And prominent female politicians have come to the state to stump for them. On October 25, it was Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) stumping for her colleague Senator Jeanne Shaheen. And on Sunday, November 2, while President Obama was stumping for Tom Wolf, Former Secretary of State, Senator, and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton came to Nashua, NH to support these four women’s reelection efforts.

I was there at both events. I blogged about the Warren event last week. Today, here’s the Clinton event.

picture of NH Gov. Maggie Hassan and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen with Hillary Rodham Clinton standing on stage at a GOTV rally in Nashua, NH on Nov. 2, 2014

NH Gov. Maggie Hassan and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen with Hillary Rodham Clinton

About 1000 people gathered at Nashua Community College in Nashua, NH. The lineup of speakers was quite interesting. Except for State Democratic Chair Ray Buckley, every speaker was a woman – something I’ve never seen in a political event or rally before. Here are the speakers in order of their appearance:

Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s granddaughters singing the Star Spangled Banner

Picture of Caraline and Elle Shaheen singing The Star Spangled Banner

Caraline and Elle Shaheen singing The Star Spangled Banner

Chair Ray Buckley calling on the NH electorate to not only vote for the Democrats at the top of the ticket, but to also vote for the Democrats all the way down the ballot.

picture of NH Democratic Party Chair Raymond Buckley

NH Democratic Party Chair Raymond Buckley

He gave a rousing speech on the problems that NH had when Republican Bill O’Brian was leading the General Assembly and how the mostly female Democratic leadership turned the state around through bipartisan cooperation once the Republican party became the minority party two years ago. Here’s that speech:

 

Then the line-up of female political leaders began. Each talked about why NH is doing better now, how their bipartisan efforts have improved the economy of New Hampshire, and what has been protected in the state for women’s reproductive justice and pay equity, children’s and adults’ public and college education, marriage equality, access to health care for all and job restoration. Here are those speakers:

House Speaker Terri Norelli

NH House Speaker Terri Norelli

NH House Speaker Terri Norelli

State Senator Peggy Gilmour

Picture of  State Sen Peggy Gilmour

NH State Sen Peggy Gilmour

State Senator Peggy Laskey

Picture of NH State Senator Bette Laskey

NH State Senator Bette Laskey

Executive Council Member Debora Pignatelli

Picture of NH Executive Council Member Debora Pignatelli

NH Executive Council Member Debora Pignatelli

And then the headliners:

US Representative Ann McLane Kuster

Picture of US Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (NH-2)

US Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (NH-2)

Governor Maggie Hassan

Picture of NH Governor Maggie Hassan

NH Governor Maggie Hassan

Senator Jeanne Shaheen

Picture of US Senator Jeanne Shaheen (NH)

US Senator Jeanne Shaheen (NH)

And finally, Hillary Rodham Clinton!

Picture of Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hillary Rodham Clinton

In introducing Hillary, Senator Shaheen put forth this zinger that brought a roar from the crowd:

“She traveled 956,000 miles as Secretary of State – that’s nearly as many miles as Scott Brown traveled looking for a Senate seat to buy.”

Due to the low battery on my video camera, I was not able to record the speeches of the keynote speakers. After the video camera died, Hillary focused on women’s and family issues. Since I could no longer videotape the event, I took a few notes. Here’s some of Ms. Clinton’s additional remarks:

“Women are not just half the population.”

“Women’s rights are on the front line of rights around the world.”

“Equal pay is not just a women’s issue. It is a family issue.”

“Fear is the last resort of those who have run out of hope.”

“If you vote, you can elect these women who will lead New Hampshire and the rest of the country [for the better good of all].”

In addition, the Manchester Ink Link compiled several quotes from Hassan, Shaheen, and Clinton. You can see them here.

You Gotta Vote!

So no matter where you are – in Pennsylvania, in New Hampshire, or anywhere else in the country – consider the impact of who your next Governor or US Senator or US Congressperson may be. Do not vote based on fear. Vote for the candidates who will protect middle-class income, education for all, access to healthcare, marriage equality, the environment, and reproductive justice.

GET OUT AND VOTE on Tuesday, November 4, 2014. You can find out where and how to vote in your state here (courtesy of the League of Women Voters). Thanks.

 

Collage of pictures taken during the Hassan/Shaheen/Clinton rally in Nashua, NH on Nov. 2, 2014

Collage of pictures taken during the Hassan/Shaheen/Clinton rally in Nashua, NH on Nov. 2, 2014

 

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.

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.