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.)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Together we can make this alternative happen.

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

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

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