Tag Archives: PA Legislature

Victory: Bill to Protect DV Victims from Eviction Heads to Governor’s Desk

By Tara Murtha, WLP Staff

We asked for your help, you gave it. We heard about all the phone calls and emails. Now, together, we achieved a huge victory for the rights of domestic violence survivors in Pennsylvania, who can no longer be legally evicted from their homes for calling authorities for help when they need it.

The background:

Sponsored by Rep. Todd Stephens, HB1796, titled “Protection for Victims of Crime from Certain Municipal Ordinances” was drafted in response to a situation so outrageous that it gained national attention.

Thanks to a so-called “nuisance property ordinance” that enabled landlords in Norristown, Pa. to evict tenants for calling 911, a domestic violence victim named Lakisha Briggs was forced to choose between eviction and enduring physical abuse at the hands of an ex-partner, who would not leave the home she shared with her toddler.

But after passing through the House, this good faith bill was hijacked by one bewildering amendment after another. First, a bad sick day amendment was the problem. Then, a pro-gun amendment was tacked on to the bill the same day domestic violence advocates traveled to Harrisburg to remember the victims of DV murdered in Pennsylvania last year—many of them with a gun as the weapon.

Following the lead of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, we called out for supporters to contact their senators and ask to drop the amendments and pass the bill—and that’s just what happened an hour ago on the floor of the Pennsylvania Senate on their last day in session.

They listened.

“No woman or man should have to risk their life, or their family because they’re scared of being evicted,” Senator Judy Schwank said.

“Do I need to remind us when we all saw a few weeks ago the senseless beating of a woman in an elevator?” asked Senator John Rafferty, Jr., before pointing out that this victory is an example of the good work that can get done when both sides of the aisle come together to cooperate on important issues.

In the end, the bill passed the Senate unanimously.

“I am glad that you colleagues in the Senate decided to do the right thing and remove the paid sick leave preemption language from House Bill 1796,” Senator Vincent Hughes, an advocate of the bill, told Women’s Law Project. “We must do everything we can to protect the victims of domestic violence and this version of the bill is a step forward instead of a step backwards.”

Next, it heads to the desk of the Governor to be signed into law.

This bill is the third initiative of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health, a bipartisan, pro-active and pro-choice legislative package designed to secure reproductive rights and promote economic security. (The first two successes were a bill to study state programs targeted to help working families, and a bill that criminalizes so-called “revenge porn.”)

The majority of Pennsylvania voters support the Agenda, a fact reported by ThinkProgress this morning. But support isn’t enough. We need to keep voting and speaking out to make it happen.

We hope you will continue to help us advocate for the rest of the Agenda, and help us spread the word about the great progress we are making here. But for now, let’s celebrate. We couldn’t have done it without you. So thank you!

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Filed under Domestic violence, PA Legislature, Violence Against Women

Tell Your Senators NO to Hijacking a Domestic Violence Bill with Gun Amendment

This just keeps getting worse and worse, and we need your help.

The Pennsylvania Senate convenes this morning at 10:00AM for the last day of the legislative session. While we hoped that PA legislators would finally pass a common-sense bill designed to protect domestic violence survivors from being evicted from their homes today, the bill has instead been hijacked with an amendment that would endanger the very population the bill is designed to protect.

The background:

Sponsored by Rep. Todd Stephens, HB1796, titled “Protection for Victims of Crime from Certain Municipal Ordinances” was drafted in response to a situation so outrageous that it gained national attention.

Thanks to a so-called “nuisance property ordinance” that enabled landlords in Norristown, Pa. to evict tenants for calling 911, a domestic violence victim named Lakisha Briggs was forced to choose between eviction and enduring physical abuse at the hands of an ex-partner, who would not leave the home she shared with her toddler. After passing through the House, this good faith bill has since been sabotaged by one bewildering amendment after another. First, a bad sick day amendment was the problem.

BUT NOW, it’s even worse—the Senate is expected to add a gun rights amendment.

Unbelievably, this outrageous news came through the Capitol the same day domestic violence advocates traveled to Harrisburg to remember the 86 victims of domestic violence murdered in Pennsylvania last year.

We probably don’t need to tell you that a gun is the most common weapon used in domestic homicides. The Senate convened this morning at 10AM. You can watch live here.

We need you to contact your Senator and urge them to NOT approve this bill with this outrageous amendment.

To find your elected officials click here.

Tell them:

The solution is clear. Revert House Bill 1796 to the Printer’s Number 2870 version that unanimously passed the House of Representatives and allow an important bill to pass that would help protect the lives of domestic violence victims.

Thank you for taking action!

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Filed under Domestic violence, Family Violence, PA Legislature, Violence Against Women

“The progress has stalled:” WLP Managing Attorney Terry Fromson testified about Equal Pay in Pennsylvania

By Tara Murtha

“Gender-based wage discrimination is unfortunately alive and persistent in Pennsylvania,” Terry Fromson, Managing Attorney of Women’s Law Project, testified in front of the House Democratic Policy Committee in Philadelphia yesterday.

“Although significant progress was made in closing the pay gap following the adoption of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII in the 1960s, that progress has stalled. The ratio of women’s pay to men’s pay narrowed only by 1.7 percent between 2004 and 2013.”

“In Pennsylvania women working full time, year round, are paid 76 cents to the dollar paid to men,” Fromson continued. “For women of color, the gender pay differences are larger. If this slowing of progress continues, women will not achieve parity with men until 2058.”

Fromson told the Committee specific allegations of pay discrimination considered by Pennsylvania courts in the last decade:

“The female vice president whose salary was ten to twenty thousand less than the other three male vice presidents … the senior consultant who was hired at a salary $15,000 less than the man hired one month after her … a high school principal paid $10,000-$15,000 less than equally positioned male principals.”

In some cases, Fromson said, women who discovered a discrepancy have been penalized for standing up for themselves, like the “female manager who was fired when she complained about being paid $14,000 less than a similarly situated male coworker.”

Fromson took issue with the common argument that disparities in average pay for full-time work between men and women are just a result of women’s choices, such as what kind of job to pursue and having children. As Fromson pointed out, research proves that assertion wrong: the pay gap remains even when controlling for these variables.

The problem certainly isn’t education. “In the 2009-2010 academic year, women earned the majority of bachelor’s, graduate, and professional degrees,” said Fromson. “Nonetheless, one year out of college they experienced a wage gap of 82% of the wages paid to their male counterparts.”

The hearing was held to showcase support for Pennsylvania House Bill 1250. Introduced by Rep. Maria P. Donatucci (D-Delaware/Philadelphia), HB 1250 seeks to update Pennsylvania’s Equal Pay Law for the first time since 1959.

Like the federal law, Pennsylvania’s Equal Pay Law prohibits wage discrimination based on gender in the workplace when the work requires equal skill, effort and responsibility. The act also sets forth penalties for violations.

The penalties, however, have not been updated for more than 50 years. Currently, businesses found in violation are penalized $50 to $200 per day. HB 1250 would increase that fine to $400 to $1,600. Fromson, however, asked the House to increase the penalties to those set forth in the original bill: a fine between $1,000 and $25,000. Fromson also took issue with two other changes that watered down the original version of HB 1250: keeping the statute of limitations at two years instead of expanding it to three, and removing language that makes discrimination against each individual employee a separate violation.

“In light of the passage of 55 years and the persistence of wage discrimination based on sex,” Fromson urged the House to “adopt the strongest bill with the strongest deterrents and remedies to eradicate pay discrimination.”

Women’s Law Project seeks to advance the legal status of women and girls through work such as advocating for common-sense updates to Pennsylvania’s Equal Pay Act. WLP also supports new legislative initiatives such as Representative Molchany’s  and Sims’ House Bill 1890, which was recently introduced as part of the Women’s Health Agenda, a proactive, pro-choice package of legislative bills proposed by the bipartisan Women’s Health Caucus of the Pennsylvania Legislature.

“By amending Pennsylvania’s equal pay law to require greater scrutiny of pay differences, HB 1890 will insure that any differences that exist are in fact based on a bona fide factor other than sex that is job-related and consistent with business necessity,” testified Fromson. “HB 1890 will also remove the pay secrecy obstacle that prevents women from finding out if they are being paid differently.”

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Filed under Equal pay, PA Legislature

ALERT: ATHLETIC EQUITY REPORTING LAW UNDER ATTACK IN HARRISBURG!

Just last week, the first annual athletic gender equity reports were due from public secondary schools under a new state law that passed on June 30, 2012.  The Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure Act (or Act 82 Article XVI-C) requires secondary schools to provide annual, publicly released reports containing information about school-sponsored athletic programs in order to improve schools’ compliance with Title IX and work towards achieving gender equality.

Sadly, efforts are currently underway in the state legislature to interfere with this law before the first reports are even publicly released.  On Tuesday, October 22, House Bill 1734 will be considered by the House Education Committee.  House Bill 1734 would repeal several crucial provisions of this important disclosure law.

  • HB 1734 would eliminate the requirement that schools report the      total value of booster club purchases for each team. (Significantly, this portion of the reporting law does not even take effect until next year.)  Some schools blame the inequality of their athletic programs on booster clubs, but in fact, schools are responsible for ensuring that boys and      girls have equal opportunities and experiences. HB 1734 would allow schools to remove from their annual reporting the privately raised money being poured into boys’ teams.
  • HB 1734 would repeal the requirement that, for the first year only, schools include the dates when each team was established. This      easily available information shows whether schools have a history and continuing practice of expanding the girls’ athletic program.
  • HB 1734 would sunset all reporting after just three years.

Passing HB 1734 virtually guarantees that parents and students will have to turn to other, more burdensome ways of learning about their schools’ compliance with state and federal gender equity laws.

The participation gap between boys and girls in interscholastic athletics is widening.  See Decade of Decline: Gender Equity in High School Sports, Sharp Center & Women’s Sports Foundation, Oct. 2012.  Now is the wrong time to retreat from the mandate of equal opportunity and fair treatment for our girls.

What you can do:

  • Contact your state rep and urge him or her to vote NO on HB 1734 and stand up for gender equality.
  • Visit your local public high school’s website and see what its Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure report has to say.
  • Can’t find a report from your school? Contact your school’s Title IX officer and ask where you can get a copy of the report.
  • Can’t find your school’s Title IX officer? Call your school’s superintendent and ask who the Title IX officer is and how you can get a copy of the Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure report.
  • Not getting the information you are entitled to? Call the Women’s Law Project: 412-281-2892 or 215-928-9801.

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Filed under Athletic Equity, Gender Discrimination, Girls, PA Law, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania, Sex Discrimination, Sports, Title IX, Women's Law Project

PA Dropped More Than 9% Children, Pregnant Women & Families from Medicaid!

Aly Mance, WLP Intern

According to a new national report covered by the Philadelphia Inquirer, there has been a dramatic drop in Pennsylvania’s Medicaid enrollment.  According to the Kaiser Family Foundation report, Pennsylvania dropped more than 9 percent of children, families, and pregnant women from Medicaid over the past year.  This percentage is nearly triple that of any other state in the country.  Pennsylvania’s total Medicaid enrollment also dropped 5.3% during the time period of the report, June 2011 to June 2012.  This is the sharpest drop in any state in the past 5 years.  Meanwhile, in other states, Medicaid enrollment is on the rise.

It should come as no surprise that the timing of the report coincides with the time when the Corbett administration directed state workers to conduct expedited reviews of thousands of backlogged cases.  The result was a decline of more than 80,000 insured children over several months.  Enrollment in Pennsylvania’s smaller Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) also fell during this time.

In addition, while the state did not change existing enrollment policies, it did report that they were more thoroughly applying existing ones.  The state indicated that this could result in more cases being closed for failure to submit documentation.  Many cases backlogged early in the Corbett administration were closed—the person’s insurance terminated—because of lack of documentation.  Community Legal Services of Philadelphia filed a complaint over the disenrollment and threatened to sue the state, resulting in an agreement to send follow-up letters to more than 100,000 Medicaid recipients who had their insurance terminated for this purported “lack of documentation.”

While other states are streamlining their Medicaid enrollment processes to ensure that people who are eligible for Medicaid receive it, Pennsylvania and the Corbett Administration are trying to attack people who they believe are taking advantage of the system.  These attacks result in people who truly deserve to receive Medicaid being denied coverage.  In recent years, Congress has prohibited states from saving money by making major eligibility changes or imposing new enrollment restrictions in Medicaid programs.  Because Governor Corbett cannot outright cut Medicaid, the biggest item on Pennsylvania’s budget, he and his administration are searching for every back handed way to deny Pennsylvanians the aid they qualify for.  Not only is Governor Corbett refusing to expand Medicaid, he is crippling it, and children and families are suffering the most.

Learn more about healthcare reform, the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), and how it will affect you.

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Filed under Government, Health Care, Health insurance, Medicaid, Pennsylvania

Ohio, Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin – Let’s End This List

By Kaitlin Leskovac, WLP Summer Intern

Three weeks ago, under the watchful eyes of six male state legislators (photo), Governor Kasich (R) of Ohio signed the new state budget. As many have noted, the symbolism in this photo is marked, as Ohio’s new budget reads bankrupt for abortion rights. HB 59 contains drastic cuts in funding for Planned Parenthood; it threatens to withhold public funding for rape crisis clinics if clinic employees provide counseling on abortion care; it requires a woman seeking an abortion to have and pay for an ultrasound; and it prohibits transfer agreements between abortion clinics and public hospitals, a measure that is already threatening to close one of only twelve clinics in the state.

In the last couple of weeks, the Texas legislature passed the anti-abortion legislation that Senator Wendy Davis and thousands of other women and men, in Texas and across the country, have been fighting since “the people’s filibuster” late last month. This is the law that is predicted to close all but five of Texas’ abortion clinics. Three Planned Parenthood clinics have already announced they will have to close their doors come August, as a result of the law’s new mandates. As if this doesn’t go far enough, several legislators have sponsored HB 59, a fetal heartbeat bill that would bring the threshold for legal abortion down to 6 weeks.

North Carolina and Wisconsin have also passed recent anti-abortion legislation. In NC, the prohibitive cost of mandated upgrades threatens closure of all but one of the state’s 16 abortion clinics. In WI, AB 227 (aka SB 206) would require women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound and require doctors providing abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Opponents of the law say it would close two of only four clinics in the state.

And that is exactly the point.

What this recent wave of draconian anti-abortion legislation renders overwhelmingly clear is the importance of who our state legislators are. In the matter of abortion, where individual states retain enormous discretion, the actions of state legislatures can devastate abortion rights. This has been demonstrated time and time again: in Texas, in North Dakota, and in Pennsylvania. Therefore, every election, presidential or not, is essential to the security of women’s rights. However, voting rates in off year elections for state representatives remain notoriously low. Female voter participation in particular has been shown to drop by over a million votes in off year elections in Pennsylvania.

In evaluating state legislative actions against abortion rights, we must carefully consider who it is that we elect to our state legislatures. It’s no surprise that women’s rights are getting short shrift in many states. After all, women are still underrepresented in public office. Women compose only 18% of Congress, and it is hardly better at the state level. In Ohio, women make up 24% of the state legislature; in Texas, 21%; in North Carolina, 22%; and in Wisconsin, 25%.The dearth of women in our state assemblies matters when it comes to setting legislative priorities and countering efforts to restrict access to abortion, not because all women support abortion rights—they do not—and not because electing more women to public office is the silver bullet to end the “war on women.” Rather, as Senator Davis so eloquently demonstrated, the voices of women who are directly affected by public policy have the power to inform the public debate and transform how legislatures approach issues of concern to women. The key is to elect a legislature that is diverse in experiences, viewpoint, and perspective.  If we want to change the outcome, that is, put a stop to threats against reproductive rights, it matters who the players are.

Fact: Women compose only 18% of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Consider this in the larger picture of state governments, which nationwide have become more conservative since 2010. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in the first half of 2013, states enacted 43 abortion restrictions, as many as were enacted in the entire year of 2012. With trends like these, it will take a long time to pin down the ever-evolving standard for the nation’s “strictest” abortion laws.

Whether or not these recent anti-abortion laws are ultimately challenged and/or struck down, in passing these measures, state legislators demonstrate an overwhelming lack of respect for women’s choices. In Wisconsin, Governor Walker claims the new bill, “improves a woman’s ability to make an informed choice.” Choice is the operative word here because ultimately, these laws preclude it. A woman can’t very well choose to have an abortion if she is unable to access an abortion.

In the first half of 2013, the efforts to restrict women’s reproductive rights were astounding, and continued and increasing counter efforts are needed to turn the tide. The image of Governor Kasich of Ohio surrounded by only men as he signed the new state budget reads as a lot more than the beginning of a new fiscal year. It reads as a need to continue fighting to secure women’s reproductive rights in every state. It reads as a fundamental lack of diversity in the vast majority of leadership positions in society. And it reads as a need to remind ourselves of the significance of our votes, and the relationship between the who and the what in the matter of legislative priorities. After all, as Ohio State Rep. Connie Pillich (D) summed it up, is your uterus a budget issue?

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Filed under Abortion, Abortion Access, Democracy, PA Legislature, Planned Parenthood, Politics, Reproductive Rights, Voter turnout, women in Congress, women in legislature, women voting, Women's health

Title IX requirements not burdensome

By Terry L. Fromson, WLP Managing Attorney

On June 19, 2013, the Northwestern Lehigh School District Board of Directors adopted a resolution that would keep basic information from parents and students about the sports programs their tax dollars support.

The resolution also revealed shocking ignorance about Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education, including in school athletic programs.  Resolving to support the repeal of a law adopted last year by the Pennsylvania Legislature that requires public high schools, junior highs, and middle schools to fill out a reporting form once a year showing how schools are doing in achieving gender equity in their athletic programs, the Board resolution incredulously states that “the provisions of Title IX, which is federal law, are not applicable to local school districts.”

To the contrary, Title IX applies to any educational program that receives any federal financial assistance.  There are few, if any, schools that don’t receive any federal funding.  Title IX requires our schools to provide equal athletic opportunities and treatment to girls. Adopted 41 years ago this month, Title IX required schools to become compliant within three years.  Yet, many schools have not only failed to achieve equality in their sports programs, but overall, conditions have actually worsened for girls.

Last year’s passage of the reporting law was a victory for girls who want to participate in school athletics in Pennsylvania and for their parents who expect equal opportunity for their daughters in school. It simply provides the taxpaying public with knowledge about whether their local schools are in compliance with or in violation of Title IX.   The law is not burdensome.  The information it asks schools to share is in their possession and is already reportable on a request by request basis under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know law.  Compiling one report each year, a task estimated to take no more than six hours, will consume less time and effort than responding to multiple requests throughout the year.  This small investment of time is more than reasonable to ensure female athletes in Pennsylvania’s schools are provided with the athletic opportunities required by law.

At this same meeting, the Northwestern Lehigh School Board voted to “move forward” with plans to seek private funding for improvements to the athletic stadium and track field at a projected cost of $2.1 million. Without more information, it cannot definitively be said whether these improvements will result in or contribute to an uneven playing field for girls in the Northwestern Lehigh School District.  However, the Board should know that female student athletes must be treated equally even if private funding is used to purchase extra perks for male student athletes.

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Please also see recent commentary by Paul Carpenter of The Morning Call:  Title IX spotlights scholastic sports — for all students or just the Al Bundy types?

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Filed under Athletic Equity, Education, Equality, Gender Discrimination, Girls, Sex Discrimination, Sports, Title IX