More than marriage equality in PA

More than marriage equality in PA

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Last month, Pennsylvania legalized marriage equality. While LGBTs and allies have been rejoicing, many advocates are cautioning the community not to put down the torch after the momentous victory, with a number of LGBT-focused pieces of legislation still stalled.

LGBT Nondiscrimination

House and Senate Bill 300 would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

The bills were re-introduced last year with record support and, earlier this year, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett expressed his support of the measure.

Reps. Dan Frankel (D-23rd Dist.) and Chris Ross (R-158th Dist.) introduced the House measure with 77 cosponsors. Sen. Pat Browne’s (R-16th Dist.) bill has 24 cosponsors.

Frankel told PGN this week that the House version currently had 97 cosponsors and noted there is bipartisan support in both chambers of the legislature.

Last August, HB 300 was referred to the state government committee, which is chaired by anti-LGBT Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-12th Dist.).

Frankel said the best chance for success would be for the Senate to approve and send over the bill or for the House speaker to reassign the measure to a different committee, such as the education or judiciary committees.

“We are working along those lines and actively discussing other legislative maneuvers to force the bill onto a House floor,” he said. “We’ve been working with Equality Pennsylvania and the ACLU in terms of how to proceed and advocate to get this done.”

Equality PA executive director Ted Martin said that, in light of the recent marriage ruling, it is even more pertinent to get a nondiscrimination law passed.

“The interesting thing is that the marriage decision has made nondiscrimination a lot more real for people,” he said. “You can be fired for putting your wedding picture on your desk at work. That has really hit home for folks.”

Frankel said he is optimistic that the bill will be approved by the end of this session.

“The opposition has been chipped away at and crumbling as we speak,” he said.

Pennsylvania Safe Schools Act

Rep. Dan Truitt (R-156th Dist.) introduced the Pennsylvania Safe Schools Act in January 2013, legislation largely fueled by the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition.

The PASS Act would create a structure for educators and staff to report and intervene in incidents of bullying and would include definitions of bullying and cyber bullying. The bill would specifically protect LGBT students.

PSEC executive director Jason Goodman said the legislation has more support than ever, with 105 cosponsors, including 50 Republicans.

“We are working with many other education and community organizations in support of the legislation but given the schedule of the legislature, we are unsure if they will address it,” Goodman said.

HB 156 is currently before the education committee.

HB 156 cosponsor Rep. Mike O’Brien (D-175th Dist.) said he has had conversations with education committee chair Rep. Paul Clymer (R-145th Dist.) to move the bill but said it may take some time to get it to the House floor.

O’Brien commended Truitt for his work in bringing the measure this far.

“Truitt has done a very good job on the bill. Truitt being a conservative Republican went places with this that I as a Democrat couldn’t. He has crafted the bill well with inclusive language but because of internal issues, it lingers.”

Conversion Therapy

Last year, a bill was introduced for the first time into both the House and Senate to prohibit mental-health professionals from engaging in sexual-orientation change efforts for individuals under 18.

State Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Eighth Dist.) introduced the bill in April, and state Rep. Brian Sims (D-182nd Dist.) submitted the House version in October.

The House bill was referred to the human-services committee and the Senate version to the consumer protection and professional licensure committee. The House bill has 32 cosponsors, and the Senate bill has seven.

Sims’ deputy chief of staff Anna Aagenes said there has not been much movement on the bill and that the legislature is focusing on the budget this month. She noted that, if any movement happens, it would be after the summer recess.

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