A committee of the Pennsylvania House approved a bill last month that would ban discrimination against LGBT people in the state, and the legislation’s supporters are now calling on lawmakers and the governor to stand behind the bill before it can go before the full House for a vote.
Rep. Dan Frankel (D-23rd Dist.) introduced HB 300 — which would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity and expression” as classes protected from discrimination in employment, public accommodations and housing — March 5 with 79 cosponsors, the highest number of lawmakers that a pro-LGBT bill has ever been introduced with in the House. Over the past several weeks, however, several cosponsors have dropped their names from the bill.
Frankel said lawmakers have been under intense pressure from such groups as the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the Family Institute of Pennsylvania to vote against HB 300.
“Those who oppose the bill have been very active, very aggressive and in my view have been even bullying some members and distorting what the bill does,” Frankel said. “They’ve orchestrated quite an opposition to this.”
Frankel said the bill’s supporters are evaluating nondiscrimination laws in other states and working with lawmakers who are open to discussion about the bill to determine under what circumstances they’d support HB 300. He said numerous lawmakers are interested in expanding the bill’s religious exemption.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re going to have to have a compromise to move this bill forward; right now there’s some opposition in the Democratic caucus and an enormous amount of opposition in the Republican caucus,” he said. “As of today, the bill would not pass if it got to the floor for a vote.”
Gary Miller, a spokesperson for Gov. Rendell, told PGN this week that the governor is willing to work with legislators to bolster support for HB 300.
“Just as he does with any other legislation he supports, Gov. Rendell will speak with legislators about why he feels this measure should be enacted,” Miller said.
Miller said Rendell will sign HB 300 if and when the House and Senate approve it.
“Gov. Rendell favors House Bill 300 and would be inclined to sign it, should it reach his desk,” Miller said. “The governor is pleased to see that there is growing public support for addressing what he feels is a matter of basic fairness.”
Steve Glassman, chairman of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, said he’s “pleased to see that the governor continues to strongly support House Bill 300” and noted that Rendell could be an asset in encouraging undecided lawmakers to stand behind the bill.
“I hope that he is able to use his considerable political skills and influence to work with those legislators in both parties who have not yet indicated their support for the legislation,” Glassman said. “The governor has been a champion for civil rights for all minorities in every political office he has ever held. We need him at this moment to stand publicly and visibly for the civil rights of the LGBT community.”
Perry Monastero, executive director of LGBT grantmaking organization the Delaware Valley Legacy Fund, said he’s spoken with several community members who are anxious for the governor to express firmer support for the bill.
“There’s a level of frustration on the part of folks that feel that the governor’s not done enough to advance LGBT rights in the state in the past four years,” Monastero said. “We’re looking for something in addition to his public support of the community. What people are feeling is that we need something proactive out of the governor’s office. It’s time.”
Michael Hinson, interim executive director of the COLOURS Inc. organization, said community members may be anxious to see Rendell take a more public stance on HB 300, but that they also have to be conscious of the political limitations the governor faces.
“I think that there’s no doubt that Gov. Rendell has been on our side and is on our side on this issue,” Hinson said. “We can only hope that he’s using his great political understanding to build that support and a winning strategy for us, because that’s what he’s done in the past.”
’Dolph Ward Goldenburg, executive director of the William Way LGBT Community Center, said that while he’d like to see the governor put more pressure on lawmakers to get on board, just his endorsement of HB 300 sends an important message to the legislature.
“If he had the time to lobby legislators right now, that would be great, but his commitment to sign the bill tells legislators where he stands and encourages those who are most allied with him to stand with him,” Goldenburg said. “If he has the time to really pick up the phone and call specific legislators who are on the fence, that’s fantastic. But when he comes out and says, ‘Yes, I’ll sign it,’ he’s telling the legislature and individual legislators that he hopes it gets to his desk.”
Frankel noted the work of community members may be more integral than the governor’s support, as it will show the legislators that there are LGBT and ally individuals within their districts who back this legislation.
“I think this issue goes beyond having somebody like the governor being aggressively supportive,” Frankel said. “What we need even more than that is the individual constituents going to their representatives and saying, ‘You need to support this bill and this is why it’s important.’”
Since the bill was introduced last month, eight cosponsors have removed their names from the bill: Republican Reps. Thomas Murt (152nd Dist.), Susan Helm (104th Dist.) and Bernie O’Neill (29th Dist.), as well as Democratic Reps. John Galloway (140th Dist.), Harry Readshaw (36th Dist.), Daniel Deasy (27th Dist.), Camille Bud George (74th Dist.) and John Hornaman (3rd Dist.).
Hornaman chief of staff Joy Greco said the representative removed his name because he wanted more information on how it will affect Section 8 of the Human Relations Act, which allows the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission to recommend a multicultural educational program for schools.
Greco said Hornaman “very well may still vote for the bill,” but that he just wants clarification.
Frankel said his office is working on providing this information to Hornaman.
Calls to the other seven lawmakers were not returned.
Rep. Thomas Caltagirone (D-127th Dist.) had removed himself as a cosponsor but put his name back on the bill this week.
The House State Government Committee approved HB 300 in a 12-11 vote March 11. The bill was recommitted to the Appropriations Committee that day.
A spokesperson for Rep. Dwight Evans (D-203rd Dist.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee and a cosponsor of HB 300, was unsure when the bill could come up for a vote, which is necessary before it heads to the full House.
Fifteen of the 21 Democratic members of the committee are cosponsors of HB 300, and none of the 14 Republicans on the committee are cosponsoring the bill.
Frankel said he hopes the bill can come to the floor before the legislature adjourns for the summer and that HB 300’s supporters take the time to ensure the bill has the proper support in the House.
“We’d like to get it run in the spring or early summer, but we want to know that we can win a vote on the floor before we get it to that point,” he said.