PA Legislature introduces bipartisan Nondiscrimination Act to protect LGBT citizens
History was made this morning as a bipartisan group of Pennsylvania legislators introduced two bills—House Bill 300 and Senate Bill 300, the Pennsylvania Nondiscrimination Act—which would put an end to discrimination throughout Pennsylvania as it affects the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community.
Several members of the Legislature, as well as advocates, faith leaders and a business leader held a press conference in the Capitol to announce the bills, which already have 77 co-sponsors in the House and at least 23 co-sponsors in the state Senate (this was the official number; prime sponsor Sen. Larry Farnese of Philadelphia put that number at 25).
“I’m pleased to announce that for the first time, these bills will be introduced in both the House and the Senate with prime sponsors form both parties,” said state Sen. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) while opening the presser. “[Members of both parties are] standing together to say that someone should not be fired form their job or denied a rental property just because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. We believe that today marks a significant step toward LGBT equality.”
Frankel is co-sponsoring the bill in the House with Rep. Chris Ross (R-Chester) in the House. Larry Farnese is co-sponsoring the Senate version with Sen. Patrick Browne (R-Lehigh).
“Ending discrimination based on sexual orientation is…a human issue,” noted Ross. “All Pennsylvanians deserve to be treated with human dignity.”
Farnese noted this is one of his proudest days, “not just as an elected official, but as a Pennsylvanian.”
In their co-sponsorship memo, Farnese and Ross wrote, “This legislation is intended to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in the same way we currently prohibit discrimination because of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, handicap or disability…Many major employers and municipalities in Pennsylvania already have these policies in place.” Drafts of the actual legislation are not yet available at the General Assembly’s website.
The Pennsylvania Nondiscrimination Act would ban discrimination based upon sexual orientation or gender identity or expression statewide in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations. Pennsylvania is currently the least-progressive state in the northeast as it pertains to LGBT anti-discrimination laws.
This law would not change much for Philadelphia and dozens of other progressive municipalities across the state who’ve taken it upon themselves to ban discrimination of all forms in the past. A couple weeks back Philly even created incentives for the local private sector to provide health benefits to the spouses of LGBT couples. Should Senate Bill 300 and its House counterpart pass, though, LGBT Philadelphians would be able to criss-cross the commonwealth without fear of being turned away at businesses and other places.
One of those legislators whom this legislation directly affects is Rep. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia), the first openly-gay man elected to the state General Assembly. He noted during his time to speak that he was more emotional than he thought he’d be—and that he was pressed for time today.
“I’ve been prepping for this, like many of my colleagues, for a long time,” he said. “We are hearing from…the largest gathering of pro-LGBT legislators in Pennsylvania’s history. Perhaps more importantly, as I stand here today as a proud openly-gay man, the first to be elected as you just heard, to the Pennsylvania Legislature, and I’m joined by another proud gay man in Representative Mike Fleck, today we are pressed for time because of the tremendous turnout and support we received from our allies.”
Rep. Mike Fleck, a Republican legislator from Huntingdon, came out of the closet as gay in December 2012. Sims welcomed the news and vowed to work with the Republican.
Sims noted that the bipartisan nature of the press conference shows “once again, that the American spirit, American dream, and most important, American values demand that we as a commonwealth finally evolve. Our neighbors in virtually every direction have moved beyond us or are surpassing us and it’s long past time that we stand up and say enough is enough.”
The legislators were later joined by Ted Martin of Equality Pennsylvania; Rev. Sandra Strauss, director of public advocacy at the Pennsylvania Council of Churches; and a representative from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center; all of whom support nondiscrimination policies.
With 25 potential co-sponsors, the Senate version of the bill should pass easily—in fact, Sen. Farnese said so himself that the bill “will pass the senate.” It was noted that the chairman of the State Government Committee, Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), who was not mentioned by name, has historically been against such legislation and may be a tough sell to get the legislation through committee. Gov. Corbett’s past statements on LGBT rights have been less than encouraging, as well. Nevertheless, the number of co-sponsors here represents the closest Pennsylvania has ever come to passing nondiscrimination legislation. Baby steps.
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