LIVE-BLOGGING the State Government Committee Hearing!

And it’s over! Thank you to State Government Committee Chair Josephs for holding these important hearings, Rep. Frankel for introducing this bill, and everyone who testified and attended the hearings in Philly, Pittsburgh, and Erie!

UPDATE VI: Last speaker is Larry Frankel, Legislative Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. Mr. Frankel prepared his testimony to address the religious exemption issue and states there are already existing protections for religious freedom under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, and there already is judicially created protection for religious freedom. A provision of the existing Pennsylvania Human Relations Act — Section 5(h) (10) — already provide religious institutions statutory language providing them with accomodation. Over the last 35 years, courts have additionally created a “ministerial exception” that, in essence, bars the judicial branch of government from considering civil rights claims if there is any threat to a religious institution’s right to make employment decisions concerning who will perform spiritual functions. Mr. Frankel explains, “This exception does not apply just to clergy. Lawsuits by music directors, parochial school teachers…have all been barred. In assessing whether the ministerial exception can be applied, courts look at whether the employee’s primary functions serve the ‘spiritual and pastoral mission’ of the employer.” The third circuit specifically has ruled on a broad ministerial exception. “The Third Circuit has held that the ministerial exception operates as a constitutionally mandated bar to the consideration of any claim related to a religious institution’s right to select who would perform ministerial functions – whether that claim is governed by federal or state law. ” Also, in a footnate of a U.S. District Court Eastern District of PA decision the Court wrote, “The Free Exercise Clause precludes the application of the…PHRA to religious organization employees such as ministers, teachers, and other individuals whose duties are ‘integral to the spiritual and pastoral mission.'”

“I bring all <of this> to your attention to demonstrate that the courts have already recognized the very accomodation that is being sought by some of the opponents of HB 1400. The judiciary has gone to great lengths to craft a ministerial exception..” Additionally, the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protections Act provides an additional layer of protection for religious freedom. “You can easily protect the civil rights of all Pennsylvanians and prohibit discrimination on the bais of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression without fear of interfering with religious freedom.”

UPDATE V: Back from break and speaking now are some folks we’re all familiar with. Our Executive Director, Stacey Sobel, is speaking on behalf of the organization and also the Value All Families Coalition. “Thank you for holding these hearings…<they will> help get rid of the myths surrounding this legislation…support for this legislation has grown each year in the legislature…the Value All Families Coalition is comprised of more than 50 organizations that have supported this type of legislation…and there are many non-coalition members (like the PA Association of Realtors) who support HB 1400. In statewide polling completed on November 12, 2007 … 71 % of Pennsylvanians support this legislation– 86% said there should be workplace equality for all people- we aren’t asking the legislature to go out on a wing here. Every segment of people across the state support this legislation. Even 56% of SELF-described conservatives support this legislation. At Equality Advocates we receive about 700 calls each year for help with 30 different legal issues — 22% of the calls we get are because of discrimination in the workplace. I am here today to speak for those who cannnot speak for themselves.

Katie Eyer, attorney with Salmanson Goldshaw, PC and former Employment Rights Project Attorney with Equality Advocates, is speaking about her experience spending two years as the nation’s only attorney dedicated exclusively to representing LGBT claimants in employment matters. When I began working for Equality Advocates, I “was stunned by both the frequency and the severity of the calls of employment discrimination that we received.” She also asked the Committee to keep in mind that Equality Advocates only receive a FRACTION of the actual instances of anti-LGBT discrimination in the state. This legislation is absolutely necessary because discrimination absolutely exists. She goes on to speak about why bringing a claim under current sex discrimination laws, or under a local ordinance, is woefully inadequate.

Marissa Coute, a Steelworkers union rep who identifies as trangender, is speaking on Mara Keisling’s, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, behalf. Gender identity refers to one’s inner-sense of their gender. Traditionally we think of gender identity protections as there to only protect transgender people (which they do), but they protect all gender non-conforming people. Everyone has a gender identity– most people’s identity matches their sex at birth. For some, their identity does not match their sex at birth. Transgender is an all-encompassing term that includes: transsexuals, cross-dressers, and gender non-conforming people. Thirteen states have gender identity protections on the books. Many employers already realize that protecting their LGBT employees is good for business. Transgender people are extraordinary — think about the courage it takes to look inside and think about who you really are.

Rep. Frankel asks that if ENDA passes nationally, is there still a need for HB 1400? Absolutely. HR 3685 is limited — it only covers employment discrimination (HB 1400 covers employment, housing, and public accomodations discrimination), and only protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation (and not gender identity). Chair Josephs goes on to talk about the real need to include gender identity because it protects heterosexual people who are gender non-conforming.

UPDATE IV: Andrew Susko, President of the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA), is next. ” The PBA holds itself to the principle that the law itself must ensure that no one should be subjected to discrimination.” On June 22, 2007 the PBA resolution in support of amending the PA Human Relations Act to include protections against discrimination for LGBT people in housing, employment, and public accomodations. “Although it is admirable that local governments have provided protections, this piecemeal approach to protection will lead to problems in the future. All people in PA must be able to receive redress from harm — no matter where they live… By amending the PA human relations act…PA will be joining a significant number of states who have already taken this important step forward…In passing House Bill 1400, PA will be continuing its laudable tradition of protecting civil and legal rights.” The Commonwealth has long been a leader in protecting civil rights (civil rights legislation was passed in PA much earlier than it was federally). “This is a matter that goes to the essence of civil and legal matters— that all people under the law are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and a system of laws that require everyone is treated the same under the law.”

On deck is Rev. Timothy Safford, Rector of Christ Church Philadelphia and also speaking on behalf of the Faith Coalition for Pennsylvania Families. He is joined by Ken Oakes who works with the LGBT community at the church. Christ Church was founded in 1695 and was the first test of the “faith experiment.” “Religious organizations, while honoring the seperation of church and state, must be called to the same standard that the state expects in the conduct of its business….. By adding these protections, that does not mean that the Roman Catholic Church will suddenly have to ordain an openly gay man– this will not affect the dogmatic aspects of their religious organization…. However, almost every church have regular employees providing regular public services–social work services, drug rehab services, hospitals, etc. Each religious organization must be held to the standard that all other employers are held to…..As legislators, you all know that fear comes into play with this– the fear of alienating the religious base, going up against the powerful “religious right,” but legislators need to do what is best for the PEOPLE and not buckle under that pressure. I urge you not to extend the religious exemptions and buy into that fear– I urge you to have the courage that William Penn had…..You cannot give even religious institutions the power to discriminate.”

In further discussing the religious exemption, Rev. Safford and Rep. Josephs speaks about the distinctions in the Church between employees — there are Ministers, and there are secretaries. Some who work for a religious organization are not in “religious functions.”

Susan Boyle, the Minority Executive Director of the Committee, asked to further explain differences between tents of the church and beliefs of the congregants. “Every church represents certain religious beliefs- a doctrine or dogma. Generally tents then flow from that– that talk about marriage, pre-martial sex, etc. EVery religious organization is allowed in the hiring of people that work with the faith are allowed to apply these standards. What I’m saying is that these organizations should not be able to apply those “faith standards” to just a secretary, or janitor.”

Now we get to take a short break!

UPDATE III: Joseph Mahoney, Executive Vice President of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, is speaking now. The Chamber represents approximately 5,000 member companies in the region. “As a fundamental business principle, we believe that discrimination in the workplace is unacceptable…To attract the best workplace, employers must foster an environment where judgement is based on productivity and performance, and where creativity and knowledge are exchanged freely. This type of workplace atmosphere unquestionably benefits both employers and employees….Business leaders support equality in the workplace…Employers promote equality not only because it is the right and moral thing to do, but also because it makes good business sense.”

Rep. Frankel asked Mr. Mahoney to elaborate on the businesses that already protect LGBT people- he mentioned PNC Bank, Melon Financial, Comcast etc. Rep. Frankel also said that one of the arguments he hears against the bill is that it would cost businesses extra costs. Mr. Mahoney answers, “I’ve never heard any of our members make that argument.”

Rep. Josephs asked whether these mandates would cost all businesses, including smaller and medium-sized businesses. Mr. Mahoney mentioned he will try and poll his membership on this issue specifically — and that many smaller businesses don’t have “specific policies” but discrimination is not tolerated. Rep. Frankel is thanking the business community for coming out in support of the bill and testifying in-person today.

UPDATE II: Next up, Rachel Lawton, Deputy Director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, and Stephen Glassman, Chair of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. Rachel spoke about the history of the Philly Commission (did you know that Philly was the first city in the United States to have in its basic charter a provision for an official civil rights agency?) and the work they do. “Amending a law to include protection will not eliminate discrimination, but it will give victims a course of action to pursue a remedy…With a 25 year history of sexual orientation protection in Philadelphia we can conclusively say that adding this protection and the subsequent gender identity 5 years ago, have not had a significant financial cost to the city and the agency. It has had a dramatic impact withh regard to deterring LGBT discrimination.”

In 2002, 384 employment discrimination cases were filed and of those 22 had sexual orientation as a basis (no gender identity cases filed). In 2006, 256 cases were filed and 14 were based on sexual orientation and 3 were based on gender identity.

Chairman Glassman is speaking now. “In many areas of Pennsylvania, local areas already protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals… The Commonwealth has long been a leader in the area of civil rights and equality under the law. It is only just to extend this principle of equality to a group of people who have a long history of being unfairly denied jobs, housing, and other basic human rights.”

UPDATE: This live-blogging thing is awfully exciting! There’s a nice group of people that have come to listen to the testimony and show their support for the bill. Rep. Babette Josephs, Chair of the State Government Committee, just called the hearing to order and Rep. Frankel, prime sponsor of the bill, is speaking. Rep. Frankel mentions that a majority of Americans live in one of the 20 states that ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation — including those who live in the states that surround Pennsylvania (Maryland, New Jersey, and New York). Ninety percent of the Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies, and 124 of the 500 companies include transgender people in their policies.

“We don’t know who the next Einstein or Jonas Salk will be. What if he – or she – happens to be gay, and out outdated law drives him or her away? … I want the creative class to grow and thrive in Pennsylvania…All othat these fellow citizens of ours want is a level playing field, so they can compete and win. I want to close by quoting the late Governor Casey. He used to say, ‘What did you do when you had the power? By passing this one bill, we can make life better for hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens. We don’t have a single Pennsylvanian to waste.”


We’re up-and-running here at the Friends Center for the State Government Committee Hearing on House Bill 1400. Things should be getting started in about 15 minutes— so check back through the afternoon to read about the testimony given in support of this important bill!!


One Response to LIVE-BLOGGING the State Government Committee Hearing!

  1. Aidan Tharp says:

    That information about the religious exemption is really great. Yay for live-blogging!

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