State Rep. Babette Josephs (D-182nd Dist.) testified Oct. 17 before the House Finance Committee in favor of HB 1828, which seeks to eliminate the inheritance tax the surviving partner of a same-sex couple must pay.
Dan Massing, spokesperson for Republican Rep. Kerry Benninghoff (171st Dist.), who chairs the committee, said that there are “no plans to bring it up [for a vote] at this time.”
Josephs was one of a number of legislators who came before the committee to provide an overview of their proposals at the hearing, all of which dealt with inheritance-tax issues.
Currently, only heterosexual spouses and children under 21 are exempt from paying an inheritance tax on property bequeathed to them by a deceased loved one; adult children or grandchildren must pay a 4.5-percent tax and siblings a 12-percent tax, while “collateral heirs,” which same-sex partners are counted as, are subject to a 15-percent tax.
HB 1828 would extend the full exemption to both same- and opposite-sex partners who would be classified as domestic partners — a relationship of mutual interdependence that would need to be proven through a signed affidavit and two supporting documents, such as a joint mortgage or lease, joint bank accounts or a joint health-insurance policy.
In her testimony this week, Josephs noted current law penalizes opposite-sex couples who chose not to enter into the institution of marriage, as well as same-sex couples, who are legally prevented from marrying in the commonwealth.
“These ‘non-traditional’ arrangements do not preclude one from loving another individual wholeheartedly and accepting the responsibilities that come along with a monogamous relationship of mutual interdependence,” Josephs said.
Following her statement, Josephs welcomed questions and feedback from the panel but received none.
“I waited for maybe 15 or 30 seconds and nobody asked anything,” Josephs said. “I didn’t hear any questions at all from the Republican members and, based on their records and personalities, I know I had a lot of sympathy from the Democratic members.”
The bill, introduced Sept. 13, currently has 11 Democratic cosponsors: Michelle Brownlee (195th Dist.), Mark Cohen (202nd Dist.), Dom Costa (21st Dist.), Maria Donatucci (185th Dist.), Dan Frankel (23rd Dist.), Robert Freeman (136th Dist.), Patrick Harkins (1st Dist.), Michael McGeehan (173rd Dist.), Michael O’Brien (175th Dist.), Chelsa Wagner (22nd Dist.) and Rosita Youngblood (198th Dist.).
Massing noted that, following all of the testimony, a representative from the Department of Revenue testified about a number of the measures and asserted that HB 1828 may violate the constitutional uniformity clause — which regulates unjust taxation — and Benninghoff’s office is looking into before any action would be considered.
Josephs said she will wait a “reasonable time” before writing to Benninghoff to request he bring the measure up for a committee vote, and that she plans to work with LGBT leaders to mobilize constituents across Pennsylvania to press for the bill.
“This is something that people all over the state should be interested in moving forward so we will need to be identifying and activating people behind this, which is a huge task but something that needs to be done if we’re going to drag this state into this century, or even last century,” Josephs said. “Pennsylvania is woefully behind the states around us in terms of protecting LGBT people.”
Jen Colletta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.