LGBT bills on PA horizon

With the new legislature reconvening on Jan. 6, LGBT advocates across the state are gearing up for renewed attempts to pass pro-LGBT legislation and bracing for fights to defeat the inevitable anti-LGBT bills.

Steve Glassman, chairman of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, said the legislature will again consider a bill that would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression as protected classes, prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people in employment, housing and public accommodations.

“We’re certainly going to see a reintroduction of the nondiscrimination bill,” Glassman said.

State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-23rd Dist.) introduced the bill in June 2007 and it was referred to the State Government Committee, which held a series of public hearings on the legislation throughout the state last fall. The committee voted to table the bill in September.

Glassman said several lawmakers who spearheaded the effort to pass the legislation will again rally behind it this session.

“We’re working with members in the new leadership as well as with our allies who’ve worked on this before. We’ll see many of the same individuals re-introducing this legislation,” Glassman said.

A spokesperson for Frankel confirmed that the legislator will again introduce the bill in the upcoming session.

Glassman noted that the legislature will probably also take up a bill that would reinstate protections for the LGBT community under the state’s hate-crimes bill.

Last summer, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld a lower-court ruling that removed sexual orientation, gender identity and physical or mental disability as protected classes under the state’s Ethnic Intimidation Act.

The state legislature originally approved the inclusive hate-crimes legislation in 2002 as an amendment to an agricultural bill, but antigay activists sued, arguing that the amendment changed the agricultural bill’s original purpose, which they said was a violation of the legislative procedure set down in the state constitution.

Glassman said he believes that both the hate-crimes and nondiscrimination bills will likely see victories in both houses of the legislature if they can make it out of committee.

“I think there is a good likelihood that they’ll both pass in the House, and I think there’s a strong interest in voting on them in the Senate where we believe we’ll also have enough votes,” Glassman said. “We just need to get the bills to the floor for a vote.”

However, legislators also could introduce other initiatives that would restrict LGBT rights.

Last year, LGBT allies in both the state Senate and House worked to defeat SB 1250, the Marriage Protection Amendment, which would have defined marriage in the state constitution as being between one man and one woman.

The legislation was tabled in a Senate committee in May after several senators introduced a series of amendments to the bill and House leadership pledged to kill it in committee.

“I think we’re probably going to have to fend off another attempt at amending the constitution to ban same-sex marriage, but we don’t know what that language is going to look like yet,” Glassman said.

Andy Hoover, legislative director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said that while some lawmakers pursue such hot-button issues as same-sex marriage in election years, the passage of similar constitutional amendments in California, Florida and Arizona last month might spur some local legislators to again introduce a marriage-protection amendment.

“Typically these amendments are proposed during election years but with the California situation and the other ballot initiatives, we’re wary of the possibility that proponents of an amendment will go early and try to get after this immediately,” Hoover said.

State Sen. Michael Brubaker (R-36th Dist.) introduced SB 1250 last year and Nathan Flood, Brubaker’s chief of staff, told PGN this week that the senator may not pursue the issue again this session.

“We haven’t made any determination at this point in time in terms of what will and won’t be introduced, but I can tell you that we’re leaning probably toward not introducing it,” Flood said. “But no final decision has been made.”

Glassman said conservative lawmakers might attempt to ban same-sex couples from adopting or foster-parenting children, motivated by the passage of such legislation in Arkansas last month.

“We’re not certain but we’re anticipating that there may be an attempt to modify the adoption laws and potentially the foster-care laws based upon the ballot initiative that passed in Arkansas,” he said. “Until our opponents decide to put forward any legislation to restrict our rights, we can only surmise as to what they might be planning based on their previous behavior.”

Glassman posited that if the Republican-controlled Senate puts forth legislation to limit LGBT rights, the Democratic-held House will likely counter its efforts.

“I think it is likely that the Democratic majority in the House will continue to reject attempts to put forward anti-LGBT legislation even if it originates once again in the Senate.”

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected]