Foes try to ‘boggle down’ nondiscrimination bill

Lawmakers opposed to a bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to Pennsylvania’s nondiscrimination law have turned out in full force to attempt to thwart the bill.

As of April 28, a group of 26 legislators — 13 Republicans and 13 Democrats — have introduced a combined 48 amendments to HB 300, which is currently awaiting approval by the House Appropriations Committee.

The House State Government Committee approved the bill, which was introduced by Rep. Dan Frankel (D-23rd Dist.) March 5, in a vote of 12-11 the following week.

Philadelphia City Councilwoman-at-Large Blondell Reynolds Brown (D) introduced a resolution April 30 co-sponsored by Councilman Frank DiCiccio (D-1st Dist.) that seeks to voice the council’s support for HB 300. The resolution notes that Pennsylvania is currently the only Northeastern state without an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination law and urges the House to pass the legislation.

Jake Kaskey, outreach and policy coordinator at Equality Advocates Pennsylvania, said the bill is not expected to come up for a vote in the Appropriations Committee until at least June, once proponents are sure they have enough votes to move it forward.

Johnna Pro, spokesperson for Rep. Dwight Evans (D-203rd Dist.), chair of the Appropriations Committee, said the body will not need to vote on the amendments before it decides whether to send the bill to the House floor.

Of the 35 committeemembers, 16, including Evans, are cosponsors of HB 300, which would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression as classes protected from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

However, four of the committeemembers — Reps. Gordon Denlinger (R-99th Dist.), John Galloway (D-140th Dist.), William Kortz (D-38th Dist.) and Deberah Kula (D-52nd Dist.) — proposed several of the amendments to the bill.

All 48 of the amendments are unfriendly, and the majority of them deal with the expansion and clarification of the religious exemption already included in existing legislation. HB 300 allows for churches to be exempt from the law, but many of the amendments want to expand this to include any religiously affiliated organization.

Kaskey noted that while some of these amendments may have been put forth in “good faith,” there are numerous others that are “off the wall and bizarre.”

Kaskey said it is “not typical at all” for a bill to have this many amendments, adding the move is probably strategic.

“We’re really hoping that legislators don’t play legislative games and instead pass this important piece of legislation that’d impact thousands of people across the state,” Kaskey said.

A collection of representatives — Kathy Rapp (R-65th Dist.), Richard Grucela (D-137th Dist.), Matt Baker (R-68th Dist.), Paul Clymer (R-145th Dist.), Jerry Stern (R-80th Dist.), Donna Oberlander (R-63rd Dist.) and Denlinger — issued a letter to their legislative colleagues April 21 with a list of the statewide and local organizations, totaling more than 150, that are opposed to the bill. Among the list of organizations are dozens of churches throughout the state, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the Pennsylvania State Council of the Knights of Columbus.

Frankel said supporters of the bill have been sending out weekly memos to lawmakers about the progress of the legislation, including one in late March with a list of some 60 organizations that have endorsed HB 300.

“We want people to understand that this is not just the usual suspects who are supporting this bill, but it has a broad support from a variety of organizations,” Frankel said. “And there are other things brewing and some significant support and endorsements forthcoming.”

Frankel called on the LGBT and ally communities across the state to continue to contact their legislators to raise awareness about the challenges faced by LGBT individuals in their districts.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-12th Dist.), who recently told the Valley News Dispatch that the bill is a “direct attack on family values by people who just want to force their sinful choices on the rest of us,” was also quoted as saying lawmakers are trying to “boggle down” the bill with amendments.

Grucela, who leads the pack with six amendments, proposed one that would amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, similar to a bill that the state Senate defeated last year. Of the three amendments Stern proposed, one attempts to clarify that the Boy Scouts of America, whose local chapter is locked in a legal battle with the city over its policy of banning openly gay members, would not be affected by the legislation. Rep. Mark Longietti (D-Seventh Dist.) proposed that HB 300 should only be applicable to housing accommodations that offer more than 100 units or 30,000 square feet of rentable space.

No Philadelphia legislators proposed any amendments to the bill, although Bucks County legislators Galloway — a former cosponsor of the bill — suggested that HB 300 be amended to prohibit state government agencies from refusing funding or penalizing in any way religious organizations that discriminate against LGBT individuals because of religious reasons, and Clymer proposed two amendments: one that would strike gender identity and expression from the legislation and another that would exempt housing accommodations run by religious organizations.

Neither legislator returned calls for comment.

Several lawmakers proposed amendments that would allow individuals, not just organizations, who oppose homosexuality for religious or moral reasons to be exempt from the law.

Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-100th Dist.), who proposed such an amendment, said he was motivated to introduce the amendment after learning of a photographer in New Mexico who was fined under the state’s LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination law for refusing to photograph a lesbian commitment ceremony.

Cutler also proposed two other amendments: one that would expire the bill after five years and another after 10 years.

“Discrimination is defined by putting people into different groups and telling them that they are different. At some point you reach a point where discrimination no longer occurs, and at that point I’m not sure it’s best to keep putting people into different groups and highlighting their differences,” Cutler said.

Cutler said he was unsure whether he would vote for the bill with or without the adoption of his amendments.

“I can’t really say, but I can guarantee the bill’s going to be very different from what it is now to what it will be at the end of the amendment process,” he said.

Frankel, prime sponsor of the bill, concurred.

“I don’t think we’re ever going to make the coalition that opposes this bill happy, but I think some members who have some proclivity to be supportive believe that expanding the religious exemption is an important issue,” Frankel said. “There is case law supporting a broader exemption, and from my standpoint that means I’m not too resistant to incorporating it into the statute.”

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].

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