Bill to ban LGBT-panic defense in Penn. stalled in committee

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Pennsylvania Senate Bill 212, which would ban LGBT-panic defenses in criminal cases across the state, has been pending in the state Senate Judiciary Committee for almost a year.

The Judiciary Committee is chaired by state Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne, Wyoming). PGN asked Baker whether she would schedule a vote on the measure. “I am not ruling out the possibility of any future action,” Baker said in a Jan. 6 email. “But we need to take a closer look at the implications of the proposal and get input from the legal and justice communities.”

On Sept. 6, 2018, state Sen. Lawrence Farnese (D-Philadelphia) introduced the bill, which was initially assigned the number SB 1244. But it died in committee on Nov. 30, 2018. On Feb. 4, 2019, he reintroduced the bill, and it was assigned SB 212 as its new number.

The bill’s cosponsors are Sens. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia); Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny); Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia); Christine Tartaglione (D-Philadelphia); Jay Costa (D-Allegheny); Steven Santarsiero (D-Bucks); Judith Schwank (D-Berks); Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery, Delaware); Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia, Montgomery), Katie Muth (D-Berks, Chester, Montgomery); Timothy Kearney (D-Delaware, Chester); Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia); James Brewster (D-Allegheny, Westmoreland); and Patrick Stefano (R-Fayette).

Farnese said he’s trying to get additional cosponsors for the bill. He said a public hearing in the Judiciary Committee also could help garner support for the bill.

“We are certainly urging Senator Baker to have a hearing on the legislation, and I’m hopeful that she will,” Farnese told PGN last week. But Farnese stopped short of predicting the bill’s passage in the Republican-controlled Senate. The bill would also need to be passed in the Republican-controlled House before it could reach the desk of Gov. Tom Wolf for his signature.

Farnese said passage of the bill was a priority for him. “It should be a priority for everyone to eliminate this [LGBT-panic] defense because it’s an embarrassment to our state,” Farnese said. “I’ll talk about it on the floor of the Senate and other venues in my district.”

“Gay panic” and “trans panic” defenses seek to excuse crimes such as murder and assault by arguing that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity provoked the defendant’s violent reaction, thus blaming victims for the violence committed against them.

Farnese’s bill would ban criminal defendants in Pennsylvania from claiming they were provoked into assaulting or killing someone due to the “discovery, knowledge or potential disclosure of a victim’s actual or perceived gender identity or expression or sexual orientation, including circumstances in which the victim made an unwanted nonforcible romantic or sexual advance toward the defendant or if the defendant and victim had a romantic or sexual relationship.”

The states of New York, Hawaii, California, Rhode Island, Illinois, Maine, Nevada and Connecticut have enacted LGBT-panic defense bans. Most recently, New Jersey legislators passed a bill banning the LGBT-panic defense. The bill is expected to reach Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk for his signature shortly.

On a national scale, U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) introduced legislation in June 2019 that would ban the LGBT-panic defense in federal trials for homicide and aggravated assault. The federal bills remain pending in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.