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Lack of LGBTQ protections an 'embarrassment,' Wolf says


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
June 16, 2021
LGBTQ law, reform rift, election lesson, progressive critics, pollution control, aging out, and the world's oldest roller coaster lives in Pa. It's Wednesday.
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Gov. Tom Wolf and Democratic lawmakers took to the steps of the state Capitol on Tuesday, halfway through Pride month, to urge the adoption of "long overdue" non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians, Spotlight PA reports.

Specifically, they're calling on the Republican-led legislature to pass the Fairness Act, which would add sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression to state law barring discrimination in housing, employment, education, and public accommodations.

The bill was introduced this week by Rep. Dan Frankel (D., Allegheny), who's spent decades unsuccessfully pursuing similar legislation, to no avail.

It had two Republican co-sponsors in the House as of Tuesday, but Jason Gottesman, spokesperson for Republican House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, bristled at the Democrat-led pressure campaign.

"It seems inconsistent and intellectually dishonest that Democrats today, including the governor, advocated for rigorous legislative engagement on this issue when they have been missing in action in doing the same thing for legislation being advanced by the Republican majority," Gottesman said.

THE CONTEXT: Pennsylvania is the only state in the northeast without codified anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity, though LGBTQ Pennsylvanians can file a complaint with a state commission.

"I gotta say, as a native Pennsylvanian, it remains an embarrassment for Pennsylvania that we stand out among our neighboring states for failing to provide basic civil rights protections," Wolf said Tuesday.

The ideological divide behind the holdup is evident at the state Capitol, where Pride (and other) flags hung from Lt. Gov. John Fetterman's office balcony prompted Republicans to ban such displays last year, which prompted Fetterman to keep flying them in protest, which prompted State Rep. David Rowe (R., Snyder) to hang pro-gun and "Don't Tread on Me" flags in a counter-protest last week

Still, supporters hope the Fairness Act will take root where previous efforts have not.

"The fact that we haven’t gotten this bill done is what so frustrates people about politics," state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D., Philadelphia), one of three openly LGBTQ people serving in the legislature, said Tuesday.
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"Physically, I'm worn out. Mentally I'm half there and half not. It just changed me."

—Philadelphian Saroun Khan, who spent 13 months in ICE custody after being swept up in a Trump-era immigration crackdown

VACCINE UPDATE: Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines were 96% and 92% effective, respectively, at preventing hospitalizations from the Delta variant of COVID-19, an analysis by Public Health England found. Work continues to determine the level of protection against death from the variant. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
» CONGRESSIONAL REDISTRICTING: Join Spotlight PA for a live interview and reader Q&A with Sen. David Argall at 1 p.m. June 18. RSVP for FREE »
I was taking out the trash recently when I spotted one of my Pittsburgh neighborhood's resident deer keeping cool in a neighbor's yard. I said "Hi" and it looked irritated, so I took a picture and moved along. Send us your photos of irascible wildlife, landscapes, and more by email, with the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or by tagging @spotlightpennsylvania.
REFORM RAFT: Republicans in the state House advanced their election overhaul legislation Tuesday despite objections from Democrats, who call it an attack on voting rights. Spotlight PA and The Inquirer report the measures are headed for a vote in the full House. Gov. Tom Wolf is threatening to veto the package, calling enclosed voter ID rules and vote-by-mail restrictions "extremist." But the GOP may have found a workaround.

KEY TAKEAWAY: If 2020 proved anything, it's that comparatively moderate GOP candidates were able to hold onto some suburban voters who roundly rejected then-President Donald Trump. The Inquirer says there's a lesson in that for the party headed into next year's statewide elections. The question is whether pro-Trump candidates will heed the conventional wisdom or double down on divisiveness.

CRIME BILLS: Tough-on-crime legislation from a freshman Democrat has set off a progressive firestorm in Harrisburg. State Rep. Amen Brown's gun-related legislation is heavy on mandatory minimums, light on bail, and "more in line with Republicans' criminal justice platform than his own party's," WHYY reports. Brown said he's trying to address gun violence in cities like Philadelphia, but progressives are dismayed.

GAS PRICES: Six Democrats joined every Republican state senator in voting to make Gov. Tom Wolf go through them before imposing a fee on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, a key part of his climate change plan. The bill passed the Senate with a veto-proof majority and is headed to the House. Meanwhile, Wolf is pushing to use some of the fee revenue to offset fossil-fuel job losses, via the Capital-Star.

AGING PLAN: Lawmakers and advocates for the elderly are pushing back against a state plan to transfer critical eligibility assessments for in-home care from local agencies to a for-profit company with a history of consumer complaints, WESA reports. Opponents fear delays that could force more people into nursing homes. The state's 52 Area Agencies on Aging have been providing the face-to-face assessments for decades.
MISSED MEETING: The battle over a planned Sheetz in Upper Macungie has become a fight over government communication, per the Morning Call. While the township advertised a key hearing on the project as required, residents say they missed it because the notice wasn't posted on a township website where most of them get their updates. The case renews a long-running debate about how best to engage the public on "the public's business."

BACKSTORY: Author and Pittsburgh ombudswoman Deesha Philyaw's newest work is an essay about her father for Pipe Wrench magazine: "My father left me with far more questions than answers. More than fifteen years after his death, the questions remain but the focus has changed."

RIVER ROLL: A New Orleans river boat is docked in Pittsburgh, where passengers disembarked after a weeklong Ohio River cruise, per the Post-Gazette. You can also follow the Ohio River from Pittsburgh to the Mississippi River and on to New Orleans. In 2018, a New Yorker named Dallas built a raft to do just that. It's unclear how far they got.

EERIE PA: Pennsylvania's rich automotive history includes one of the world's most expensive toll roads and the longest stretch of abandoned freeway in America. That last one — and its dicey tunnels — got a very close-up look from the Interesting Pennsylvania and Beyond blog in 2015.

TIL: The world's oldest roller coaster lives in Altoona. Leap-the-Dips was built in 1902 at Altoona's Lakemont Park and continuously operated until the 1980s. A fundraising effort got it refurbished and reopened a decade later. Here's what it's like to take a spin on the century-old thrill-ride today.
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Yesterday's answer: Chihuahua

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