The state agency that enforces Pennsylvania’s nondiscrimination law has scheduled a first-ever session to explore public opinion about the proposed bill to incorporate sexual orientation and gender identity into the law.
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission will hold a public hearing Oct. 28 in Harrisburg on House Bill 300.
Commission spokesperson Shannon Powers said the session will function similar to a legislative hearing, although the nine commissioners do not have any legislative authority. They will, however, vote to either support or oppose the bill after the meeting.
The commission has in the past unanimously backed previous versions of HB 300, although Powers noted there are new commissioners on the panel.
Powers said the commission’s session will allow the members to take an informed position on the legislation.
“Rather than just take a position based on history, they want to find out what opposition is based on, other than the obvious that we’ve heard,” Powers said. “They want to look at how this will really affect workplaces, employers, housing providers, the different entities that would be affected by a change in law. They want to more thoroughly examine the real effects of the law before they support or oppose it.”
Powers said the commission is inviting eight organizations — four that support the legislation and four that oppose — to testify at the meeting.
The commissioners will have the opportunity to ask the witnesses questions, and after the meeting will review written testimony submitted from the public before issuing a position.
More details about the session and the process for submitting written testimony will be released in the coming weeks.
The announcement comes shortly after antigay Rep. Daryl Metcalfe announced he would block HB 300 from coming up for a hearing or vote in the House State Government Committee, which he chairs.
Public legislative hearings on HB 300 were last held in 2007, at which time former commission executive director Stephen Glassman testified about the agency’s support.
Equality Pennsylvania executive director Ted Martin said he hopes the event helps show lawmakers that Pennsylvanians are ready to move the bill forward.
“I hope some good will come out of this in the sense that the commission has been supportive for over a decade of this legislation, and I hope this is a moment for people to understand more clearly why there has been that support and why the state needs this,” Martin said. “This will hopefully be an opportunity to discuss the importance of protecting everyone’s civil rights. I hope it’s that kind of moment.”