Measures to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s nondiscrimination law will soon be back before state lawmakers, this time with new bipartisan support.
For the first time, the bills will be led in both the state House and Senate by two co-prime sponsors — one Democrat and one Republican in each chamber
Reps. Dan Frankel (D-23rd Dist.) and Chris Ross (R-158th Dist.) will lead the House bill, while Sens. Larry Farnese (D-First Dist.) and Pat Browne (R-16th Dist.) will take the lead on the Senate bill.
All four have individually introduced the measure in the past few years, but this marks the first time a Democrat and a Republican will join as co-prime sponsors.
“After years of discussing this issue and having long conversations about nondiscrimination, people in both parties are realizing why this is important — not only for fairness but also for Pennsylvania to be seen as a place where employment is based on real merit, and not on sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Equality Pennsylvania executive director Ted Martin. “This is the first time we’ve had bipartisan leadership on this in this way, so this is a really important step.”
Frankel first introduced the legislation in 2001, and Ross served as prime sponsor of a 2006 bill before Frankel took the lead in the three successive sessions. Browne was prime sponsor of the Senate version in 2007, and again last session, Farnese also submitted a bill.
“It’s just my belief — personally, philosophically and morally — that no one should be discriminated against in employment, housing or public accommodations based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Browne told PGN this week. “It’s as simple as that.”
The bill last saw forward action in March 2009, when the House Appropriations Committee approved it, marking the first time it moved out of committee. The legislation has never been brought up for a full vote before the House or Senate.
If approved, it would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of classes — such as race, religion or age — protected from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.
The lawmakers are expected to introduce the measures around May 7, when leading advocates will gather in Harrisburg for a press conference on the bills.
Also a first, the bills will be introduced with the same number — HB and SB 300.
Last session, the House version was initially introduced with 62 cosponsors and gained two more by the time it died in committee. Browne’s version had 12 cosponsors and Farnese’s had eight.
Martin said backers are hoping the House version will have between 60-80 cosponsors and the Senate version between 20-25.
Browne said he’s optimistic that support is growing in both parties.
“I’m going to continue to advocate for the value of this policy, trying to encourage the key gatekeepers in the process, such as the committee chair, to bring this up for consideration,” he said. “I think over time the members have come to a greater understanding of the value of this initiative. It’s just a matter of time before we get it done. It has had challenges in the past but I’m encouraged that, in the future, this will advance.”
Equality PA this week launched a campaign to encourage Pennsylvanians to contact their lawmakers and urge their support.
“Even if they’re usually on the bill, I think it’s important for people to thank them and let them know how important this continues to be,” Martin said. “We need to build the cosponsor list to help move this forward. It’s harder for legislators to ignore bills that have large numbers of cosponsors. I’m not saying it’s going to move in this legislative session because it will be tough to move an LGBT bill in a session like this, but it makes the statement that this continues to move forward. Perhaps we can get a hearing for this, and a lot of that comes down to having a large number of cosponsors.”