Monday, February 14, 2011

This Week at the State Capitol

This is a new feature I'm hoping to start doing on a regular basis, giving you a preview of what's going on at the state capitol. Although I'm doing this one on Monday, look for it late in the week before a session week, though I don't want to interfere with Chris's awesome Friday First Amendment Roundup.

This week promises to provide hours and hours of non-stop entertainment.

Talk Talk:
Monday, February 14, 12:30pm, Main Rotunda
Marriage Equality Press Conference
Marriage equality legislation, delivered just in time for Valentine's Day! Senator Daylin Leach has introduced Senate Bill 461 to allow lesbian and gay couples to join the institution of marriage and all of the benefits that go with it. Rep. Mark Cohen will introduce a civil unions on the House side. Polling indicates that either marriage or civil unions for same sex couples is supported by 65% of Pennsylvanians.

Tuesday, February 15, 9am, Hearing Room 1, North Office Building
Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on cost-cutting measures in criminal justice
Despite the legislation passed last session, there is still plenty of work to be done. Pennsylvania still has a deep mandatory minimum sentencing scheme that needs rolled back, and programs that should help alleviate the prison population, like State Intermediate Punishment and the Recidivism Risk Reduction Initiative, have restrictions that make those programs ineffective. Meanwhile, the state is spending $800 million to build four new state prisons.

Wednesday, February 16, 9:15am, Hearing Room 1, North Office Building
Senate Education Committee hearing on Senate Bill 1
Welcome to the main event! SB 1 provides state-funded vouchers to low-income students to use at private, parochial, or other public schools. SB 1 violates three provisions of the state constitution that bar funding to sectarian schools, sectarian institutions, and schools that are not under the absolute control of the commonwealth. SB 1 also gives state funds to private and religious schools that can and do discriminate against kids for a variety of reasons, including disability, sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, and an inability to speak English. Public schools, meanwhile, take everyone.

I don't have our testimony posted on our website yet but will have it up at our legislative page by Wednesday. Meanwhile, you can learn more about vouchers from our friends at the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and at the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

I often tweet when I'm at these events, so be sure to follow us @aclupa.

Rock the Vote?
Three bills on which the ACLU of PA has a position are currently on the Senate calendar. These bills could get a vote any day or might go to the Senate Appropriations Committee for fiscal considerations:
  • Senate Bill 3: We oppose. Bans insurance companies from offering abortion coverage within the insurance exchanges created by the federal government's healthcare reform. A woman who spends her own money on coverage couldn't get it within the exchange if SB 3 becomes law. We expect this bill will detour to the Senate Appropriations Committee before getting a vote sometime in the future. The Patriot News and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette have both editorialized on this bill.
  • Senate Bill 9: We oppose. Requires applicants for public aid to show government-issued ID or be denied. Supporters claim they're stopping people without papers from fraudulently getting aid but show no evidence that that's a problem. Meanwhile, academic analysis suggests as much as 11 percent of US citizens do not have government-issued ID. This bill should go to approps since multiple state agencies estimated in 2008 that SB 9 would cost the commonwealth $19 million to implement.
  • Senate Bill 42: We oppose. Shrinks the time frame in which persons who have committed sex offenses have to report certain changes, e.g. change in employment, to the state from 10 days to 2 days. It also treats a violation like a felony crime, not like a parole violation. Seriously, aren't we just setting these people up for failure?
Info about SB 3 and SB 9 is available at our legislative webpage.

Rock the committee vote
Since the war on drugs has been such a roaring success (/snark), the House Judiciary Committee will vote on three bills to expand the drug laws to add new substances- Spice et al, aka "synthetic marijuana"; Salvia Divinorum; and some chemical compounds I cannot pronounce.

So PA is building four new prisons at a cost of $800 million due to a bursting inmate population that has been caused in large part to the extreme sentencing laws for drug offenses we've implemented. And now we're going to add more substances to the list of what's illegal......If you continuously bang your head against a wall, at some point don't you realize that it won't make your headache go away?

Welcome to my world.....

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Anonymous LearningByReading said...

Very considerate of you to donate your time to keep us informed on the State Politics.

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