LGBT housing anti-discrimination bill goes to state Senate
HARRISBURG — The first step to expand Pennsylvania’s anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBT individuals passed in a Senate committee on Wednesday.
Spectators at a packed committee watched as a bill that would offer housing protections for LGBT individuals passed the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee by a 7-4 vote.
The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh County, would essentially protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals from being denied housing or being evicted for their sexual orientation or gender identity.
This is the first of three bills that have been introduced after Browne’s original bill, a comprehensive protections package, was split into three last week. His initial bill has been stalled in the Senate Government Committee since last September.
The two other portions — public accommodations and employment protections — are sitting in the Senate State Government and Senate Labor Committee, respectively.
Conservative Republican Sen. Scott Wagner, chair of the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee, helped propel the legislation despite his conservative ties. As gatekeeper of the committee’s bills, Wagner, of York County, did not succumb to the pressure he said he received when he sponsored the anti-discrimination legislation.
Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Allegheny County, added an amendment to the bill that would bundle the employment protections portion into the bill.
The amendment passed with a vote of 6-4.
“My proposal puts the force of law behind basic human rights and freedoms,” Fontana wrote in a news release following the meeting. “It also sends a clear message that our society will no longer condone or tolerate the kind of baseless ignorance and hatred that compels some people to discriminate against their fellow citizens.”
“This is a positive first step. LGBT people need to be treated the same in the law as all other protected classes,” Andy Hoover, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said following the vote. “There’s a piece remaining, which is to protect LGBT people from discrimination in public places. It’s a good first step, but hopefully we can make it complete.”
The committee meeting followed a rally hosted by Equality PA on the capitol steps. Legislators from both chambers joined the LGBT community and their allies to support comprehensive legislation to update the anti-discrimination laws.
Gov. Tom Wolf, a vocal ally of the LGBT community, has offered his support for the legislation.
“None of us are asking for anything special,” Wolf said. “We’re asking that America be made everything it can be.”
Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Squirrel Hill) said it is an embarrassment that Pennsylvania isn’t one of the 19 states that have anti-discrimination protections for LGBT individuals. All other states in the Northeast offer some protections for the community.
Carley Mossbrook is an intern with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents Association.