Counterpoint PA 7/8-14/2013 Full Edition



Welcome to Counterpoint PA, the only grassroots progressive newscast exclusively about Pennsylvania politics. I’m your host Aaron DiDonato. First up, PA Headlines. The very first PA Headlines segment on the very first edition of Counterpoint PA was about PA Republicans efforts to weaken the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s health insurance regulation overhaul often referred to as ObamaCare, here in Pennsylvania. And now, an update.

As mentioned in that first segment, in April the PA House passed House Bill 818, which banned abortion coverage from being in any health insurance plan sold through the state health insurance exchange, which is being set up as part of ObamaCare and will provide a centralized marketplace for Pennsylvanians to shop and collectively bargain for health insurance, with only the strictest exemptions for rape, incest, and when the mother’s death is imminent. Since then, the bill has also passed the PA Senate and been signed into law by Republican Governor Tom Corbett. The bill passed the PA Senate in June, after an amendment that would have added another exemption for when continuing the pregnancy would cause a medical emergency for the mother was voted down. Governor Corbett then signed the bill into law on June 17th without commenting on it according to the Associated Press, which added that Andrew Hoover of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania says this is the first time that PA’s state government has prohibited a private insurance company from covering an abortion for a private customer who is using private money to buy health insurance.

Another part of ObamaCare gives states the option to expand Medicaid, the federal health insurance program for people living in poverty. Medicaid expansion would make 600,000 to 800,000 Pennsylvanians who currently have no health insurance eligible for Medicaid according to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, including over 20,000 veterans and over 10,000 of those veterans’ family members. The PA Senate recently passed a bill that included Medicaid expansion 40 to 10, with every Democratic state senator plus 17 Republicans voting for it. But after the PA House voted for the same bill without the Medicaid expansion, all 17 Republican state senators who had voted for Medicaid
expansion then turned around and voted for the House version of the bill so Governor Corbett could sign it without the Medicaid expansion.

Over half a million uninsured people in our state, including tens of thousands who joined the military to put their lives on the line for our country have a basic level of humanity hanging in the balance, unfortunately depending on a small handful of conservative Republicans to decide that their values allow for the government to give it to them.

Sources:

http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/state/house-approves-pennsylvania-abortion-limits-684752/

http://articles.philly.com/2013-06-06/news/39791311_1_abortion-coverage-health-insurance-exchange-abortion-control-act

http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2013/06/corbett_signs_anti-abortion_co.html

http://pennbpc.org/house-derails-medicaid-expansion-fight-goes

http://pennbpc.org/tens-thousands-pennsylvania-veterans-could-obtain-health-insurance-under-medicaid-expansion

http://mediatrackers.org/pennsylvania/2013/07/04/17-pennsylvania-republican-senators-reverse-votes-to-block-medicaid-expansion

On the last edition of Counterpoint PA, I presented part of a report by the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials that detailed the devastating impacts that PA Republicans’ slashing of education funding in the last few years has had on our state’s public schools. Now, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center has put out a new policy brief exposing the details of those cuts as compared with prison funding, which PA Republicans evidently think is a much more important priority than education.

Debunking a very commonly recited conservative talking point about education funding in PA, they write quote, “An argument that education cuts were driven by the loss of temporary federal funds [from the 2009 stimulus package to prevent an economic depression following the 2008 financial crisis] misses a significant fact – expired federal funds were replaced almost dollar for dollar with state funds in other departments but not in education. In 2011-12, the same year large education cuts were imposed, $187 million in temporary federal funding was replaced with state dollars in the Department of Corrections budget.” This graph shows prisons getting increased funding above stimulus levels in each of the last four years in the pair of bars on the left, but in the pair of bars showing education funding on the right, we see that at first barely half of stimulus funds for education were replaced, and we’re still coming up short in replacing them by a significant amount. Which means a smaller public workforce contributing to the state economy and fewer educational opportunities for our youth.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center policy brief also includes another graph that even more clearly squashes the conservative refrain that they weren’t really education cuts, they were just temporary federal funds that went away. This graph shows that in inflation-adjusted dollars, the state spent well over $10 million per year on education in 2007 through 2009, which was before the temporary stimulus funds were added in 2009 through 2011, and that state education funding levels after the temporary stimulus funds expired have been even less than they were before they were added in the first place, under or just barely $10 million per year.

So please, next time you hear a conservative talking about how PA Republicans didn’t really cut education funding and it was all just a misunderstanding regarding temporary stimulus funds, feel free to refer them to this policy brief, or this video.

Source:

http://pennbpc.org/pa-house-budget-locks-most-school-funding-cuts

When the federal Defense of Marriage Act which banned recognition of marriage equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans under federal laws was recently struck down as unconstitutionally discriminatory by the US Supreme Court, a Democratic state representative who happens to be the first openly gay person elected to the state legislature and a civil rights lawyer took to the floor of the PA House to speak about the ruling and was blocked from talking about it by anti-equal rights conservative Republicans. It turned out not to be a total loss, as shortly thereafter a bill to legalize marriage equality was introduced in the PA House [CORRECTION - IT WAS ANNOUNCED THAT IT WAS TO BE INTRODUCED, NOT THAT IT ACTUALLY WAS INTRODUCED - MY APOLOGIES].

Randy LoBasso of PhillyNow writes that “At the end of the session, representatives can ask to be recognized to speak under unanimous consent of the House, in which legislators can speak of uncontroversial issues. … As per House rules, Sims asked Speaker of the House Sam Smith … if he could speak on the DOMA case. ‘I promised him that I was going to be very respectful, I wasn’t going to talk about how far Pennsylvania has to go or that the Republican caucus is an obstacle to equality. I really was just going to speak about—as a civil rights attorney—a major civil rights case,’ Sims told Philadelphia Weekly. … After getting about ‘three or four words’ into his speech, Smith cut him off, citing another legislator’s wishes. Several members of the Democratic caucus then began grabbing microphones to speak on the DOMA case—and each were shut down. … The objection had been made anonymously, and the Democrats on the floor wanted to know who did it. Smith would not say. After a bit of ruckus, state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), an outspoken conservative and prime sponsor of an anti-gay marriage bill in the Legislature, began shouting at Sims and the Democrats to quit it. As Sims tells it, Metcalfe yelled out, ‘If you need a name, use my name.’ Metcalfe was one of the representatives who had objected.”

Metcalfe later justified his objection that silenced Sims to the media by saying that Sims was going to be engaging in quote, “open rebellion against God’s law,” but more on that later in this edition of Counterpoint PA in the show’s homage to Keith Olbermann, the Worst Pennsylvanians of the Week. The day after the stand-off on the PA House floor, however, state Representative Brian Sims and his fellow Philadelphia Democratic state Representative Steve McCarter made an announcement that they will be introducing a bill that would legalize marriage equality for LGBT Pennsylvanians in the PA House. A similar bill has already been introduced in the PA Senate by Democratic state Senator Daylin Leach.

It’s probably safe to assume these bills aren’t going anywhere in the immediate future with anti-equal rights conservative Republicans dominating state government, but with recent polls from Franklin & Marshall showing a majority of Pennsylvanians in favor of marriage equality, all it takes is enough of them realizing that turning out on election day to vote for Democrats can make it happen to turn that around.

Sources:

http://blogs.philadelphiaweekly.com/phillynow/2013/06/28/how-rep-brian-sims-turned-an-attack-on-the-house-floor-into-progress/

http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local//the-latest/56681-sims-calls-for-censure-over-gods-law-comment-by-pa-legislator

http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2013/06/bill_to_allow_gay_marriage_in.html

http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/life/lifestyle/support-for-gay-marriage-grows-pennsylvania-poll-shows-689291/

A new report from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives shows that more guns were reported as lost or stolen from federally licensed gun dealers in Pennsylvania in 2012 than any other state in America and that PA has the seventh highest total lost or stolen guns of all the states, but a package of new gun reforms in the PA House includes a bill that would mandate individuals report it to the authorities when their gun is lost or stolen like the federally licensed gun dealers already have to.

The US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives report shows Pennsylvania topping every other state in the nation with 1,502 guns lost or stolen from federally licensed gun dealers. The report also shows that a total of 6,566 guns were lost or stolen in Pennsylvania, placing it seventh highest among the states in that category. But it’s possible that PA should place even higher among the states than that in total lost or stolen guns, because current state law does not require individuals to report it to the authorities when their gun is stolen.

A bill introduced in the PA House earlier this year would change that. Anna Orso of Penn Live reports that House Bill 1515, introduced by state Representative Madeleine Dean, a Democrat representing Montgomery, would require individuals to report when their guns are lost or stolen. Other bills in the same package of gun reform bills introduced this year include House Bill 1479, which would prohibit large capacity magazines so that someone on a killing spree would have to reload more often and give their victims more chances to stop the killing, and House Bill 1010, which would change the state’s current background checks policy to include long guns like assault rifles and shotguns to make it harder for someone to start the killing in the first place.

As with many popular gun reform proposals, it’s somewhat shocking that something like including assault rifles in the state background check policy isn’t already the law. But at the same time, with conservative Republicans in control of state government, it’s no surprise that unfortunately right now, these bills don’t seem to be going anywhere.

Source:

https://www.atf.gov/sites/default/files/assets/Firearms/2012-summary-firearms-reported-lost-and-stolen-2.pdf

That’s all for PA Headlines for this edition of Counterpoint PA. Let me know what you think about this week’s PA Headlines and make your own suggestions for future PA Headlines on Twitter @CounterpointPA and on Facebook at Facebook.com/CounterpointPA. You can visit counterpointpa.org for transcripts, links to the sources used in these stories, and to browse the brand new categorized video archive for the issues most important to you. You’re watching Counterpoint,  I’m your host, Aaron DiDonato. And now, time for The Breakdown.

The Breakdown for this edition of Counterpoint PA features the first half of my interview with Sue Lyons, author of the resolution calling for a moratorium on fracking that was recently formally adopted as the official position of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.

Fracking is shorthand for hydraulic fracturing, which ProPublica reports is “a process used in nine out of 10 natural gas wells in the United States, where millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to break apart the rock and release the gas. Scientists are worried that the chemicals used in fracturing may pose a threat either underground or when waste fluids are handled and sometimes spilled on the surface.”

In this first half of the interview, Sue talks about how she got interested in fracking, the process of getting the resolution adopted, her experience as a member of the Pennsylvania Democratic Committee – sometimes referred to as state committee in the conversation, its progressive caucus, and how the natural gas industry misleads the public about fracking. Sometimes it may be a little difficult to tell what I’m saying because when I describe this show as grassroots I’m not kidding, and I kind of only have one microphone, which Sue had on for the interview. Also, in the very beginning I refer to the MCDC, which is the Monroe County Democratic Committee. And now, without further delay, the first half of my interview with Sue Lyons.

To clarify a point I didn’t make as clear as I could have during the interview, if you want to make sure the members of the Pennsylvania Democratic Committee representing your county are in its progressive caucus and lobby them to join it if they aren’t, I recommend first searching contact information for your county Democratic leaders, so for example I would search Monroe County PA Democratic Committee because I live in Monroe County, then contact your county party leaders and request the names and contact information of the people from your county who are members of the state committee. Members of your county committee and the state committee may overlap but there is a difference between the state Democratic committee and your county Democratic committee.

Tune in later this month for the next edition of Counterpoint PA, in which The Breakdown will feature the second half of my interview with Sue Lyons, where she talks about her studiously documented list of top 10 myths about fracking, what it says about the Pennsylvania Democratic Party that it now officially favors a moratorium on fracking, the Gasland documentaries by fellow Pennsylvanian Josh Fox, and the future of the anti-fracking movement in PA.

Source:

http://www.propublica.org/special/hydraulic-fracturing-national

The bronze goes to state Representative Daryl Metcalfe, the anti-equal rights conservative Republican who stopped Democratic state Representative Brian Sims from speaking on the PA House floor about the US Supreme Court striking down the Defense of Marriage Act. That stand-off was described in detail earlier in this edition of Counterpoint PA in PA Headlines. But the reason Metcalfe gave the media for stopping Sims from being allowed to speak really deserves to be dealt with on its own.

WHYY reports that he explained to them quote, “I did not believe that as a member of that body that I should allow someone to make comments such as he was preparing to make that ultimately were just open rebellion against what the word of God has said, what God has said, and just open rebellion against God’s law.” Slow down there, buddy. I may not be a Christian, but I was raised in a Christian household and consider myself a fan of many of the ideals its believed Jesus taught, and you might want to take a second look at that Bible that you feel justifies silencing your colleague.

Matthew chapter seven verses one through five says quote, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

And one of my personal favorites, which is perfect here because we’re talking about Metcalfe not letting Sims simply speak his mind,  Proverbs chapter 18 verse two says quote, “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.”

That’s so clear, I don’t even feel the need to get harsher than that. You know Metcalfe, if you use the Bible for something other than justifying your prejudice against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people once in awhile, you might learn a thing or two that could save you from your own foolish hypocrisy.

Sources:

http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local//the-latest/56681-sims-calls-for-censure-over-gods-law-comment-by-pa-legislator

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%207:1-7:5&version=NIV

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=proverbs%2018:2&version=NIV

The runner-up is whoever the police officer was who signed this citation, which was given to health care activist AJ Marin for engaging in an action that served no legitimate purpose in that he wrote a derogatory remark about the governor on the sidewalk.

Now if that had went down the way the officer tells it, I may not have that much sympathy for AJ Marin, but here’s what Marin wrote on the sidewalk – in chalk, mind you – that the police officer felt was so derogatory regarding the governor that Marin deserved to be arrested. The message AJ Marin was arrested for writing in chalk on the sidewalk outside the governor’s mansion was Corbett has health care, we should too.

Where is the derogatory statement there? Is it derogatory for someone to note that the governor has health care? That is a logical stretch of absurd proportions. And as bad as it is to arrest someone for writing that in chalk on the sidewalk, the officer compounds his or her own idiocy by describing the action as having no legitimate purpose. Has this police officer never read the Constitution of the United States?

The human rights protected in the very first of the ten amendments that make up the Bill of Rights include the freedom of speech and the right of the people peaceably to assemble. AJ Marin was simply engaging in this most sacred tradition in our country, which was largely honed and defined right here in Pennsylvania, to make his voice heard on an issue important to him and peacefully protest what he feels his government is doing wrong. No legitimate purpose? This kind of action is the very definition of having legitimate purpose in accordance with the human rights our government has historically guaranteed. I think this police officer, who we can probably assume has a pretty nice health care plan courtesy of Pennsylvania tax-payers like the governor, could use a little more brains and a lot more empathy.

Source:

http://t.co/1AdYtlTvEW

And the winner is Pennsylvania House Education Committee Chair Paul Clymer, who recently decided to schedule a vote on legislation that would repeal parts of a state law passed just last year that requires schools to report publicly on whether or not they’re complying with federal laws about gender equity in public school athletics programs.

Act 82 was passed in 2012 and part of it mandates that all public high schools, junior high schools, and middle schools fill out a form once a year so that the public can know if their local schools are in compliance with or violation of Title IX, which requires all public school districts that receive federal funds to comply with federal and state anti-discrimination laws.

Sue Frietsche, Senior Staff Attorney at the Women’s Law Project, says quote, “We are stunned that repeal of this important bill is even up for a committee vote …No one who supports equality for women and fair opportunities for girls as well as boys should support this bill. … This repeal effort is a throwback to the days when women were thought to be too fragile to play sports … Many schools have not only failed to achieve equality in their sports programs, but overall, conditions have actually worsened for girls. This is the wrong time to be cutting back on parents’ and students’ access to basic information about the sports programs their tax dollars are paying for.”

The PA House Education Committee vote was scheduled for June 18. I had trouble figuring out what happened with the vote so I called the Women’s Law Project, and the very helpful person I spoke with informed me that the PA House Education Committee pulled  the sports equity disclosure repeal vote from the committee’s agenda before they voted. I don’t think the fight’s over yet because there’s nothing to stop them from putting it back on the agenda for a vote next time they meet, but the mere fact of it being scheduled for a vote tells you all you need to know.

It is the chair of each committee that has the power to choose what comes up for a vote, and with Republicans holding the majority in the PA House, every committee chair is a Republican. So with Republicans in charge of the PA House Education Committee, it was the Republicans’ decision that repealing sports equity disclosure is one of the most dire issues facing PA’s education system and that it should be scheduled for a repeal vote. I hope they don’t reschedule it to be voted on later, but honestly, I think the only way to prevent this sort of thing in the long-term is to get Democratic majorities in the Legislature, so Democrats chair the committees and decide what gets voted on.

PA House Education Committee Chair Paul “women play sports now? I knew feminists were threatening my way of life, but this ridiculous!” Clymer – come on now, is that really the public relations help you think the Republicans need with women? – the Worst Pennsylvanian of the Week.

Source:

http://aboveavgjane.blogspot.com/2013/06/pa-tries-to-repeal-sports-equity.html

August 22, 2013 · Aaron · No Comments
Posted in: Abortion, Activism / Protests, Budget Cuts, Economy / Budget, Education, Environment / Energy, Fracking, Full Edition, Governor, Gun Laws / Reform, Health Care, Human Rights, Interview, Justice, LGBT Equality, ObamaCare in PA, Pennsylvania House, Pennsylvania Senate, Police, Prisons, State / Federal Crossover, State Government, Women's Equality

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