Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Life, Death, and the Bastardization of HB1796

In 1997 one of my cousins was murdered by her estranged husband.  He threw gasoline on her and set her on fire.  Someone sent me the tape of a television news report that showed a patrol car dash camera clip of my cousin running from the house and collapsing on the grass outside, holding her arms and legs off the ground as much as possible.  Anything touching the burns, even grass, would have been excruciating.  She lingered in the burn unit for a month; the doctors amputated one leg and one or both breasts but to no avail.  She died, age 34, leaving two teenaged children.  It was a particularly gruesome way to die.  Her husband was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to life in prison. 

In college I worked with a woman whose daughter was murdered.  She was shot to death by her estranged husband in front of their preschool-aged children.

These are just two of the many many stories of spousal or domestic partner murder.   It is important to make sure that legislation is not only proactive in helping people in dangerous situations, but also that legislation does not harm them. 

Case in point, laws that allow landlords to penalize tenants if there are repeated police visits to the residence.   This is to deter crime in neighborhoods but it also deters endangered spouses and partners from calling for help. 

And so, in October, State Rep. Todd Stephens introduced HB1796, which prevents municipalities or other government bodies from penalizing people who are victims of assault for calling the police.  The bill was amended in the House, passed by all voting members of the Local Government Committee, and by all voting members of the full State House.   Then it went to the state senate, to the Senate State Government Committee. 

There it was amended again :
HB 1796, PN 2870 (Stephens)-Amends Title 53 (Municipalities Generally) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, in preemptions, providing for protection for victims of abuse or crime.  Senator Eichelberger offered amendment # A05863, which adds language prohibiting local government from imposing leave provisions and other labor related policies to private businesses.  The amendment passed on a strict party line vote of 6 to 4.  The bill was reported as amended by the same 6 to 4 vote. 

Yes, Sen. John Eichelberger, added a significant section on a completely different topic.  This new section would prohibit municipalities and local governments from requiring businesses to provide sick leave.  It might do other things as well, but that is one impact of the new amendment.  Republicans on the committee voted in favor of the amendment; Democrats were opposed.  The amendment passed on March 11th; it was laid on the table on March 17th.  And there it sits.

When I found out about this I thought about my cousin and the daughter of the woman I had worked with.  While this law would not have helped them there are other people out there now who might not call the police for fear of losing their house.    And these Senators decided to play politics with a bill that would have helped them:

This sort of thing is why people don’t like politics or politicians.

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