Pennsylvania Women’s Health Caucus Unveils Phase 2 of Legislative Agenda

News from Harrisburg:

HARRISBURG, June 3 – Members of the legislature’s bipartisan Women’s Health Caucus today unveiled the second phase of their “Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health,” which includes seven new pieces of legislation.

The caucus is co-chaired by Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, and Sens. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, and Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks.

Frankel said, “I’m pleased that we are continuing to build on the original Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health to represent an even wider cross-section of issues and concerns facing women today. This is truly a comprehensive collection of bills based on what women want in regard to their own health and issues we can address to help women in the commonwealth live longer, healthier lives.”

Schwank said, “The issues women face, and that are vital to us, our families and our communities, are as different from each other as our faces and lives are. These bills reflect real differences in women’s lives. But we need to work on them together because success will improve all our lives.”

McIlhinney said, “The purpose of social programs is to help families acquire the basic necessities of life until they can afford to meet these needs on their own, but current program guidelines can make reaching this goal difficult or even impossible when working families lose access to valuable benefits based on minor increases in income. Ensuring access to services such as health care, child care and nutritional assistance is an essential component of protecting the overall health and welfare of women in Pennsylvania.”

The bills in phase two of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health include:

·       Patient trust: H.B. 2303, to be introduced by Frankel; Senate version to be introduced by Sen. Mike Stack, D-Phila. This legislation would protect patients and providers from inappropriate, unscientific legislative intrusion into medical decision-making. It would protect the patient-provider relationship from statutory directives to practice care in a manner that is not in accordance with the standard of care.

·       Requiring a “cliff effect” study: S.R. 62, sponsored by McIlhinney, would require the nonpartisan Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to study the “cliff effect,” where working parents receive a minor increase in their income that makes them ineligible for various programs that allow them to work such as child care assistance, transportation, food stamps and free and reduced school lunches. The phenomenon often creates disincentives for poor families to achieve self-sufficiency.

·       Creating a task force on women veterans’ health care: S.R. 262, sponsored by Sen. LeAnna Washington, D-Phila./Montgomery; House version to be introduced by Reps. Pamela DeLissio, D-Phila./Montgomery, and Kevin Schreiber, D-York. The task force would submit a report by Nov. 30 on health-care issues unique to women veterans, along with the quality of and access to care for women veterans.

·       Increasing Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits: H.B. 2305, sponsored by Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Montgomery. This legislation would increase the maximum TANF grant amount to 50 percent of the poverty guidelines published annually in the Federal Registry. Grants to families under the TANF program have not been increased in over 24 years, while inflation has dramatically eroded their buying power.

·       Exempt more earned income from TANF income limits: H.B. 2306, to be introduced by Rep. Michelle Brownlee, D-Phila.; Senate version to be introduced by Schwank. This legislation would raise the exemption from 50 percent to 75 percent to encourage people to work, acknowledging that low-income working families’ expenses use up a large percentage of their take-home pay. At the current level, families in Pennsylvania often find themselves in roughly the same spot financially after they start working as they were before they started working, taking into account taxes, transportation, clothing and child care co-payments.

·       Ensuring fair pensions for widows of state and municipal employees: H.Bs. 2307 and 2308, to be introduced by Rep. Steve Santarsiero, D-Bucks; Senate versions to be introduced by Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Phila./Montgomery. This legislation would require that a public employee obtain spousal consent for any benefit payment structure that does not provide at least a 50 percent survivor benefit to the employee’s surviving spouse. The federal government and 27 states have a spousal consent requirement to protect spouses, usually women, from being blindsided after a spouse’s death when they discover that they are not entitled to any of their deceased spouse’s pension benefit.

·       Protecting all employees from sexual harassment: H.B. 2300, sponsored by Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh; and S.B. 475, sponsored by Sen. Jay Costa, D-Allegheny. These similar bills would end the exemption from state sexual harassment law for those who employ three or fewer people.

Bills from phase one of the Women’s Health Caucus agenda that have advanced include:

·       Equitable protections for domestic violence victims: H.B. 1796, sponsored by Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery. This legislation would ban municipal ordinances that penalize crime victims for calling for help. This bill passed the House 197-0 in January but has been delayed by an unrelated issue in the Senate.

·       Stop intimate partner harassment (ban “revenge by invasion of privacy”). The Senate version, S.B. 1167, sponsored by Schwank, passed the Senate 49-0 in January and awaits action in the House Judiciary Committee. This legislation would ban publishing any photo or video identifying another person, who is naked or engaging in a sexual act, without that person’s consent.

More information about the phase-one bills can be found at http://is.gd/PaWomenPhaseOne.

The Pennsylvania Women’s Health Caucus is a bipartisan, bicameral caucus of legislators partnering with interest groups and advocacy organizations seeking to develop and implement legislation and social policy that protects and respects a woman’s right to make private, personal medical decisions.

So glad to see my State Senator Judy Schwank making a positive impact in Harrisburg!

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