Friday, April 28, 2006

Specter threatens to block surveillance funding

It will be interesting to see how far Sen. Arlen Specter goes with his threat to withhold funding for Pres. Bush's domestic spying program unless Bush provides more information on NSA surveillance activities to Congress.

Yesterday Specter filed an amendment to a spending bill, according to the AP, would "enact a 'prohibition on use of funds for domestic electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes unless Congress is kept fully and currently informed.'"

Of course Specter said he's stand firm for meaningful reform to the Patriot Act, and we all know how that turned out.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Family values: How Sensenbrenner-King immigration bill hurts families

Why are some politicians anti-family? Sojourners, a progressive Christian publication, illustrates how the Sensenbrenner-King crack-the-stick immigration reform bill can hurt families.

Diana Villanueva-Hoeckley is a 19-year-old college student in California. Her mother came to the United States legally and then brought Diana here illegally when she was 7 because her visa request was turned down. Ms. Villanueva died while Diana was in high school, leaving her and her American-born younger sister alone. An American family who knew Diana's little sister adopted the girls.
If only the story could move on from there to focus on the life experiences that all families look to create. But most families do not face criminal prosecution. Yet, Diana may one day soon be charged as a felon for illegally immigrating to this country 13 years ago. And her adoptive parents also could be criminally charged for aiding and abetting an illegal immigrant.

Legislation currently being debated in the U.S. House of Representatives actually contains these provisions. Diana cannot believe this is happening in a country she has come to love. "I'm shocked that people don't see me as someone who belongs here; this is my home," she told me sadly. Though Diana was legally adopted by the Hoeckleys, in many renditions of the legislation she would not be protected. And now that she is 19, she would be prosecuted as an adult.

"I look around and see so many immigrants here who are working so hard to make a good life," Diana said. "Why can't people see the big picture?"

Indeed, the big picture tells a different story to the political fear-mongering on immigration. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that nearly 12 million undocumented immigrants are living in the U.S. A number of studies demonstrate that they are anything but a "drain" on the U.S. economy as is widely feared. Douglass S. Massey, a Princeton University professor, has documented the contributions of undocumented workers to the government: 62% have taxes withheld from their paychecks, and 66% pay Social Security. Their payments to Social Security totalled $7 billion in 2004, and in the same year they paid $1.5 billion to Medicare. Ironically, Massey found these workers usually don't take advantage of these programs, fearing the INS will be alerted to their presence in this country, Forbes reported.

Sojourners: The Christian face of immigration

Andy in Harrisburg

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

I spy... Two very bad bills

We got word late this afternoon that the Judiciary Committee will likely be voting tomorrow on Arlen Specter's bad bill to address the NSA's illegal spying program.

Specter claims that his bill, S. 2453, would restore judicial review of wiretaps, but the law already requires judicial review and the president has ignored it. Senator Specter's bill would allow the courts to approve programs of surveillance, diminishing the Constitution’s requirement there be probable cause that an American is doing something wrong before their communications can be seized.

Of course there's also a competing bill (S. 2455) written by Senator Mike DeWine (R-PA), which would also attempt to rewrite probable cause to allow warrantless surveillance of Americans' calls and emails without evidence that they are conspiring with suspect terrorists. It would make judicial review of wiretaps optional and would reduce the amount of information the president is required to give Congress about the program.

There has been a definite lack of media attention on these bills, so please do all you can to inform people about them and why they're so bad. And of course, you know the drill - call Specter! Tell him to withdraw his legislation until Congress learns the facts about the NSA spying program.

Specter's offices
In Philadelphia: (215) 597-7200
In Pittsburgh: (412) 644-3400
In Washington, DC: (202) 224-4254

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

What's the matter with this Kansan?

Well, we may have Rick Santorum, but at least he's out of our state much of the time. Poor Kansas has their Attorney General, Phill Kline, around full time.

You may remember Mr. Kline from his demand last year that abortion clinics turn over the complete medical records of nearly 90 women and girls, saying he needed the material for an investigation into underage sex and illegal late-term abortions. (Of course he didn't ask for information from hospitals about live births from underage women.) Thankfully, one of his other schemes in his anti-abortion crusade was stopped by a federal judge last week.

The case stemmed from Kline's interpretation of a state anti-child abuse law that would make it mandatory for doctors, school counselors and therapists, among others, to report all sexual activity between and by people under 16 -- and he did mean all, from kissing to sexual intercourse. (Slate has a great article on the issue called Smells Like Teen Snogging.)

Last week the federal judge, Thomas Marten, held that Mr. Kline's opinion violated the actual language of the underlying state statute, which gives those treating adolescents discretion to decide whether illegal sexual activity amounts to actual child abuse. Kansas law prohibits intercourse, oral sex and lewd touching by anyone under 16. (I definitely need to check out the filings in this case, because according to an editorial, "Kline ... asserted that any sexual activity, including petting, was harmful to teens." Wow. Makes me glad I grew up in the oh-so-progressive state of Indiana.)

By the way, for all you Dover junkies, Mr. Kline also happens to be a supporter of teaching intelligent design (surprise!) and last year told the Kansas Board of Education that it was constitutional to put a sticker on textbooks saying evolution is a theory, not a fact. According to the Washington Post, he said "'Yeah, it's constitutional. It is theory. I know the difference between scientific law, scientific theory, scientific hypothesis,' Kline said." He certainly seems to have strange ideas about laws, whether they be scientific or otherwise.

Sara in Philly

Monday, April 24, 2006

Jose Rivera meets Joe Stoltzenfuss

Think the PA economy doesn't need immigrant labor? Think immigrants should be thrown in York County Prison by the thousands? Think we don't need comprehensive immigrant reform?
The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and The Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce & Industry readily acknowledged that immigrant workers are vital to the state and local economy. Without a "legal and viable agricultural worker program," Pennsylvania's agricultural economy "can expect to see a loss of $97 [million] to $175 million per year," said Farm Bureau spokesman Mark O'Neill.

In Lancaster County, the impact from harsh penalties on guest workers "would be much broader than just ag workers in the ag industry," said Don Ranck, owner of Verdant View dairy farm in Paradise and political advocate for the Lancaster Farm Bureau.

"The ripple effect," he said, "could be crippling."

Lancaster Sunday News: Depending on immigrant labor

Gay Marriage and Falconry

Great column in yesterday's Tribune-Review on Metcalfe's Marriage Protection Amendment. Some excerpts...

Metcalfe is determined to ensure that marriage stays an uplifting, spiritual union between a man and a woman that only occasionally results in bitter unhappiness, clinical depression, mid-afternoon binge drinking, chronic infidelity, noisy late-night arguments, broken furniture, protection-from-abuse orders and violent, premature death.

Regardless of your opinion on same-sex marriage, know this about Metcalfe's anti-brokeback bill: It is entirely unnecessary, as superfluous and manipulative a piece of legislation as you currently will find making its way through the Capitol's semi-corrupt corridors.

The columnist imagines future Metcalfe initiatives.

Metcalfe calls for a constitutional amendment restricting state falconry permits to those16 and older. Current law requires falconry permit applicants to be at least a year younger than 17.

"You don't want some activist judge to come along and rule that everyone should be able to hunt with the assistance of birds of prey, regardless of age," he says. "Before you know it, every pony leaguer, Cub Scout and preschooler would be walking around with a darn falcon perched on his shoulder."

Lisa in Pittsburgh

Profile on ACLU's executive director

The Daily Princetonian has a nice profile of Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU. Here's my favorite quote:
"What I love most is making a difference, waking up in the morning, getting pissed off at something in the newspaper and getting to the office and doing something about it. That is a pretty spectacular privilege of my job," Romero said.

Glad to see it's not just the Harrisburg office that appreciates making a difference and waking up in the morning....and getting pissed off while reading the paper.

Andy in H-burg

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Proceed with caution

The National ACLU has launched a new online tool that allows individuals to send Letters-to-the-Editor directly to your local newspapers. It's a handy, clickable system that lets you select your newspaper, write a letter online and email it quickly. National is encouraging folks to use this tool to write letters about domestic surveillance and abuse of power and provides talking points on two bills now before the Senate, S.2453, the "National Security Surveillance Act" and the S.2455 the so-called "Terrorist Surveillance Act."

So, go forth and write, but remember that "letters to the editor can be dangerous."

So says Bruce Schimmel, in this week's Philadelphia City Paper article "Letter Rip." Bruce tells the story of Laura Berg, "a nurse from Albuquerque" who wrote a letter to the editor "to denounce our government's belligerence abroad and its indifference at home."

"Berg's letter... caught the eye of the FBI, who suspected her of sedition. The feds feared that the middle-aged nurse was beating the drums for violent revolution.

Berg's computer was seized. Put on the watch list of the Patriot Act, she could be tailed and her phone tapped. Convicted of sedition-however unlikely-Berg could face time behind bars.

So when does the nurse get off the offical list of evildoers? Earlier this year, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information request on Berg's behalf, which may provide a hint. "
So, go write your letters. And, if needs be, you can come back and file your FOIA...

Amy Laura in Philadelphia

Update- Sunday, 4:40pm: Here's more on this story:
Albuquerque Tribune: VA apologizes to nurse who wrote letter
The Albuquerque Tribune columnist Kate Nelson
AP via Free New Mexican: NM ACLU wants apology to employee investigated on 'sedition'
Democracy Now: VA nurse accused of sedition (audio, video, and transcript of interview with Berg available)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Putting the "F" (and a "U") in FBI

Good to see someone is stickin' it to The Man. The family of late newspaper columnist Jack Anderson Scalia'ed the FBI when it came knocking and asking for Anderson's files, dating back 50 years.
The family of the late newspaper columnist Jack Anderson yesterday rejected a request by the FBI to turn over 50 years of files to agents who want to look for evidence in the prosecution of two pro-Israel lobbyists, as well as any classified documents Anderson had collected.

Kevin P. Anderson, son of the storied Washington-based writer, said the family is outraged at what it calls government overreaching and "a dangerous departure" from First Amendment press protections, a stance joined by academic and legal experts.

Fighting back and resisting are strategies for ending government abuse of power. Kudos to the Anderson's for not caving. Here's more:
First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams noted "a disturbing logic" to government efforts first to target the receipt of information that journalists have historically discussed without any threat of sanction, and then to track down documents "which even the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover would not have taken steps to obtain from Anderson."

Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy, said the executive branch's increasingly aggressive effort to control publication even after documents have been disclosed "is a profoundly dangerous step."

"It is both ironic and somehow fitting that Jack Anderson should again be at the center of a controversy like this," Aftergood added. "What the FBI couldn't do during his lifetime, they're now seeking to do after his death, and I think many Americans will find that offensive."

Washington Post: FBI Rebuffed on Reporter's Files

Andy in H-burg

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Editorials on gay marriage

So it's not a clever title. Anyway, two great op-eds/editorials on the Marriage "Protection" Amendment appeared today in PA newspapers. The first is written by Rep. Babette Josephs (okay, it's really not a surprise she'd see thing our way, as she's on the ACLU Philadelphia Chapter board) and other, by Kathleen Daugherty, former director of the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania, appeared in the Harrisburg Patriot-News.

One more for the "restricting access to info" file

OK. Not only are newly-declassified documents becoming increasingly rare under this administration, but...

"WASHINGTON, April 17 — The National Archives signed a secret agreement in 2001 with the Central Intelligence Agency permitting the spy agency to withdraw from public access records it considered to have been improperly declassified, the head of the archives, Allen Weinstein, disclosed on Monday...

The disclosure of the secret agreements provides at least a partial explanation for the removal since 1999 of more than 55,000 pages of historical documents from access to researchers at the archives. The removal of documents, including many dating to the 1950's, was discovered by a group of historians this year and reported by The New York Times in February."

But, wait...

"Mr. Weinstein, who began work as archivist of the United States last year, said he learned of the agreement with the C.I.A. on Thursday and was putting a stop to such secret reclassification arrangements, which he described as incompatible with the mission of the archives."

Take that, CIA!

The article then says that Mr. Weinstein's predecessor was "shocked" to hear that the secret agreement was signed during his tenure as head of the Archives. An agreement so secret that the Archives doesn't even know about it? I'm curious to know how these 55,000 pages somehow left the building without his knowledge. I guess the CIA has its methods...

Amy Laura in Philly

Monday, April 17, 2006

Anthony Romero on The Colbert Report Tuesday

Anthony Romero, national ACLU executive director, will be on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report Tuesday, April 18 at 11:30 p.m. EST. (Hopefully he will come across better than he did when the Daily Show showed a clip of him in an interview in which his ear piece kept popping out while he was talking.)

An Evening Without...

The ACLU of New York is doing a nice event at the end of this month.

Under the USA Patriot Act, the U.S. government is once again engaging in "ideological exclusion."

Join PEN American Center and the ACLU in New York on April 27 for "An Evening Without..."

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Pablo Neruda, Dario Fo, Doris Lessing, Pierre Trudeau, Tokyo Sexwale, Graham Greene, Tariq Ramadan, Dora Maria Tellez, and other foreign writers, scholars, and political figures who were once -- or who are now, in the case of Tariq Ramadan and Dora Maria Tellez -- banned from the United States because our government does not like their political opinions.

Come hear Martin Amis, Russell Banks, Gioconda Belli, Barbara Goldsmith, Naomi Shihab Nye, Liev Schreiber, Todd Solondz, Eloy Urroz, Debra Winger and others read from the works of those that have been excluded.

You can learn more about ideological exclusion at Censorship at the Border, which includes a historical timeline of prominent artists and intellectuals who have been blocked from entering the U.S.

Granted, neither Pittsburgh nor Harrisburg nor Philadelphia have the dubious advantage of New York City's glittering literati, so it might be harder for us to pull off an event like this in Pennsylvania. But I hear that Rep. Metcalfe is honing his writing skills these days. Maybe he would read from One Hundred Years of Solitude for us?

Lisa in Pittsburgh

Friday, April 14, 2006

Same program, same misinformation

Looks like our buddy Bill O'Reilly has been at it again. (That "it" would be ACLU-bashing. He does it enough that I've considered modeling a campaign after Planned Parenthood's "Pledge a Picketer" campaign. People could pledge a dollar to the ACLU for each lie O'Reilly spouts about us. But I digress.)

This time he's got the help of Newsweek managing editor Jon Meacham, who is apparently hawking his new book, American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation. I know you will be shocked to find out the arguments used were anything but fair and balanced.

From a transcript of the interview as posted on Media Matters:

O'REILLY: All right. So you're firmly convinced, based upon your research, that the founders would not approve of the ACLU jihad, pardon the pun, against Judeo-Christian tradition in this country?

MEACHAM: No, I don't think so at all. I think that what they wanted was religion in the country. They didn't want it coercive. They did not want it forced on people, because largely for religious reasons. The religious argument for religious freedom is that if God himself did not compel obedience, then no man should try.

O'REILLY: OK, Why did they want religion in the country in the public square, not just the synagogues, and churches?

MEACHAM: Because, as John Adams said, man is by nature a religious creature. Homer said -- they were following Homer -- that all men need the gods. George Washington clearly understood that the victory in the revolution -- he said, "I can only attribute it to the hand of providence." These were men of intense, private, often complicated faith. Not simple Christianity in many cases.

The funny thing is that Meacham is right about some things: They [the founding fathers] did not want [religion] forced on people…." Exactly. That's why we do what we do. And we strongly support the right of religion in the public arena - just not religion paid for or sponsored by the government. It's amazing how difficult this concept seems to be for some people to grasp.

For those of you who've had to fight against this straw man, here's a helpful list of cases the ACLU has taken to defend religious people put together a year or so ago. It's by no means exhaustive. (Warning: May cause grossly misinformed individuals' heads to explode.)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The missing link...

...was a great puzzle for kids of the 1980s. I could actually figure out the Missing Link, as opposed to Rubik's Cube, which was impossible for my pre-teenage brain.

But that's not the missing link I'm posting about.

No, friends, it seems that new fossils have been found that are from the same species as the well-known "Lucy" hominid. I can't explain the science to you, so here's a link and a snip from National Geographic:
The new fossils are from the most primitive species of Australopithecus, known as Australopithecus anamensis. The remains date to about 4.1 million years ago, according to Tim White, a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley.

White co-directed the team that discovered the new fossils in Ethiopia in a region of the Afar desert known as the Middle Awash.

The team says the newly discovered fossils are a no-longer-missing link between early and later forms of Australopithecus and to a more primitive hominid known as Ardipithecus.

Time for Michael Behe to move the goalposts again. First, the fish-with-limbs was announced last week. Now this. Time to call in the bacterial flagellum. No doubt the Australo-something-or-something are irreducibly complex.

Andy in the HBG

Too Little, Way Too Late

I don't expect better from the government these days, but none the less, its blatant politics continue to amaze and appall me. From a press release from the national ACLU office:

Less than six weeks after the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, the government has given up its legal battle over a gag order on Connecticut librarians affected by a controversial provision of the law, which will allow them to speak publicly for the first time about their objections to secret FBI demands for patrons' library and e-mail records.

Why am I appalled? Because the government deliberately fought the release of the identity of the Connecticut librarians so that they could not participate in the debate on the Patriot Act. Now that it's been renewed, the government has dropped its opposition. So much for their claim that revealing the name of the librarians who received national securisubpoenasnas would cause "irreparable harm."

To add insult to injury, it should be noted that government lawyers inadvertently revealed the name of our clients (the Library Connection of Windsor, Conn. - whew, now we can say it!) after they failed to redact all references in court filings. The name was then published in the NY Times and other newspapers. Despite the fact that their identity had become known, our clients still were not allowed to participate in the Patriot Act debate.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Long War....on the Constitution

If you hoped that the attack on the Constitution would just be a short term spell that we would eventually snap out of- say, around January, 2009- think again, amigos. The BBC reports that CentCom is preparing for "The Long War."

Of course, we all want to see terrorism diminished. What is the cost of "The Long War," though? The track record over the last five years, e.g. shredding of the First and Fourth Amendments, doesn't bode well for the long-term health of the Constitution.

Maybe I'm paranoid. Or maybe this is ominous:
"I'm an artillery officer, and I can't fire cannons at the internet," he says, referring to what he sees as one of the key weapons of the modern age.

Instead, he argues that the US military must try to break down "old mind-sets and bureaucracies" and build new relationships with other agencies - like the FBI, the police and the state department - through what in military jargon are called "joint inter-agency task forces".

What does our future look like?

Now more than ever....the ACLU.

Andy in Harrisburg

Monday, April 10, 2006

"Si, Se Puede!"

I just got back from the rally for comprehensive immigration reform in Pittsburgh, part of the nationwide day of action expected to draw as many as two million people.

Pittsburgh doesn't have a huge immigrant community, and the rally here was nothing compared to the large-scale events in many other major cities. In fact we got in the news mostly for starting earlier than any other city.

About 100 of us gathered downtown at 8am and marched to Senator Specter's office. The crowd included immigrants, labor and religious leaders, and sympathetic locals. The marchers geared themselves up by chanting 'Si, Se Puede!' ("Yes, We Can!"). One immigrant carried a sign that read 'Immigrants Love Steelers,' which received a lot of friendly honks from passing cars. (Other passing cars were not so friendly; one car gunned the gas as we crossed the street, as if they were going to run us over, while screaming hostile slurs at us).

I was at the rally to represent the ACLU, but I was also there to represent my family, many of whom came in to this country in the last three decades as refugees from both Vietnam and the former Soviet Union. The immigrants in my family have contributed so much to this country, across the socio-economic spectrum--they include a doctor, two engineers, two small business owners, a nanny, and a nurse. This country means everything to them. They are so patriotic that they often put me to shame, and remind me of all the wonderful things about this country that are too easy to take for granted if you were born here.

When I lived in Austin, TX, I worked mostly with illegal immigrants. One of my friends, Luis, worked two minimum wage jobs to support his family of three. His son had just graduated as valedictorian of his high school class. Luis was so proud of his family; every penny he made went to them. He was epitome of true 'family values.' It is hard for me to comprehend that House Bill 4437 would likely make Luis a felon.

Not to trivialize a very serious and complicated problem--our current system is obviously not working. But to criminalize 11 million people for trying to improve their lives is not only profoundly un-American, it would be almost impossible to implement.

So wherever you live, now is the time to call your Senators and ask them to support COMPREHENSIVE immigration reform, not legislation that only focuses on enforcement without incorporating the larger picture.

Lisa in Pittsburgh

Friday, April 07, 2006

Innocence happens

Two articles in today's Patriot News remind us of the dark side of criminal justice. Innocent people are convicted and lose years of their lives for crimes someone else committed.

On the front page, top fold, is the story of David Gladden, a mentally retarded man from Harrisburg who appears to be innocent of the crime for which he is in prison. Patriot reporter Pete Shellem first broke the story in December, and today's story discusses a city cab driver who another suspect, Andrew Dillon, used as his alibi. Dillon was convicted of killing four other women in much the same way that Geneva Long, the victim in the Gladden case, was killed. Dillon also lived right next door to Long. (Apparently, math skills- as in, 2+2- are not required to be a Harrisburg detective.)

The cabbie, Joseph Baumgartner, said this in today's article:
"I was down at the Stop Lunch... He (Dillon) walked in, he nudged me and said, 'Look, I been here with you all night,'" Baumgartner told The Patriot-News. "I told him, 'I wasn't here all night, I just got here maybe 10 or 15 minutes ago.' But he said, 'I was here when you came in and I been sitting here talking.'"

Moments later, he said, they heard fire engines going down Second Street to Long's nearby apartment.

Baumgartner said he and Dillon walked to the scene, where firefighters were extinguishing the fire.

"He's standing there, he's looking at it and he's got a look in his eye, you know what I mean?" Baumgartner said. "I heard somebody come out and say there was a body in there. I knew it was him. When they finally got him, I thought they got him on all of them and then I found out they got this other guy in jail for this one. That's not right."

To make matters worse, according to Baumgartner, he told a city police officer this story, but there was no follow up. Meanwhile, Dillon was telling city police that he was with Baumgartner at the time.

Elsewhere, with a week left before the start of the civil trial in the wrongful conviction of Steven Crawford of Harrisburg, the judge in that case recused himself for health reasons. Crawford spent 28 years in prison for a crime someone else committed, and he was convicted in part on the testimony of state police fingerprint analyst John Balshy and chemist Janice Roadcap. These two Keystone Kops have a history. Roadcap helped put away Barry Laughman of Adams County for 16 years before DNA evidence cleared him, and Balshy was involved in setting up Gary Rank of Dauphin County.

So, what is the Commonwealth doing about this travesty? At the moment, not much. To their credit, prosecutors in the Dauphin County DA's office are not blocking the introduction of new evidence in the Gladden case.

More importantly, Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery) is the prime sponsor of the Innocence Commission Act (Senate Bill 1069), which would create the Innocence Commission of Pennsylvania. This commission would be made up of judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, police, academics, and others who would study the reasons why innocent people are convicted. (Mind you, I could tell them in about five minutes, and they wouldn't have to spend all that time, but go forward.) SB 1069 is out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and is awaiting a vote from the full Senate. It's time for the Senate leadership to put it on the agenda.

Andy in H-burg

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Look what suddenly emerged...

Have all of you Dover trial devotees checked out Tiktaalik roseae, yet? She's a sweet 375-million-year-old fish said to be the "long-sought missing link in the evolution of some fishes from water to a life walking on four limbs on land."

I will leave the details to the science folk, who actually know what they're talking about on this one. From Corante:
"So why is Tiktaalik big news and not news at all? It is big news because it
blurs the distinction between fish and tetrapod more spectacularly than ever
before. It is no news at all, because it is just the sort of creature that one
would predict from previously discovered fossils. Its place on our family tree
has been cleared and waiting for some time now. And now it's filled.

There are some nice pics on Pharyngula that put Tiktaalik in context.

From the NY Times story:
"The fish has been named Tiktaalik roseae, at the suggestion of elders of
Canada's Nunavut Territory. Tiktaalik (pronounced tic-TAH-lick) means "large
shallow water fish.""

Tiktaalik, welcome to the fossil record.
Amy Laura from Philly

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Stealth legislation and gross intolerance

Guest Blogger: Landsdale resident Betty Leifer sounds off on the PA Marriage Protection Amendment. Betty's letter was published in The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) on March 29, 2006, during a series of editorials on the State Legislature.

There they go again!

When our state legislature enacted a stealth raise, the citizens of Pennsylvania rose up. The message was clear and our government representatives backed down. Well, they're doing it again. More stealth legislation is in the works. Very quietly, Representative Boyd (R-Lancaster) has drafted an Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution and has successfully garnered many co-sponsors.

Is our legislature working to improve the cost and quality of health care? No! Are they working to improve our children's education? No! Are they working to ensure that our tax money is not wasted? No! Are they implementing rules to control the corrupting influence of lobbyists? No!

Instead, our legislature is working to deprive a very small and vulnerable part of our citizenry of their civil and human rights.

The proposed amendment (HB#2381) states that "... neither the Commonwealth nor any of its political subdivisions shall create or recognize a legal status identical or
substantially equivalent to that of marriage for unmarried individuals." The
effect of this new legislation, should it pass, would be to forever outlaw the creation of civil unions or domestic partnerships for those individuals who are
prevented from marrying in Pennsylvania. It also leaves in question the status
of the domestic partnership benefits now accorded to Montgomery county

When I asked a state representative about this proposed amendment, I heard two astounding things. One was "we were trying to keep this quiet" and the other was that the full implications of this legislation had not been understood.

Please tell your state legislators to stop this nonsense and get to work on improving the lives of Pennsylvanians.
Betty Leifer
Lansdale, PA

The Pennsylvania House may vote on this bill today, with only the briefest farce of an informational hearing. Only four speakers were allowed to testify, last week, barely scratching the surface of the intended and unintended consequences of this amendment. Newspapers in York, Allentown, Scranton, Harrisburg, and Chambersberg have all come out against HB 2381, criticizing the "gross intolerance," divisiveness, political opportunism and short-sightedness of its proponents, who refuse to even consider how this bill will impact Pennsylvanians: LGBT families, foster kids, seniors, domestic violence victims and many many others...

We all need to continue to speak out on this issue - in the papers, to each other and to our legislators. Keep calling the reps and start calling your senators, this week!

Amy Laura in Philly

Monday, April 03, 2006

Deliver Us From Our 'Protectors'

The PA 'Marriage Protection Amendment' (otherwise known as HB 2381), will likely be voted on in the PA House this week. As usual, if you live in Pennsylvania, we beg you to call your representatives ASAP and give them an earful about this piece of unnecessary, noxious legislation.

I wonder what 'Marriage Protection' supporters see in their mind's eye when they propose this kind of legislation.

Are they thinking of real people, or are they thinking about an election year? Do they imagine people like Andy Mahoney?

This is Andy's story...

In July of 2004, Virginia passed something comparable to the PA Marriage Protection Act. The amendment basically nullified any will, deed, or contract between same-sex individuals. It made my partner and I realize that our assets weren't protected. We had worked our whole lives and saved and contributed, and then all of the sudden we could lose everything. We could be left with nothing other than legal bills and a lot of pain...we felt that just wasn't right. So we made the difficult decision to leave Virginia because we wanted to protect each other if something happened to the other person. It was a tough choice...I had a very profitable and successful clinical practice in Virginia, and all of our friends were there.

We moved to Pittsburgh last March, and are still getting adjusted. I am building up a practice again, and we really like this city. And then this amendment comes along. It's almost like, "Is this really happening again?" We thought we would be safe in Pennsylvania.

People like Andy may have hostile family members that could try to override the desires of LGBT couples with regards to their wills and estates--or hospital visitation rights. The Marriage Protection Amendment would give the aggressive party a legal leg to stand on in Pennsylvania, even potentially invalidating local laws protecting LGBT rights.

We owe it to people like Andy, and to ourselves, to keep Pennsylvania safe for LGBT families.

Lisa in Pittsburgh