Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year and Thanks for Your Support: Summary of Accomplishments

Happy New Year!  Today is my (Joanne Tosti-Vasey’s) last day as President of the Pennsylvania NOW, Inc.; the Pennsylvania NOW Education Fund; and the Pennsylvania NOW PAC.   I really have appreciated your support over the 18 years of my tenure as both President and Treasurer of NOW here in PA. 

As part of passing the torch to our new President, Julia Ramsey, I’d first like to summarize the past  six years.  I will post the new leadership information in a second post.

We have done some awesome, successful work over the last few years. 

1.       We pressured Penn State University to change their policies towards all forms of campus violence.  In 2006, as a result of this pressure, PSU did create a zero-tolerance policy towards all forms of domestic and relationship violence, sexual assault, and stalking on campus.  However this policy hit some rather bumpy spots, particularly within the Athletics department.  As of result of the allegations of child sexual abuse against former PSU football coach Jerry Sandusky in November 2011, we have once again weighed in on calling for the University to fully investigate these allegations, to review policies and reporting methods of campus violence, and to include all forms of campus violence in both the investigation and upgrading of policies and reporting.  You can read the most recent joint National NOW/PA NOW statement here as well as a copy of the letter to the PSU Board of Trustees detailing both the history of our involvement in this issue and our call for a broader, full investigation into all forms of campus violence. It is time to make sure that NO form of campus violence – sexual assault, relationship violence, or stalking – is ever again tolerated. Against any child. Against any adult. Anywhere, including at Penn State.

2.       After a high school senior posted an online tabloid in 2006 discussing the breast and hip sizes, sexual proclivities, and sexual diseases of 26 female students, Pennsylvania NOW worked with a parent of one of these young women and with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission to force the Mt. Lebanon School District to conduct sexual harassment training, to set up meetings with the parents of the girls that were harassed to provide input on how to change the policies surrounding sexual harassment, and we worked with the college where the boy matriculated (along with six of the women who were harassed) that resulted in a 4-year stay-away order.  The superintendent and high school principal also lost their jobs as a result of their failure to properly handle this case of sexual harassment.

3.       In collaboration with many women’s organization, we worked with the City of Pittsburgh to craft a zero-tolerance, police-perpetrated domestic violence ordinance in 2007.  This ordinance was created after three police officers who had current or prior histories of domestic violence were promoted.Su

4.       We worked with Philadelphia NOW, the PA Prison Society, and Senator Daylin Leach to pass the 2010 state law that prohibits shackling of incarcerated pregnant women in their 2nd and 3rd trimesters who are incarcerated in prisons and jails throughout the state.  And in Centre County, I advocated for even stronger protections in the Centre County Correctional Facility than are provided in the state law. As a result of this advocacy, any pregnant woman incarcerated in Centre County at any point in her pregnancy will not only not be shackled, but she also will not be tasered.  For details on what this 2010 law and Centre County Prison Board policy do, read a summary in one of our earlier blogs. 

5.       We provided testimony to the PA’s Independent Regulatory Review Board on the 2007 proposed regulations for sexual assault services in emergency rooms.  As a result of this testimony as well as testimony from the Women’s Law Project, Planned Parenthood, and the PA Commission for Women, hospitals must post signs if they refuse to provide emergency contraception to rape victims and must provide them with transportation to another facility where they can receive EC if they want it.  If a hospital refuses to provide EC, they are placed on a PA Deptartment of Health online list of hospitals denying full sexual assault services.  Prior to the new regulations going into effect, about two-thirds of hospitals in PA did NOT provide EC in the ER.  Now only 11 hospitals in the state refuse to provide EC in the ER.

6.       We worked with State College Borough in 2007 and 2011 to create one of the most comprehensive sets of anti-discrimination ordinances in the country.  The employment ordinance includes marital status, familial status, family responsibilities (protections for people who need to take care of or are assumed to be taking care of another adult family member), gender identity, and sexual orientation in addition to the state-level protections.  The fair housing and public accommodations ordinance includes marital status, familial status, gender identity, sexual orientation, and legal sources of income in addition to the state-level protections.  Also in 2011, we helped to fine-tune State College’s proposed inclusionary (affordable) housing ordinance to reduce the number of forms of identification from 5 to 2 for lower income people to apply for inclusionary housing units.  This ordinance also provides the ability for domestic partners to apply for this housing if they have registered with the borough’s Domestic Partnership Registration that was also initiated this year.

7.       We worked with Allegheny County Council in 2009 to pass a county-wide anti-discrimination ordinance that includes marital status, familial status, gender identity, and sexual orientation (but no family responsibilities protections) in addition to the state-level protections in employment, housing and public accommodations.  Also got them to include source of income in housing.

8.       In Spring 2009, we protested the make-up of Governor Rendell’s Stimulus Oversight Committee. Initially, this committee only had 1 woman, 1 person of color, and only people who lived in Allegheny County and southeastern PA.  A coalition of women’s organizations and people of color organizations asked to have the committee expanded to add women, people of color and people from other sections of the state.  We were only partially successful; 1 more woman and 1 more person of color were added to the committee.

9.       We gave written testimony on August 30, 2011 to the House State Government Committee opposing Rep. Daryl Metcalfe’s “National Security Begins at Home” anti-immigration bills.  PA NOW focused on the effects of these bills on children in low-income families and on victims of domestic violence and sexual assault (including women who have been trafficked).  As a result, there are some decent amendments being proposed to these really bad bills that we will continue to oppose.

10.   I co-authored through the National NOW Foundation and the NOW Disability Rights ad-hoc Committee an article entitled “Reproductive Health Justice for Women with Disabilities” in the 2011 Center for Women’s Policy Studies Barbara Faye Waxman Fiduccia Papers on Women and Girls with Disabilities.  I also co-authored the Pennsylvania Commission for Women’s “Status of Women in Pennsylvania” reports in 2004 and 2009 that were distributed to the Pennsylvania General Assembly, Governor Rendell, and to the public. Unfortunately, since Governor Tom Corbett shut down the all four advocacy commissions (the Pennsylvania Commission for Women, Governor’s Advisory Commission on African American Affairs, Governor’s Advisory Commission on Asian American Affairs, and the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs) on July 1, 2011 and the Commission’s website was taken offline. As a result, none of their reports or publications are available for public access.

11.   We monitored and lobbied in Harrisburg on all forms of legislation dealing with women’s economic justice, budget and taxation, education, health care, immigration, human trafficking and ending racism, lesbian rights, reproductive justice, shackling of incarcerated women and children, violence against women, and voting rights. Summaries of some, but not all of these bills can be found in our Legislative Reports that appear in our semi-annual Pennsylvania NOW Times. Copies of these newsletters for 2010 and 2011 can be seen by clicking on each of the PNT links at this blog on the upper left side of the page.  We have done this advocacy as a single organization as well as in coalition with

a.       Pennsylvanians for Choice on issues related to reproductive justice, fighting the new PA TRAP law, and opposing restrictions on abortion access in general and in the new health care law);

b.      Value All Families, led by Equality Advocates  and the PA ACLU, to support  expanded statewide hate crimes and anti-discrimination laws that would add gender identity and sexual orientation to both laws and to oppose multiple attempts to create discrimination in the PA Constitution by defining marriage as “the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife and no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized;”

c.       Pennsylvanians Opposed to Vouchers to oppose legislation that would unconstitutionally give public funds to private and parochial schools though giving vouchers to parents to pay for their children’s private education;

d.      Health Care for All PA to advocate for passage of single-payer health care.

e.      Better Choices for PA to advocate, in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, that lawmakers close tax loopholes and end special interest tax breaks before making deep cuts to schools and literacy programs, colleges, the environment, health care, and services for women; and

f.        Pennsylvania Immigrant and Citizenship Coalition to oppose anti-immigrant bills that threaten the lives of anyone, especially women and children, who look like they might be undocumented.

12.   We also attended and participated in monitoring tension, acts of bias, and potential hate crimes as a member of the Pennsylvania Tension Task Force.  The Task Force is headed by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, and the Pennsylvania State Police.  In both 2003 and in 2009 we also made presentations before the Task Force on Pennsylvania NOW’s history and on gender-based hate crimes.

We also have had some setbacks.  The most recent one was last week’s passage and signing into law Pennsylvania’s new TRAP – Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers law. We will work in coalition with Pennsylvanians for Choice to stop this undue burden law from going into effect.  We are still fighting more potential attacks on marriage equality, school vouchers, immigration, voting rights and access, reproductive justice and healthcare.

We will continue educating the public about women’s rights and equality through the Pennsylvania NOW Education Fund.  We will continue our advocacy through Pennsylvania NOW, Inc.  And we will work to replace enough members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly to once again have a legislature that is concerned about and works for the betterment of all people’s lives and not just that of corporations.

It’s been a great six years.  Thank you all and

Happy New Year!

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