KEYSTONE PROGRESS URGES VOTERS TO REJECT MARSY’S LAW BALLOT QUESTION

For two critical reasons, the Marsy’s Law ballot question, which may or may not appear on the November 5th general election ballot, should be rejected by voters. A legal challenge to the proposed question was filed yesterday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, along with plaintiff Lorraine Haw. This lawsuit argues that Pennsylvania’s constitutional procedures were not followed in the crafting of this ballot question. On substantive grounds, these reforms are shortsighted and will leave those accused of crimes without the due process protections they are entitled to constitutionally.

The Process of Ballot Question Creation in Pennsylvania

In order to enact an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution through the General Assembly, legislation must be passed through both chambers in two consecutive legislative sessions. The PA Constitution requires that “[w]hen two or more amendments shall be submitted they shall be voted upon separately.” This proposed constitutional amendment combines several changes into a single amendment and therefore denies voters their constitutional right to vote “yes” or “no” on each individual change to the constitutional. 

Lorraine Haw, one of the plaintiffs in this suit, knows these issues deeply through her own life experiences. She lost both her brother and her son to the issue of crime - her brother was murdered and is a crime victim and her son is serving a long prison sentence. Lorraine also has gone through the criminal justice system herself and is on the path to recovery from addiction. When Lorraine casts her vote, she won’t be able to vote for the provisions she supports and vote against those she doesn’t - instead, the General Assembly has set up a process in which her voice as a voter will not be properly heard. Constitutional amendments are a serious matter, and if voters do not agree with every single provision in this constitutional amendment, they should proceed to vote “NO”. Keystone Progress supports the efforts of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the League of Women Voters, and most especially, the bravery of Lorraine Haw, plaintiffs in a lawsuit meant to stop this unacceptable initiative. We hope that this question won’t appear on the November ballot, and that the efforts of these plaintiffs will prevail.

Pennsylvania’s Mass Incarceration Crisis

If the ballot question prevails, we hope you will vote no on substantive grounds. The Marsy’s Law ballot question undermines fundamental rights of people accused of crimes that date to the founding of our country. Bail hearings could be delayed if the stated victim of the alleged crime is not notified, holding people in detention longer than is necessary. A victim’s right to a speedy conclusion to the proceedings could compromise a defendant’s ability to build an effective defense at trial and to appeal their conviction or sentence. We support the rights of crime victims to be treated with dignity and respect, but when that extends to a scenario where accusers can decline to be deposed, fulfill discovery requests, or otherwise cooperate with a criminal investigation, that directly violates the rights of the accused to a fair trial.

Whether it is their intention or not, advocates of Marsy’s Law are pushing a dangerous, pro-incarceration legislation rather than a victims’ rights bill.

Dan Doubet, executive director of Keystone Progress, says “Marsy’s Law makes it harder for the accused to defend themselves. At a time when the criminal justice system has been weaponized against black, brown, immigrant, and poor communities, we oppose any laws that make it harder for people to receive due process in court.”

If this question appears on your ballot on November 5th, be sure to vote NO.

Colleen Kennedy
It's time to end sexual harassment in the state legislature. You can help to make that happen!

LEGISLATION ALERT: HB 1000 and SB 480 work to address #MeToo issues in our state legislature, but more co-sponsors are needed.

The #MeToo Act at a glance:

-Bans the use of non-disclosure agreements which mask the names of Members of the General Assembly who are accused of harassment if the complaint is credible;

-Requires that credibly accused members of the Legislature be held accountable to the taxpayers of Pennsylvania and require that they repay any settlements that were paid with taxpayer dollars;

-Requires that paid administrative leave, remote work assignments, and reimbursement for licensed professional counseling be offered to employees during the entire adjudication of the proceedings.

-Establishes procedures for keeping the investigatory, prosecutorial, and adjudicatory functions separate as required under Pennsylvania law;

-Establishes a new section of procedures for promulgating temporary regulations to facilitate the prompt implementation of this new section;

-Combines settlement provisions with provisions relating to the source of payment, the personal liability of elected officials, and the payment of awards

Want to get involved?

Make sure to sign our petition, and you can use this handy tool to call your legislator’s office directly. If you would be interested in leading a legislative visit to your representative or senator, reach out to colleen@keystoneprogress.org.

Governor Wolf, shut it down. #ShutDownBerks #EndFamilyDetention

For Immediate Release
August 16, 2019
Press Contact: Colleen Kennedy
colleen@keystoneprogress.org

Keystone Progress stands unequivocally with the Shut Down Berks Coalition

Gov. Wolf MUST issue ERO releasing immigrant families to restore trust in his administration 

Harrisburg, PA - In the past week, Pennsylvanians have seen an active public relations campaign from Governor Wolf’s office, aiming to brand him as a savior of immigrants against the agenda of President Trump. Meanwhile, Governor Wolf has the power to make a real difference in the lives of countless immigrant families currently imprisoned at the Berks County Residential Center, by issuing an emergency removal order (ERO), yet he refuses to do so.

In July, psychologists who visited the detention center cited the real damage that was being caused to these children directly from their arbitrary imprisonment. WHYY reported that one of the psychologists, Anna Fisher, said “There is “no area of development that is spared by this kind of trauma. Oftentimes, this trauma is lasting, and it impacts all aspects of one’s functioning and development. Social, cognitive development, language development, attention development.” These acts of psychological violence on children are unwarranted and beneath the values of Pennsylvanians.

Keystone Progress Executive Director Dan Doubet issued the following statement in support of the coalition: 

“The Shutdown Berks Coalition has led the movement to end family detention in Pennsylvania, and we stand with them and all who stand against detention of children and families.  Governor Wolf seems more interested in performative, partisan declarations than in stopping the atrocities of incarceration happening right now, on his watch, in PA. He has the power to shut down the Berks detention center, and no tweet or press release condemning the president will make up for that. Governor Wolf, it’s time to lead: shut it down.

Linked here is the full statement from the Shut Down Berks Coalition, a group of courageous activists who have our full support as they continue to advocate for the human rights of immigrant families.

CALL GOVERNOR WOLF.

He needs to hear from you.
Here’s his phone number: 717-787-2500

ALERT: Dignity Act of Pennsylvania aims to protect the civil rights of incarcerated women

Human rights to all, including incarcerated women!

The Dignity Act for Incarcerated Women and Parents aims to end the direct harm our prisons have on entire families. This series of bills are currently in the House Judiciary Committee, and you can make your voice heard by signing this petition in support of the legislative package, in order to obtain more legislative co-sponsors.

Current Legislative Package:

HB 1011 (prime sponsor, Rep Morgan Cephas): would require the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) to create a new committee focused specifically on issues affecting females

HB 1012 (prime sponsor, Rep Morgan Cephas): requires the DOC to submit an annual report on the number of health care screenings, emergency, maternal, and specialty care services they provide to the House Health Committee, House Human Services Committee, and the Senate Health and Human Services Committee

HB 1008 (prime sponsor, Rep Isabella Fitzgerald): require state prisons to provide at least two varieties of sanitary pads and two varieties of tampons to all female inmates at no cost, regardless of their financial means.

HB 999 (prime sponsor, Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler): calls for the creation of ombudsmen positions within the DOC. These neutral third-party assistants attempt to help with matters for which there is no effective administrative remedy.

HB 1002 (prime sponsor, Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler): creates a program that allows formerly incarcerated people to mentor currently incarcerated people

HB 1007 (prime sponsor, Rep. Joanna McClinton): would ensure that incarcerated parents are able to speak to their children regularly, regardless of their financial means, by providing them with one free phone call or email per month to each of their children

HB 1014 (prime sponsor, Rep. Summer Lee): would create an environment in our correctional institutions that properly assists and rehabilitates incarcerated individuals who have experienced trauma

HB 1593 (prime sponsor, Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell): would look to limit, to the greatest extent possible, inspections by male correctional officers when a female is in a state of undress. In addition, the bill would also require invasive body cavity searches of pregnant women to be done by a certified healthcare professional. There would be exceptions for cavity searches if a correctional officer has reason to believe the woman was concealing contraband, with justification being required in the form of a written report within 72 hours following the search.

HB 1591 (prime sponsor, Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell): would require the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC) to place incarcerated mothers of a minor dependent within 250 miles of their permanent address of record. It would also authorize visitation by minor dependents for at least two days per week.

HB 1592 (prime sponsor, Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell): would establish an overnight visitation program at all PADOC facilities. The program would allow children 10 years or younger to stay overnight with their mother, so long as the mother meets certain qualifications. Furthermore, it would establish a separate, secure area where both mother and child could stay for the duration of the visit.

HB 1594 (prime sponsor, Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell): would require the PADOC and the Department of Human Services to jointly develop a training program for staff who have contact with incarcerated pregnant women. This program would include a variety of information about the general care of pregnant women and would also require that educational programming be put in place for pregnant women.

PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE: 'Nobody is going to go to heaven.’ Pa. budget deal divides Democrats

The nearly $34 billion budget bill, which Mr. Wolf has signed, contained few of their legislative priorities. Though it boosts money for public education — long one of Mr. Wolf’s priorities — it siphons money from environmental protection efforts, lacks an increase to the state’s $7.25-per-hour minimum wage, and strips funding for a cash assistance program that helps Pennsylvania’s poorest residents.

Democratic lawmakers, including some newly elected in a progressive wave last year, balked at some of the missing items. Though they stopped short of publicly directly criticizing Mr. Wolf and their leadership, they expressed frustration that they did not have greater input in the process, which produced a plan that they believe abandons their ideals.

Colleen Kennedy
KP Statement on the 2019-2020 State Budget

For Immediate Release
June 28, 2019
Contact: Colleen Kennedy, colleen@keystoneprogress.org

Statement from Keystone Progress Executive Director Dan Doubet

"This has been a disappointing budget season for Governor Wolf's stated priorities, but it will be absolutely devastating to the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians. We need leaders to do better, and we will be vocally pushing for improvements in state policy in the weeks and months to come. Our solidarity is with all of the domestic violence survivors, people living with diseases and disabilities, people facing homelessness, veterans, human trafficking survivors, and low wage earners, whose basic needs were left on the negotiating floor. While legislators go home for a timely summer recess, thousands of their constituents will be scrambling to survive. Going forward, leaders who ignore the needs of Pennsylvanians can expect the people to bring accountability to their door and at the ballot box."

COMMON DREAMS: Charter Schools Are a Major Dividing Line for the 2020 Democratic Candidates—Education Fights in Pennsylvania Point the Way

Although charter schools are promoted to Pennsylvania families as a free option to look outside their neighborhood public schools, the costs of charters are borne by local school districts—and all the taxpayers who support them. Charter schools now costPennsylvania taxpayers over $1.8 billion annually and account for over 25 percent of the state’s basic education funding.

Pennsylvania’s surging charter school costs are direct causes of rapidly rising property taxes across the state. When public school students transfer to charters, and per-pupil costs “follow the child,” Doubet explains, the bill for that cost comes due at the end of each budget year when local public schools have to make “tuition payments” to compensate charters for students who transferred. These mostly unplanned, unforeseen costs are often enough to tip district budgets into the red. And the only way to pay off the deficits and right the fiscal ship is to raise local property taxes.

“Everywhere you go you hear complaints about the huge burden that local property taxes have become,” Doubet says. “It’s tough for middle- and working-class families to come up with the money when their wages have stagnated for decades. And retirees on fixed incomes are especially hard hit.”

Colleen Kennedy