Pennsylvania’s two-year legislative session (2021-2022) has wrapped up and there’s a lot that can be unpacked, with both significant victories along and a variety of challenges. Here’s a PA Family snapshot of the past session along with a look into the new session starting in 2023.
Before you dive in, we wanted to let you know that this year, PA Family has had more legislative interactions and more media engagements than ever before. Having a team of experts regularly engaging elected officials in Harrisburg allows your values to be represented — and it’s making a difference. This impact is made possible because of the generous support from people across our state that believe in our mission and vision for Pennsylvania.
Right now, PA Family has been blessed with a $100,000 Challenge Grant to encourage more growth and impact. We rely on the support of Pennsylvania families from across the Commonwealth in order to make our work possible. Click here to donate.
Three Good Policy Victories
1. Homeschool Hybrid Educational Access Act (2022)
This new law creates a state-wide educational right for families in Pennsylvania that makes it easier for families to direct the upbringing of their children. Our state law requires public schools to permit homeschool students to play sports, but schools were able to prohibit homeschool students from joining the orchestra, marching band, or from taking a few academic courses.
PA Family crafted legislation to rectify this situation and are happy to report that, thanks to the leadership of State Rep. Jesse Topper (R-Bedford), State Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster) and members of the PA House and Senate, the Homeschool Hybrid Educational Access Act was passed into law last summer.
Families can now choose to homeschool while still taking advantage of vo-tech, orchestra, band or certain academic courses of their choice that they would prefer in a classroom setting, all while remaining autonomous, homeschooling families. These options now made available may now help additional parents choose homeschooling as the best educational option for their children.
2. Fairness in Women’s Sports Act
Pennsylvania’s Fairness in Women’s Sports Act would protect decades of hard-won opportunities for women by ensuring sports are separated by biological sex. We all saw how a biological man swam on the women’s team at the University of Pennsylvania and dominated the competition. This is unfair to women. It’s threats like this that sparked the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act in order to ensure a level playing field. While this great legislation passed both the PA House and PA Senate, it was vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf.
“I would like to thank the PA Family Institute for all their guidance and help these last two years. We could not have done it without them.”
PA State Rep. Barb Gleim, lead sponsor of the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act
Even though Governor Tom Wolf vetoed the bill, its passage and our advocacy to get this bill through sent a message to female athletes in Pennsylvania that the injustices they face have not gone unnoticed, and that every effort is being made to protect their rights. It’s also had an impact at the local level, where school districts are working towards protecting girls in their community.
3. Historic expansion of EITC scholarships
The demand is growing for more school choice options, with a record 75,000+ tax credit scholarship applications turned away last year. Thanks to this year’s historic increase in expanding the successful Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs, more children and more families seeking better educational options can now be helped.
PA Family is proud to operate our Family Choice Scholarship Program, one of the state’s approved scholarship organizations. Through this program we have provided thousands of scholarships to help families choose the best educational option for their children.
One additional victory highlight: Life Amendment
A heavy lift this year was advocating for the ultimate passage in both the PA House and Senate of the Life Amendment, which would preserve the rights of the people through their representatives to make policy decisions on abortion rather than Pennsylvania’s courts. This is a response to the abortion industry’s attempt to force taxpayer funding of abortion and to jeopardize every pro-life limit in our state through a lawsuit now before the PA Supreme Court.
As a constitutional amendment, the Life Amendment must be voted on a second time in the next legislative session, which begins in 2023, and then would go to a referendum vote by Pennsylvania citizens. It cannot be vetoed by the governor.
Concern: Nationally, the abortion industry and mainstream media are pushing back hard against these types of amendments, and, along with the new makeup of our PA General Assembly next session, it will be challenging to see success in this second session starting in 2023.
Three Bad Policies Averted
1. Marijuana Commercialization
Several bills were introduced to push harmful efforts to legalize marijuana for recreational use. PA State Sen. Mike Regan (R-Cumberland), while never formally introducing a bill, held three committee hearings in the Senate Law & Justice Committee that were stacked with representatives from the marijuana industry and shut out the voices of important experts that share concerns with such a harmful effort. While these three biased hearings were a disservice to Pennsylvania taxpayers, what’s encouraging is Senator Judy Ward (R-Blair), the chair of the Senate Aging and Youth Committee, decided to hold a hearing in her committee that welcomed testimony from a variety of experts, several of whom were shut out from the Law & Justice Committee hearing.
One of the expert testifiers in Sen. Ward’s hearing was PA Family team member and former Superior Court Judge Cheryl Allen – who served for 17 years in juvenile and criminal courts and has interacted with thousands of families whose lives were wrecked by drug addiction. She’s seen first-hand the harm marijuana use has caused. “People can and do become addicted to marijuana, especially young people…No amount of tax revenue is worth sacrificing the safety and well-being of our citizens, especially our youth.”
Thankfully, no committee vote advanced on any bill to subject Pennsylvania communities with selling dangerously high-potent marijuana products for recreational use.
2. Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Laws
Governor Tom Wolf continued to push for harmful Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity laws (SOGI), but our state remains the only Northeastern state to stop a SOGI law. Thankfully, no committee vote took place on these proposed bills (House Bill 300, Senate Bill 313).
State SOGI laws have been used to punish good people and ministries for their beliefs about marriage and human sexuality. They also would threaten religious social service providers, require schools to open up female locker rooms to men and would eliminate sex-distinctions in law.
Employees or business owners who recognize the two biological sexes or that believe that marriage is defined as between one man and one woman would be treated by law as equivalent to those holding racist beliefs. Our laws should honor the freedom to hold these sincerely-held beliefs in order to respect true diversity and tolerance.
3. Abortion Until Birth Act
An abortion “pledge” was circulated by several PA Democrat pro-abortion legislators. The pledge essentially calls for the extreme policies of unrestricted abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, along with the removal of current, sensible pro-life laws, and attacks the good work of pregnancy centers throughout our state.
“This radical abortion pledge prioritizes special interest groups, certainly not the health and well-being of Pennsylvania women and families.”
Michael Geer, President – PA Family
This radical pledge calls for codifying abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, adding 150 new abortion facilities and removing all limits, including waiting periods and parental consent.
Additionally, a handful of PA Democrats introduced the “Bodily Autonomy Act” (House Bill 2877), which would replace the current Abortion Control Act. While the 24 week abortion limit would remain, it would add “mental health” as a reason for exceptions to the 24-week limit. It also removes any mention of “unborn child” – which appears 33 times in the PA Abortion Control Act.
These out-of-touch proposals did not advance in the state legislature, as no committee vote took place this session.
Three Discouraging “Lone Wolf” Orders by Gov. Wolf
Over the course of Gov. Tom Wolf’s tenure, he issued dozens of executive orders, often pushing harmful policies on Pennsylvania families and communities. Here were three examples from this past legislative sessions:
1. Advertising for Abortion
A July 2022 executive order signed by Gov. Tom Wolf called for the use of tax dollars to advertise abortion services in Pennsylvania, while also falsely claiming abortion is guaranteed in Pennsylvania’s constitution.
In the executive order, Gov. Wolf directed state agencies to implement steps, which included “communicating directly with the public” on areas related to abortion in Pennsylvania. Gov. Wolf went on to call for “providing comprehensive information about the current cost and availability” for ending the life of a preborn baby “in a manner that is easily accessed and understood by the public.”
Gov. Wolf also claimed the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has “long provided a guarantee” of a right to terminate a pregnancy. This is simply not true. There is simply no right to an abortion found in our state constitution.
2. Preventing Pennsylvanians From Accessing Health Care Options
Individuals who struggle with gender dysphoria need access to counseling options that offer help for feeling comfortable in their own bodies, instead of a one-sided approach that too often pushes dangerous puberty-blocking drugs and surgeries. Gov. Wolf’s ban also extended to individuals who wanted help with their same-sex attractions.
The executive order seeks to limit speech, hindering the ability of counselors and therapists to help their patients, and threatens to punish those with convictions on sexuality and gender that differ from the governor’s.
“Individuals deserve, on an equal basis, the professional help they want to reduce or cope with unwanted sexual desires in the same way any other person seeking counseling for other unwanted or hard-to-control desires.”
Jeremy Samek, Senior Counsel – PA Family
3. Governor Wolf tries to stop pro-life constitutional amendment
Gov. Wolf negative response to our democratically-elected legislators passage of the Life Amendment, along with several other constitutional amendments, was to file a lawsuit in July attempting to stop it. Again, Gov. Wolf claimed there is a right to abortion in the state constitution, which is simply not there.
Our Independence Law Center filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the Pennsylvania Family Institute in Tom Wolf v. General Assembly and argued for the right of citizens to have a say in one of the most impactful issues of our day, abortion. Gov. Wolf is attempting to short-circuit the democratic process and deny the people – and their elected representatives – the opportunity to have a voice on this critical issue.
Three Areas to Watch in 2023
Good: School Choice, Parental Rights in Education
We will continue to work with our General Assembly to ensure that every child receives the education he or she deserves and parents are the ultimate drivers of how and what their kids learn. Governor-elect Josh Shapiro has repeatedly stated his support for school vouchers.
In particular, two education bills advanced through the PA Senate this year but failed to reach a vote in the PA House, which were the Empowering Families in Education Act, which would address the gender ideology coercion and inappropriate sexual materials for elementary children in the classroom, as well a bill that would require schools to notify parents about materials that are sexually explicit, allowing parents to opt their children out and require their child be given a non-explicit, suitable alternative. Both bills would be a great improvement.
Bad: Continued Experiments on Babies from Elective Abortions
The three bad bills averted this year that were outlined above will continue to threaten Pennsylvania families in 2023 — marijuana commercialization, SOGI bills and removing abortion limits. Another serious concern is the ongoing experiments on babies from elective abortions — funded by your tax dollars — at the University of Pittsburgh (and elsewhere). NIH funding with federal taxpayer dollars, along with state allocations to overall funding, continue to allow these barbaric practices to continue. Despite several legislative efforts, these inhumane experiments continue. We need to find solutions to this ongoing injustice.
Ugly: Attacks on Pregnancy Centers
We’ve all seen the violent attacks, the vandalism, the graffiti, the bombings in the wake of the reversal of Roe v. Wade on the good work of pregnancy resource centers. What you may not have seen is the continued harmful rhetoric by Pennsylvania elected officials toward these charitable groups that help families choose life and support them when they need it the most.
In the second legislative hearing hosted by Sen. Katie Muth and the PA Senate Democratic Policy Committee on the “deceptive practices” of pregnancy centers, Dr. Courtney Schreiber with the University of Pennsylvania compared pregnancy centers to terrorist groups.
“Schreiber repeatedly criticized pro-life crisis pregnancy centers without mentioning that scores of these pro-life organizations have been vandalized with pro-abortion graffiti, attacked, or firebombed since the May leak of the draft Supreme Court opinion indicating that Roe v. Wade would soon be overturned. She also expressed concerns that pro-life groups are nefariously using private data that they collect from the pregnant women who come to their organizations. Apparently comparing crisis pregnancy centers to terrorists, she asked, “Who knows what they are doing with that information, if they may be selling it, if they may be making data available to other terrorists or activists that can cause harm to patients or the providers to whom they actually wind up going to eventually to seek care.”
Mary Margaret Olohan, The Daily Signal
Thank you for your continued prayers and partnership with PA Family as we advocate for your values in the halls of the State Capitol in Harrisburg and in communities across Pennsylvania. We have seen great victories thanks to your support. We also have much more work to do in order to protect human dignity, life and marriage. Please continue to partner with us as we strive to build a society that reflects these values.