How Pennsylvania Lawmakers Turned A Bipartisan Bill To Protect Domestic Violence Victims Into A Political Football

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The Pennsylvania state House passed HB1796 unanimously, a bill that would protect domestic violence victims from eviction when they have to call the police multiple times on their abusers. But when it arrived in the Senate this week, lawmakers took the opportunity to add an amendment that would ban any local government in the state from passing paid or unpaid leave policies — policies that could also help these very victims.

Given that the amendment preempts any attempt to pass a leave policy, “that would include paid sick days, it would include unpaid domestic violence leave, it would include just about anything you can think of that would fall within those categories,” Marianne Bellesorte, vice president of policy, strategy, and communications at PathWays PA, told ThinkProgress. Domestic violence victims often need time off from work to access legal or medical help. Philadelphia already has an unpaid leave provision for survivors on its books, and it “protects really the most vulnerable workers who already don’t have paid time off, don’t have sick days, personal vacation days they can take,” said Molly Callahan, legal center director at Women Against Abuse. “They have to decide between their job and safety. It’s an unconscionable choice to ask someone to make.”

The Senate’s current version of the bill will still have to go to an appropriations committee before being considered by the whole body, and then it would need to go back to the House for concurrance given that it changed from what those lawmakers passed, Bellesorte explained. It was originally expected to move quickly, but now the future is unclear. Callahan has heard that “there is a good chance that it now won’t pass.”

But this is not the first time that the Pennsylvania House has tried to pass a preemption law blocking leave policies. In October, Rep. Seth Grove (R) introduced a bill that would also block cities and counties from passing paid leave policies. Another bill was introduced in January that sought to preempt both paid and unpaid leave. “Both bills ended up having a number of amendments attached to them and they haven’t really moved forward since that point,” Bellesorte said.

If any of these were to become law, it would throw a wrench into some current efforts to pass leave policies. While Philadelphia has an unpaid leave ordinance for domestic violence victims, lawmakers are planning to work on a paid leave provision. Last year the city council passed just such a law only to have it vetoed by the mayor. “I believe they’re planning to try to get it passed again, and passed so it couldn’t be vetoed or the mayor wouldn’t veto it this time,” Callahan said. But this amendment “would stop that from being able to happen.” Meanwhile, although there isn’t a paid sick days bill currently in the city council, “it’s always a little bit in the pipeline,” Bellesorte said. “We’re hoping to reintroduce something in the near future. It would certainly be upset by [the amendment].”

Pennsylvania is far from the only state to see these preemption efforts. Ten have passed laws banning paid sick days policies at the local level, with seven passed just last year. Others, like North Carolina, similarly want to join their ranks. These bills are fueled by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a big business coalition that works with conservative lawmakers, which handed out model preemption legislation at a 2011 meeting. Rep. Grove is a member of ALEC and has introduced its model legislation in the past.