HARRISBURG — A state commission on Thursday narrowly approved new definitions of gender, religious belief and race in Pennsylvania’s anti-discrimination rules, with three Democratic-nominated members voting in favor and two of Republican nominees voted against.
An independent regulatory review board has approved a set of definitions for the types of employment, housing, education, and public facility discrimination complaints that can be filed with state human relations boards.
Proponents said such a definition would be clearer to those who file such complaints, employers, organizations and others who have to defend against them, but opponents say Congress said it was in a better position to make those changes.
“The legislature seems to have not adopted a definition for years,” said George Bedwick, chairman of the Regulatory Commission and Democratic nominee. He called it “strong evidence that the intent was to allow the Commission to define those terms” when the Human Relations Act was first adopted in the 1950s.
Republican nominee John Soroko said his “No” vote was based “only and strictly” on his belief that regulatory changes were outside the mandate of the Personnel Commission.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolfe said he supports the changes, which are expected to go into effect early next year.
In a statement released after the vote, Wolfe said, “I was clear. Hate has no place in Pennsylvania. This includes harassment by a loved one or by a school, landlord, or employer based on their gender identity.” This includes protecting the rights of individuals facing discrimination by
The move to clarify the terms “gender,” “religious beliefs,” and “race” builds on a 2018 decision by the Human Rights Commission to open complaints about LGBTQ discrimination.
The Regulations define “sex” to include differences in pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, gender assigned at birth, gender identity or expression, affection or sexual orientation, and sexual development.
“Racial” discrimination includes characteristics such as ancestry, national origin, ethnic characteristics, interracial marriage and dating, and hairstyles historically associated with race and nationality or ancestry.
And “religious beliefs” encompasses all aspects of religious observance, practice and belief.
In a May letter to the Independent Regulatory Review Board, State Rep. Seth Grove, Republican Yorke, argued that the new definition was effectively an end-run around Congress.
“The policy choice as to whether Pennsylvania should expand its definition of ‘sexism’ in such a way remains just a policy choice,” Grove said. “It is therefore the prerogative of the General Assembly to pursue it squarely and exclusively.”
D-Allegheny Rep. Dan Frankel, a longtime supporter of the LGBTQ antidiscrimination bill, said Republican opponents “blocked every attempt they made in the House to do this. We have enough grounds to proceed.”
The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the public affairs arm of state bishops, said the proposal would hurt small businesses and religious groups and would not protect religious freedom. It allows organizations to hire or hire on the basis of gender.
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Commission chair Joel Borstein said in an interview this week that the proposal would not force women to be hired into religious groups where priests must be men, and that state religious liberty protection laws were not enforced by some laws. It said it provided public protection.
A group of 11 Republican senators also opposed the regulation change, saying it “works against Congress’ intentions, lacks prescribed statutory authority, and ultimately earns our disapproval.” .
The Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce upheld the “intent” of the commission’s proposal, saying several changes were made at the group’s request, including a two-month delay in implementation.
“In general, driving public policy through administrative regulation, rather than codifying it in law through the legislative process, is a critical process for potentially dramatic policy changes from one administration to the next, as well as for broader stakes. Alex Halper, vice president for government affairs at the Chamber of Commerce.
Many local governments in the state have nondiscrimination ordinances that address sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression, but they do not apply statewide.
In 2018, the Human Resources Commission announced that it would accept and investigate complaints of gender discrimination.
The change was announced in a news release, which was mostly filled with employment complaints, but there are signs that many were unaware of the 2018 policy change, Borstein said.
https://www.mcall.com/news/pennsylvania/mc-nws-pa-panel-six-race-definition-20221208-kr76uznbdzcltigwr7a46is76y-story.html#ed=rss_www.mcall.com/arcio/rss/category/news/pennsylvania/ Pennsylvania Commission Updates Anti-Discrimination Rule – The Morning Call