4 Key Bills Pennsylvania House Democrats Have Passed so Far This Year

Legislators of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives stand before they are sworn-in, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. The ceremony marks the convening of the 2023-2024 legislative session of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Matt Smith)

By Sean Kitchen

May 9, 2023

House Democrats used their spring session to help Pennsylvania workers, close the teacher shortage gap, and more. Here’s a look at four bills they’ve passed.

For the first time since retaking the Pennsylvania House, Democrats spent the previous two weeks showcasing their agenda for the current legislative session. Democrats regained the majority for the first time since 2009 after erasing a 12-seat deficit last fall, but weren’t able to fully control the chamber until the caucus navigated a couple of special elections and the budget process. 

During the spring session, passing the Fairness Act, which amends the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act and offers non-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community, was a top priority. The bill spent 22 years sitting in the House before advancing to the Senate. Gov. Josh Shapiro called on both chambers to pass the bill quickly so he can sign it into law.  

On top of the Fairness Act, Democrats passed bills during the current session addressing Pennsylvania’s teacher shortage, protecting public sector workers, and the rights of union workers. Let’s take a closer look:

House Bill 950: Right to Organize Constitutional Amendment

Protecting workers and their right to collectively bargain and organize was a key plank in House Democrats’ spring agenda. H.B. 950 is a constitutional amendment granting workers the right to organize a union and collectively bargain. Constitutional amendments must pass the House and Senate in two consecutive sessions and are then placed on a ballot for voters to decide if the amendment passes or fails.  

The amendment was introduced by Reps. Elizabeth Fiedler (D-Philadelphia) and Nick Pisciottano (D-Allegheny), and passed the House by a 102-99 margin with Rep. Thomas Mehaffie (R-Dauphin) the only Republican to support the bill. Rep. Roni Green (D-Philadelphia), a former business agent with Service Employees International Union Local 668, said the bill would give Pennsylvania workers a right they deserve. 

“I want to be clear for all workers, union and nonunion, that you should have the right to organize without fear of repercussion,” Green said.      

House Bill 299: Jake Schwab Worker Safety Bill

Another piece of legislation protecting workers that advanced through the House is H.B. 299, which establishes the Pennsylvania Occupational Safety and Review Board. The bill was first introduced by Rep. Pat Harkins (D-Erie) following the 2014 death of Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority employee Jake Schwab, for whom the bill is named after.  

Schwab was a mechanic for the transit agency, and according to the bill memo, the details of Schwab’s death and relevant safety concerns that would have been raised through an OSHA review have been hard to track. Pennsylvania is one of 23 states that do not offer OSHA protections to public sector workers.

Despite receiving bipartisan support (15 Republicans supported the measure) the bill’s passage was not without incident. Dozens of public sector workers walked out of a committee hearing for the bill when Republicans tried preventing the vote because attendance passed the room’s fire code. The workers celebrated the bill’s passage in the hallway leading to the hearing room.      

House Bill 141: Grow Our Own Educators   

Another topic Democrats addressed was Pennsylvania’s teacher shortage. Rep. Mike Schlossberg’s (Lehigh) Grow Our Own Educators bill (H.B. 141) aims to recruit community members already involved in their respective school districts, and provide them with the financial resources necessary to obtain their teaching certificates.

In highlighting a need for the bill, Schlossberg cited University of Pennsylvania estimates that half of Pennsylvania’s teacher turnover occurs in 25 percent of public schools, mostly in poorer urban and rural areas. The Pennsylvania State Education Association, a union representing nearly 180,000 Pennsylvania teachers and support staff, said the program will help paraprofessionals and support staff to be able to go back to college and earn their teaching credentials.  

“We need to find new ways to grow the education profession and meet the school staff shortage crisis we’re facing head on,”  PSEA president Rich Askey said in a statement.

The bill passed the House 120-81. 

House Bill 668: PA Teacher Pipeline Scholarship

Democrats passed the PA Teacher Pipeline Scholarship program (H.B. 668) as another way to address Pennsylvania’s teacher shortage. College students studying to become teachers in Pennsylvania can receive a scholarship worth up to $7,000 per year, or $28,000 total.    

Students who attend Pennsylvania’s state universities, state-related universities, community colleges, and independent nonprofit universities are eligible for this scholarship program. The bill advanced out of the House 119-81.

Author

  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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