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Fairness in Women’s Sports Act Advances to Full Senate, Wolf Veto Likely

Just in time for the 5oth anniversary of Title IX in June, the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act passed the state Senate Education Committee in a 7-4 vote Tuesday, with Republicans praising it and Democrats panning it.

The bill, which passed the House in April, was introduced last year by five women legislators–state Reps. Barb Gleim (R-Cumberland), Martina White (R-Philadelphia), Valerie Gaydos (R-Allegheny), Dawn Keefer (R-Cumberland/York), and Stephanie Borowicz (R-Clinton/Center)—all of whom were student-athletes themselves and benefited from Title IX. That law requires equal treatment for girls and women in school and college athletics, in particular by protecting them from being forced to compete with biologically male athletes.

“Women are harmed when we fail to defend women’s sports,” said Gliem, testifying before the Senate committee. “I ask everyone here who opposed the bill, to tell the truth in the characterization of this bill. You know it does not ‘ban people from playing sports,’ which we’ve heard in the media. You know the truth that all males, no matter what gender identities they adopt are today welcome and will continue to be welcome to play against biological male bodies in male divisions. Sports are not about what we look like. Or the stereotypes or identities we adopt.”

The bill will “ultimately promote gender equality by giving both biological males and females the best environment in which to succeed,” Gliem said. Girls have “already lost opportunities and have been left to grapple with uncomfortable, painful and difficult situations because nobody in authority is willing to defend them.”

The issue became a cultural flashpoint in the wake of the high-profile story of biologically-male swimmer Lia Thomas, who had been a mediocre NCAA athlete when competing as a male but began breaking records competing as a woman.

White said, “Science and common sense tell us that biological males are generally bigger, faster, and stronger than females. They have larger hearts, lungs, denser bones, stronger muscles, and generate more force in athletics. These are all advantages that cannot be undone.

“Imagine how a young woman feels about missing a spot on a roster for her high school soccer team for a biological male. She loses more than just an opportunity,” said White. “She loses potential friendships and life lessons about being part of a team. She could lose out on athletic scholarship opportunities and miss out on athletic achievements that otherwise would have been hers, had she been given an equal opportunity to have fair play.”

“No one should be forcing biological females to compete against biological males,” White concluded. “It is patently wrong and unfair. Every young woman in Pennsylvania needs to know there are women here in Harrisburg standing up for them and their rights under Title IX. We will not permit anyone to chip away at women’s rights, including the right to have equal opportunity to play.”

Chester County state Sen. Carolyn Committa joined her fellow Democrats in opposing the bill. However, she said she agreed with “the intention of making sure the playing field is level and fair.”

Minority Chair Sen. Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny) also opposed the bill, citing a letter from a list of organizations against it, including the American School Counselors Association and the National Association of School Psychologists, that said the bill “bans trans women from participating in sports.”

Sen. Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester) also voted against the bill but agrees with “the intention of making sure the playing field is level and fair.”

Comitta added, “The University of Pennsylvania, that was a mess. That should have never happened. I agree with you. That was a failure on several levels…If there is empirical data that shows harm besides the University of Pennsylvania, be so kind to share that.”

But, Comitta insisted, “standing up for transgender females is not at the expense of other female athletes.”

Parents of female athletes forced to compete with biological males don’t agree.

“We are not anti-trans, we are certainly not anti-Lia,” a mother of a student who swam against Thomas this past season at Harvard told the New York Post. “We are for our girls having the right to compete under fair conditions. It is not fair for them to go up against a biological male, it just isn’t. We’ve been shamed into silence. We feel so helpless. Nobody hears us.”

Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin), who is running for governor, quoted President John Adams saying, “Facts are stubborn things.”

“Such a basic thing. What is a female? What is a male? I was lectured this past year in my questions by this administration about COVID to follow the science. Let’s do just that. And it’s not subjective at all. I stand in strong support of this legislation…There’s a lot of hate and animosity for anyone who stands for truth these days, sadly,” he said.

Sen. Tim Kearney (D-Chester/Delaware) voted against the bill.

“At its core, House Bill 972 is discriminatory and does nothing more than further marginalize trans individuals. This rhetoric that suggests transgender girls have an athletic advantage is scientifically unfounded and only adds to the stigma and attacks these individuals already face, simply for wanting to be their authentic selves. I stand with my Democratic colleagues in opposition to this bill and any other legislation that seeks to discriminate against trans people,” said Kearney.

If fact, multiple studies show biological males have an athletic advantage over their female counterparts and that advantage lasts for at least a year, if not longer, as an athlete transitions from male to female.

Attorney General and Democratic candidate for governor Josh Shapiro opposes the legislation and believes the PIAA should determine the rules, not the legislature.

“Instead of wasting time and taxpayer dollars on veto-bound attempts to bully children, our Republican-led legislature should be focused on improving the economy and helping Pennsylvania families. Josh Shapiro’s top priorities are lowering costs and cutting taxes, improving our schools, and making our communities safer – and that’s exactly what he’ll do as governor,” said spokesperson Will Simons.

State Senate candidate Rep. Tracy Pennycuick (R-Harleysville) supports the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act. “I believe we need to protect athletic opportunities for biological women across this Commonwealth. The discipline, teamwork, scholarships, championship titles, and other opportunities for women to grow, mature, and compete in their chosen sport are worthy of our protection. Women fought long and hard to earn their rights under Title IX and this bill will ensure they continue to have equal access to play competitive sports on a level playing field, while biological men can continue to compete on the men’s teams.”

However, even if the full Senate approves the bill, Gov. Tom Wolf has vowed to veto it.

“The governor has been clear – hate has no place in Pennsylvania, and that includes discrimination,” said Elizabeth Rementer, Wolf’s spokeswoman. “Any legislation designed to deny opportunities is both disturbing and dangerous. Transgender individuals should know that they belong, that they are valued, and that their participation in activities is welcomed.”

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PA Politicians Push ‘Abortion On Demand’ Legislation After SCOTUS Leak

In the wake of a leaked U.S. Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is expected to bring the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) back to the Senate floor. However, he is almost certain to lack the 60 votes needed for cloture — allowing the bill to come to the Senate floor for a vote — or even 50 votes to pass it. On Feb. 28,  Sen. Manchin (D-W. Va.) voted with the Republicans to block it.

In February, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who is sometimes described as prof-life, voted to advance the bill with the rest of his Democratic colleagues. His office did not respond to a request to comment on whether he will vote that way again next week.

Casey’s stance on abortion issues has been fluid. Until recently, he said he supported a ban on abortions after 20 weeks — a position in line with a majority of Americans according to Gallup polling. However, he also refused to block changes to Obamacare in 2010 to provide taxpayer-funded elective abortions.

“Casey’s voting record in Congress aligns significantly with abortion-rights groups such as Planned Parenthood and NARAL. He has voted along with Planned Parenthood 75 percent of the time since 2011,” Politico reported in 2018. “And he voted with NARAL Pro-Choice America 100 percent of the time in 2016 and 2017.”

Supporting the WHPA, however, is a new level of pro-abortion politics.

According to an analysis by John McCormack who covers abortion legislation for the conservative National Review magazine, the WHPA creates a federal right to abortion through nine months of pregnancy in all 50 states; overrides nearly all state abortion laws, including parental-consent laws like Pennsylvania’s; weakens “conscience exemptions” to keep healthcare workers from being forced to participate in abortion procedures that violate their religious beliefs; and creates a right for non-doctors to perform abortions.

“WHPA will essentially legalize abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy and undo every state law that has protected children in the womb,” according to the group Democrats for Life America.

While most Americans say they oppose overturning Roe v. Wade, polls consistently show fewer than 20 percent of Americans support unlimited abortion up to the day of birth. However, that is exactly the position every Democrat in the Delaware Valley’s congressional delegation took when they voted to pass the WHPA last fall.

Congresswoman Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery) tweeted after voting for the bill, “The Women’s Health Protection Act will: Codify Roe v. Wade. Create federal protection against state laws that restrict women’s health. Prohibit unwarranted restrictions that single out abortion services or providers. Beyond proud to serve in this House that passed #WHPA.”

“Like many of you, I was outraged by the leaked draft opinion of the Supreme Court regarding Roe v. Wade – and what this extreme Supreme Court may do to our country,” Dean said in an email.  “Predicting this, in September, the House passed the Women’s Health Protection Act to codify Roe v. Wade. Since then, it’s been stalled in the Senate because of the filibuster.

Rep. Madeleine Dean with abortion protesters at Independence Hall.

“It’s time the Senate carve out a filibuster exception to pass WHPA, as they’ve recently done with our debt ceiling,” she said. “Women must remain free to fulfill their right to privacy, legal and safe abortion, contraceptives, and full healthcare treatment.”

Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Delaware County/Philadelphia) tweeted after the SCOTUS  leak earlier this week, “Women were called hysterical for sounding the alarm about abortion rights. We were told Roe and Casey were settled law. This leaked opinion shows we were right to be terrified. The Senate must move NOW to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act.”

And Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Berks/Chester) said this on her campaign website, “A woman’s health care decisions should be made between her, her doctor, and her faith – not politicians. I am very concerned by state-level laws that inject politics into that decision, as well as the dangerous Supreme Court challenges to Roe v. Wade. That’s why I am taking action by supporting the Women’s Health Protection Act, standing against efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, and working to improve maternal health care access through the Maternal Health Quality Improvement Act.”

Abortion is also on the table in the state legislature. State Senate Republicans are putting forward a bill that would add a constitutional amendment to maintain the status quo of no right to or funding for an abortion.

“Federal courts have long held that the federal constitution does not require taxpayer funding of abortion. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held in 1985 that the state constitution also does not require such taxpayer funding,” said state Sen. Judy Ward (R-Blair/Cumberland/Franklin/Fulton/Hunterdon).

“If approved, Senate Bill  956 will prevent taxpayer dollars from funding elective terminations and will preserve the authority of elected officials – not the judicial branch – to enact future abortion laws.

“To no one’s surprise, this issue has elicited consternation from abortion rights activists who wield passionate and misleading rhetoric to convince the masses that my bill will lead to widespread bans. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Ward said.

“Currently, Medicaid covers both non-elective abortions and voluntary abortions involving cases of rape or incest but still withholds funding for elective abortions,” Ward added.  “If the state constitutional amendment is approved by the voters, this won’t change. The Abortion Control Act will remain the law, as well. The language does not ban abortions, but rather ensures that abortion policy in Pennsylvania comes from the people’s elected representatives.”

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Ban On Private Election Funding Passes Legislature; Will Wolf Sign?

A bill to do away with private funds going to “administer” elections passed the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania legislature. But it is unclear whether Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf will sign it.

Todd Shepherd, former Delaware Valley Journal editor who is now an investigative reporter at Broad and Liberty, testified before a state Senate committee on April 5 about outside money that arguably impacted the 2020 election. The funds came from the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), a nonprofit organization funded through a foundation of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscila Chan– hence the name “Zuckerbucks.”

The couple gave $419 million to two nonprofits that, in turn, gave funds to nearly 2,500 local election departments across the country in the 2020 election.

CTCL donated to mostly Democrat majority counties for get-out-the-vote efforts, with Pennsylvania receiving more than $20 million. And another group, the Center for Secure and Modern Elections, was also involved in the efforts, Shepherd said.

“The handful of blue counties contacted in July and August of that year were given special assistance by outside consultants — some of them paid political consultants with clear partisan interests,” said Shepherd.

“Those consultants worked to make sure the county would get the maximum grant award. I found no similar emails for grant maximization with any of Pennsylvania’s red counties.”

Shepherd continued, “For example, this is the first email I could find in which Delaware County Councilwoman Christine Reuther was originally introduced to someone about the CTCL grants.

“The email participants were as I mentioned Councilwoman Reuther, consultant Marc Solomon, Jennifer Walls-Lavelle who was a staffer for Gov. Wolf, Gwen Camp — the author of the email and a paid consultant for ‘The Voter Project’ — and finally, Kevin Mack, a DC-based consultant.”

And it is not just Pennsylvania. The Capitol Research Center, a center-right think tank, found a similar trend nationwide. CTCL “consistently gave bigger grants and more money per capita to counties that voted for Biden,” its investigation found. For example, the average per capita grant in Georgia for areas that leaned Republican was $1.41 per person. In pro-Biden districts, the donations reached an average of $5.33.

In his testimony regarding “Zuckerbucks” in Pennsylvania,  Shepard detailed how Democratic operatives were deeply involved in the election activities funded by these outside groups.

Another Reuther email exchange that Shepherd highlighted for the committee was between Reuther and Delaware County Solicitor William “Bill” Martin. Martin was sending her information on who comprised and funded the CTCL.

“Ms. Reuther responded, ‘Not at all surprising. I am seeking funds to fairly and safely administer the election so everyone legally registered to vote can do so and have their votes count. If a left-leaning public charity wants to further my objective, I am good with it. I will deal with the blowback.’”

However, Shepherd’s investigation found only targeted, Democratic majority counties were given early notice that the grants were available.

Shepherd also told the committee, “Last, in terms of exhibits, we have the mid-August email from then-Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar to a county commissioner in Bucks County, establishing communication about the CTCL grants.

“Bucks is a very purple-ish county, as you all know, but still I feel this selective invitation to an election grant by the state’s top election official needs answers. Why is she making the introductions instead of the CTCL?

“And just to drive home the question: With just two and a half months to go before the election, why is the secretary of state inviting some counties to get this grant money but not others? How was she deciding who to reach out to? Was she told by the CTCL and CSME who the preferred counties were? Or did she decide herself? And if she did decide by herself, what information or concerns guided those decisions?”

Sen. Bob Mensch (R-Bucks/Berks/Montgomery) said, “We must eliminate the heavy hand of massive private funding into our commonwealth’s and our nation’s elections, with no exceptions.  The effect of Mark Zuckerberg’s, and others, spending to influence their desired outcome is uncalculatable.  No one person, or small group of extremely rich people should determine the outcome of an election—that is the responsibility of all our citizens.”

“It is very likely Governor Wolf will veto the bill,” Mensch added.

Meanwhile, Zuckerberg recently announced he will no longer give money to outside groups for election administration.

When asked whether Wolf would sign or veto the bill, the governor’s spokeswoman Elizabeth Remeter did not give a direct answer, instead blaming the legislature for failing to give the counties adequate funding for elections.

“First, it’s important to point out that counties have asked for additional funding from the General Assembly, so it is hypocritical to both ignore the asks from counties while simultaneously proposing to end opportunities for counties to seek funding to ensure safe elections,” said Remeter.

“The governor has long called for improvements to our election process that safely expands access to the ballot. He also continues to push back on anyone who tries to spread misinformation and make baseless accusations that our elections are anything short of free, fair, and secure,” she said.

“Instead of continuing to pursue conspiracy theories and new ways to disenfranchise Pennsylvania voters, Senate Republicans should refocus their efforts on bipartisan ways we can continue to fund elections.”

Remeter added, “Instead of indulging discredited conspiracy theories and making it more difficult for the counties to obtain resources they need to administer elections, we should have a real conversation about properly funding elections and finally make commonsense election improvements to our election code like allowing pre-canvassing of ballots, which is supported by the state county commissioners association and all 67 counties.”

 

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UPDATE: Court Stops Wolf Admin From Imposing RGGI Rule

Just one day after the GOP-controlled state legislature failed to stop Gov. Tom Wolf from pushing Pennsylvania into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a state court has stopped the regulation from taking effect, “pending further order of the court.”

Republicans were delighted.  

“The court’s action is a welcome step in the right direction,” said Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Bradford). “It’s prudent to press pause on RGGI, given the administration’s gross underestimations of how much it will inflate electricity costs for all Pennsylvanians. We need to pursue climate solutions that encourage collaboration with our energy sector, not regressive and unconstitutional taxes meant to destroy it and leave us reliant on foreign oil and gas for decades to come. I look forward to further court action on this matter and continuing our fight to protect Pennsylvania’s economic prosperity.

Before the court’s ruling, Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) said it was absurd for Pennsylvania to increase taxes on people and the commonwealth’s energy resources when inflation and gas prices are skyrocketing. 

“We are trying to help Pennsylvanians manage through the economic fallout from COVID-19, not to mention the effects of the current state of affairs globally,” said Ward. “Instead, Pennsylvania Democrats voted to increase Pennsylvanians electric bills by 30 percent, eliminate 22,000 homegrown jobs and increase the cost of everyday products with no significant environmental benefit.”

Rep. Tracy Pennycuick (R-Harleysville) said “radical senators” ignored warnings last week from the Pennsylvania Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) that RGGI would increase consumer electricity costs by $800 million.

“If the courts do not stop the RGGI tax, it will become the most regressive tax in Pennsylvania history,” said Pennycuick. “This is the last thing that families and seniors need who are already struggling to make ends meet with historic inflation, including household energy bills and skyrocketing gasoline prices.”

RGGI is a regional carbon cap-and-trade program among mostly-blue northeastern states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia.

Wolf has been fighting to force Pennsylvania into the compact since 2019 when he issued an executive order directing the state’s entrance into it.

The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee held a hearing last week on the IFO’s warnings about RGGI’s economic harm. Still, Democrats, including Sen. Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester), support RGGI.

“In Pennsylvania, it’s been a years’-long process with more review, comment, and study than any other initiative in memory,” said Comitta. “RGGI has more than a long history of economic success.”

Since 2008, RGGI states cut power sector emissions in half, reduced electricity prices, and outpaced the nation in economic growth, all while creating $4 billion in net economic gains and nearly 50,000 job-years of employment, Comitta asserted.

Committa said RGGI prices “account for a small portion–a sliver, really–of what makes up an electricity bill.”

“While electricity rates are already rising across the country, during the first 10 years that RGGI was in place, rates dropped nearly 6 percent in RGGI states, and in those states, RGGI energy-efficiency investments of $2.8 billion have produced nearly $13.5 billion in consumer energy savings” or a return of nearly $4.80 for every dollar invested.

“Do my colleagues who oppose RGGI have a plan, a new plan to address climate change, rising energy costs, the decline of coal-fired power plants, and impact to their workers and communities? I am not aware of one,” she said.

Comitta also cited a letter from businesses in Pennsylvania that support RGGI, including Nestle, Mars Incorporated, and British Petroleum (BP).

Sen, Katie Muth (D-Montgomery), another committee member, backs RGGI. Muth has long argued that reducing emissions will improve public health.

“Efforts to block Pennsylvania from joining RGGI only put our environment, health, and economic security at risk,” she wrote in a 2020 Op-ed.

But labor and business leaders say jobs are on the line.

Kris Anderson, of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Third District, told the committee there was a “dramatic reduction” in jobs in the electric generation sector in neighboring states that enrolled in RGGI.

“We can be assured that Pennsylvania would suffer a similar fate,” said Anderson. “The Cheswick Power Plant has announced it will cease operations by the end of this month (and) with that announcement, 50 people will lose their job, Forty-two of those workers are IBEW members.”

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) is also concerned.

“Small businesses have been disproportionately impacted by the effects of COVID-19, and many are still struggling,” said Melissa Morgan, assistant state director of NFIB. “Shutdown orders, a lack of workforce, supply chain disruptions, record-high inflation, and a recovering economy have devastated a sizable segment of Pennsylvania’s small businesses.”

“The incidence of price hikes on Main Street is clearly on the rise as owners pass on rising labor and operating costs,” and RGGI would accelerate that, she said.

“Employers continue to operate with minimal staff and higher labor and material costs, all while struggling to reopen to pre-pandemic levels,” said Morgan. “Should small businesses continue to struggle and close their doors in communities across the state, Main Streets will suffer, state and local tax bases will collapse, and more workers will lose their jobs.”

Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association (PMA) also testified against RGGI. Carl A. Marrara, vice president of government affairs, warned RGGI would cause industries to relocate.

Marrara said it is “not a stretch” to say supporting RGGI is supporting Russian and Middle Eastern global energy leadership and Chinese steel dumping. He called for a market-based approach.

Yaw supports the litigation from Senate Republicans to “protect Pennsylvania from economic ruin.”

“The Democrats’ delusional support for RGGI will cost 22,000 jobs and ruin real lives without ever making a dent in air quality,” said Yaw. “We cannot allow this administration to squander Pennsylvania’s legacy as an energy leader while simultaneously duping 13 million residents into paying for the state’s economic demise, all under the guise of lowered emissions.”

 

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MOONEY: How Tax Credit Scholarships Empower Those Most in Need

Of all the school choice bills currently up for consideration in Pennsylvania, state Sen. Mike Regan’s proposed expansion of tax credit scholarships appears to be the one best positioned to become law.

The Republican representing parts of Cumberland and York Counties is the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 527, which would establish an “automatic escalator” each year so the supply of scholarships would keep up with increasing demand. Since the bill was approved by the Senate Education Committee in January, it is eligible for a vote in the full Senate.

That’s why now would be a good time for elected officials to revisit the personal stories of state residents who have previously testified about the benefits of both the Education Improvement Tax Credit Scholarship and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit, which enable families to cover the costs of private school tuition.

The experiences of Maria Elizabeth Leon, an immigrant from Mexico who is now a resident of Allegheny County, is particularly applicable to the scholarship programs, which are currently limited by arbitrary state-imposed caps. Leon testified before the Senate Education Committee in April 2021 where she made a powerful case for families like her own that sought out private, Christian schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When I testified, I told senators that before finding out about the scholarships I had been selling tamales to save money and was considering opening a Mexican restaurant to help save for my children’s schooling,” Leon said in an interview. “That’s how far I was willing to go since I did not know at the time that the state had a K-12 scholarship program.”

Since the inception of the tax credit scholarships in 2001, hundreds of thousands of low – to middle-income Pennsylvania students have received tuition assistance through the EITC and OSTC programs, according to government figures. Businesses and individuals can donate to more than 250 scholarship organizations statewide receiving a 75 percent credit on their income taxes for a one-year commitment or a 90  credit for a two-year commitment.

A joint poll from EdChoice, a national nonprofit school choice advocacy group, and The Commonwealth Foundation, a free-market think tank based in Harrisburg, found that 71 percent of Pennsylvania voters support both scholarship programs.

“None of what my children have achieved would be possible without the state’s tax credit scholarship program,” Leon said. “But sadly, there are many other students who are in need of scholarships and can’t get them. The program is capped. This is a shame because no kids should be left out.”

But a new report from The Commonwealth Foundation shows many are being left out because of rising demand. For the 2019-20 school year, the report found students submitted 137,000 scholarship applications, which was 34,000 more than the prior school year, and the highest on record. Unfortunately, a record number of K-12 student tax applications were also denied because of the existing caps – 75,651 to be precise. Put simply, 55 percent of K-12 applications were turned away. The problem doesn’t end here. In the 2019-20 school year, individuals and businesses donated a record $190 million for K-12 scholarships. But $116 million of business donations have been waitlisted because of the caps.

Fortunately, Regan’s bill would put an end to the backlog by automatically raising the caps for both programs by 25 percent annually so long as at least 90 percent of the credits were claimed in the prior year.

“Since we know there’s a demand for more scholarship funding, and we know how much the scholarships have already helped, why not expand and help more children have a bright future?” Leon asks. Three of her children received tax-credit scholarships to attend Cornerstone. But she would like to see all Pennsylvania residents who are in need of financial assistance benefit from scholarships for private schools. “My children are succeeding at Cornerstone where they have high hopes for the future.”

But the same may not be true for other students who have no alternative to public schools in absence of any scholarships. Regan drove this point home in a press release where he discussed the potential long-term ramifications of students missing out on scholarships.

“Some of these kids may never get the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty or an inevitable life of crime and prison because their taxpayer-funded public schools continue to fail to provide them the education and support they need to break the cycle,” Regan said in the release. “Ultimately, this is about lives. Changing and improving the lives of young people.”

An economic analysis of the “untapped potential” of tax credit scholarships found that by expanding both the EITC and OSTC programs Pennsylvania would generate billions of dollars by increasing the lifetime earnings of today’s students while reducing crime.

Regan anticipates that his bill could increase the scholarship programs by $100 million annually, which amounts to less than 1 percent of the $30 billion the state spends on education each year.

“We are talking about personal financial gain for these individuals who then do not need to seek public assistance or wind up in taxpayer-funded prisons,” Regan said in his release. “And the billions of dollars that we will experience in return more than covers the increase in available tax credits.”

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ISER: Pennsylvania Needs Driver’s Licenses for All

Before 2002, you did not need a Social Security number to apply for a driver’s license in Pennsylvania. Instead, to prove your identity, you could provide a federally-issued tax identification number along with other documents. That meant undocumented immigrants were able to take and pass the driving exam in order to apply for a driver’s license.

In 2009, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) canceled the driver’s licenses of tens of thousands of undocumented Pennsylvanians who had legally obtained their licenses using pre-2002 criteria. As anyone who lives beyond easy access to public transportation knows, driving is a necessity for much of day-to-day life: Taking children to school, shopping for groceries, going to work, or getting to medical appointments.

In addition to making those everyday activities of life much more difficult, not having valid identification creates fear and stress within immigrant communities, including those where various family members have different immigration statuses. Having valid identification means that if an undocumented immigrant is pulled over during a traffic stop, they will not automatically be put into jail and be thrust into the quagmire of deportation hearings. Having state-issued identification is also vital for many other family functions. People might need an ID to get their prescriptions, or enter a medical facility, or prove they can pick up their children from school.

A remedy for this situation is being proposed in the Pennsylvania legislature, HB-279. The bill would provide driver’s licenses for all. Opening up driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants is not only good for them but for all of us, for our safety and our economy. If implemented, it could expand the number of those who know the rules of the road, have car insurance, buy cars and gas for their cars, and have greater accessibility to more jobs. Undocumented immigrants are a vital part of our economy. In Philadelphia alone, approximately 50,000 undocumented workers pay more than $128 million in taxes annually.

As Jews, we have additional reasons based on our historical experiences and our religious tradition to be concerned about the welfare of immigrants. The Torah commands us to befriend and protect the stranger, no less than 36 times. It gives two reasons for this commandment. The first calls on our experiences and our compassion. “You shall not oppress the stranger, having yourself been strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). The second reason the Torah gives is we were mistreated while strangers, so do not do to others what was done to you. To reinforce this, the Torah reminds us that God hears the cry of the oppressed. Not just our sojourn in Egypt, but thousands of years of wanderings and being outsiders should sensitize us to the experience of immigrants.

We just celebrated Sukkot where each night we invite ushpizin (guests) in the symbolic form of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David to enter our sukkot. We are supposed to donate the amount that would feed these supernal guests to the needy. Let us transform our sukkot into a metaphorical sukkah to protect all who need shelter and support.

Pennsylvania should join 15 other states, including New York and New Jersey, which have passed legislation providing driver’s licenses for all. Urge your state representative to support HB-279. It is both the moral and sensible thing to do.

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