State Bill 861 Could Undo Anti-Discrimination Ordinances Enacted in Yardley, Hatboro & Prevent Other Municipalities from Passing Similar Laws | Newtown News of Interest |

If passed, House Bill 861 would wipe out municipal ordinances setting mandates for employer policies and practices passed starting in 2015. In Bucks County, that would ensnare two anti-discrimination ordinances forbidding employment discrimination based on a person’s actual or perceived qualities.

House Bill 861 says a municipality “may not in any manner regulate ... or enforce any mandate regarding employer policies or practices” other than its own.

The bill, introduced in March 2017 by state Rep. Seth Grove, R-York County, also would void any ordinance, rule or policy passed in 2015 or after that runs afoul of that restriction, and would give anyone “adversely affected” by those ordinances the ability to seek relief through a court complaint.

On the chopping block would be anti-discrimination ordinances passed this year in Yardley and Hatboro — both of which forbid discrimination in multiple areas, including employment, based on a person’s actual or perceived qualities, such as sexual orientation. The ordinances called for the creation of Human Relations commissions in the boroughs, tasked with investigating and resolving disputes relating to any allegations of discrimination.

Anti-discrimination ordinances passed before 2015 would remain intact in New Hope, Doylestown Borough, Newtown Borough and Bristol Borough, though other municipalities could no longer pass such measures.


"This is Big Brother at its worst," said State Rep. John Galloway, D-140, Falls.

The bill has remained in the state House Labor and Industry Committee since mid-March 2017, but its lawmakers heard testimony about the proposal at a recent meeting.

There, staff attorney Amal Bass spoke against the bill on behalf of the nonprofit Women’s Law Project, saying it would undo municipal anti-discrimination protections at a time when General Assembly lawmakers have failed to enshrine those same protections in state law. House Bill 1410, or the Pennsylvania Fairness Act, would remedy that, but has remained in the House’s State Government Committee since late June 2017.

Yardley Councilman David Bria, who introduced the borough’s anti-discrimination bill early this year, described the state measure as a “thinly veiled attempt to take rights away from the LGBTQ community.” He also said it would hurt women, minorities and working families on account of overturning equal pay and paid sick leave ordinances in places like Philadelphia.

Grove said in a January 2017 memo preceding his bill, “Local ordinances like these (on labor policy) are problematic for our economy as they ignore the simple fact that not all businesses are the same.”

He said local mandates “create an uneven playing field” for the state’s businesses and ”(raise) the cost of compliance” inside municipalities.

Grove’s office did not return requests for comment regarding the potential nullification of anti-discrimination ordinances or whether lawmakers intend to address concerns on the matter.

Bria noted, “If Rep. Grove is actually concerned about a patchwork of laws differing from town to town, he should sign on to the PA Fairness Act, which would ensure protections for the LGBTQ community statewide. And while he’s at it, he should get behind pay equity and sick leave bills, too.”

State Rep. John Galloway, D-140, Falls, who chairs the Labor and Industry Committee’s Democratic minority, said it is likely Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf would veto the house bill if it were to reach his desk. But the legislation is still a “torpedo ready to go” out of committee to the full House floor if the committee’s Republican majority were to call for a vote.

“The state gave us the right to fix this because they couldn’t,”Hatboro Mayor Nancy Guenst said. “Municipalities all across the state have acted on this and now they want to dismantle it? I think this is a terrible insult to all of our communities.”