WILKES-BARRE — Gov. Tom Wolf this week joined House and Senate Democrats to announce a package of reforms to strengthen protections against sexual harassment and discrimination for employees, provide new legal options for victims, and hold those who are responsible accountable for their actions.
These steps build on the governor’s efforts to combat sexual harassment and assault, including the nation’s first state-based “It’s On Us” campaign to combat sexual assault on campuses, which includes grants to higher education institutions and a bipartisan legislative package.
“So many victims have come forward and their bravery should continue to change our country, our workplaces, and our culture for the better,” said Wolf in a news release. “These reforms will build on that change to support our employees and create safe workplaces across the commonwealth.”
• Ban mandatory non-disclosure agreements: Forcing victims to sign non-disclosure agreements in cases of sexual assault and harassment helps serial predators continue their patterns of abuse.
• Protect more workers: All employees should be protected, regardless of the size of the employer or the type of their job. Today, these protections are only given to those who work for an employer with at least four employees.
• Workplace training: The legislation requires training for employees and supervisors to prevent discrimination and harassment.
• PA Fairness Act:Wolf is renewing his call for the General Assembly to pass the PA Fairness Act to prohibit discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
• Extend statute of limitations: Some victims and whistleblowers can be afraid to come forward. To encourage reporting, the amount of time victims have to file a discrimination or whistleblower complaint should be extended from only 180 days to two years.
• Right to a jury trial: Victims and whistleblowers should have the option for a jury to hear their case in state court.
• Punitive damages: Pennsylvania should join other states, like New Jersey and Ohio, to allow victims and whistleblowers to seek punitive damages in workplace discrimination cases.
• Payment of attorney fees: Burdensome legal fees can discourage some victims from pursuing their case. Sexual harassment victims who win their case in state court should have the attorney fees paid by the defendant.
• Sexual Harassment Prevention Task Force: Wolf and House and Senate Democrats are calling for the creation of a task force to bring together victims’ rights organizations, government officials and others to make recommendations to prevent sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplaces.
• Invest in investigations: Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Commission is underfunded and understaffed, the release says. Wolf’s 2018-19 budget proposal is a first step to strengthen the Human Relations Commission with an additional $1.3 million to investigate discrimination and harassment cases. These additional resources would allow it to hire an additional six employees to help process complaints.
• Standards for lobbyists: Wolf is calling for legislation that requires lobbyists to go through training for ethics and discrimination and holds them accountable for violating discrimination protections.
Ag Department to address
dairy market conditions
HARRISBURG — Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding this week called on the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board to undertake or recommend reforms to address ongoing dairy market challenges and to support and strengthen the state’s dairy industry.
Redding submitted a formal petition to the board requesting a hearing, or as many hearings as necessary, to find actions the board can take without statutory changes and those that require action by the General Assembly.
Pennsylvania dairy farmers have seen a steady decline in milk prices over the past two years because of sustained pressures on domestic and international markets, declining fluid milk consumption, and growing production levels.
Redding noted that both producers and milk dealers have benefited for decades directly and indirectly from the state’s milk marketing system. Pennsylvania still boasts at least eight large, regional milk dealers that are locally-owned and operated. These dealers purchase and supply local milk to retailers throughout their respective regions, often under labels and brand names that have sustained for generations. The state’s milk marketing law remains a sound and vital tool for the state’s dairy industry and has provided needed flexibility in responding to adverse market conditions, Redding explained.
Redding said the Milk Marketing Law was enacted to be used creatively in times like this. He said 81 years later, the challenges facing the industry have not changed. Redding encouraged every stakeholder to make their voice heard as the state works to modernize a framework to meet the needs of today’s dairy industry.
The Milk Marketing Board petition can be found on the department’s homepage agriculture.pa.gov. For more information on the board, and to submit recommendations, visit www.mmb.pa.gov.
Pa. launches Senior Check-In
program with county sheriffs
Gov. Tom Wolf this week announced the launch of the Sheriff Senior Check-In Service — a three-county pilot reassurance program for older Pennsylvanians being conducted in partnership with the Pennsylvania Sheriffs Association. The program is run in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD).
“The Sheriffs’ Senior Check-In Service will provide peace of mind for Pennsylvania residents who are over the age of 65 and living independently,” Wolf said in a news release. “For those individuals with a limited support system, a simple, regular phone call to check in can make the difference in getting help out to folks when emergency situations occur.”
Currently, the sheriff offices of Centre, Venango, and Warren counties are participating in the pilot, which is anticipated to run through 2018. Individuals opting to participate in the call-in service must enroll in the program, which features a daily or other regularly scheduled check-in call from their sheriff’s office. If the enrollee is in distress or does not answer the phone after several tries, the sheriff’s office could dispatch a deputy to the address.
Sheriffs are partnering with their Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) and others for assistance in getting the word out to eligible older Pennsylvanians in the pilot counties. Sign-up forms are available in sheriffs’ offices.
Wolf wants to offer this program to more counties throughout the year.
For additional information on funding availability and to register for funding notifications, visit PCCD’s website at www.pccd.pa.gov.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.