PLBC outlines legislative agenda for systemic equity

HARRISBURG, May 5 – State House members of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus and supporters today outlined their legislative agenda for systemic equity at a Capitol news conference.

Members spoke about bills that would resolve bias, create diversity and provide inclusion, bridging the racial divide and inequities in legislation, state government agencies and health care.

“This agenda is a road map for changing the way we deliver services, distribute resources and otherwise do business in the Commonwealth in all matters so that everyone, regardless of the color of their skin, gender, or Zip code, will have the same access and the same expectation as residents of Pennsylvania,” said PLBC Chair and state Rep. Donna Bullock, D-Phila. “The inequities in health care, housing and employment that were exacerbated by the pandemic are not new. They are systemic and often rooted in generations of racism. To address these systemic inequities, we have to remove stigmas, address implicit bias, and invest in systemic equity in ways that provide fair and equitable access to wealth, health, safety and more. We cannot continue doing things as we’ve done in the past and expect the outcome to be different. I have said that before, it still holds true and will continue to be true until we make substantial changes. We won’t relent until we see these changes.”

“I truly appreciate the leadership of PLCB Chairwoman Bullock to keep us focused on eliminating all remaining vestiges of systemic racism,” said state Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Allegheny. “That’s why I am pushing to have our state follow the work of the city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County and declare racism a true health crisis, one that has continued to shorten life expectancies, lead to lower incomes and poorer health conditions. We must create a framework to reexamine our allocation of resources to address any inequalities within our state government processes, including budgeting.”

 "As legislators, we have a duty to serve all of our constituents, and yet we know there are people who have been underserved because the system has been stacked against them," said state Rep. Chris Rabb, D-Phila., founding chairman of the House Democratic Equity Committee. "Addressing structural inequality in Pennsylvania through legislative action designed to infuse equity into our society is paramount in our jobs as legislators. We in government -- and the citizenry who hold us accountable -- must center our collective work on equity toward dismantling the architecture of kyriarchy.”

“One of my top priorities has been working to eliminate a longstanding public health crisis in which countless women, specifically Black and Brown women, are dying at alarming rates due to preventable causes resulting from blatant neglect predicated on race and ethnicity but also socioeconomic status,” said state Rep. Morgan Cephas, D-Phila. “I quickly learned, however, that maternal mortality was one facet in the spectrum of implicit biases in health care. I have introduced multiple pieces of legislation to tackle this problem, and my latest bill, House Bill 1176, stands to provide a solution to maternal mortality, while also providing a remedy for other biases in health care by mandating that health-related boards within the Department of State complete implicit bias training to satisfy education requirements.”

“To address issues of systemic injustice that have sometimes been perpetuated in our state Capitol, we must make evaluations based on equity a key part of our legislative process,” said state Rep. Leanne Krueger, D-Delaware. “Creating the Joint Legislative Equity Committee would help us more thoroughly examine legislation with a focus on whether proposals would create or increase disparities for people of different races, ethnicities, sexes or gender identities. I’m proud to work with Representative Bullock on this legislation.”

“This pandemic has made it glaringly obvious that our health care system discriminates against marginalized people and populations without access to care,” said state Rep. Stephen Kinsey, D-Phila., who is also PLBC subcommittee chair of Health Equity. “As this catastrophic episode in our history continues to claim the lives of the undervalued and underpaid, we can no longer ignore nor delay rectifying this destructive situation. I look forward to soon introducing our bill with Chairwoman Bullock because as legislators, we must be fully committed and intentional in enacting policy that dismantles barriers to health care while also seeking to ensure it works for everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status.”

The Invest in Systemic Equity Legislative Package includes:

  • A bill providing for a commitment to health equity so that those populations that are marginalized and without equal access to health care would now receive it, establishing the existing Office of Health Equity within the Department of Health in statute. (Reps. Bullock and Kinsey)
  • Legislation that would establish the Racial Equity Task Force within the Department of Health, in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, intended to help address systemic racism that results in shorter life expectancies, poorer health conditions, lower incomes and other adverse effects that disproportionately affects Black, Brown and Indigenous communities. (Rep. Wheatley)
  • A measure that would reduce bias in automated decision systems. Algorithms and computer programs used to make efficient decisions for businesses and governments, known as Automated Decision Systems or ADS, aim to increase productivity. But the biases of programmers are entrenched into these systems.  Technology like facial recognition has been used in wrongful arrests by some police departments and predictive risk algorithms have led to incorrect and racially biased predictions about the threat posed by people charged with crimes. This proposal would create a task force to identify where and how ADS technology is being used by government entities in Pennsylvania, examine the effects of their use and whether marginalized communities are impacted disproportionately, and recommend methods of oversight. (Rep. Sims)
  • A bill that would establish the PA Socially Diverse Farmers Commission. (Rep. Burgos)
  • H.B. 1176 would resolve implicit bias is health care and would require all health-related boards within the Department of State to complete implicit bias training as part of each profession’s continuing education requirements. (Rep. Cephas)
  • H.R. 64 would provide for continuing legal education requirements on diversity, equity and inclusion for every active lawyer, judge and justice in the Commonwealth. (Rep. Hanbidge)
  • S.B. 79 would allow a member of the General Assembly to request a racial impact statement from the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing for any piece of legislation proposing changes to the crimes and offenses in Title 18 or the sentencing laws in Title 42. (Sen. Vince Hughes)
  • S.B. 163 (Sen. Judith Schwank) and a companion bill in the House, H.B. 1140, (Rep. Mark Rozzi) that would provide for implicit bias and cultural competency training for public employees.
  • H.B. 1085 would establish the Joint Legislative Equity Committee and provide legislators the ability to request a racial, ethnic, sex and gender equity impact assessment for any legislation. (Reps. Bullock and Krueger)