Governor Corbett Finally Pulls the Plug on ALEC Voter ID Law in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett (R) will not appeal the Commonwealth Court’s recent decision to strike down the so-called voter ID law.

Gov. Tom Corbett put another nail in the coffin of Pennsylvania’s voter identification law on Thursday, announcing he would not appeal a judge’s decision that the law violated the fundamental right to vote.

The Republican governor issued a statement that defended the law, but he also said it needed changes and that he hoped to work with the Legislature on them.

We’ve written frequently about the voter ID law in Pennsylvania, which contained some of the most restrictive voting restrictions in the country. As many as 750,000 Pennsylvania residents lacked the ID required by the law, many of them seniors minorities, students, and low-income workers.

The law passed in March 2012 mirrored other “voter ID” bills introduced in state legislatures nationwide, all of them based on ALEC model legislation. Prominent ALEC member State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) was one of the laws main boosters in Harrisburg.

The state spent about $7 million trying to enforce the law, while at the same time making huge cuts to education and public services.

“That’s money that could have been spent elsewhere. It’s money that could have gone to schools,” said Philadelphia City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, “It’s money that could have gone to real voter education and that’s really a shame.”

According to MSNBC, Gov. Corbett “raised the idea” of fixing the voter ID law through the legislature, but “suggested it wasn’t a priority.

In 2012, Working America members made educating their communities about the potential new voting restrictions a top priority. Through canvassing, radio, social media, and simple conversations with friends and family, we educated an estimated 425,000 Pennsylvanians before the law was enjoined. The effort was chronicled in detail by Voting Rights News.

If Gov. Corbett is defeated this November, it may be a very long time before we see voter ID in the Keystone State.

Photo by @abc27news on Twitter

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Senator Casey Urges Governor Corbett to Give Up the Fight on ALEC-Backed Voting Law

Bob Casey, senior senator from Pennsylvania, is urging Governor Tom Corbett to end his attempts to enact that state’s controversial voter suppression law.

“At every turn Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law has been rejected by the courts,” Casey wrote to Corbett’s office, “Continuing this appeal will only continue to cast a cloud of uncertainty over residents who are rightly concerned that this law will prevent them from exercising their right to vote.”

The letter comes three days after a Commonwealth Court judge denied the Corbett administration’s request to reconsider their January decision that struck down the law.

The Pennsylvania law, based on an ALEC model bill and championed by ALEC member legislators like Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, required that voters must show specific kinds of photo identification to cast a ballot. The legislature passed the bill in March 2012 knowing that  750,000 Pennsylvanians, many of them seniors, minorities, and low-income workers, did not have this type of ID.

While Gov. Corbett and his allies in the legislature pushed enormous cuts to education and public services, the state spent $7 million in a bungled, widely mocked attempt to enact the new voting restrictions.

After the law passed in March 2012, Working America members and organizers were able to reach estimated 642,000 Pennsylvanians with information about what they would need to vote. This year, our members are mobilizing in North Carolina to educate their community about that state’s new stringent voting restrictions; which, not coincidentally, is also based on an ALEC model and promoted by ALEC member legislators.

We don’t yet know if the Corbett administration will appeal the ruling and take the case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. But we hope he decides instead to follow the advice of Sen. Casey and thousands of others who want the governor to focus on creating more jobs, not fewer voting rights.

Photo by Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. on Facebook

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Two Of Nation’s Most Restrictive ALEC-Backed Voting Laws Blocked On The Same Day

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On April 29, 2014, restrictive voting laws in both Wisconsin and Pennsylvania were dealt major blows.

In Wisconsin, the voter ID law passed in 2011 and backed by Gov. Scott Walker was struck down by a federal judge. U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman wrote that the law placed unfair burdens on poor and minority voters, as well as the nearly 300,000 Wisconsinites who currently lack ID. The law has not been enforced since a state judge ruled it unconstitutional in March 2012.

While attending the Time 100 gala in New York City, Gov. Walker told reporters: “We ultimately think that just like many other issues in the last several years that it will ultimately be upheld.” Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen Plans to appeal.

Over in Pennsylvania, Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard L. McGinley denied the request of Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration to reconsider his ruling that overturned that state’s voter ID law. McGinley struck down the law in January, finding that it put an unreasonable burden on the nearly 750,000 Pennsylvanians who lack photo identification.

The judge “also entered a permanent injunction,” said Pennsylvania ACLU legal director Vic Walczak, “which means the voter ID law cannot be enforced unless and until the [state] Supreme Court takes some kind of action.” The Corbett administration has not yet said whether they plan to appeal.

Those decisions come on the heels of a similar situation in Arkansas, where a judge declared that state’s voter ID law “void and unenforceable.”

These laws were part of a nationwide push for restrictive voting laws after the 2010 elections, backed by the power of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

The Pennsylvania and Wisconsin voter ID laws were both based on ALEC model legislation and pushed by ALEC-affiliated legislators. According to NBC News, lawmakers proposed 62 photo ID bills in 37 states in the 2011 and 2012 sessions alone, and that “more than half of the 62 bills were sponsored by members or conference attendees” of ALEC.

The Pennsylvania law was championed by prominent ALEC member Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, who used taxpayer money to attend ALEC conferences.

So what’s next? Egregious voting restrictions are still on the books across the country, particularly in North Carolina. Working America members in NC have made it their primary focus to educate their communities about the law.

But as the New York Times editorial board put it, Wisconsin’s Judge Adelman has “paved the path” for similar laws across the country to be confronted by the court system.

Photo by vox_efx on Flickr

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Call Me Radical, But I Think A Good Budget Requires More Than “Spirit”

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The following is a guest post from Pittsburgh Working America member Kayleigh Metviner

I participated in a press conference on Tuesday with the local chapter of Working America,  a national economic justice organization, to call for a Pennsylvania state budget that favors education and social services over corporate tax cuts.

A few hours later, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett presented his vision for the state budget, which was not expected to be anything to cheer about. Now, I am a newcomer to Pennsylvania, and I am not going to write in-depth about Pennsylvania-specific politicians and issues. What I am more interested in here is the disconnect between legislation that is both feasible and favored by a majority of citizens, and the legislation that is proposed by Corbett.

Why politicians who face abysmal approval ratings (23 percent for Corbett last week) still try to get reelected is beyond me, but Corbett’s budget proposal is clearly aimed at garnering support this year. And even though most self-identified progressives would rather drink West Virginia’s water than see Corbett reelected, his attempts to pass legislation that appeals to the majority could still be a good thing. Unfortunately, his actual budget proposal makes that very unlikely.

In his speech, Corbett said that his budget sets the agenda in the “spirit” of expanding public education, which…niceBut the state budget doesn’t have a column for spirit, and very few of us have managed to exchange spirit for goods and services.  So where is the money for education coming from?

Mainly from a highly unlikely projected increase in state revenues.  Despite having predicted a budget deficit by the end of the 2014-2015 fiscal year just a couple months ago, and despite revenue having come in short even of that projection in January, Corbett’s spending plan is dependent on a 4 percent increase in revenue this year.

In contrast, the budget that Working America and community members across the state support would see education and social services funded mainly by closing corporate tax loopholes, like the well-known Delaware tax loophole that deprives many states (except Delaware) of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

We presented this proposal before the release of Corbett’s plan because we wanted to make it clear that there is a viable alternative to empty, feel-good promises and more of the same political floundering that leaves the majority of us, in Pennsylvania and around the country, in a perpetual state of disadvantage. Crafting a state budget is undoubtedly a complex matter, but in the face of complexity, let’s turn to logical and equitable solutions, not “spirit.”

Text JOBS to 30644 to join Working America’s movement for economic justice in Pennsylvania.

Photo by onepittsburgh on Instagram

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Dear Governor Corbett: Here’s How You Fully Fund Pennsylvania Schools. It’s Actually Pretty SImple.

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The following is a guest post from Working America member Kayleigh Metviner

Volunteers, supporters, and media gathered at Working America’s Pittsburgh office on Tuesday morning to call for an economically just and fiscally responsible state budget, in contrast to the budget proposal anticipated from Governor Tom Corbett (R-PA) later in the day.

With over 500,000 members in Pennsylvania, Working America is a formidable force in the state, and we are overwhelmingly in support of a state budget that focuses more resources on public education, higher education, and social services.

Our members know that money doesn’t materialize out of thin air, so their calls for well-funded education and social services are accompanied by practical and equitable solutions: closing the Delaware tax loophole that deprives Pennsylvanians of hundreds of millions of dollars a year and expanding Medicaid.

Expanding Medicaid will not only allow more Pennsylvanians to access health care, it also has the potential to lower overall health care costs. On top of this, it will be 100 percent funded by the federal government for the first three years, and that rate would modestly and gradually decrease to 90 percent during years after that. Lowered costs from expanded Medicaid, combined with increased revenues from corporations paying their fair share of taxes will enable our state to fulfill its commitment to our public schools.

Several Working America volunteers read community member comments aloud at the press conference. One member urged Governor Corbett to “budget with greater consideration for education support instead of corporate tax breaks/”  Another wrote: “Please, stop the practice of subsidizing large corporations with taxpayer money when programs and research to help the vulnerable are so needed.”

We want to thank those who shared their stories and urge all Pennsylvanians to continue spreading the word about the real possibilities for economic justice right here, right now.

Text JOBS to 30644 to join Working America’s movement for economic justice in Pennsylvania.

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Governors Who Reject Medicaid Painfully Unaware of the Pain They Are Causing

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The most under-reported fact about our health care system in 2014 is this: 5 million Americans don’t have access to affordable health coverage simply because their governors (or majority of legislators) refuse to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Medicaid expansion would cost the states nothing for the first three years, and after that time the federal government would pick up an overwhelming majority of the costs. Yet, when asked, these politicians frequently cite cost as the prohibiting factor to Medicaid expansion. That’s because the real reason would–and should–be embarrassing: they want to be seen as “tough” toward President Obama and the new health care law, and rejecting Medicaid expansion is the best and easiest way to do that.

These politicians include Rick Perry, governor of Texas, where nearly one out of four people don’t have health insurance. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is another: 700,000 Pennsylvanians are denied affordable coverage because of his opposition to expanding Medicaid.

Working America members in Pennsylvania have been active in pressuring Gov. Corbett and the legislature to change their tune. In December, our longtime member Georgeanne Koehler wrote a heartfelt letter to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in favor of Medicaid expansion, citing her 50 years in the health care industry. “I learned early on that when an illness attacks us it doesn’t care anything about us, not our race, religion, gender or politics,” she wrote in the letter, which she dedicated to her late brother.

John Miklos, a member hailing from Uptown, followed up with a December 26 letter titled “Corbett is wrong not to expand Medicaid.” John described several different common scenarios where the average working person would benefit from expansion. ”These scenarios are not imaginary,” he wrote, “People I know well live them every day.”

James Barum, another active Working America member in Pittsburgh, followed up these letters with a personal story of his own. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published his letter, “Health care needs,” in Thursday’s paper. We’ve included the letter in its entirety:

Health care needs

On the subject of the Dec. 27 letter “Corbett is wrong not to expand Medicaid,” I thought that I would share a personal experience that may give readers pause on this issue.

A friend of mine works in the service industry brewing coffee. One day, when I was in line at that café to buy a drink, I saw her begin to cry while working. She was working furiously, making lattes and trying her best to meet each customer’s needs.

Somewhere in the chaos, a manager and I stopped her. In the break room, I spoke with her about what had occurred.

While picking up a tray, she felt a sharp pain shoot through her back. She always had issues with her back, and this happens to her occasionally, but never this bad. I asked if she had health insurance or could see a doctor, and she said, “No, I don’t, I’ll just have to tough it out.”

This saddened me, but when I heard about Gov. Tom Corbett’s reluctance to expand Medicaid, that sadness turned to anger — anger at the injustice of a friend who works so hard to serve others but cannot get her home state to serve her basic need for health care.

My friend and thousands just like her would qualify for Medicaid if our governor had the courage to put his constituent’s peace of mind above political games.

Nothing will get done if readers don’t give him the “encouragement” he needs.

JAMES BARUM
Robinson

Take action now: Tell Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett to accept federal funds for Medicaid.

Photo by @Fox43 on Twitter

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Pennsylvania Republicans Push to ‘Protect’ Paychecks…from Higher Salaries and Benefits

Pennsylvania Republicans are pushing falsely titled “paycheck protection” legislation that would take away rights from workers and keep them from having good wages and benefits. The legislation would hamper workers’ ability to organize unions and represent themselves in negotiations with employers, leaving them open to any number of assaults on salary, benefits and working conditions. The legislation would prevent the deduction of union dues from public employee paychecks and is supported by groups related to the infamous Koch brothers, wealthy extremists who are behind many attacks against working families across the nation.

But Pennsylvania’s workers are ready to fight back. More than 2,000appeared at a frozen rally Tuesday in opposition to the legislation. Many of those in attendance weren’t members of the unions potentially affected by this legislation. The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO reports:

One of the rallies erupted outside the front doors of the Capitol, where more than a thousand workers were literally frozen out of the event in the nearly sub-zero temperatures because Capitol police claimed the crowd had exceeded capacity limitations in the Rotunda. PA AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Frank Snyder was handed a bull horn by Capitol Police and the nearly frost-bitten crowd had their own impromptu rally on the Capitol steps as Snyder explained the implications of the Koch brother’s-inspired anti-labor legislation.

Supporters of the bill say taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill for such payroll deductions. As usual with anything associated with the Koch brothers, this reasoning is dishonest, because taxpayers don’t actually pay the minimal costs associated with making such deductions, those costs are included in contracts negotiated between workers and their employers. In fact, paycheck deductions are very standard from people who choose to make United Way contributions, retirement contributions, etc.

Pennsylvania AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Frank Snyder told the crowd the real reason behind the legislation:

The supporters of this attack claim this is all about restoring ethics to government. If this were all about restoring ethics then perhaps they would stop trying to prevent the uninsured from gaining access to affordable health care. If this were about ethics they would support raising the minimum wage and extending unemployment benefits to unemployed workers who are still looking for a job. No this isn’t about ethics, this is all about distractions, more smoke and mirrors and playing political games instead of solving our problems: creating jobs, expanding the middle class and putting Pennsylvania back to work. We won’t be fooled.

While the legislation currently being considered only targets public employee unions, there is little doubt that success on this legislation would lead to further attacks on the rights of working families. The Pennsylvania federation said:

Don’t be silent on this issue. We expect this bill to move very quickly, with significant resources flooding into Pennsylvania to back this latest attack on the middle class.

Residents of the Keystone State who support working families and oppose this legislation should take actionand email Gov. Tom Corbett (R) and their state legislators.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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She Worked in Health Care for Almost 50 Years, And She Has a Message for Gov. Corbett

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Georgeanne Koehler is one of our longtime members in Pittsburgh. We wanted to share her letter to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Healing hope for Medicaid” in its entirety because she expresses so well in a few paragraphs what a hundred health care coverage statistics cannot.

Please read the letter below and remember that our politicians’ actions–or lack of action–have consequences that affect real people, not just headlines.

Healing hope for Medicaid

This letter is in memory of my brother, who had a pre-existing condition and died after he was unable to receive care because of lack of health insurance.

I worked in health care for close to 50 years before I retired. I learned early on that when an illness attacks us it doesn’t care anything about us, not our race, religion, gender or politics.

The hope of recovering from one’s illness was easily found because, up until 12 years ago, medicine was about ethics and the healing of body, as well as mind. When St. Francis, Mercy, Braddock and many small community hospitals closed their doors or were bought out by huge health care systems, I saw with my own eyes and I knew, through my broken heart, that medicine had changed. Ethics were simply thrown away and healing was replaced with profit. When that happens, the hope of recovering from one’s illness depends on whether the person has a health insurance card in his or her pocket.

If I were a betting woman I would take the bet that the banker has one of those cards but not so much the baker, the candlestick maker or the pizza delivery driver (the working poor) — folks too rich to be enrolled in Medicaid, as we know it today, and too poor to qualify for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. This means hundreds of thousands of working poor Pennsylvanians and their children will remain uninsured, and that is not acceptable.

The time is now for Gov. Tom Corbett to open his eyes so he can see that Medicaid expansion is the morally right thing to do for the citizens of Pennsylvania, for within Medicaid expansion is hope.

GEORGEANNE KOEHLER

Bloomfield

Take action now: Tell Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett to accept federal funds for Medicaid.

Photo by ryleaxx on Instagram

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Here’s Why Governor Sean Parnell Is Wrong To Leave 40,000 Alaskans Without Affordable Coverage

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Alaska’s Republican Governor Sean Parnell announced Friday that he would be refusing federal funds to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and others who have made a similar decision, Gov. Parnell described his decision in vague terms:

Parnell said the Affordable Care Act involved a combination of parts.

“Many of those pieces are failing,” Parnell said. “Can states trust the federal government to not cut and run on its share?”

He described Medicaid as already one of the state’s most costly programs.

That’s why the federal government is paying for 100 percent of Medicaid expansion until 2020, at which point they’ll pay for 90 percent. Gov. Parnell is refusing a policy that will come at no cost to his state for years.

As for the “pieces” of the Affordable Care Act that Gov. Parnell says are “failing,” it’s certain that Medicaid expansion is working quite well.

The number of people lacking health insurance in Oregon, for instance, was halved in just two weeks, with more than 60,000 people signing up.

Kentucky has one of the most successful health insurance exchanges in the country, with more than 5,000 enrollees in the first month. But even there, five times as many people have successfully joined the Medicaid rolls.

While the private insurance-based Health Insurance Marketplace has had an uneasy rollout, the public, single payer-esque Medicaid expansion has worked phenomenally. If Gov. Parnell was serious about implementing parts of the law with a proven record, he would accept Medicaid expansion in a heartbeat.

But like Govs. Walker, Perry, McCrory and others, Parnell is less interested in giving his constituents access to affordable health insurance than he is in making a political statement. And as a result, insurance premiums are higher for everyone, and thousands remain unable to access the care they need.

Photo by wonderlane on Flickr

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Gov. Corbett, Give Pennsylvanians a Reason to Be Thankful

Thanksgiving is coming up!  As I reflect on what I’m thankful for, one of the many things is the healthcare that my family and I had while I was growing up. My dad, a waiter, is in a union, and unionized workers at his restaurant collectively bargained for the healthcare that kept my family secure.

But not all workers and their families can give thanks for their healthcare this Thanksgiving, because some workers don’t have healthcare.

As of January 1st, 613,000 uninsured low-income Pennsylvanians—the majority of whom are working—could gain access to healthcare if Gov. Tom Corbett embraces the opportunity to expand Medicaid in Pennsylvania.

Thus far, Gov. Corbett has been playing politics instead of taking effective action.  Instead of simply welcoming federal Medicaid expansion funds, Gov. Corbett is pushing a cumbersome and cost-inefficient plan that may take an alarmingly long time to implement.

It’s easy to be distraught, frustrated, or flat-out furious about Gov. Corbett’s current approach.  But the process of getting involved and holding Gov. Corbett accountable can be genuinely uplifting, as Working America member Georgeanne Koehler’s experience shows.

Georgeanne personally knows the weight of Gov. Corbett’s decisions about Medicaid expansion, as her brother passed away at the age of 57 because he couldn’t access the healthcare he needed.  Georgeanne has since fought to ensure that no one has to go through what her brother or her family went through.

On Halloween, Georgeanne participated in Working America and One Pittsburgh’s Medicaid expansion event in front of Gov. Corbett’s office.   She highlighted what’s truly scary: being uninsured.  After the event, Georgeanne wrote about her experience at the event:

On October 31st, 2013, I got up and headed to downtown Pittsburgh to attend a Working America rally to Expand Medicaid. Although I was early, soon I was joined by Working America members, One Pittsburgh members and a few PHAN members.

There were handshakes and hugs, “How are you?” and “What’s been going on with you?”, and smiles all around. I knew most of the folks that came to the rally. These are folks that struggle every day to get through their day, and when the sun sets on that day, they are able to pat themselves on the back because they found a way to made it through another day. Some grieve, just like me, for a family member who was lost because of our broken healthcare system. They know that nothing they do will bring their loved one back, but everything they do will be done to keep another American from knowing that grief.

The folks at the rally have one goal: to make America the best she can be. They know that to meet that goal they have to stand up for fairness and justice, and they do it so well. When the rally ended and the last “See you soon” was said, I found myself filled with overwhelming pride. On Oct. 31, 2013, for a few hours, which seemed like a minute, I stood with true-blue red, white and blue heroes. Oct. 31, 2013 I was the luckiest girl in the world!

You’re invited to join us as we continue to stand up together for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians and their loved ones.  Contact me, Catherine Balsamo, at cbalsamo@workingamerica.org or 412-456-2985 to get involved.

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