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Bills would declare racism a 'public health crisis' in Pennsylvania, fight other 'systemic equity' issues across state

The PA Legislative Black Caucus introduced a package of bills to address everything from equality issues in healthcare, agriculture, transportation, and more.

Pennsylvania's Legislative Black Caucus and other supporting Democratic lawmakers rallied Wednesday to introduce a package of bills aimed at addressing systemic equity across the state with one bill calling for Pennsylvania to declare racism as a public health crisis.

Other bills aim to battle racism in transportation, agriculture, and healthcare with much of the legislation also calling for bias training for employees. The legislative proposals suggest creating a nonpartisan joint legislative committee on equity.

It also calls for the state to tackle the issue of maternal mortality and to take a deeper look into algorithmic technology to ensure steps are taken to eliminate any harmful bias.

The package of bills is supported by PLBC Chair and state Rep. Donna Bullock, (D-Phila), Rep Stephen Kinsey (D-Phila), Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny), Rep. Morgan Cephas (D-Phila), Rep. Leanne Krueger (D-Delaware), Rep. Danilo Burgos (D-Phila), Rep. Brian Sims (D-Phila), Rep. Chris Rabb (D-Phila).

When FOX43 reached out to PA House leadership for comment Jason Gottesman, Press Secretary to the Republican House Majority Leader, said the bills will need to go through the normal process, including committee approval, before they will make further comment.

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)

Hear from activist 18-year-old Unique Fields, who assisted in organizing one summer rally in York last year as well as organizing a fall rally. Fields has also been back and forth to DC to raise awareness for the Black Lives Matter movement: