If you were hoping for a proverbial dustup at today's SugarHouse hearing — between pro- and anti-casino advocates, between arguments for "economic development" and against "predatory gambling" — then you were sorely disappointed. Of the more than 20 people who signed up to testify, only one person spoke out against the renewal of the casino's license.
Local and state officials, business owners and community members came out in strong support for SugarHouse. Maggie O'Brien, president of the pro-casino community group Fishtown Action, said the casino "sparkles" and that the land it sits on "was once an eyesore ... [and] has been transformed." Capt. Michael Cram of the 26th Police District said crime at SugarHouse is "not even an issue." Planning Commission chairman Alan Greenberger said the city is in "full support" of both the casino's license renewal as well as its planned expansion.
Paul Boni, a board member of Stop Predatory Gambling, provided the sole anti-casino voice at the hearing: He opposed the renewal of the casino's license because, among other things, he said SugarHouse profits from gambling addicts and takes money away from local businesses. He also noted, in regards to the beefed-up police presence at the casino, "That is a significant law enforcement investment that the taxpayers are shouldering. No one has asked the question, so I’ll ask it: What is that costing?"
So ... where were all the anti-casino folks at today's SugarHouse hearing?
Casino-Free Philadelphia's Dan Hajdo, who City Paper reached by phone, says, "We didn't attend because as the grand jury report confirmed, the [Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board] is really just there to support the industry. So any kind of action on our part is really a waste of time."
Hajdo bluntly adds: "The only reason they would deny anyone a license is because they don't have the right political connections."
Gaming Control Board spokesman Richard McGarvey says that the agency has not denied any license renewal applications in its history. He said that five renewals, including SugarHouse's, are currently being sought.
A highly controversial state bill that would regulate abortion clinics just got one step closer to becoming law.
Today, state Sen. Pat Vance's bill — which was written in the wake of West Philly abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell — passed, 38-12. Originally, pro-choice advocates generally supported Vance's bill, which would create a licensing system and allow people to make anonymous complaints about abortion providers.
But that changed last week, when the state Senate amended the bill, making it look much more like a controversial House bill penned by state Rep. Matt Baker. Both bills would require that most of the state's abortion clinics be regulated like outpatient surgery centers. Pro-choice advocates say that this would lead to unnecessary regulations and costs, which could force all state clinics to close down, and in turn force more women to go to illegal providers like Gosnell.
Essentially, they say, it's an anti-abortion bill in disguise.
But supporters of the bills argue that they are simply following the recommendations of the District Attorney's grand jurys report on Gosnell. (However, D.A. Seth Williams wrote in a letter to Baker that his bill "goes beyond the scope of the grand jury report.")
Sen. Bob Mensch, who penned the amendment to Vance's bill, says it is "necessary to cure the systemic deficiencies present in the current regulatory scheme," which led to Gosnell's clinic not being inspected for 17 years.
The ACLU's Andy Hoover argued, conversely, “The Arkansas legislature failed to pass a similar bill this session. Gosnell didn’t have a clinic in Arkansas. Why were they even considering a bill like this? The fact is that this initiative is right out of the playbook of those who believe that the government should make healthcare decisions for women.”
Vance's bill now must be approved by the state House. Likewise, Baker's bill, which passed in May, also must be approved by the state Senate. Though both bills would require that most abortion clinics be regulated like outpatient surgery centers, there are a few differences between them — leading some to speculate that neither will pass before summer recess.
Meanwhile, people who are closely watching the bills have this to look forward to: Yesterday, the state Senate voted to have an independent committee complete a study on how much the outpatient regulations would cost abortion clinics. The Women's Law Project estimates that it could cost each clinic up to $1 million, and raise the price of each abortion by as much as $1,000.
The study must be finished 90 days after the bill becomes law.
Yesterday, the state Senate passed an amendment to an abortion bill that women's advocates and pro-choice activists say would lead to nothing less than a public health "catastrophe" if it became law. But supporters of the amendment say that it would protect women seeking abortions.
It would require that most abortion clinics be regulated as outpatient surgery centers. The author of the amendment, Sen. Bob Mensch (R), says that this is "necessary to cure the systemic deficiencies present in the current regulatory scheme."
But pro-choice advocates say that this amendment is an anti-abortion Trojan horse, which could close every abortion clinic in the state because of its supposedly unnecessary — and unnecessarily costly — regulations. They would require, among other things, that operating rooms be at least 400 square feet, and that a nurse always be on duty, even when abortions aren't taking place.
Mensch's amendment is to a bill authored by state Sen. Pat Vance, which would regulate abortion clinics. But why is abortion legislation being introduced in the first place?
The story of this amendment — and the intense controversy that surrounds it, which City Paper has covered extensively — begins with the West Philly abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell.
In early 2011, the District Attorney charged him with the murder of seven babies and one woman, and news spread quickly about his allegedly squalid clinic. Almost immediately, state legislators scrambled to make legislation that would prevent another Gosnell. After all, the D.A.'s grand jury report laid much blame on the state's health department, because it hadn't inspected Gosnell's clinic for 17 years — or any other Pennsylvania clinic for that matter, apparently due to "political reasons."
Two bills advanced: one penned by state Rep. Matt Baker and the aforementioned one by Vance. Baker's bill, which has passed in the House, would require that most abortion clinics be regulated like outpatient surgical centers, just like Mensch's amendment.
Baker, an anti-abortion Republican, insists that the bill is not a Trojan horse, telling CP earlier this year, "Many strict pro-life people believe we should shut all the clinics down. That's not what this bill does."
Pro-choice advocates called Vance's bill, which would create a new licensing system and allow for anonymous complaints about abortion clinics, "way better" than Baker's — until Mensch's amendment passed yesterday, that is. They argue that the amendment's "unnecessary" regulations would drive up the cost of abortions and possibly close down all state clinics, thus pushing more women to go to illegal providers like Gosnell.
“If you wanted to invent the perfect plan for driving more women to seek out cheap, illegal, unsafe practitioners, the Mensch amendment would be that plan,” said Sue Frietsche of the Women's Law Project in a statement.
Interestingly, Mensch's amendment received bipartisan support with a 31-18 vote — and bipartisan opposition. Now, Vance's amended bill must go before the full Senate for a vote.
Since both Baker's and Vance's bills still haven't went before the opposite chamber for a vote, it's possible that this battle won't be over before the state legislature's summer recess. Frietsche says she wouldn't mind if legislators had more time to ponder the bills: "The more carefully they're studied," she says, "the more the flaws become obvious."
A highly controversial abortion bill penned by state Rep. Matt Baker just passed in the House, 148-43. For background, read here.
City Paper is awaiting a statement from Baker.
Meanwhile, the Women's Law Project released a statement just now saying that Baker's bill will lead to a "public health catastrophe" and "Gosnell-style illegal abortion practices arising all over Pennsylvania." The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania also released one, arguing that under the bill, "poor women and those who live in rural areas will not have access to care and will be more likely to turn to a disreputable doctor like Gosnell.”
UPDATE: Baker has released a statement, which says that, "Simply put, under House Bill 574 the state’s abortion industry would not be exempt from commonsense safety standards that apply to other ambulatory surgery centers," adding that his bill "was created in direct response to the outcome of a grand jury presentment regarding atrocities" found at Gosnell's clinic.
Yesterday, a ferocious debate went down at the state House that suggests that it might be hard for lawmakers to pass any bill written in the wake of Kermit Gosnell — the Philly abortion doctor who's been charged with murdering seven babies and one woman.
Currently, two bills are gaining steam that would regulate abortion clinics in order to prevent another Gosnell. The state Health Department has been widely blamed because it failed to inspect Gosnell's clinic for 17 years, supposedly for "political reasons" — and these bills also strive to deal with that.
But the two bills are very different from each other: One was penned by Rep. Matt Baker, which he says came directly from the grand jury's report on Gosnell, but that women's health advocates say is an anti-abortion "Trojan horse" that could shut down every clinic in the state. It has passed committee, and is expected to go up for a final vote today.
The other bill, penned by state Sen. Pat Vance, has been called "way better" by women's health advocates. It would guarantee regular inspections and allow patients to make anonymous complaints about abortion providers to the state's Health Department. (In the past, the agency has refused to take such complaints.) It has also passed committee.
Yesterday, the state House debated proposed amendments to Baker's bill — including one by state Rep. Chris Ross that would make Baker's legislation much more like Vance's.
But Ross' amendment was defeated, 68-130. Does that indicate that the House and Senate will be unable to agree on a bill to prevent another Gosnell? The two bills are very different, and neither house seems ready to budge — at least not yet.
Baker's bill is being debated by the state House right now, and is expected to get a full vote today.
Also, FYI, I live-tweeted yesterday's whole darn debate. Click below for some highlights:
On Wednesday, state Sen. Pat Vance's bill regulating abortion clinics, which was written in the wake of the Kermit Gosnell case, passed out of committee.
Women's health and pro-choice advocates have praised most parts of Vance's bill — noting that it will allow patients to make complaints about abortion providers anonymously, create a licensing system and guarantee regular inspections.
"The basic idea behind it is one they support," says Sue Frietsche, senior staff attorney of the Women's Law Project, adding that abortion providers were "outraged, frustrated and worried" when they came across Gosnell patients who tried to complain to the state's Health Department, but were allegedly turned away because they wanted to speak anonymously.
Still, women's health advocates argue that there are problems with Vance's bill.
Frietsche claims that while good abortion providers are happy to comply with regular inspections, Vance's bill would basically give the state's health department carte blanche "to do lengthy, disruptive, intrusive inspections" — which could be abused under certain anti-abortion leadership, she says.
She adds that, under the new bill, abortion providers would be the only medical facilities in the state that must be inspected after a "serious event" is reported to the health department — another factor that pro-choice advocates fear might lead to abuse.
Frietsche is quick to add that she doesn't believe the current health department secretary or state inspectors are abusive, but says that "somewhere down the road this bill could be a very potent tool."
As of press time, Vance declined to comment.
Carol Petraitis, of the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union, is also concerned that Vance's bill could threaten patients' and employees' privacy. The bill gives "full and free" access to all abortion clinic records and employees.
Still, Petraitis calls Vance's bill a "good-faith effort to make sure there are no more Gosnells."
Conversely, pro-choice advocates have strongly criticized another bill drawn up in the wake of Gosnell, written by Rep. Matt Baker, which they claim could shut down every clinic in the state.
Baker says his bill "will provide the highest possible level of health care and safety for women."
There was speculation that an amendment might be added to Vance's bill that would have made it more like Baker's — but that, say women's advocates, has not occured.
Only one Senator in the health committee voted against Vance's bill yesterday — Bob Mensch, the same person who Baker said might pen such an amendment.
Vance's bill will now go to the Appropriations Committee, and then onto the Senate for a full vote.
In a letter obtained by City Paper, District Attorney Seth Williams criticizes Rep. Matt Baker's bill that would regulate abortion clinics — the same bill that women's health and pro-choice advocates say could shut down every clinic in the state because of its allegedly unnecessary (and unnecessarily costly) requirements.
Williams says the bill "goes beyond the scope of the grand jury report."
Baker says the impetus for his bill was the D.A.'s grand jury report on Kermit Gosnell, the West Philly abortion doctor who's been charged with murdering seven babies and one woman. The report argues that clinics should be regulated as outpatient surgical centers (aka "ambulatory surgical facilities") — which is exactly what Baker's bill proposes.
Pro-choice advocates, however, have argued that the D.A.'s report presses for those regulations mostly to make sure that the state's Health Department would inspect abortion clinics annually — not to impose the many other regulations laid out in Baker's bill.
Conversely, Baker says abortion providers care too much about the "bottom line" and that his bill would protect women.
But until now, Williams has not clarified the grand jury's position on the matter.
In the letter to Baker and other legislators, Williams says the grand jury did not recommend that "abortion clinics be singled out for licensure ... simply because they offer abortions. He also says, "The Grand Jurors did not recommend that the Legislature change the definition of an [outpatient] surgical facility to include all abortion clinics." (His italics.)
Williams adds that, "The Grand Jurors were outraged by the fact that the laws that are already on the books gave the Department of Health the authority it needed to license and monitor Gosnell's clinic, but the Department chose not to."
Click below to read Williams' letter. To enlarge, click on the image itself.
This just in: Next week, the state House will vote on Rep. Matt Baker's proposed bill regulating abortion clinics — a bill that some women's health advocates have called an anti-abortion "Trojan horse."
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the Women's Law Project, the Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates and others, the bill would impose unncessary regulations on clinics — which, they say, could raise the cost of abortions by $1,000 each and likely shut down all 22 clinics in the state.
Baker, however, defends his bill, saying it "will provide the highest possible level of health care and safety for women." It passed out of committee last month.
You can read more about the legislation in a longer article by City Paper here.
Baker's office says a specific date and time for next week's vote have not been set.
In related news, a similar bill by state Sen. Pat Vance — which women's health advocates have called "way better" than Baker's legislation — will go up for vote in the Senate health committee tomorrow. (A few additional bills regulating abortion clinics have been proposed in the Senate.)
Vance's office says her bill has been amended, but won't be posting the amendment online until tomorrow morning.
Why does that matter? Last month, Baker told CP that Sen. Bob Mensch was thinking about penning an amendment that would make the proposed Senate bills look more like Baker's.
Mensch did not respond to requests for comment, however.
CP will post more as it comes.
The Naked City just got off the phone with Rep. Matt Baker's office, which says that the state House Health Committee has voted for H.B. 574, a bill that would hold abortion clinics to the same safety standards as "ambulatory surgical facilities."
Supporters of the bill say that it will bring much-needed state oversight to Pennsylvania's abortion clinics. Critics of the bill, including women's health advocates like Pennsylvania NOW and the Women's Law Project, say it will raise the costs of abortion and shut down safe clinics.
The bill will now go to the House for a full vote.
Today, the state House's Health Committee will consider a bill that would hold abortion clinics to the same safety standards as "ambulatory surgical facilities."
The proposed bill, introduced by Rep. Matt Baker (R-Wellsboro), was written in the wake of the case of Kermit Gosnell, a West Philadelphia abortion doctor who was recently charged with the murder of seven babies and one woman — and whose clinic hadn't been inspected by the state since 1993.
In order to improve the state's regulation of abortion clinics, both state legislators and the Health Department have proposed a number of changes, including Baker's bill.
The grand jury report on Gosnell suggested that abortion clinics "be explicitly regulated as ambulatory surgical facilities, so that they are inspected annually and held to the same standards as all other outpatient procedure centers."
But some women's health advocates and abortion providers say that Baker's proposed bill, H.B. 574, may actually make women less safe, by forcing safe clinics to close and by raising the cost of abortion by as much as $1,000, they say.
The Pennsylvania National Organization for Women and the Women's Law Project are among the critics of this bill.
Why do they believe it will raise the costs of abortion? Construction costs, for one. According to the Women's Law Project, this bill would require that operating rooms in clinics be 400 square feet. Now, most are 100 to 150 square feet.
The Women's Law Project also says that the bill would require that an RN or LPN be present during all hours that "patients are present," even on days when the clinic is not performing abortions.
The bill's critics say that these regulations offer no medical benefits, but would simply increase costs. In fact, says a report by the Women's Law Project, "The current regulations are more than adequate to protect patient safety" — women's health advocates say they just haven't been enforced by the state.
This bill "will make abortion even less accessible to women in Pennsylvania," says Jen Boulanger, executive director of Allentown Women's Center, and "would result in most freestanding clinics closing, including the Allentown Women’s Center."
Baker, conversely, told the Sun Gazette that, "This is a common sense approach to regulation and inspection based on the similar nature of the procedures performed at both facilities, the type of anesthesia used at both facilities and the degree of care needed in the performance of these surgical procedures."
A call to Baker's spokeswoman was not immediately returned.
The bill is on the schedule today for the state House's Health Committee meeting, along with two others.
UPDATE: The Health Committee voted in favor of the bill. It will now move to the state House for a full vote. Read more about the vote here.
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