Several far-Left members of the Pennsylvania State Senate announced on Monday they are reintroducing a series of bills to help transgender residents change their names — including one measure that would force taxpayers to assist those who are going through the process.
State Senators Tim Kearney (D-Springfield), Amanda Cappelletti (D-Norristown), Katie Muth (D-Royersford) and Lindsey Williams (D-Pittsburgh) complained that transgender constituents often tell them the process of changing their names is onerous. State Representatives Ben Sanchez (D-Abington) and Melissa Shusterman (D-Phoenixville) have reintroduced a House version of the legislation which would allot $2 million to a “Compassionate Name Change Assistance Grant Fund.”
“Since introducing these bills, we have continued to hear from members of the community about the need to advance these pieces of legislation, especially at a time when members feel more under attack than ever,” Kearney and his cosponsors wrote in a memorandum describing the proposal. “In that effort, we are re-introducing this package of bills so that individuals can more easily live as their authentic selves.”
Progressives who want to use taxpayer dollars for a new program to address a narrow social cause could face resistance even outside of the Republican-controlled Senate in light of the commonwealth’s forecasted fiscal predicament. A recent analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts predicts that a decline in the state’s population of working-age taxpayers will lead to a $3.2-billion decrease in state revenue over 15 years.
And while hardly any state House Democrats could be considered social conservatives, the party will need nearly every vote it can muster to pass a program like the one Kearney, Sanchez and their allies envision. Democrats currently hold only a two-member majority in the 203-seat chamber.
The bill’s sponsors insist that their measure is advisable because of the burdens associated with the name-change process. That process, which can cost up to $600, involves acquiring a fingerprint card, completing a background check, filling out numerous forms, publicizing the change and conferring with a judge. Once those steps are taken and the person’s new name is official, the senators wrote, certain aspects of life become easier; they cited data suggesting that 30 percent of transgender individuals with seemingly mismatched names who have shown identification to government offices, schools, law enforcement or other institutions have endured some form of resistance or aggravation.
“Transgender individuals are faced with discrimination and harassment that is exasperated [sic] by the additional burdens of obtaining legal documents that reflect their identities,” their memo states. “Beyond the emotional impact on an individual for not being able to legally identify as themselves, transgender individuals will face difficulties traveling, registering for school, and accessing many services that require documentation.”
Kearney and his cosponsors also want legislators to consider three other bills reforming name-change proceedings. One bill would instruct the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission to provide clearer online guidelines for those hoping to select new names. That legislation would also mandate new training for judges and administrators to ease the undertaking for interested individuals.
Another measure would do away with publication requirements. Presently, if someone wants to change his or her name, the applicant must submit a petition to a court and advertise the required hearing in two newspapers, a process that the lawmakers said can cost between $150 and $300.
A third bill would thoroughly reform the name-changing effort by removing the courts from most proceedings and allowing an applicant to simply file name-change documents with a county administrator. This legislation would also strike the current ban on a convicted felon changing his or her legal name for two years after he or she served a sentence.
Another policy the senators are asking colleagues to support would entail removing sex categories from birth certificates, a feature they say leads only to discrimination. This is despite the fact that any Pennsylvanian who can demonstrate he or she has received appropriate clinical attention to identify with a different gender may already amend his or her birth certificate for a $20 fee.
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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Ben Sanchez” by Rep. Ben Sanchez. Photo “Melissa Shusterman” by Rep. Melissa Shusterman. Background Photo “Pennsylvania Capitol” by Michael180. CC BY-SA 2.5.