For the last six decades, Barbara Decoursey, 79, has never missed voting in an election, especially a presidential election.
She has been voting faithfully ever since the days of Harry S. Truman, and she has seen to it that all of her children, grand- and great-grandchildren voted as well.
So committed has she been to the process that she has worked her way up the ladder to become an election judge for the city’s Board of Elections.
But this year, Decoursey got a scare that even she, an elections official, might not be able to perform her cherished ritual this time around. A new state voting law has nearly derailed her ability to vote by requiring credentials like a birth certificate that she doesn’t have.
And she’s not the only one. 96-year-old Louise Furness, like other seniors across the state, face a similar dilemma.
The cause of all their concerns is their difficulty in obtaining the required birth documentation to accommodate the new voter identification bill.
The problem is that would-be voters can’t get the photo identification without the birth certificate.
Decoursey is so well connected that on the face of it she would appear to be one of the last people to have a problem getting a birth certificate, even though she, like many of her generation, was born at home in the South at a time when the births of Black people weren’t tracked as closely as others.
“Back then, they didn’t have birth certificates,” said Furness.
Until higher political officials intervened, Decoursey, who had tried for years without success to obtain a birth certificate, thought she would not have a chance to once again vote for a Black president.
Decoursey worries that if she has had such difficulty what must it be like for other Black seniors.
Furness is one of those who still have a problem.
As in the case of Decoursey, her problem has been proving that she was ever born.
Because such a law reminds some of efforts to disqualify Barack Obama over his birth certificate, as well as other reasons, some critics claim it is a deliberate effort to make it more difficult for the elderly to vote in the Nov. 6 general election.
But supporters of the legislation like Gov. Tom Corbett contend the law is merely an effort to prevent voter fraud.
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed the Voter ID Bill in March. When the bill becomes law in time for November election, all voters will be required to present photo identification at the polls. Those who do not produce identification will be allowed to cast provisional ballots and will be required to send in an identification document within six days after Election Day.
The new rule is expected to present difficulties for other elderly citizens besides Decoursey and Furness, who might not have photo IDs because they do not drive. A second problem was difficulty getting to a Department of Motor Vehicles office to get the necessary documents. Some may not even be aware of the new rule.
But the difficulty in obtaining birth certificates seems to be the biggest deterrent facing would-be voters who are seniors.
For both Decoursey and Furness, born of midwives down in North Carolina, birth certificates didn’t exist.
Even councilwoman Marian Tasco said she ran into a similar problem when she tried to obtain a driver’s license in 1968 after moving to Philadelphia.
At her recent Democratic fundraising brunch in North Philadelphia, Tasco said obtaining a birth certificate was a difficult ordeal.
“I went through it in 1968. I had to get a license...and they wrote back that there was no record of my birth.”
She said she had to go through a lengthy process of establishing her birth to obtain one.
“For many of us, birth certificates are difficult to come by,” she said. At a presentation of the Voter ID Law by the City Commissioner’s Office Tuesday, Tasco said the problem is especially acute for Black seniors, the backbone of Black voting power.
“For our elderly from places like Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia, a lot were born at home,” she said.
Election official Donna Powell complained, “The rules seem to be changing day by day. It’s a big mess designed to deter voters from coming out to vote for Obama.”
Similar identification legislation has been introduced throughout the country, but Pennsylvania’s bill is said to be one of the strictest.
Proponents of such laws, claim that they support such legislation in order to prevent voter fraud. But at the presentation of a Voter I.D. bill educational meeting, state Rep. Cherelle Parker told an audience in West Oak Lane, “We can’t allow people to keep us away from the polls.”
She said though the bill has already been passed, opponents like herself were seeking to overturn the bill through lawsuits, legislative repeal and educating the public.
According to Parker, the NAACP and the ACLU have both filed lawsuits attempting to overturn the statute.
While help from state Rep. Dwight Evan’s office eventually paid off for Decoursey,
Furness was still in limbo about being able to obtain a birth certificate from her home state of North Carolina.
For many of her years voting, Furness had used a voter registration card. But she said her pocketbook, with the card in it, was stolen recently.
“I’ve been voting ever since I got a voting card,” she said, who said she is not sure how long ago that was. “At my age, I don’t remember everything. All I know is when I was born, there was no birth certificate.”
Both women are grandmothers who have suffered discrimination and have taught their children the sanctity of the ballot.
As Furness put it, “I have been voting in every election, now I don’t know which way to go.”
Political and community leaders turned out to mark the unveiling of the renovated Brown’s ShopRite of Cheltenham.
The newly renovated 75,000-square foot store was unveiled Wednesday morning, and features expanded offerings such as an International Market, and a new seafood department.
“We went to great lengths to offer options to help people live a healthier life,” said Jeff Brown, president and CEO, Brown’s SuperStores, Inc. “Between produce, seafood and fish, poultry and meat, dairy and deli, we have 1,000 fresh items in this store that celebrate the heritage of our customers.”
The $12 million renovation project was financed by a combination of $5.5 million in state money and $6.5 million in private funding. The store, located at 2385 Cheltenham Avenue, employs 325 people.
The project is a part of first lady Michelle Obama’s national effort to increase healthy food access to millions of underserved people across the nation.
In July, Obama joined the Partnership for a Healthier America in announcing commitments from Brown’s Super Stores, SUPERVALU, Walgreens, Walmart, California FreshWorks Fund, Calhoun’s Grocer, and Klein’s Family Markets to expand and open more than 1,500 stores over the next five years to serve approximately nine million consumers.
“Jeff is showing us that we can make stores in areas that really weren’t profitable, profitable for small businesses — creating great jobs, serving healthier food for the community — and we want to do this all around the country,” said Larry Soler, president and CEO, the Partnership For a Healthier America.
The White House has recognized Brown’s Super Stores for its efforts in serving urban communities who lack affordable, healthy food.
“The first lady has really laid out a vision for this nation — and it’s a vision that calls upon all of us to step back and think about how are we impacting the health and well-being of our nation’s children — and what changes can we make to help improve their health,” said Sam Kass, White House senior policy advisor.
“Make no mistake, the future of our country is really at risk. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) predicts that one in three children born today will have diabetes in their lifetime. When you step back and understand the consequences of this — they’re devastating.”
A plaque bearing the name and likeness of state Rep. Dwight Evans was unveiled during the celebratory event. Evans was hailed for his work in developing the Fresh Food Financing Initiative. The grant and loan program which encourages supermarket development in underserved neighborhoods is regarded as a national model.
The FFFI was launched when Brown’s SuperStores opened a ShopRite store on Island Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia.
“I want to be very clear. This is not about me, this is not about the Browns and this is not about elected officials. It’s about the customers. It’s about the taxpayers. It’s about the people,” said Evans.
“The Browns and the elected officials are no more than conduits to what people deserve — and you deserve the best.”
The ShopRite is also now home to the new Einstein FastCare health clinic. Led by nurse practitioners from the Einstein Healthcare Network, the clinic provides convenient and affordable basic and preventative health care. The walk-in clinic offers treatment for sore throats, earaches, sinus infections, flu or cold symptoms and urinary tract infections. A clinic visit costs $57 and most insurances are accepted.
“We have a convenient care clinic, which we know will be of great service to the community — but we also believe this will provide screenings, health education and will serve as a point of access to people in connecting them to primary care providers,” said Mary Beth Kingston, Chief Nurse Executive, Einstein Healthcare Network.
The clinic also houses a benefit bank office. Through this office, consumers can tap into SNAP (Supplement Nutrition Access Program), Medicaid, CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) and other benefits.
The clinic was developed in partnership with UpLift Solutions and Bellin Health in collaboration with the Convenient Care Association. During the event, Brown noted that he was willing to work with other supermarket retailers who are interested in launching similar clinics.
Founded in 1988, Brown’s Super Stores is a family-owned and operated supermarket chain of 10 Philadelphia area ShopRite supermarkets. Brown founded Uplift Solutions in 2009, which has pioneered efforts to eliminate areas lacking access to fresh and affordable food.
Roughly 1.7 million minors have a parent behind bars
It has become a well-known fact that the United States incarcerates more than 2.5 million people — a greater percentage of its population than any industrialized nation on Earth, greater numbers than even totalitarian regimes like Russia or China.
But hidden in those statistics are the youngest citizens of the nation who bear the brunt of what experts call mass incarceration — the children of those under the supervision of local, state and federal corrections departments. It is estimated that at least 1.7 million children have one or both parents incarcerated and those numbers are on the rise, according to state Sen. Stewart Greenleaf.
“That 1.7 million figure is an estimation because quite frankly, we really don’t know how many there are. In Pennsylvania alone we have at least 100,000 and the prison population is increasing,” said Greenleaf. “Over the last 30 years, we’ve passed more tough legislation related to crime, and you’d think we’d see the crime rate decrease. It didn’t. Our prison population increased by 500 percent. We’re not dealing with rehabilitation — and punishment without rehabilitation is a failure.”
Sen. Greenleaf’s remarks were made on Thursday afternoon at City Hall during the announcement of a new report just released by the Pennsylvania Prison Society called, “The Effects of Parental Incarceration on Children: Needs and Responsive Services.” The report was ordered by state Rep. Cherelle Parker (D-Philadelphia) and state Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery County). Both sponsored separate bills, H.R. 203 and S.R. 52, respectively. The state legislators were also joined by Laura Kaeppeler, Miss America 2012, whose father was incarcerated in federal prison following a conviction for a white collar crime.
“Children of incarcerated parents no longer have to go into the dark shadows,” Parker said. “They can look at Miss America and know they are the same as she is. When I heard her story, it made a strong impact on me — that she had the courage to embrace this as her platform and give these children a national voice. This is a bipartisan issue.”
Kaeppeler’s father, Jeff Kaeppeler, served 18 months in federal prison for mail fraud and began serving time as his daughter was graduating high school and entering college. She said it was an eight-hour drive to visit him in prison.
“Some people challenge me for making this issue my platform,” said Kaeppeler. “But my response is that no matter what the crime is, the pain, the isolation and shame and loneliness and emotional trauma the children of these parents experience is the same. It’s the same whatever the crime. When I look back on that time I knew that none of my friends could relate to what I was going through. I felt as if a great, dark cloud was over my life. I now know that all children of incarcerated parents feel the same.”
According to the report, while the majority of prisoners are men, women constitute the fastest growing segment of the prison population. Between 1991 and 2007, the number of incarcerated mothers doubled nationwide, and most of these women were the primary caregiver for their children. The findings of the study also showed that African-American children are 7.5 times likely to have an incarcerated parent than white children. Latino children are 2.5 times more likely, and the children of these incarcerated individuals are at a higher risk for negative outcomes: juvenile delinquency, behavior problems, low self-esteem and depression.
Among the recommendations the study offers are: Recognize that parents involved with the legal system often have childcare needs which require attention. Establish an appropriate and safe area for children within the courthouse to accommodate the needs of the child while
his/her parent is involved in a legal proceeding. Urge an entity (whether it is the county children and youth agency, the Department of Public Welfare or the courts themselves) to provide training to the judges and judicial staff on the needs of children and the parents who are
involved in the judicial system.
“This is a very serious issue, especially in a city like Philadelphia,” said Mayor Michael Nutter. “The first time I visited the prisons, I asked the inmates how many of them had children and about 75 percent of them raised their hands. This last December 31st, I asked the inmates at the county jail how many of them had children and 90 percent of them raised their hands. My next question was who was raising their children? Mayor Wilson Goode, who works with these children through AMACHI, has visited all 26 of our state facilities and he told me of a grandfather, a father and a son who met each other for the first time in prison. That’s heartbreaking.”
On the first day of Women’s History Month, Democrats in the Senate narrowly defeated a Republican effort to let employers and health insurance companies deny contraceptives and other items they object to on religious or moral grounds.
In a 51-to-48 vote along partisan lines the Senate upheld the Obama administration’s policy requiring that employees of religion-affiliated institutions have access to health insurance that covers birth control.
By defeating the measure Senate Democrats beat back an effort by Republicans to infringe on women’s rights.
“The Senate will not allow women’s health care choices to be taken away from them,” said Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington.
Republicans stances on family-planning funds, access to contraception and abortion rights have recently becoming increasingly strident.
Republicans in the Pennsylvania House are considering a bill to mandate ultrasounds for women seeking abortions.
State Rep. Cherelle L. Parker, D-Phila., called the proposed legislation “offensive, demeaning and completely unnecessary.’
The Virginia Senate last week passed a bill to require noninvasive ultrasounds on women seeking abortions.
The most reprehensible attack on women’s rights came from conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh who called a woman a “slut” and “prostitute” because she testified before Congress about the need for contraceptive coverage.
President Barack Obama was right to defend Sandra Fluke, a third-year Georgetown University law student, who was unfairly attacked by Limbaugh.
The president called Fluke to “express his disappointment that she has been the subject of inappropriate personal attacks” and to thank her for speaking out on an issue of public policy, said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
After a strong political backlash and the withdrawal of several advertisers from his radio show, Limbaugh apologized Saturday for his “insulting” remarks.
Limbaugh’s vile and appalling attack on Fluke reveals how low and desperate some conservatives will go in their attack on women’s rights.
Sonia Sanchez, long Philadelphia’s unofficial poet laureate, now holds the official title, appointed on Thursday by Mayor Michael Nutter — as the city’s first.
True to her role as well-known peace advocate and her vocation as a teacher, she immediately gave the entire city an assignment.
“My first assignment is for everyone in this room … for one week, do not twist and curl your tongues and say anything negative about anyone,” said Sanchez as she accepted the appointment. “For one week do not say anything negative. It’s hard to do.”
She issued the instruction to everyone in the city as a first step to ending violence.
“We’re taught to destroy people with our tongues,” she said. “When we teach our children to destroy each other with their tongues, then it’s an easy step to destroy them with their hands and guns and knives. We must initiate peace.”
As the city’s poet laureate, Sanchez will take part in Nutter’s inauguration on Monday, but more than that, for the next two years, she will physically represent the city’s commitment to the arts and culture, said the mayor.
“Ms. Sanchez exemplifies the role a great poet can play in helping define a city and helping its citizens discover beauty,” he said.
She will host poetry and spoken word events at City Hall, the Free Library and schools across the city. In addition, she will be instrumental in choosing and mentoring a youth poet laureate.
Nutter decided to make poet laureate an official city post — something he will finalize with an executive order in January — after hearing Sanchez at a spoken word program at the School of the Future last year.
The encounter caused him to reflect on the city’s cultural and artistic history — and decide Philadelphia needed an official ambassador for the arts.
“It increasingly did not make sense that this city would not have a poet laureate,” he said.
In an unconventional twist, during the ceremony at City Hall, Sanchez had Nutter put his hand on her heart — while she too put her hand on his chest — in an exercise intended to instill a sense of peace and drive home the humanity of every individual.
Its something she encouraged everyone to do.
“There is no violence in the heartbeat,” she said. “Let us listen to each other’s heartbeats.”
Sanchez is the author of more than 18 books and the recipient of numerous awards including the Langston Hughes Poetry Award in 1999, the Harper Lee Award in 2004 and Pew Fellowship for the Arts in 1992 and 1993. A professor, she has lectured at more than 500 colleges and universities, and is a sponsor of the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom.
The recent voter ID law that was passed in Pennsylvania, in April, has created such a political stir that grassroots leaders, prominent community organizations, politicians and clergy, have shifted into overdrive to push voter registration, voter turnout and an educational blitz about the proper ID required to vote in the November election.
During a citywide voter ID rally, held on Sunday at Bright Hope Baptist Church, the Tribune caught up with civil rights leader Jerome Whyatt Mondesire, president, NAACP/Philadelphia Chapter, for his comments about the voter ID law. Mondesire believes the voter ID law is a veiled political attempt to suppress votes: “We firmly believe that, it’s not just in Pennsylvania; there are 41 states where they have tried this, it is designed to keep the turnout of African Americans, Latinos, young people and seniors down … Republicans believe that if they are able to keep the vote down, that they can possibly win several key states that they didn’t win in 2008.”
Mondesire did not mince words in further excoriating high ranking Republicans for crafting the voter ID law for this particular election cycle, “It’s all about the politics, to talk about stopping fraud, it’s just a lie. (Governor) Corbett’s a liar and his colleagues in the state House and the state Senate who passed this law, they’re equally liars.”
According to an August 10, 2012 news article published in the Altoona Mirror newspaper, in Altoona, Pa. (“Voter ID Law, Wrong”), it read: “Pennsylvania recently passed a voter ID law, citing the need to protect against voting fraud. However, there hasn’t been any such widespread fraud in the state, with only four cases of voting fraud documented since 2004.
Recently, Rep. Mike Turzai, Pennsylvania House majority leader, revealed the real reason the voter ID law was passed. Speaking to a Republican gathering, he bragged the voter ID law will ensure Gov. Mitt Romney a victory in Pennsylvania.”
Cherelle Parker, state Representative (D-200th District) and chair, Philadelphia Delegation of the Pennsylvania House, received a standing ovation during her brief speech at the Bright Hope Baptist Church Voter ID Rally, “The clergy, of all faiths, has always been at the lead to motivate and inspire and to organize … we all have to take responsibility for ensuring that we won’t allow any law, any legislator, or anything of that nature, to infringe on our constitutional right to vote.”
Parker cited that in the 2008 presidential election, Pennsylvania delivered a victory for Obama by a slim margin of votes saying, “I didn’t realize that there was such a short-small margin of victory between the winner and the loser in the last presidential election … there was only a 620,000 vote difference … we have 12 million people here (in Pennsylvania), and the (state) election was determined by a little over a half million people.”
The VIP guests on the dais, representing and supporting the Pennsylvania Voter ID Faith-Based Coalition/Voter ID Rally at Bright Hope, included a diversity of ethnicities, genders, faiths, political hierarchy and community leadership: Rev. Dr. J. Wendall Mapson Jr., pastor, Monumental Baptist Church; Everette Gillison, chief of staff, Mayor’s Office; Stephanie Singer, chair, Philadelphia County Commissioners; Rev. Charles Quann, pastor, Bethlehem Baptist Church (Penllyn, Pa.); Rabbi Alan D. Fuchs (retired), Congregation Rodeph Shalom; Rev. Bonnie Camarda, Hispanic Clergy Community; Minister Rodney Muhammad, Muhammad Mosque No. 12; Imam Suetwedien Muhammad, resident imam of Masjid Muhammad of Philadelphia; state Representative Cherelle Parker; Rev. Dr. Kevin R. Johnson, pastor, Bright Hope Baptist Church; Rabbi Adam Zeff, Germantown Jewish Center; Rev. Tamieka Moore, Tenth Memorial Baptist Church; Rev. Dr. William Moore, pastor, Tenth Memorial Baptist Church; and Ellen Kaplan, vice president and policy director at Committee of Seventy/Greater Philadelphia Area.
Commenting on the voter ID law, Rev. Quann said, “I really think it’s a moral issue … (African Americans) have been denied the right to vote for many years. People have given their lives to vote, and I just believe in my heart that this (election) is not about a particular candidate, but rather, it’s an opportunity for people to vote based upon their choice. And when that’s taken away, then we have to really respond, so, I’m here today to respond on behalf of a people,” who many believe are targeted to be disenfranchised from voting this election cycle.
“It’s important that everyone vote and that we teach people how to get their proper ID to do so. If the law makes it difficult for people who have every right to vote, to do so, then the law I think, becomes a problem; but we’re going to do the best we can to make sure that everybody’s able to vote,” said Rabbi Fuchs.
Rabbi Zeff said his synagogue and the Jewish community are very active in advocating for voter rights for all people saying, “we thought with the passage of the Voting Rights Act (of 1965) that our fight was over and that we had won; and now we’re finding that our fight is not over, and that the right to vote is being attacked, even in our (current day). So, we see this as an issue of justice and equality, that whoever people support for an election, and whatever partisan views that they may have, their voice deserves to be heard. And this (voter ID) law … makes it more difficult, especially for certain classes of voters, who have every right to vote, to be able to exercise that right. It’s an unjust law … we need to work to help voters comply with this law, even while thinking, it’s an unjust law.”
“People need help in navigating the law and navigating the process, and we just want to be available as faith leaders, because we feel it is our responsibility to speak for social justice issues and for equality. We just want to help empower (citizens) so that they can make their voices heard through the ballot, which is the democratic way,” said Rev. Mapson.
The Committee of Seventy, a prominent non-profit that advocates for effective government and fair elections, has published a list of area churches where the community can find information and help with voter ID requirements. An abridged listing includes: Bible Way Baptist Church, 1323 N. 52nd St., Philadelphia, Pa.; St. Mark AME Zion Church, 136 N. Congress St., Newton, Pa.; Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Holmesburg, 8101 Erdick St., Holmesburg, Pa.; Tenth Memorial Baptist Church, 1328 N. 19th St., Philadelphia, Pa.; and Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, 128 Walnut St., Ardmore, Pa.
For 25 years, Imam Suetwedien Muhammad, has been the resident imam of Masjid Muhammad of Philadelphia, in Germantown. He expressed impassioned feelings about the voter ID law and other recent political maneuverings, “We appreciate being able to hold such a rally to educate our people (about the voter ID law), but I really look at it as another form of modern day slavery. As we begin to close 40 schools, open 10 new prisons, and begin to take the right away from our people to vote, I think it’s a travesty in our community.” As a committeeman in his neighborhood, Imam Muhammad said, “I have worked the (voting) polls myself…I’ve worked the polls for the last 20 years, and there’s no voter fraud going on at the polls.”
According to Stephanie Singer, chair, Philadelphia County Commissioners, the voter ID law, “Is an attack on Philadelphia. This law is designed to suppress the vote in Philadelphia, and all of us Philadelphians … all of us need to come together to defend our city against this attack. I want people to know that voting is powerful, and that every election matters … elections have consequences, and when we as a city do not turn out to vote, we are giving up power to the rest of the state.”
Everett Gillison, former deputy mayor for public safety and current chief of staff to Mayor Michael Nutter, had this to say about the voter ID law: “As the mayor would say, ‘Democracy began here (in Philadelphia).’ And this (voter ID law) is an attack on our fundamental right to vote and to participate. That’s why voter education is so critically important, and the mayor wanted to make sure that we all rallied together and do what’s necessary to protect our rights.” Gillison said that a more measured approach to rolling out this law and greater public education would have been a better way to implement the law. Furthermore, Gillison concluded that, according to Mayor Nutter, the voter ID law “was a remedy in search of a problem.”
Joe Certaina, co-convener and director of operations for the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition, said that “The main purpose of (today’s rally is) to form an alliance, a grassroots alliance, with the faith community in Philadelphia County and the surrounding area. From that alliance, we expect to harness volunteers as well as voter educational opportunities through voter ID clinics, and to put together a transportation network that will help people to get to the Pennsylvania PennDot offices … in time for people to get the voter identification they need to vote.”
For more information about proper voter identification, or to volunteer, the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition’s office is at 310 West Chelten Avenue, Philadelphia, Pa., phone: 215-848-1283; or visit the Committee of Seventy website: http://www.seventy.org/.
“We cannot sit here and say we’re not going to vote, simply because the law has changed. You have to vote, beloved … ,” said Rev. Kevin Johnson, pastor, Bright Hope Baptist Church.
Proposed legislation would allow residents to pay in installments
In an effort to address residents’ concerns about the city’s implementation of its Actual Value Initiative, state legislators from Philadelphia this week unveiled a package of bills aimed at softening its impact.
State Rep. Cherelle L. Parker, head of the Philadelphia delegation in Harrisburg, provided details Tuesday at a press conference. Several legislators will introduce bills related to the city’s plan to reform its property tax system by moving from its traditional assessed value system where properties are taxed at a fraction of their full value to one based on full market valuation.
City Council is expected to enact AVI later this spring after delaying the move last year.
Some relief measures have already been approved. A homestead exemption was approved last year by the state legislature, giving property owners a $30,000 tax break.
Parker and others are worried that might not be enough.
“We recognize the financial strain the new tax system may place on many city homeowners,” she said. “Homestead relief may not be enough. Therefore, the delegation is proposing common sense legislation in an effort to provide relief to residents as they transition to the new rates under AVI.”
Four bills will be introduced in the new session.
Parker said she will introduce a proposal to give the city additional authority to collect delinquent property taxes by placing liens against all properties owned by a delinquent taxpayer in Philadelphia.
Under the proposal, the city will be authorized to place liens on all properties a delinquent taxpayer owns anywhere in Pennsylvania if property taxes in Philadelphia are unpaid.
“When the property owner attempts to sell any of his/her property located within the Commonwealth, the lien must be satisfied,” she said.
The second proposal, which will be introduced by Rep. Michelle Brownlee, would allow the city to set two property tax rates – one residential and one commercial. State law now mandates that rates be uniform.
“We recognize that there can be unforeseen circumstances when enacting such sweeping reform,” Brownlee said in a statement released by Parker’s office. “Because of this, we thought it prudent to offer this … as a resource, or tool, in the event county officials need to modify assessments as they seek an equitable tax code of our city.”
The third proposal, put forth by Rep. Mike McGeehan, would allow Philadelphia residents to pay their property taxes in installments.
“The times change – and this is our concerted attempt to change with them. We want to place some new tools in the hands of those who desperately need them,” said McGeehan.
The fourth would amend the state code to allow the city to give tax exemptions based on age and income. Current law requires uniform taxes.
“It is proper and necessary for state lawmakers to step in and provide a lifeline to homeowners who can least afford a property tax hike, some of which will be up to 300 percent. It would be a disservice to our public school children and homeowners alike to stand back and do nothing,” said O’Brien.
Administration officials have been reluctant to discuss the exact impact of AVI except to say that for some taxes would go up and for others they would go down.
Council President Darrell Clarke said the package pleased him.
“These measures are a result of an unprecedented collaborative effort between the City of Philadelphia and its state delegation. This tax relief package will provide the City with the flexibility to implement AVI in a fair and common sense manner,” he said.
Parker also announced that delegation members will hold a public hearing on the property tax relief package from 2 to 4 p.m. Jan. 28 at The National Constitution Center’s Kirby Auditorium.
Governor Tom Corbett recently signed into law legislation that will finally allow experts to testify in court regarding cases of sexual abuse.
State Representative Cherelle Parker, D-Phila., who sponsored the bill, was immensely pleased that the measure received virtually unanimous support in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Corbett signed the bill on June 29 during a ceremony at the Harrisburg YWCA’s Violence Intervention Prevention Program Center.
"I have worked on this issue since 2006," Parker said in a press release. "It is long overdue that we bring some sense of professional context into the legal arena for cases involving sexual assault victims. If victims finally get the courage to come forward and report the abuse, they should not be further victimized by having the very normal behaviors and reactions of a sex assault victim looked upon as abnormal by a court or jury who simply isn't educated in these things."
Previously, Pennsylvania was the only state in the union that did not allow experts to testify in these cases. The new law, which becomes effective on August 28, will permit an expert to provide testimony on the counterintuitive behavior exhibited by victims of sexual assault, as well as any recognized form of post-traumatic stress disorder, and other common psychological reactions to the trauma associated with sexual assault. The new law will allow expert witnesses to testify about a victim’s response and behavior during, and after the sexual assault. Criminal justice advocates argue that expert testimony is necessary to provide jurors with the proper context in which to evaluate a victim’s behavior.
“We need to acknowledge and understand the unique dynamics of this sort of crime,’’ Corbett said in a prepared statement. “This is a complex area with many shades of gray that require someone to explain to jurors why things unfolded the way they did. The law needs truth, but it also needs context. This bill helps us in the search for justice.’’
During the Catholic priest sex abuse trial here in Philadelphia, Mark Bukowski, one of the alleged victims of James Brennan, offered detailed testimony about the sexual abuse and the psychological trauma that followed. Bukowski is now 30 years old and was in the 8th grade when Brennan molested him. Brennan’s defense attorney, William Brennan (no relation) tore into the victim’s testimony, repeatedly attacking his credibility, his criminal past, his drug use and some inconsistencies in his statements to investigators.
The jury was unable to reach a consensus regarding the charges against Brennan, but in the case against former assistant Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky, a jury found him guilty on 45 out of 48 counts of sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period. Sandusky’s defense also attacked the credibility of the victims.
"Research shows that victims of sex crimes behave in a number of ways, but because of the myths regarding sex crimes, jurors perceive some of those behaviors, such as a failure to immediately report the crime, as compelling evidence of a victim's lack of credibility," Parker said. "To overcome these myths, expert testimony has been deemed necessary in order to provide a jury with the proper context to evaluate a victim's behavior."
If you live in Northwest Philadelphia, expect to see busy volunteers with clipboards and voter registration forms asking, “Do you need to update your voter registration?”
The reason this question is pivotal in neighborhoods such as Mount Airy, West Oak Lane and Germantown is simple: Some of the city’s most ardent voters live in Northwest Philadelphia, but many neglect to re-register to vote when they move or change their name.
Now with the new Voter ID law, some just need to update their voter registration so their name, address and other personal information on the IDs match the voting record.
Among the groups who will be trekking through Northwest Philadelphia commercial corridors and knocking on doors will be the nonpartisan Pennsylvania League of Women Voters.
“The new Voter ID Law passed by the legislature this spring raises onerous new barriers to the ballot box,” said B.J. Phillips of Northwest Philadelphia.
Phillips serves as the Voter ID coordinator for the Philadelphia League of Women Voters. The group is basing their grassroots Voter ID headquarters at 310 W. Chelten Ave. in Germantown.
“We are pulling together an ambitious plan to educate our fellow citizens about the new law,” Phillips said. “The Voter ID rules have changed almost weekly as the Secretary of State’s office tries to implement a sweeping and inherently confusing new law. So, we plan to carry our educational message to the large majority of voters who already have valid IDs as well as helping those who need to acquire the ID the need for Nov. 6.”
Already on the group’s agenda is finding out where the summer block parties and neighborhood festivals will be located. They will be making guest appearances at community organization meetings and before church groups. They are also visiting long-term and personal care homes to provide photo IDs for residents.
The Voter ID Coalition’s Germantown office will be active this summer. At the West Chelten Avenue location they are offering training sessions on the new Voter ID legal requirements that help prepare people to speak to the groups or congregations they belong to.
“This is an excellent primer for those who volunteer to handle phone calls for help, advice, media support and other demands at the new coalition headquarters,” Phillips said. “Our goals are high, but they are within the reach of an organization that was born of the struggle for the right to vote. Above all others, this newest battle for universal suffrage is ours to fight.”
Just before the spring primary race the Northwest Philadelphia Coalition held their Voter ID session in partnership with KeepingMyVote.org. The event was held at the New Bethel AME Church, 6153 Germantown Ave. It was sponsored by state Sen. LeAnna M. Washington, state Reps. John Myers, Mark Cohen, Dwight Evans and Cherelle Parker, as well as Councilwoman Marian Tasco.
Editor’s note: The Philadelphia Tribune will examine the impact of the state’s new voter identification law, how it could affect different segments of Philadelphia’s population, and what they need to do to obtain the required identification. This article takes a look at how the law could impact ex-offenders.
An estimated 30,000 ex-offenders living in Philadelphia, the average number of people released from the county jail each year, could be disenfranchised by the state’s new voter ID law.
“The [state] Department of State talked about how they are targeting different groups to make sure they get their IDs, but they never talked about the hundreds of thousands of people who get discharged from prison each day across this state,” said Wayne Jacobs, director of X-offenders for Community Empowerment. “What is the strategy to make sure that those folks are not denied the opportunity to vote?”
State officials have broken down the problems most residents will face in trying to obtain an ID into three broad categories: people who once had a valid driver’s license that is now expired; Pennsylvania natives who have never had a state identification card; and registered voters, typically not born in Pennsylvania, who are unable to get a copy of their birth certificate.
State Rep. Cherelle Parker, chair of Philadelphia’s House delegation, held an informational meeting on Wednesday with officials from the state Department of State, members of the press and representatives from a number of community organizations in an effort to explain the new law.
Though the requirements are the same for ex-offenders as for other segments of the population, they will likely have to add a few additional steps to obtain a state ID.
“They follow the same procedures as anyone else,” said Ron Ruman, press secretary for the Department of State at the meeting this week.
Ex-offenders are eligible for a free, state identification card to vote, just like everyone else. And, Ruman said, they are very likely to fall into one of the three broad categories outlined by the state.
But, Jacobs pointed out that many lack the documents required by the state.
As an example, he pointed to the fact that the PennDOT requires a Social Security card, as well as one of the following: a valid passport, birth certificate with raised seal, or certificate of citizenship or naturalization. In addition, proof of residence is required in the form of an item such as a tax record document, a W-2 form or a utility bill.
It’s the last requirement that worries Jacobs.
“A person that’s just getting out of jail doesn’t have that,” he said, noting that many move back in with family members or friends.
Ruman said ex-offenders, who may be living with someone else and can’t prove where they live, should bring the person they live with to the PennDOT office with them.
“You bring an individual along that would have proof of residency,” Ruman said.
“So now mom has to take the day off work?” asked Jacobs.
The state has promised that people being released from state prisons will now be released with a valid state ID card that can be used at the polls in November,” said Megan Sweeney, special assistant at the state Department of State.
However, people being released from county jail are not guaranteed an ID. In Philadelphia, that could be as many as 30,000 people every year, said William Hart, executive director of the Mayor’s Office for Reintegration Services for Ex-offenders.
“It’s a significant portion of Philadelphia residents that may be disenfranchised because of a lack of ID,” Hart said.
Parker said her office would meet with local prison officials to see if a solution to the problem could be ironed out.
Ruman also noted that anyone wanting to vote in the upcoming election must be registered before they apply for an ID. The last day that Pennsylvanians can register to vote in the Nov. 6 election is Oct. 9.
A recent report by the state Department of State found that 18 percent of Philadelphians — or 186,830 of the city’s registered voters — do not have a photo ID that meets the state’s requirement to cast a ballot in November. Across the state, that number ballooned to 758,000 registered voters — or 9.2 percent of all registered voters.