HARRISBURG - On the heels of the Orlando massacre, bills seeking equal protection for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender residents are getting a renewed push in the Capitol.
Three bills championed by Senate Republicans would add sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to the list of groups already protected under the state's antidiscrimination laws - and one of the measures could come up for a committee vote as soon as Wednesday.
A top aide to Sen. Scott Wagner (R., York), a supporter of the bills, said that although the proposals were not put forth as an answer to this month's shooting rampage at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, the tragedy there magnified efforts to act on the bills.
"Obviously, people are paying more attention to it," said Jason High, Wagner's chief of staff. "You have a situation in Orlando where the individual who committed the act of terrorism has more rights as a citizen than the 49 people he killed."
Similar legislation has languished in the House for several years, but advocates are exploring ways to revive it.
Rep. Dan Frankel (D., Allegheny), the sponsor of the House bill that is bottled up in a legislative committee, put it this way: "When you relegate a category of people as second-class citizens, you make it more likely that violence will be perpetrated against them. They are viewed as less than you and I."
The lead sponsor of the Senate measures, Sen. Pat Browne (R., Lehigh), is splitting his initial antidiscrimination bill into three bills that would forbid LGBT discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations separately.
High said that the legislation was being split because the public-accommodations portion could prove a roadblock, as some opponents have dubbed it a "bathroom bill" - referring to transgender people's using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. High called that "a bogus argument" but one that has taken hold among the public.
Twenty-two states forbid discrimination in public accommodations based on sexual orientation, and 18 prohibit discrimination based on gender identity, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
If the Senate bills do not advance, Frankel said, he and other supporters are prepared to use a legislative maneuver to force the House measure out of committee and onto the floor for a vote.
"It's there to utilize; we'll keep it in our toolbox," Frankel said.
Gov. Wolf has repeatedly called on legislators to approve the antidiscrimination measures. In April, he signed a pair of executive orders expanding employment protections for LGBT state employees and contractors.