The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

October 27, 2012

C. Adam Harris off hook, but still mum

Republican colleague pulls rape bill after backlash

By Rick Dandes

The Daily Item

SUNBURY — C. Adams Harris must be breathing a sigh of relief.

The Mifflintown Republican who represents the state’s 82nd Legislative District, which includes part of Snyder County, was among those sponsors of House Bill 2718, the controversial legislation that would have required women to say they were raped to receive welfare payments if they got pregnant.

But in a surprising switch on Friday, the bill’s chief sponsor, Rosemarie Swanger, R-102, of Lebanon, pulled the bill after being barraged with calls from the media.

Numerous messages left Thursday and Friday for Harris, some taken by his assistant and asking Harris to explain his backing of the bill, were not returned.

Messages on Friday afternoon to Swanger’s Capitol and district office were relayed to her by administrative assistants, but those calls were also not returned.

Swanger on Friday defended her bill as a protection for raped women, and said she was surprised by the criticism.

“I don’t think a woman (who is) raped, even if she chooses to bear a child against her will, should be penalized,” she told the Daily Beast.

Which is exactly opposite of her legislation, House Bill 2718, which would have cut assistance to low-income individuals helped by the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Program, but had an exemption for rape victims and children conceived during rape.

The legislation required women to prove they had reported their rapes to authorities.

Critics, including officials from the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, not only said the bill was highly objectionable in its assumption, but also unrealistic — since more than half of all rapes go unreported.

The bill’s language also implies that only rapes reported to police count as rape.

Joining Harris as other legislative sponsors were Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-47, Hellam; Mark Gillen, R-128, Reading; and Mike Tobash, R-125, Berks/Schuylkill.

Gillespie removed his name from the bill because “It asks for proof of rape and I do not support the language.”

In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, he said that he hadn’t seen the bill before he agreed to join on as one of the co-sponsors.

The only Democrat among the bill’s co-sponsors, Tom Caltagirone, D-127, Berks County, pulled out as well, claiming his name had been put on it in error.

Meanwhile, Swanger told several news organizations, including the Inquirer and The Daily Beast, an online news website, that she yanked the bill after a flood of calls from reporters.

Swanger said she hoped to model the Pennsylvania bill after a successful law passed in New Jersey that limited welfare funds to families as they continued to have children.

An assistant in Swanger’s Lebanon office said that the state representative plans to re-submit the bill, albeit with different language, in the next House session.

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