State Rep. Keith Gillespie has pulled his sponsorship from a piece of legislation whose main sponsor has also said she doesn't support it now that she had read it for the first time.
Rep. Rose Marie Swanger, R-Lebanon County, introduced the bill with five co-sponsors on Oct. 17. Gillespie, R-Springettsbury, is the only co-sponsor from York County.
The bill called for eliminating the increase in benefits to welfare recipients if they have children while using the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Program, or TANF.
Under the legislation, a mother could get additional benefits if she provided a statement saying she got pregnant as a result of rape or incest and that she reported the crime.
The rape verbiage caused a dust-up when people caught wind of the legislation about a week after it was introduced. Both Swanger and Gillespie said Thursday that was the first time they read the three-page law.
Gillespie said he contacted Swanger Thursday to pull his co-sponsorship. He said he would not have supported the bill if he had known what it said.
He signed onto the legislation after receiving a co-sponsorship memo - one of about 50 or 60 he gets per day - that didn't include the actual language of the legislation, he said.
"When I found out a component had to do with rape, I cannot be supportive of that," he said. "To put somebody through having to prove whether or not they were raped, I absolutely don't want any part of that.
Swanger said the same, though she was to have authored the bill.
"I asked research to model it after a New Jersey bill," she said. "What they sent to me was a PA bill introduced in the past that was never enacted. I'm not comfortable with the bill that was written for me. (There was) nothing in New Jersey bill that refers to rape.
"I'm stymied as to why that bill was written for me when I asked them to model it after New Jersey. When I give orders to someone I assume they were followed through."
She said she assumed the bill she introduced was the bill she requested, and she said Thursday she was pulling the bill.
Swanger said she still supports the main body of the bill, to cut additional benefits for children born after a family is receiving benefits.
She'll reintroduce a new version without the rape language after the new session starts in January, she said.
Gillespie said he'd support that version of the bill.
"The more kids they have when they're on there, the bigger their paycheck and there's no incentive for them to get off," he said. "I was always a proponent of cracking down on abuse of the welfare system.
He said those families could decide whether to use contraception or how or whether to avoid getting pregnant.
"It's just sending them the message that, should they decide to have more children, (their benefits are) going to be capped."
Moving forward: Even with the rape language removed, the bill is likely to stir debate next year.
Groups that advocate for women and impoverished families, such as the Children's Defense Fund, are among those already speaking out in opposition.
Delma Welch represents the York chapter of the National Organization for Women on a state level. She said the organization is "glad the rape is off the table, but we don't like the whole bill."
"Making sure little babies aren't hungry or homeless is what TANF is intended for," she said. "(The bill) is mean-spirited, anti-family, and immoral. What it would do is punish the babies."
And the bill will get a "no" vote from Gillespie's district if his Democratic challenger is elected on Nov. 6.
Sarah Speed, the Democrat, said it's "abhorrent that legislation has been introduced that seeks to penalize children based on the time when they were conceived."
She said legislators should work to prevent abuse of welfare, but the bill would not serve as a deterrent for recipients to have fewer children because the pregnancies are "in many cases, unintended pregnancies."
Speed said she would "never support this legislation," and it's an example of irresponsible inundation of legislation.
She said the amount of legislation is more than "can be competently handled ... (if) they cannot even take the time to read the legislation before it is published."
- Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.