Lack of affordable housing is a critical issue in our city. What are your positions on key issues such as a Homes Guarantee, rent control, and increasing the number of affordable housing options?
I agree deeply that a lack of affordable housing in Philadelphia is having a massive, detrimental effect on the city and surrounding region that must be addressed. Philadelphia. There are hundreds of thousands of local families that are unable to make rent or are cost-burdened with rents eating up over one-third of their family income. Simultaneously the national trend of the black-white home ownership gap continues to grow and if Philadelphia wants to thrive in the next decades, we need to take large-scale, systematic steps to create and maintain affordable options for homeowners and renters.
Homes Guarantee is clearly the strongest coordinated effort right now to address the crisis and I’m proud to have taken the Homes Guarantee pledge. Protecting and investing in the rights of all people to have safe, adorable housing is a moral imperative, an economic and financial necessity, and something Philadelphia is uniquely positioned to do aggressively.
One clear choice is rent control, which I fully support. As we watch less and less new construction accommodate multi-family units, while expanding those at price points inaccessible to low-income renters, Philadelphia must enact rent control and I support Councilwoman Brooks’ efforts to bring the issue to Philadelphia City Council. We are a city with some of the longest-term owners and renters in the nation. Unless we fully address the rising prices of rent, we will drive some of Philadelphia’s oldest families from their longtime homes, while simultaneously driving new graduates and young renters into the surrounding suburbs.
Do you believe PA’s current criminal justice system is equitable? Please explain your positions on ending cash bail, mandatory minimum sentencing, PA’s judge selection process, Marsy’s Law, and the death penalty.
No, I have been extremely vocal during my time in the legislature about my belief that Pennsylvania’s Criminal Justice System is far from equitable for several reasons. First, no system built upon the deeply ingrained racism within police forces, district attorneys’ offices, public defenders offices, and the judicial systems of this, or any other state, can be called non-racist simply by the passing of time or simple attrition. In order to “un-do” this racist system, it needs to be dismantled and rebuilt with the better data and diverse systems we know can avoid both the same racist outcomes and the same pitfalls of “self-justification.”
From the glaringly inappropriate use of “neighborhood” data to inform or justify criminal sentences and parole decisions, to the systematically disproportionate arrest rates for black and white Pennsylvanians, no one can pretend that this justice system is equitable. Specifically, regarding cash bail, I believe it is unconstitutional and that it targets poor people to “criminalize” their economic status. Moreover, the state spends billions of dollars each year incarcerating people simply for not being able to pay their bail. The cash bail system is weak morally, wrong constitutionally, and makes poor economic sense.
Similarly, I believe mandatory minimum sentencing has proven to be a system wrought with classicism and racism. Robbing judges of the ability to look to individual circumstances when making sentencing decision is the opposite of the intention and purpose of judicial sentencing. Add to that the Federal sentencing guidelines on issues such as drug sentencing and it’s even clearer that mandatory minimum sentences aren’t about ensuring that justice is handed down, but ensuring that the classist and racist approaches to drug policy at the state and federal level are continued.
Regarding the selection of judge’s, among the first pieces of legislation I introduced was a Merit Selection bill that I had been working on for years prior to joining the legislator. States that have Merit Selection have greater diversity on their benches and have opinions that are more likely to be upheld by appellate courts. The money required to run successful judicial campaigns in Pennsylvania ranges from tens of thousands of dollars in some regions and for some courts, to over $3 million to become a member of the State Supreme Court. Moreover, so much of the money raised to sustain those campaigns comes from firms and attorneys directly impacted by the bench. The optics are wrong. The substance is wrong. And the outcomes are wrong. Merit Selection is necessary to strengthening and improving our judiciary.
Finally, I oppose the death penalty in the strongest terms possible. I believe it to be immoral in policy and entirely Unconstitutional in practice.
Gun violence is a major public health issue. What is your position on gun control and what would you do at the state level to combat our gun violence epidemic, including universal background checks and imposing liability for gun deaths upon manufacturers?
During my time as the Deputy Chair of the House of Representatives’ PA Safe Caucus, it became clear that I join an extremely small, but equally vocal group of legislators who believe that our approach to second amendment rights in Pennsylvania is antiquated and deadly. In short, the utility of the second amendment protections we currently have in place is far, far exceeded by the cost of those protections. There were more gun deaths in Pennsylvania last year than in the entire nation of Germany, almost twice as many, and that’s as much a crisis of access and it is a crisis of approach.
There are a number of key ways to curb gun violence in Pennsylvania, although the most impactful would be to remove the state’s sole control of gun legislation and allow municipalities to use their own data to address the weapons used in local crimes. Aside from that change, which I fully support, I’ve introduced legislation to treat ammunition the way we would in a state that actually regulates weapons. We are the Wild West when it comes to ammunition, with virtually no important restrictions, and my legislation would require ammunition to be bought and sold by licensed dealers with appropriate documentation and licensing by buyers.
I have strongly supported and worked for Universal Background checks every single term I’ve been in the legislature and will continue to do so until we are successful. Pennsylvanians and Philadelphians want universal background checks and we know they are effective at curbing gun violence. Similarly, I fully support imposing liability for gun deaths on manufacturers. I believe it is both morally and legally appropriate as well as a creative way to ensure that those responsible for gun deaths are actually held responsible, and that those that empower them are required to address their own responsibility.
How do you plan to tackle the opioid crisis across the city and state? Do you support safe injection sites, such as the one proposed for Kensington?
The opioid crisis in Philadelphia is an even deadlier epidemic than our gun violence crisis and similarly, our past responses don’t seem designed to actually reduce overall opioid use and addiction, but to address some communities while ignoring others. I remain hopeful that the Mayor’s efforts to educate both the public, and the medical community, about the overuse of opiates and opioid addiction will reduce opioid prescriptions. Similarly, I believe that Gov. Wolf’s Opioid Addiction Disaster Declaration helped to galvanize state resources to push back against over-prescription at the Commonwealths health care systems and providers.
So much more needs to be done. Safe Injection sites have proven to be a successful option at reducing infectious disease rates and spreading treatment information to people and communities struggling with addiction. I am part of a coalition of activists and advocates from across the Commonwealth that is working to bring safe injection sites to the entire state and am excited for the support of the Pennsylvania Secretary of Health.
Employment was a major issue for Pennsylvanians in 2016 and will be again in 2020. What are your stances on paid family leave, increasing unionization of workers, and reducing poverty in general? What do you see as the cause of Philadelphia’s high poverty rate and will you do at the state level to address this?
There are over 35,000 unemployed Philadelphians and the Commonwealth ranks among the states with the highest unemployment rates in the nation. Add to these terrible statistics the fact that Philadelphia is the nation’s poorest large city and the extent to which unemployment and poverty have impacted the region are disturbing but obvious. The reasons vary from the gerrymandered control of largely anti-urban legislature, and the historically racist incarceration rates, to short-sighted approaches that have populated prisons, not workforces.
Supporting family leave has been easy as a legislator and I have supported this legislation every term I have served. Similarly, the rights of all Americans, especially the nation’s workforce, to unionize and speak with a collective voice is something that I believe is fundamental under our laws and proven in our history. The larger efforts to combat poverty that I will continue to support range from working with private and semi-private organizations around the Philadelphia region working to fund education and vocational programs, to working with the Department of Health, the Department of Human Services, and City agencies to increase Medicaid and Medicare enrollment.
There is a national push for states to adopt the gig-work law that was recently passed in CA as AB5, which allows employers to apply for exemptions to recognizing basic employee rights for gig workers. Do you support this law, and if so, how will you navigate the fallout for the many workers who need and want flexible careers and schedules (writers, musicians, photographers, etc.)?
I do not support this law in its California form but see important lessons we can learn from and apply here in the Commonwealth. I understand that the purpose of the law was to directly address the “contractor” status that personal transportation companies such as Lyft and Uber were assigning to many of their drivers in order to avoid protections they would receive as “employees.” While it was an extremely wide-reaching law, I understand that it did allow for carveouts in certain medical and legal fields.
I’d like to approach this law in the opposite way and address the issue of personal transportation companies trying to avoid worker’s rights. If what’s learned from making this change is that additional fields such as food delivery services need to be included, the law can be expanded or amended. I believe that to approach this change in law otherwise would both alienate individuals who are seeking contractor status, but also, as pointed out, have an extremely negative impact on several professions which are critical to Philadelphia’s identity, such as the visual arts, music, and literature.
Our schools in Philadelphia are environmentally unsafe, with toxic levels of lead and asbestos. What is your plan to ensure that students have a safe place to learn? How will you ensure the Board of Education is held accountable in their spending on and effectiveness in addressing this issue?
My District has been devastated by the diagnosis of a one of our teachers with Mesothelioma and the closing of four different schools because of entirely unsafe conditions. I was among the original legislators to join the Fund Our Facilities Coalition and have joined with other legislators, unions, and teachers to demand that our crumbling schools be treated as the Emergency that they are. In that time, I’ve called on Gov. Wolf to increase funding and worked with the Governor and my colleagues to secure nearly $1 Billion dollars to remediate the conditions caused by mold, asbestos, and lead.
I have toured every single school closed in my District, and visited several others, to meet with teachers, students, and administrators to learn directly from them about what steps need to be taken next. Similarly, I’ve worked with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, advocates, and structural engineers to directly call for massive emergency funds to begin to remediate the severe asbestos problem. While it’s been estimated that it will cost multiple billions of dollars to fully restore and/or update all 249 Philadelphia schools to a condition befitting a 21st century city, I believe that emergency funds should be pulled from the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development Fund, as well as from a revision to the state’s Corporate Net Income Tax and a the enactment of a Severance Tax on fracking in the Commonwealth.
Finally, I have facilitated multiple meetings between the 23 schools I represent, and the administration at the Board of Education, including directly with Superintendent Hite himself. I continue to believe that the strongest way to ensure that the Board of Education is held accountable is regular auditing by the Office of the Controller and the Mayor’s Office, as well as regular reports to the Philadelphia House & Senate Delegations with both input and direct accountability.
The PA Fair Funding Formula still does not address the vast inequities in funding and therefore quality of educational experience between districts. Once in Harrisburg, how would you create more equitable educational opportunities statewide, and how would you address this problem particularly for Philadelphia students? Include your position on charter school funding.
While many of my constituents know that I joined the legislature with a strong focus on civil rights and reproductive rights, the crisis around education funding & facilities funding has become one of the primary focuses of my office. From first standing up to the large-scale education funding cuts under Governor Corbett, to transitioning to working with Governor Wolf’s administration to increase funding for pre-K and basic education, I have spent my time in office working on education funding and policy.
Specifically, regarding the PA Fair Funding Formula, it is easy to know that nothing about it is fair. Pennsylvania went from being one of the handful of states without a Fair Funding formula, to spending millions of dollars to create a funding formula sat unutilized, to finally implementing it but only for new funding, built on top of the previous inequitable funding. Is there any surprise that we have the most disparate funding between school districts with resources and those without? The Fair Funding Formula must be applied to all funding.
Finally, I believe that Pennsylvania’s experiment with Charter Schools has largely been a favor. At no point has the current system lived up to the promises of providing more flexibility for new schools to be innovative with education while helping to build Best Practices for the Commonwealth public schools as they navigated a 21st century educational environment. Moreover, recent studies have confirmed that except for specific schools, the overall education provided at Charter Schools does not exceed that provided at traditional public schools and that the cyber school experience is especially susceptible to poor testing results. For these reasons and more, I support Gov. Wolf’s most recent proposal to change funding and accountability rules.
Once in Harrisburg, what will you do to protect a woman’s right to choose and ensure that adequate reproductive healthcare remains accessible in PA?
Support for Women’s and Reproductive Rights has been a hallmark of my career as a legislator. Before my overly aggressive behavior to defend what I believed was a racist and ageist attack on my local Planned Parenthood, I had served as a patient escort for nearly 9 years. During that time, I have introduced multiple pieces of legislation to protect reproductive rights and have fought back at every turn against our conservative legislature’s attempts to limit a woman’s right to choose.
Early in public office, I received NARAL’s National “Champion of Choice” Award for my work in the State House to defend women’s reproductive rights and I have worked closely with Planned Parenthood and have received their PAC endorsement in previous elections as well as the endorsement of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Organization of Women. I strongly opposed and voted against HB 818 which banned state insurance plans setup under the ACA from offering abortion coverage.
Similarly, I have strongly opposed the 21-week abortion ban proposed in the Commonwealth and the abortion restrictions regarding Down Syndrome. These laws are absolutely abhorrent, and I believe them to be an unconstitutional infringement on the right to have an abortion. In the wake of Roe v. Wade, then Governor Casey put in place several similar restrictions designed to provoke shame, humiliation and embarrassment on women seeking an abortion, fundamentally denying women the right to abortion access. The Supreme Court found many of these restrictions to unconstitutionally limit a woman’s rights and I believe that these new bills are unconstitutional for the same reason.
These laws are gross, but also illegal, and I will continue to pursue legislation to remove those that pass, block those in consideration, and to aid in any legal challenges that they face.
As of today, Maryland is threatening to sue PA for its failure to address water quality concerns, infrastructure funding is limited, state legislatures across the Commonwealth are encouraging renegade municipalities to ignore state regulation on water pollution, and the EPA is allowing cities like Pittsburgh to roll back their clean water policies. How would you balance clean water goals and equity concerns? Would you be willing to support the position of the Republican MD governor on clean water in PA?
I do support the Governor of Maryland’s lawsuit against the Commonwealth and against the EPA. First, the Commonwealth partnered with the State of Maryland over a decade ago to begin to craft a plan under which we could both support efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, a moral imperative, and a test of our shared responsibility for its decline. Aided by the Obama Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency, the agreements under which we would share this responsibility were clear. Since then, we have failed to live up to our responsibilities and the Trump EPA has failed to enforce our commitments.
Our state Constitution mandates that conservation of our natural resources and yet for nearly 20 years, funding for the Department of Environmental Protection has been cut nearly in half. I fully support the restoration of DEP’s funding, as well as to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, to their levels even a decade ago.
Many of the largest unions have opposed the Green New Deal. How would you tackle that issue between environmental and labor communities?
While there have been concerns expressed, and even direct opposition by some Unions to the Green New Deal, the actual principles which is lays out are exceedingly pro-labor and supportive of worker’s rights. My hope, and my policy objective, is to work with Philadelphia’s strong unions to find in any Green New Deal that could be successful in the Commonwealth, policies that are especially supportive of labor and their critical role in the clean, green economy of Philadelphia’s future. The rights of labor, and the environmental demands we must finally adhere to are not mutually exclusive. My answer to the question below about the jobs lost to a potential fracking ban explores this in greater detail.
Do you support a ban on fracking in PA? If so, what is your solution for income loss and immediate job opportunities for 609,00 people that a fracking ban would create in Western, PA?
Yes, I believe that fracking should be banned. Until that time, I fully support and have worked towards the enactment to a severance tax to ensure that the cost of the inevitable ecological and environmental damage caused by fracking is insured against and that the value of resources that belong to Pennsylvanians are sufficiently paid for.
When fracking is banned, I believe that the blue collar, working-class nature of Pennsylvania makes up perhaps the most appropriately geared state in the nation to transition those workers employed directly or indirectly by the industry to expanded transportation jobs, green manufacturing jobs, and especially the technological jobs required of a successful state economy in the modern era.
The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), as well as the Penn State University system, and the numerous trade and community colleges across the Commonwealth, are currently facing drops in enrollment, and large-scale changes in how students pursue degrees and careers. These institutions are already looking to the jobs of the future and I believe with appropriate support and pressure from the legislature, would be ideal to train former Fracking professionals.
Given our minority status and political dynamics in the PA state houses, how have you or will you work to advance your agenda and pass legislation? In the past, how have you made progress with those you did not align with politically?
Operating as a Progressive, urban, minority legislator in a gerrymandered state is among the most complicated challenges of my career. Some days, the partisanship that divides us is extremely substantive, ranging from issues of children in cages and healthcare for poor children, to the civil rights of hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ people. Other times, the partisanship is petty and unnecessary.
When I’m best able to walk the line of bipartisanship in this gerrymandered environment, it has often been on issues of economics, child safety, and equal pay. I’ve found over the years that these issues especially allow for the types of conversations, and hopefully collaborations, that remind me of non-gerrymandered legislatures. Combine this approach with the general professional friendships you form with colleagues and I’ve been grateful to have bipartisan support for so much of the work I do.
What measures would you take to protect immigrant communities in Philadelphia and throughout the state? Would you propose legislation stipulating that family separation is an “extreme hardship”?
During the last legislative cycle, the General Assembly’s attack on immigrant communities, and specifically those in Philadelphia was extremely aggressive and culminated in Rep. Martina White’s anti-sanctuary city bill. During the debate on this bill, I aggressively challenged the maker of the bill on what I see as a xenophobic and racist attack on immigrants, and especially immigrants of color. During the debate I was eventually silenced by the Speaker of the House for fighting back as hard as I was and the maneuver backfired as more of my colleagues rose to challenge the maker of the bill after I’d been stopped from doing so.
At the time, and continuously since then, I reminded my colleagues on both sides of the aisle that Philadelphia is responsible for contributing nearly 1/3rd of the state’s nearly $35 Billion-dollar discretionary budget. The Bill was designed to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in law enforcement and public safety dollars from the city. I believe then, as I do now, that had it been enforced, Philadelphia should have taken our $13 Billion in state taxes and placed them into an escrow account which would generate far in excess of what we receive back from the state.
Additionally, I was a part of a delegation that demanded not only the closure of the Berks County Detention Center but was finally granted access to it. Our tour of the facility, and subsequent conversations with those at the facility only helped us to redouble our belief that the Center must be closed.
As for family-protecting legislation, I’m proud to co-sponsor of a number of pieces of legislation proposed by the various progressive and/or family oriented caucuses in the House and will continue to do so, including support legislation to stipulate that family separation is an “extreme hardship.”
Do you support the E-verify law? Please explain your position. What will you do to protect our immigrant and undocumented population’s ability to support themselves and their families?
I don’t support the E-verify law because I think it targets immigrants and entirely ignores the fact that so much of Philadelphia, and the surrounding suburban regions, owe their population growth to immigrant workers and families. I believe that everyone deserves the right to protect their family, to seek a better life, and to earn a family-sustaining living. I also believe that attacks on immigrants, especially the vilification of black and brown immigrants, has little to do with economic security, and much more to do with racism and xenophobia.
I will continue to fight back against anti-sanctuary city bills, and I’ll continue to support legislation, both vocally and with my votes, that recognizes that our city, our state, and our Nation were built with immigrants at virtually every stage, and our future as a diverse and inclusive nation depends on our ability to protect, respect, and support immigrants and their families.
Do you believe that our current economic system works for everyone or that it could be improved upon to ensure quality of life for all Pennsylvanians?
I think it’s impossible to look at the wealth surrounding Philadelphia, and unique pockets within the city, at the same time knowing that we are the nation’s poorest large city and still believe that our economic system is working for everyone. Similarly, simple mismanagement cannot account for the massive disparity between Philadelphian’s who have resources, and those for whom resources have been denied or made nearly impossible to acquire. In short, the proof is in the numbers. Issues of Equity versus Equality, institutional racism, xenophobia, and aggressive unchecked capitalism are all prescient examples of the kinds of problems we face and ask questions about the solutions needed to address them.
What reforms would you propose to PA’s current tax code? How, if at all, would you improve PA’s inheritance tax?
I would immediately replace the Commonwealth’s Corporate Net Income Tax with a Commercial Activity Tax and I think doing so would have an extremely large-scale impact on the state’s budget, property taxes, and education funding. The Commonwealth currently has a corporate net incomes tax of 9.99% which is among the highest in the nation. The problem is that a vast majority of Pennsylvania’s business aren’t paying this tax because they have been able to avoid doing so because of tax loopholes that allow them to only pay certain taxes in the state where they’re headquartered, or manufacturing facilities are located. As a result, only those business too small to have offices elsewhere, or too committed to Pennsylvania as a headquarters, are paying their full and fair taxes.
To remedy this, I would immediately switch to t a corporate activity tax which actually taxes all companies operating within the Commonwealth for the economic impact of that action. Doing so would not only bring all companies doing business within the Commonwealth fully into our tax structure, but by doing so we could greatly reduce the tax from nearly 10% to as little as 3.9% if we wanted to remain revenue neutral. Instead, I would set the tax level at between 5-6% which is still in line with national averages but generates enough tax revenue to close the state’s budget gap, place a property tax freeze on all seniors, and better fund our schools.
Regarding the state’s inheritance tax, there are several key reforms that I think would help better avoid tax loopholes. For example, I would require that assets owned by the decadent outside of the Commonwealth be evaluated for tax purposes as well. Currently, investing in property and assets outside of the state is way that taxpayers avoid paying appropriate taxes on assets owned by a PA decedent. I would also extend the 5% discount offered to estates that pay the full inheritance tax to one year, up from 3 months.
Election security is a major national and state concern. Philadelphia recently spent $29M on new voting machines. What is your position on the legality and propriety of Philadelphia’s recent voting machine selection process? Do you think Philadelphia should keep or replace the new machines? Please explain your position.
Updating, improving, and protecting the security of our elections is a priority that I share and have worked aggressively towards. As soon as Philadelphia selected the ExpressVote XL voting system I began to meet advocates and activists who support different and stricter systems, the Secretary of State and her elections team, and numerous colleagues to begin to address concerns that many of us share. By June of last year I reached out formally to the Secretary of State to express the most serious concerns, ranging from the reliability of the system’s “paper trail,” to concerns about ballots being printed again after verification, and fears about an untested system.
Following subsequent discussions with the Secretary, I then reached out to ask Rep. Dwight Evans to meet with local advocates in light of the federal implications of ExpressVote XL machines could have. Finally, following last November’s elections, I joined in formal calls on Governor Wolf to review the cost of the machines, their ability to meet the needs of folks with disabilities, the privacy and verification concerns they raise, the procurement process report by the City Controller, the ongoing threat of Russian and other foreign governments interference in our elections, and the problems the machines encountered on election day in Northampton and Philadelphia counties. These machines clearly have issues that demand attention and I’m working in all the ways I know to address those issues before the next election.
Please include a short bio with the following: your job experience, your major endorsements and achievements, your reasons for running, why you think you are well-positioned to represent your community, the top three policy issues you care about, and what you will do in your first 100 days in office – if elected or re-elected.
State Representative Brian K. Sims is a policy attorney and civil rights advocate from Center City Philadelphia. The former staff counsel for policy and planning at the Philadelphia Bar Association, he has served as both the president of the board of directors of Equality Pennsylvania and as chairman of the Gay and Lesbian Lawyers of Philadelphia (GALLOP). He also has extensive experience as a lecturer on issues ranging from women’s and reproductive rights to LGBTQ+ equality.
In 2012, Sims Became the first openly LGBTQ person ever elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly and has dedicated his time in office to making Philadelphia safer, strengthening and protecting public education, preserving services for seniors and other vulnerable Pennsylvanians, making affordable health care more available, expanding civil rights for all Pennsylvanians, preserving our environment while investing in alternative energy, creating jobs and cleaning up Harrisburg.
He has introduced key legislation ranging from the Pennsylvania Marriage Equality Act, and the Pennsylvania Equal Pay Act, to Merit Selection legislation. Brian serves as the Chair of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) Caucus and of the Pennsylvania Equality Caucus and currently serves as the Minority Chair of the Mental Health Subcommittee of the House Human Services Committee.
Under the Wolf administration, Rep. Sims ranks 4th among all 253 Members of the House of Representatives for the amount of grant dollars he has helped bring to Center City, totaling more than $33 million dollars for projects ranging from safety and accessibility improvements to the expansion of medical & research facilities, and arts and entertainment organizations.
As a state legislator, he is honored to represent the neighborhoods of Pennsylvania’s 182nd District, which includes part or all of: Rittenhouse, Fitler Square, Logan Square, Midtown/Gayborhood, Washington Square West, Bella Vista, Hawthorne, Fairmount, Queen Village, East Passyunk, Spring Garden and Market East.
If re-elected, in the first 100 days I will reintroduce the Pennsylvania Equal Pay Act and the Pennsylvania Marriage equality Act, and I will partner with a Republican colleague to pursue legislation to Ban Conversion Abuse.