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Child marriage ban gets unanimous support

Political Notebook

After fizzling in the Legislature last session, a bill by state Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford, to ban marriage under age 18 passed the House unanimously last week.

House Bill 360, which would eliminate legal exceptions that let children marry in Pennsylvania, now heads to the Senate.

“This bill serves to protect our youth from being coerced into marriage and potentially exploited,” Topper said in a news release announcing the successful vote. “Human trafficking reaches people of all aspects of life, especially children between the ages of 12 and 14.”

Under current law, those age 16 and 17 can marry with permission from a parent or guardian and with witnesses present. Those under 16 can also marry if a judge determines it is “in the best interest of the applicant.”

Topper and a group of allies in both parties have pushed to change the law, which critics say offers legal cover for abusers and traffickers. While some underage teenagers marry each other, most cases of child marriage involve an older man and a younger girl.

“Children under the age of 18 cannot vote, serve in the military and buy alcohol or tobacco products, among other things,” Topper said. “Marriage is a life-altering decision and those who enter into it must be of a certain maturity that comes with age.”

The House passed the bill Wednesday in 195-0 vote. The victory comes after a prior iteration of the same bill died without a vote.

If the law reaches Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk and gets his signature, it would make Pennsylvania one of a handful of states to ban child marriage outright. Several states have moved toward the policy since Delaware abolished the practice last year.

School dairy push carries on

Rural Pennsylvania’s representatives are continuing a monthslong congressional push for the dairy industry, with Rep. John Joyce, R-13th District, and Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-15th District, joining colleagues to allow flavored 1-percent milk in schools.

In March, the Political Notebook addressed a slate of bills — many backed or cosponsored by local reps — to ramp up milk consumption and boost the industry, which remains a major part of Pennsylvania’s economy. Under President Donald Trump, federal regulators have relaxed some school nutrition rules as rural lawmakers push to reintroduce fattier products like whole milk.

The latest part of that effort, introduced Wednesday, would take 1-percent flavored milk products back into school cafeterias. Recent U.S. Department of Agriculture rules already allow the products, but the bill would put the change into law.

In a news release accompanying the bill, Thompson pointed to declining student milk consumption and said the change would give children access to more nutrients.

“By codifying what USDA is already allowing, it is my hope that we will witness consumption return to their historic levels with kids enjoying nutritious milk at school,” Thompson said of the resolution, which is backed by a collection of dairy industry groups.

Other local bills to boost the industry are moving through the House, although the mostly GOP-sponsored proposals are subject to Democratic committee chairs’ calendars. One by Joyce — which would expand visas for the migrant farm workers who do much of the industry’s work — is awaiting attention in the House Immigration and Citizenship Committee.

Trump allies back

trade fight

The Trump administration and its elected allies in Pennsylvania are highlighting trade battles with Mexico, as the GOP seeks to keep the state red in 2020.

Republicans in rural and industrial areas have made much of the president’s threatened trade war with Mexico, which began with immigration demands but expanded to cover a range of economic issues before a tentative resolution this weekend.

President Donald Trump had threatened to impose tariffs on Mexican imports amid a surge in border crossings, much of it originating in politically volatile Central American nations. His administration blamed Mexico for allowing migrants and asylum seekers to reach the U.S., where many are kept in sprawling camps.

The threats prompted a near-rebellion among congressional Republicans, however, who threatened to override any new tariffs. Analysts and free-trade advocates warned that a major cut in trade with Mexico could do severe damage to both nations’ economies.

Some congressional Republicans, however, expressed support for Trump’s hardline stance to stop migration.

“President Trump’s plan to get tough on Mexico if they do not change their ways has my full support,” Joyce wrote on May 31.

As the fight continued and negotiations with Mexico reached their height, Trump’s allies turned the issue to trade — framing it as part of an anti-free-trade policy that would benefit post-industrial areas.

It’s part of a push by Trump allies to win states like Pennsylvania by attacking existing trade deals and promoting GOP alternatives. In a visit to a York County factory last week, Vice President Mike Pence hailed the yet-to-be-passed USMCA trade agreement with Canada and Mexico.

“The Keystone state exports more than $14 billion in goods & services to Canada and Mexico — and under the USMCA, that number will only grow,” Pence said on Twitter after the Pennsylvania visit.

Trump, too, framed his last-minute immigration deal with the Mexican government as a boon to the U.S. economy.

“Mexico has agreed to immediately begin buying large quantities of agricultural product from our great patriot farmers!” he tweeted, though he did not elaborate.

The trade fight with Mexico could reignite soon, with only a short-term deal in place. But GOP representatives have already backed the president’s claims, even if a wider agreement remains elusive.

“This deal between the United States and Mexico is also a huge victory for farmers in my district,” Joyce said. “We need to further help those farmers by passing USMCA.”

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