Schuylkill County Republican floats censure of Brian Sims for harassing anti-abortion protesters

State Rep. Brian Sims, D-Philadelphia (screen capture)

Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-Schuykill, is circulating a memo seeking support for a censure resolution against fellow House member Brian Sims, a Democrat from Philadelphia.

Sims made national news after he recorded himself badgering anti-abortion protesters outside a Planned Parenthood clinic near his home. In one video, posted to social media, Sims offered money in exchange for the identities of three teenage demonstrators.

The firebrand lawmaker promised to “do better” in a video posted after the recordings went viral. In an email to supporters, he said he was “truly sorry” for acting in an inappropriate way.

To Knowles, the lack of a public apology to the women in the videos and to the House as an institution is a sticking point.

“I don’t think it’s something we in the Legislature can sit back and allow,” Knowles told the Capital-Star. “I think his behavior was uncalled for.”

A censure typically involves a majority of lawmakers voting to approve a resolution to formally condemn an action. While a censure doesn’t necessarily carry consequences, Knowles’ memo also calls for Sims to be stripped of his committee assignments for the remainder of the session.

While Capitol insiders cannot recall a censure in recent history, House leadership did strip two lawmakers of their committee assignments in the past year — former Reps. Nick Miccarelli and Brian Ellis, both accused of sexual assault. Both lawmakers denied the allegations and have since left the House.

In early May, Republican Majority Leader Bryan Cutler and Democratic Minority Leader Frank Dermody made a rare joint appearance on the House floor to condemn unspecified behavior by lawmakers, asking for the chamber to show more respect for each other.

“There is no room for hate in any form in this chamber or in our own lives,” Cutler, R-Lancaster, said on the floor. “The people of Pennsylvania expect better from us, and we all promised to serve the people of our commonwealth to best of each of our abilities.”

The rebuke followed Sims’ videos, as well as other controversies. Republican first-year Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, of Clinton County, was photographed in May taking a selfie with white nationalists following a Capitol gun rights rally.

But Knowles was adamant that Sims’ actions — and his alone — warranted a strong response.

“Nothing that has been done by any member rises to the level of what this guy did,” Knowles said. “This guy’s behavior was just over the top and he needs to be held accountable.”

He added he had tried to privately request an apology from Sims in an email earlier this month, but never received a response.

Republican leadership last week issued a sternly worded statement calling for Sims to apologize. House Appropriations Chair Stan Saylor, R-York, previously called for an ethics investigation into Sims, while the state party has called for a criminal investigation by law enforcement.

A spokesperson for Cutler did not reply to a request for comment.

In an emailed statement, House Democratic spokesperson Bill Patton pulled no punches, calling the attempt a “pathetic” use of time in the midst of budget season when Knowles could be focusing on health care, education, or workers’ pay.

“But it’s not at all surprising coming from Mr. Knowles because pointless bluster and manufactured outrage have been a hallmark of his years in the House majority with almost no tangible legislative accomplishments,” Patton said.

Patton earlier told the Capital-Star that Sims had privately talked with both Democratic and Republican leadership about the videos.
This isn’t the first talk of censure in the House this year. Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell, a black Muslim woman from Philaelphia, suggested that Borowicz be censured for a rambling prayer she delivered before Johnson-Harrell was sworn in in March. No memo or legislation came from the suggestion.

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