Sneha Girap (Editor)

Mark B Cohen

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Preceded by
  
Eugene Gelfand

Profession
  
attorney

Party
  
Democratic Party

Preceded by
  
Ivan Itkin

Name
  
Mark Cohen

Residence
  
Castor Garden

Political party
  
Democratic Party

Role
  
Politician

Succeeded by
  
Ivan Itkin

Children
  
Amanda Cohen

Spouse
  
Mona Cohen


Mark B. Cohen wwwpjvoicecomv20imagesCohenjpg

Born
  
June 4, 1949 (age 74) New York City, New York (
1949-06-04
)

Alma mater
  
University of Pennsylvania, Lebanon Valley College, Widener University School of Law

Education
  
Widener University School of Law, Lebanon Valley College, Widener University, University of Pennsylvania

Representative mark b cohen pa hb 1393 medical marijuana hearings


Mark B. Cohen (born June 4, 1949) is a Democratic politician from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He represented District 202 in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from June 10, 1974, until 2017, when he lost a primary election to Jared Solomon. On May 16, 2017, Cohen was nominated in the Democratic Primary as a Judge on the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia.

Contents

Early life and education

He was born in New York City the oldest child of Florence and David Cohen.

Cohen attended Central High School of Philadelphia, graduating in 1966, after participating in two projects of the Northern Student Movement: the Philadelphia Tutorial Project and Books for Mississippi, including tutoring "poverty-stricken kids" in North Philadelphia at the Clara Baldwin House, and a student Political Union. A letter he sent on behalf of the Political Union on September 25, 1965 to Martin Luther King, Jr., inviting King to speak at Central High School (Philadelphia)

As a high school student, at age 15, he attended the 1964 Democratic National Convention.

Cohen enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania, where he served as a features writer for The Daily Pennsylvanian an officer of the Penn affiliate of the College Democrats of America, a member of the International Affairs Association, a contributor to the Distant Drummer, an internship for Congressman William J. Green, III and Senator Joseph S. Clark,

Cohen was one of the first group of 14 undergraduate students to serve on the University Council, an advisory body to President Gaylord P. Harnwell. As a member of the University Council, Cohen offered an amendment to a resolution opposing the War in Vietnam linking it to academic freedom and freedom of speech, which was defeated. Cohen graduated in 1970 with a degree in political science and served as an aide to Milton Shapp's gubernatorial campaign after briefly working for the School District of Philadelphia.

Cohen earned a law degree from the Harrisburg campus of the Widener University School of Law in 1993 and an M.B.A. from Lebanon Valley College in 2000. As an active member of the Pennsylvania Bar, he is qualified in the practice of law in Pennsylvania. He is admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the United States District Courts for Pennsylvania, the United States Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, and the US Supreme Court.

Pennsylvania House

Cohen was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in a special election on May 21, 1974. He was 24 years old. He was officially nominated for the special election as the Democratic nominee for the vacant House seat by the executive committee of the Democratic State Committee. He was endorsed by the Philadelphia Daily News columnist Chuck Stone on May 20, 1974 in his "Page 10" column.

He was soon assigned by Democratic Leader Herbert Fineman to the House Bipartisan Committee To Study Situations and Circumstances of Victims of Rape, chaired by Rep. Richard McClachey. In 1975, Cohen voted for House Bill 580, which restructured "the law of rape so that evidence of a victim's prior sexual conduct was irrelevant" in order that rape no longer be "the only offense in this state where the victim has to establish her own good conduct. The reason for that is that it is irrelevant in establishing whether this person was or was not raped."

Fineman later appointed him as Secretary of the State Government Committee and as Chairman of the Public Utility Subcommittee of the Consumer Protection Committee. Cohen was then appointed to the Special Committee to Investigate the Three Mile Island accident at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station by Democratic (Minority) Leader K. Leroy Irvis. On December 19, 2012, Democratic Leader Frank Dermody and House Speaker Samuel H. Smith (politician) announced his appointment for the 2013-2014 legislative session as Democratic Chairman of the Pennsylvania House State Government Committee.

As a member of the Consumer Protection Committee in 1975-1976, and as the Vice-Chairman and Chairman of the Public Utilities Subcommittee of the name-changed Consumer Affairs Committee in 1977-1978, both led by "Mr. Consumer," C.L. Schmitt, Cohen helped enact a vigorous pro-consumer agenda. Calling Pennsylvania's retail fair trade law—which allowed manufactures to set a minimum price for the sale of a product--"a noble experiment that has failed," Cohen was the prime sponsor of legislation to repeal it, with an exception for cigarettes.

On January 28, 1975, he co-sponsored a bill establishing a consumer advocate to argue for public interests before the Public Utility Commission of Pennsylvania, the Milk Marketing Board, and the Insurance commissioner. The bill quickly passed the House and went to the Senate Committee on Consumer Affairs. There the bill was limited to the Public Utility Commission of Pennsylvania, sent back to the House, rewritten by a conference committee, and finally enacted. Writing in 2010, the Chair of the Senate Consumer Affairs Committee in 1975, Franklin L. Kury, called the legislative creation of the consumer advocate "the single most important step" in improving the PUC.

To deal with plant closings, a major threat to Pennsylvania workers, Cohen, following the enactments of the states of Maine and Wisconsin in 1971 and 1976 respectively, introduced state legislation similar to and foreshadowing the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. Cohen's 1977 bill provided for 75 days advance notice for plant closings. In May, 1979, he introduced House Bill 1251, the more comprehensive Employee Protection and Community Stabilization Act. His legislation and a vigorous citizen/labor/clergy campaign led by the Delaware Valley Coalition for Jobs (DVCJ) helped lead to enactment of 60 day advance notice plant closing legislation by the City of Philadelphia, which, in turn, helped inspire the federal 60 day advance notice requirement enacted in 1988.

Cohen supported the Homeowners Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (HEMAP), enacted in 1983 as the Pennsylvania Foreclosure Prevention Act, which ultimately gave delayed interest payment loans to 45,000 families to keep them from being foreclosed. He voted for it, as House Bill 500, on June 29, 1983, after joining with others to vote down a series of weakening amendments. He then supported the bill—with the language it was amended in the Senate—on December 14, 1983. It was approved by Governor Richard Thornburgh on December 23, 1983. In a June 30, 2009 press release calling for a $20 million annual HEMAP appropriation, he said that, since its inception, $211 million was appropriated to HEMAP, and $238 million has been repaid. On November 3, 2011, speaking at a prayer vigil in front of Governor Tom Corbett's Philadelphia office building in support of emergency HEMAP funding, he said the program generated "more money paid back, including interest, than money appropriated, so it really doesn't cost very much."

He actively opposed legislation regulating the operation of an adjustable-rate mortgage that did not place any cap on upward rate adjustments caused by higher inflation.

As a member of the Philadelphia delegation in the House, he actively opposed —and helped kill— mayoral proposals to raise the Philadelphia wage tax in the middle of the fiscal year in the mid-1970s and early 1980s, saying, for example, that a 1976 mid-year wage tax increase "will only encourage the enormous amount of waste in the Philadelphia city government."

He supported legislation that made ward realignments in Philadelphia so much more difficult that none have occurred since, by requiring any ward realignment plan approved by the Common Pleas Court to be sent to the Philadelphia City Council for consideration and placement on the ballot.

He voted to make the office of Attorney General an elected office.

As a member of the House Appropriations Committee in 1981, he interrogated Secretary of Health and Welfare Helen O'Bannon on the extent of the legislature's duty to follow an order by Federal Judge Raymond J. Broderick to appropriate $900,000 for a special master in the long-running Halderman v. Pennhurst State School and Hospital litigation. His questions and her answers were cited by both Judge Broderick and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals as part of her obstruction of his order, leading her and the Department of Public Welfare to be held in contempt of court, and the Office of the Special Master (in charge of the deinstitutionalization of Pennhurst patients who could be better treated in community settings) to be funded. Ultimately, with Cohen's support, deinstitutionalization led to the closing of all but six of the more than 20 Pennsylvania State Hospitals, and hundreds of millions of dollars were saved each year.

Cohen was the only House Democrat to join most House Republicans in opposing allowing an objectionable appropriation of $150,000 to the office of Republican Pennsylvania General Counsel Jay Waldman to delay the payment of checks to 80,000 welfare recipients.

In the 2013-2014 legislative session he has sponsored over 1,460 bills and resolutions, more than any other House member.

Cohen's House-passed legislation requiring state purchasing preference for American manufactured products of similar price, value and usefulness was quickly hailed by Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Richard Bloomingdale as a "very important boost to American Manufacturing as well as Pennsylvania Manufacturing and the working people employed in the Manufacturing sector ... We encourage the State Senate to pass this legislation, to put Pennsylvania and America back to work."

Non-controversial resolutions which Cohen introduced that passed the House unanimously included House Resolution 47, recognizing Asian Pacific American Heritage Month; House Resolution 153, recognizing Jewish American Heritage Month; House Resolution 347, recognizing the 100th Anniversary of the Julia Ward Howe School; House Resolution 458, recognizing National Voter Registration Day; House Resolution 512, recognizing National Disability Employment Awareness Month, House Resolution 551, recognizing National Memory Screening Day, and House Resolution 569, recognizing the 75th Anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, a key event in the genocide of the Jewish people by Nazi Germany.

House Labor Relations Committee

As a result of appointments by Speakers K. Leroy Irvis and James J. Manderino in the 1980s, Cohen served as Chairman of the House Labor Relations Committee from 1983 to 1990, where he focused on increasing the minimum wage and protecting worker's compensation benefits. His initial appointment in 1983 was seen by the Philadelphia Inquirer as one of a number of signs that the Philadelphia delegation "apparently is regaining significant influence in the General Assembly as the 1983-1984 session begins."

Cohen's amendment to the whistleblower bill, passed the House and Senate, and was one of the more extensive in the nation, covering private sector employees reporting "waste" and "wrongdoing" as well as public sector employees reporting "waste" and "wrongdoing," terms that "are very carefully defined in the statute."

Cohen began his Labor Relations Committee Chairmanship by participating in public and private negotiations aimed at finding a solution to ensure solvency in Pennsylvania's unemployment compensation fund in order to preserve unemployment benefits.

His longterm efforts to raise Pennsylvania's minimum wage in accordance with rises in inflation, coupled with aggressive statewide organizing led by the Philadelphia Unemployment Project and Pennsylvania labor unions, helped lead to minimum wage increase bill signings by Governors Robert P. Casey in 1988 and Edward G. Rendell in 2006. The Pennsylvania minimum wage increases were part of a nationwide effort among state legislators which he helped organize. From the beginning of his efforts, he saw raising the minimum wage to match inflation as a longterm process, saying after the initial minimum wage increase, "We will come back next time and fight vigorously." His advocacy for increased minimum wages continued after the 2006 increase, too. In 2013, he introduced legislation seeking a minimum wage of $9 an hour.

His efforts as Chairman of the House Labor Relations Committee won him an award from the Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce and the enthusiastic praise of the President of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO.

A supporter of equal pay for equal work and equal pay for women, he supported a proposed bill seeking to raise the salaries of people in largely female occupations that was initiated by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, but was stymied when it yielded to political pressures and came out in opposition to its own bill.

He served as a member of the House Select Committee on Farm Labor, investigating the plight of the farm laborer in Pennsylvania, chaired by Rep. James J. A. Gallagher, and worked to enforce the 1978 Seasonal Farm Labor Act. Upon listening to testimony from farm workers, he said "I was really shocked" the state government has shown "a lack of vigor and compassion" in the protection of farm laborers. He sought farmworker justice, seeking to fully enforce state laws protecting each farmworker. Years later, he would continue to press for increased legal help for farmworkers. Decades later, he would serve as a member of the Honorary Committee for the Friends of Farmworkers 30th Anniversary Celebration.

A May, 1986 Labor Relations Committee study of the length of time it took injured workers to get worker's compensation benefits, conducted under Cohen's direction, found that it took disabled workers an average of 10 months to get a decision on their eligibility. "it's much too long," he said. "The current system does little to create pressure for better safety practices, and lessens workers' respect for employers." Cohen sought remedial legislation to deal with workers compensation problems. The Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce offered its own reform program. Ultimately, elements of both plans took effect.

He held hearings on problems related to drug testing, and introduced legislation "requiring companies using drug testing to offer employee assistance programs (EAP), more rigorous confirmation tests and opportunities for workers to reform themselves." An essay he and Eric Fillman wrote in support of such legislation for State Government News was reprinted in two anthology textbooks on business ethics by professors at DePaul University as well as the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University and cited in a two others by professors at Salisbury University. Cohen and Fillman wrote the Counterpoint to the question "Is Employee Drug Testing the Answer?" In addition to describing and advocating Cohen's legislation, they wrote "The ultimate goal of employers should be to prevent further drug use, not to reinforce its abuse by adding reasons for an employee to turn to drugs, such as the loss of a job. Firing otherwise productive workers on the basis of drug tests is not a satisfactory answer to the problems of drug abuse in the workplace."

He stopped the reporting out of legislation hostile to the goals of the Pennsylvania labor movement.

Urging support of a higher minimum wage, he spoke at a quickly called Labor Day rally after a period of time in which the average Philadelphia labor leader had stopped hosting Labor Day events due to member disinterest. This rally marked the long-term resumption of Tri-State Labor Day events in Philadelphia. He has continued to participate in Labor Day events.

Due to the retirements of his Democratic successors as Labor Relations Committee Chairman Fred Belardi, Frank Pistella, and Robert Belfanti, Cohen is the only member of the House Democratic Caucus in the 2013-2014 legislative session with the experience of having been Majority Chairman of the House Labor Relations Committee.

Human Services Committee

He was appointed by Democratic Leader Frank Dermody as Democratic (Minority) Chair of the "key" Human Services Committee in December, 2010, where he worked closely with Republican (Majority) Chair Gene DiGirolamo. One of the DiGirolamo-Cohen bills sought to enact tougher regulation of for-profit methadone clinics. Cohen opposed the opening of for-profit methadone clinics near his legislative district. A second DiGirolamo-Cohen bill establishes the Pharmaceutical Accountability Monitoring System in order to detect pharmaceutical drug abuse and substance use disorders by people with addiction to them.

Both Cohen and DiGirolamo worked to see that human services programs were adequately funded in a period of budget cutting. Both actively participated in the Department of Public Welfare's Appropriations Committee Budget Hearing. The Chairman of the House Democratic Policy Committee hailed Cohen as "a longtime advocate of human services programs and a leader to restore funding in this year's spending plan."

DiGiralamo and Cohen held a hearing on House Bill 272 to ease treatments of Lyme Disease, of which Cohen was a co-sponsor. The chances of enacting this legislation were limited by the opposition of the Medical Society of the State of Pennsylvania due to its concerns about antibiotic resistance and the legislation's (1) guaranteeing of insurance company reimbursement of long-term use of antibiotic prescriptions and (2) requiring a high level of representation for the International Lyme And Associated Diseases Society on the newly created task force on Lyme disease and related diseases.

Both DiGirolamo and Cohen publicly opposed Governor Tom Corbett's refusal to start up the newly established Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs as required by a law they had both actively supported, of which DiGirolamo was prime sponsor. On November 1, 2011, they held a public hearing in Harrisburg in which they both confronted Corbett Administration anti-Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs advocates. Cohen said the governor was under pressure from insurance companies not wanting to cover drug and alocohol programs in their policies and existing bureaucrats locked in a "turf war," which the governor's office "flatly denied."

Appointments by recent speakers

By appointment of current House Speaker Samuel H. Smith, he also continues his service on the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, where he has served since his Fall 1995 appointment by House Speaker Matthew J. Ryan. He is currently the most senior member of the Council.

He was a member of Speaker of the House Dennis M. O'Brien's Commission on Legislative Reform, and of work groups of his Speaker's Symposium on Crime and Violence. He was one of Speaker O'Brien's Speakers pro tempore. O'Brien also appointed him to the Executive Committee of the Council of State Governments.

Political positions

Despite his opposition to some mayoral proposals over the years, Cohen was endorsed for renomination in the April 24, 2012 Democratic primary by incumbent Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, former Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street, and former Philadelphia Mayor and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, among others.

As Democratic House Majority Caucus Chairman in 1992, Cohen was one of the people with the ability to put a bill establishing a state authority to run the Philadelphia Airport "on the front burner" of the House, but he did not do so. A strong ally of the labor movement and a strong supporter of residency requirements even when opposed by a labor union, Cohen was one of the least likely legislators to be converted to a plan endangering existing jobs and reducing the number of Philadelphians likely to be hired in the future. He endured petty harassment from Rendell's chief of staff and his biographer.

When Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter proposed eliminating 11 branch libraries in 2008, Cohen strongly opposed the branch library eliminations. Two of the proposed library closings were in his legislative district. His public opposition began within days of Mayor Nutter's announcement. He called it "outrageous and deeply wrong" to cut libraries for lower-income people. "Cutting the services of low-income people in order to cut taxes for high-income people ... is indefensible," he said, noting that the city's wealthiest neighborhoods had been untouched in planned library closures. Ultimately, none of the branch libraries were shut down.

Public health

Cohen supported the legislative efforts to greatly reduce public exposure to second-hand smoke, and potential for damages from it, supporting both the legislation banning much smoking in restaurants that was enacted in 2008 and the more comprehensive ban previously proposed.

He was the sponsor and part author of a chemical right to know bill signed into law by Governor Richard Thornburgh.

Cohen helped expose the selling of tainted meat to McDonald's and testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Livestock and Poultry that U.S. food safetylaws should be strengthened.

He is a supporter of mandated mental health coverage in all health care policies.

He sought state funds to replace eliminated federal funds to protect the health of migrant farm workers.

He opposed legal changes taking away benefits from injured workers, saying "Injured workers do not deserve to be treated like they are leeches on the business community. Injured workers should be treated with dignity and respect."

He was a force in the House behind Pennsylvania's Organ Donation Trust Fund. The law establishing it gave organizations specializing in organ transplantation hospital access to potential organ donors, set up a system of drivers' license identification for each potential organ donor, and publicized the need for organ donation. It became a national model, and the basis for a new national policy during the Clinton Administration.

To protect the health and safety of Pennsylvania public sector workers under the jurisdiction of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, he introduced a proposed law creating a state-run OSHA system for state and local governmental employees.

He was a co-sponsor of "Disability Awareness Day." He opposed cuts in services to the disabled.

In 2009, Cohen introduced a bill to legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania saying that he believes it is time to get rid of a decades-old negative image surrounding marijuana and replace it with "a new, honest image." Hearings on the bill were held, but not enough support obtained for the Health and Human Services Committee to call up the bill for a vote. Despite the lack of public hearings in 2011, Cohen's medical marijuana bill continued to gain public support. On September 15, 2011, Cohen served as a member of the Pennsylvania Bar Institute faculty on the subject of Legalizing Marijuana, discussing his bill to have legal medical marijuana, and submitting materials for the course record. He told the Philadelphia Daily News the difficulties in passing his legislation, saying "There's not a single Republican in the legislature who is willing to say he supports it. Governor Corbett said he'd veto it." He warned that "There will be people moving to New Jersey to take advantage of the (medical marijuana) law there. I think that is clear."

In the 2011-12 legislative session, he serves as a member of the Health Committee, as well as of the Human Services Committee, where he is the Chairman for the Democratic minority members. His committee assignments deal with issues of both public health and private healthcare. They deal with the regulation of each Pennsylvania abortion clinic, hospital, and hospice. They deal with methadone maintenance, substance abuse, and substance dependence. He previously had been a leader of Pennsylvania's efforts to promote organ transplantation, and a leader on behalf of issues affecting health care providers. He is a supporter of Pennsylvania's Children's Health Insurance Program, and the increase of Pennsylvania's cigarette tax to subsidize medical malpractice insurance for physicians. His chemical right to know legislation for workers and communities was signed into law by Governor Richard Thornburgh in 1984.

He has defended the right to choose of Pennsylvania women. He has repeatedly defended the rights of AIDS victims to get state subsidized treatment and to have their privacy protected. He introduced legislation setting up an Office of Environmental Monitoring in Pennsylvania's Health Department to conduct research into cancer clusters and other potential external sources of illnesses.

Primary education

A backer of the establishment of charter schools in Pennsylvania, legislation he supported helped start three charter schools currently in his legislative district: Imhotep High School, Delaware Valley High School, and Tacony Elementary School.

He toured schools with U.S. Senator Bob Casey, Jr. and others to gain and share information about problems facing today's children.

Secondary education

Community College of Philadelphia was popularly known as Snellenburg's University when he was elected because it was located at the site of the old Snellenburg's department store. He and other legislators got funding for it to get a large Center City campus, including the old Philadelphia Mint and many newly constructed buildings, a Northwest Philadelphia Regional Center on the site of the former Pennsylvania College of Optometry blocks away from the West Oak Lane, Olney, and Logan sections of his legislative district, and a Northeast Philadelphia Regional Center within driving distance of the Northeast Philadelphia section of his legislative district.

Working with Dr. Miguel Cortes, a full-scholarship graduate of the medical school of the University of Guadalajara, Cohen co-sponsored and actively pushed legislation introduced November 25, 1975, enacted in 1976, to enable an American citizen who was a foreign medical graduate to complete a 5th Pathway Program to receive a license to practice medicine in Pennsylvania. The 5th Pathway Program peaked nationally in 1979-1980, and ultimately the expansion of the programs offered by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates led to its falling-off and eventual elimination by the Council on Medical Education of the American Medical Association.

Cohen introduced House Resolution 313 on June 11, 1986, which established the Select Committee to Study the Feasibility of a Harrisburg Law School. After this resolution was approved by a 98 to 97 margin on June 18, 1986, Cohen chaired the committee, which strongly recommended that a Harrisburg law school be created and drew the interest of Delaware Law School of Widener University. Delaware Law School did its own feasibility study, confirming the value of establishing a Harrisburg campus, gained funding from John Vartan, and ultimately changed its name to Widener University School of Law. Cohen's leadership in inspiring the creation of the Harrisburg campus of Widener University School of Law was noted on Volume 1, Page 1 of the Journal of the Harrisburg Campus of the Widener School of Law and other sources. The law school opened in September, 1989, and graduated its first class of full-time students in May, 1992. The first evening class, of which Cohen was a member, graduated in May, 1993.

Cohen introduced House Resolution 323 on April 25, 1990 which, upon its adoption by the state house, created the Select Committee to Study the Feasibility of a Harrisburg University. Speaker Robert W. O'Donnell appointed Cohen to chair the committee, which held hearings without producing a consensus and concluded that "further study" was needed. Further study, from the office of Harrisburg Mayor Stephen Reed and in the private sector, did take place, and the Harrisburg University of Science and Technology was chartered in 2001 and opened in 2005. Its affiliate, SciTech High, opened in 2003. Harrisburg University's website credits "the idea for the university" to "business leaders, government officials, and the regional news media." Harrisburg University's website also says that "The University is a model of public-private partnership. The University receives external support from the corporate sector, private individuals, and state and federal government. Fortune 500 companies and other leading companies such as Hershey Company, Select Medical Corporation, PPL (utility), Cleveland Brothers Equipment Company, Tyco Electronics, and Penn National Insurance all support the university."

Other positions

In recent years, Cohen has brought pending state-level national issues to the Pennsylvania House, introducing bills establishing Pennsylvania's membership in the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, legalizing medical marijuana, and allowing people to get civil unions in Pennsylvania.

Cohen first introduced House Bill 1028 for Pennsylvania to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact on April 5, 2007. He introduced House Bill 841 to join it on March 10, 2009. On May 12, 2011, he was the lead Democratic sponsor on House Bill 1220 to join it, while Republican Rep. Thomas C. Creighton was the prime sponsor. With the enactment of the compact in California, Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes represent 14.5% of the remaining 138 electoral votes from ratifying states needed for the compact to take effect.

Labeled a "Stand-Up Pol" for being one of only 16 members of the PA House to oppose banning gay marriage by statute in 1996, Cohen was the first House member to introduce legislation to seek Recognition of same-sex unions in Pennsylvania, bringing forth legislation for civil unions on April 22, 2010 (House Bill 2447) and, with ultimately 43 co-sponsors, on February 14, 2011 (House Bill 708). His announcement press conference was hosted by the Pennsylvania Interfaith Alliance and other groups. Newsletter, February 9, 2011 The bill is in the House Judiciary Committee. It gained renewed attention with President Obama's May 9, 2012 announcement of support for same-sex marriage. Cohen, with seven other state legislators, later co-sponsored House Bill 1835 introduced by Babette Josephs to bring marriage equality to Pennsylvania, and was an initial member of a new Pennsylvania LGBT Equality Caucus.

Cohen introduced legislation creating wheelchair accessible taxicabs for the disabled in Philadelphia (House Bill 1914) in 2010. He also supported a system of workers compensation coverage for taxi drivers. He supported a lawsuit filed by Disabled in Action against the Philadelphia Parking Authority claiming that Philadelphia's unique failure among the nation's ten largest cities to have accessible taxis violates the Americans With Disabilities Act. Cohen also involved himself in regulatory issues seeking to improve the economic viability of the Philadelphia taxicab industry.

Cohen has frequently opposed attempts to privatize Pennsylvania's governmental services. He has been an angry voice against Republican attempts to require the showing of identification, regardless of whether or not the voter's identity is known by election officials.

Cohen has long been active in issues of criminal justice, serving on the Crime and Corrections subcommittee in 1977-1978 under the leadership of Joseph Rhodes. In 2005, he unsuccessfully tried to get the FBI to reopen its investigation into the Pennsylvania murder of Baltimore federal prosecutor Jonathan Luna, focused on prosecuting drug dealers at the time of his death. The Luna case remains unsolved. He also tried to get the FBI to fully investigate the disappearance of Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar, who was prosecuting drug dealers at the time of his disappearance. Gricar was in 2011 declared legally dead, but the search for him continues.

Cohen was appointed by Robert W. Edgar as a member of the President's Council of Common Cause.

He joined fellow members of the House Democratic Policy Committee in hearing testimony on urgent public problems. He testified before the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission against rate increases affecting his constituents. He helped organize special events helping senior citizens, and others needing information about health issues and health providers. He joined Presidents and Mayors in honoring 100-year-old constituents.

He opposed legislation discriminating against immigrants. He introduced House Resolution 714 designating Asian American Heritage Month on May 2, 2012; it passed the House unanimously on May 7, 2012. He shared his legislative district office with Philadelphia Councilwoman Marian Tasco one day a week, rent-free. With her, he helped organize a summer basketball league, the Philadelphia Future League, which played its games at Philadelphia's Fisher Park, and hosted all-star games there on September 15, 2012.

Cohen spoke on "Hunger- Free Communities: Improving Food Access and Community Nutrition" at a conference called by the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger.

A lifetime member of the NAACP, Cohen publicly rejected membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). He attends meetings of the Progressive States Network, and he was one of over 1000 state legislators nationally, and eighteen in Pennsylvania, to sign a 2009 letter organized by Progressive States Network calling "on President Obama and the Congress to enact bold and comprehensive health care reform this year ... and pledge our support as state legislators and allies in pursuit of guaranteed, high quality affordable health care for all." He attends Philadelphia public events of National Night Out. and works to get resources to fight neighborhood crime. He supports Philadelphia town watch /Neighborhood Watch organizations, Democratic Party picnics civic awards dinners and other civic awards events. He continues to participate in political/governmental advocacy organizations including Democracy for America, Netroots Nation, MoveOn.org Pennsylvania's annual Progressive Summit, and the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee, the governing body of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. He is a Democratic committeeman for the 53rd Ward, 16th Division in Philadelphia, and is first vice-chairman of the 53rd Ward Democratic Executive Committee.

Citing "a great gap of leadership in American society, and ... an adverse effect on the recent history of the United States," Cohen in 1975 introduced a resolution memorializing Congress "to appoint a committee or committees to begin a full, thorough and comprehensive investigation of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King;" the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations was established the following year to investigate the assassinations of just John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Cohen successfully supported the enactment of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a state holiday.

He also supported naming the Keystone Shortway, Interstate 80, after Christopher Columbus, but opposed naming Philadelphia's criminal justice center after former Philadelphia police commissioner and mayor Frank L. Rizzo, saying "Although it is appropriate to praise the dead, it is not necessarily appropriate to give the dead eternal recognition." He said the administration of criminal justice was "a signal failure of the Rizzo Administration." He never complained about the privately paid for Rizzo statue in front of the Municipal Services Building, however.

He was an early advocate of Edward M. Kennedy running for president in 1980. He was a contributor to the presidential campaign of John B. Anderson for the Republican presidential nomination opposing both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He was an early contributor to the presidential campaign of Al Gore in 1999.

Cohen opposed the "highway robbery" of a company getting $2.5 million in state government loans, and then shutting down its operations less than three years later. "What did we get for our money?" he asked along with Reps. Dwight E. Evans and Robert Belfanti.

He was an early endorser of the successful campaign of R. Seth Williams for Philadelphia District Attorney in 2009. He campaigned for House Democratic colleagues, Louise Bishop, John Sabatina, Leanna Washington and others. He signed "An Open Letter to the Jewish Community," in the Jewish Exponent, which argued that 2010 Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Joseph Sestak was a strong supporter of Israel. He engaged in political fundraising.

Attending the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures in 1987, he helped lead 60% of the state delegations to support a resolution opposing the pending US Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork by President Ronald Reagan, despite the resolution's unanimous defeat in the convention's Law and Justice Committee. The Associated Press noted he "said the resolution was the only substantial statement that the delegates were considering. Other NCSL positions aren't newsworthy because they are the bland result of consensus," he said. Bork's nomination was never confirmed by the US Senate.

Saying "the Civil War is over and Slavery in the United States is illegal," he joined national efforts against the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy (American Civil War) in the Georgia state flag in 1996; Five years later, threatened with national boycotts, the state of Georgia quieted protesters by redoing its flag. The state flag was last modified in 2003.

He defended the practice of electing judges in Pennsylvania.

He argued strongly against the replacement of the winner take all allocation system for Pennsylvania's electoral votes by a system giving a candidate a single vote for each Congressional district carried, with just two votes for carrying Pennsylvania. Disagreeing with a high-powered lobbying effort, he sent a public letter to the two chief public advocates of one electoral vote per Congressional district plan—Governor Tom Corbett and State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi—asserting that their proposal "unconstitutionally abridges the right to vote of Pennsylvania's minority citizens." His letter was cited by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as one of the reasons to oppose the Corbett-Pileggi plan.

He supported the Philadelphia Newspaper Guild in its 2006 labor dispute with publisher Brian Tierney. He pressured the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, generally known as SEPTA, to come to terms with the Transport Workers Union by co-sponsoring a bill which would have kept transportation subsidies in escrow until a transportation strike is settled. He supported organizing Mushroom Workers in their efforts to both form a union and grow mushrooms in a more sanitary manner. In support of the Mushroom Workers, he said "Laws don't mean anything without vigorous sustained advocacy, and a union would greatly increase the chances of that." He supported the organizing efforts of the Philadelphia Security Officers Union.

He called public attention to the millions of dollars in unspent money for residents of Pennsylvania in the federal Emergency Homeowners Loan Program, passed after the announcement of the Homeowners Affordability and Stability Plan by President Barack Obama, urging eligible people in danger of losing their homes due to financial distress to apply in press conferences held in both Harrisburg and Philadelphia. Pennsylvania became one of four states "to commit its full EHLP allocation," approving 3,056 applications for loans totaling $108 million, including $3 million in extra funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "During the final weeks of this program," Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) CEO and executive director Brian A. Hudson said,"our staff worked evenings and weekends to process every EHLP application. I'm proud of the tireless effort they made, and we're all very pleased to have helped so many families avoid the heartbreak of foreclosure. This not only directly helps those families, but it also helps stabilize communities hardest hit by the economic slowdown."

His many years of governmental service and political activism have led to occasional recognition as a political pundit. He has often had occasion to eulogize top elected officials, fellow legislators lobbyists, activists, and local elected officials. He has sometimes been a voice of caution, warning of difficulties ahead. He has sometimes been used by journalists as a source of legislative institutional memory, a source of what is considered hot news at the time or a source of analysis. He has sometimes offered predictions on which party would control the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in future elections, and which legislative seats would change political parties.

Cohen's activism and leadership on numerous issues over a period of four decades led him to spend unmandated weekends and holidays in Harrisburg, leading to journalistic criticism for extra travel, meals, and lodging expenses. Asked by Facebook friend Russ Diamond about criticism of his per diem payments, Cohen said he "may well be the hardest working state legislator" and "what it comes down to is that I take very few days off, and they are trying to turn that into a scandal." Two critics of Cohen for spending too many days working in Harrisburg later criticized the legislature as a whole for spending too few days working in Harrisburg due to a "minimalist calendar," and Auditor General -elect Eugene DePasquale said "If you're gonna pay the legislature, myself included, as full time, you should be working at it full time, and it's not just district office work. There is still work that needs to be done."

He supported academic freedom and actively opposed attempts inspired by conservative leader David Horowitz and Pennsylvania legislators allied with him to probe the political beliefs of college professors employed by the state university system.

To preserve financially stressed newspapers in order to further freedom of speech, he "has suggested that the only (new) 'content-neutral' way to (governmentally) support newspapers and protect quality journalism is to subsidize newsprint." He viewed the long-repealed Fairness Doctrine as producing an improved quality of public debate.

He improved the employment law rights of police officers after they had been engaged in a military deployment, by getting legislation passed of which he was the prime sponsor allowing them to return to work, even if they had been abroad during their required recertification tests. He said that getting experienced police officers back on the streets was both "a matter of public safety" and "a responsibility to protect rights of our military service members.

He supported the inclusion of gays and lesbians in Pennsylvania's Ethnic Intimidation and Institutional Vandalism Act, saying "This bill is not about what ministers or Sunday School teachers say. This bill is about what thugs, hooligans, and murderers do."

More than a year before the shooting of Trayvon Martin, he dissented from the bipartisan legislative majority and opposed expansion of the Castle doctrine, allowing citizens a broader legal defense for shooting others on their own property or their own workplace.

He supported the rights of all citizens to vote, with or without government issued photo identification. He joined fellow Representatives Dwight E. Evans and John L. Myers and others in protesting the Voter ID legislation enacted in Pennsylvania in front of a PennDot Drivers License Center. He told a meeting of elected officials and the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition that "This law (requiring government issued photo ID for each voter, beginning in November, 2012)is going to be a real problem for the very old and the very young. We need to create special street lists of these voters so they can be told about the law. The significance of these two groups is that these groups vote mostly Democratic. Keeping turnout down among these groups lowers the chances (of) Democrats getting elected."

National involvement

On June 9, 2012 Cohen was elected an At-Large Delegate from Pennsylvania for the 2012 Democratic National Convention by the members of the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee. At the convention, he praised the strong support given to President Barack Obama by Bill Clinton, saying "Clinton brings very strong credibility as a spokesman for the average American and for people who need their problems solved." He previously had been elected by the Democratic voters of Pennsylvania's 1st congressional district as a pledged delegate for Howard Dean in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008. Obama was the Keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

His initial support for Obama's 2008 nomination at the 2008 Democratic National Convention was rare for a Pennsylvania elected official.

Cohen was an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic nomination for the seat in the US House of Representatives held by Joshua Eilberg in 1978, at a time of widespread controversy over Eilberg's role in the decision of Jimmy Carter to fire David Marston while Marston was conducting a criminal investigation of Eilberg. He actively campaigned in 2003 for the Democratic nomination for the Congressional seat being vacated by Joseph Hoeffel to run for the US Senate, but withdrew his candidacy in January, 2004 when it had become clear that Allyson Schwartz had more support than he did.

Cohen's Congressional ambitions weakened over time, but did not go away entirely. After Allyson Schwartz announced her gubernatorial candidacy, Cohen filed with the Federal Election Commission as a candidate for 2014, but quickly announced he had reconsidered and would not run for Congress.

Social media

Cohen's use of social media (specifically blogging, Facebook, and Twitter,) has been singled out as notable in various media. He has contributed writing to Phillyblog and YoungPhillyPolitics.com.

Personal life

He and his wife Mona, a Philadelphia special education teacher and advocate for children with autism, have one daughter and reside in the Castor Gardens section of Northeast Philadelphia. They were one of the first of Jewish families in Northeast Philadelphia.

Cohen's aphorism on political alienation, "Nothing can so alienate a voter from the political system as backing a winning candidate" has been quoted on many internet websites and collections of quotations. Cohen first contributed it to a book by Paul Dickson, published in 1979, on rules of human behavior inspired by Murphy's Law.

Awards and recognition received

Cohen was one of only two incumbent PA House members that the Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter of Americans for Democratic Action on October 30, 2012 said "we strongly urge" voters to support.

Cohen was one of 35 current and two former Pennsylvania state legislators who was awarded the 2012 Freedom Keeper Award by Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania on April 25, 2012. The award was given "to the Pennsylvania senators and representatives who stood with us to defeat legislation designed to impede access to a full range of reproductive health care--including affordable, safe abortion services."

Cohen was the sole white candidate for the PA House of Representatives endorsed for election or re-election by the black-oriented Philadelphia Tribune in its editorial endorsements of April 22, 2012 and April 24, 2012.

He was named an "environmental hero" by Penn Environment for his 100% environmental quality voting record.

He received an "Outstanding Service Award" from his legal alma mater, Widener University School of Law, in 2004.

He received an award from the Pennsylvania National Guard Associations in 1991, for drafting legislation providing benefits to reservists called to active duty in the Gulf and elsewhere.

References

Mark B. Cohen Wikipedia


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