A New Day in Harrisburg?

The new PA House rules passed last night unanimously to much praise from lawmakers. The major changes include

  • Provide online access to bills, votes, and financial information
  • Banning “ghost voting”
  • Prohibiting “public service announcements” within 60 days of an election
  • Ending session days at 11 pm
  • Having a 24 hour waiting period between amendment of a bill and final vote
  • Banning lawmakers from establishing nonprofit organizations which they direct tax money to and control the spending of

Unfortunately, these “rules” do not have the rule of law (thus do not apply to the Senate and can be altered at any time) and most of the reforms that passed were modest. Additionally, amendments that weaken the proposed reforms were passed, while those that strengthen them were defeated. Among those amendments were votes to:

  • Retain power of Appropriations Committee to amend legislation from other committees(passed)
  • Limit members to four consecutive terms as committee chair (failed)
  • Ban “public service announcement” in election year from using legislator’s name or face in ad (failed)
  • Create nonpartisan office to administer legislative accounts, perks and benefits. (failed)
  • Allow floor leaders to call for voice vote on final passage only, to enforce ban on “ghost voting” was taking place (failed)
  • Require quorum of members to be physically present before vote could occur in committee (failed)

While some of these issues may be addressed by the Reform Commission at a later time, some of the reasons for opposing the stronger reforms are simply nonsensical. Votes on these amendments can be found here.

Media Roundup:

Lancaster Intelligencer Journal offers a mediocre review of the reforms that passed and those that didn’t.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: “What did pass was the easiest bunch of reforms with the widest popularity,” said Tom Baldino, a political science professor at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre.

Philadelphia Inquirer: “We got a plate of spaghetti without the meatballs,” said Eric Epstein, a Harrisburg activist and founder of RockTheCapital.org.