Accurate Information About a Part-Time Legislature

Senator Daylin Leach opined in the Post-Gazette over the weekend, defending the legislature he serves in (previously as a House member) against the Grand Jury report calling for major reforms. Leach defends lawmakers, saying most aren’t crooks. This is certainly true, though most lawmakers sat idly by saying nothing (either out of ignorance or out of deference to the culture of Harrisburg) while their colleagues were committing felonies defrauding taxpayers.

Leach goes on to attack the idea of a part-time legislature:

For example, a part-time Legislature is a terrible idea. We make decisions affecting tens of billions of dollars in complicated policy areas such as transportation, health care, criminal justice and economic development. In some matters, such as abortion, the death penalty and access to medical care, our decisions literally have life and death consequences.

Do you really want people making these decisions who just dropped by on their way to taking a deposition or after their shift at Macy’s? Shouldn’t we demand our legislators actually take the time to read about issues, go to hearings, meet with advocates, tour facilities and do all of things that require a full-time commitment?

“Inaccurate information leads to poor recommendations” as Leach writes, unfortunately he spews more inaccurate information than Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects.
For starters, our state survived with a part-time, citizen legislature for most of our history – the professionalization of the General Assembly didn’t begin until the 1960s – and most states retain a part-time body. Pennsylvania is one of only four fully professionalized legislatures – that is 46 states function with fewer staff, fewer time in session, and lower pay than Pennsylvania lawmakers. While Pennsylvania meets full time, forty-one states limit their session length.
Consider the case of Texas, which I highlight in a recent commentary on part-time legislature:
The Lone Star States has twice the population of Pennsylvania and is four times the size of the Keystone State geographically. Yet, the Texas legislature meets once every two years for 140 days to produce a biennial budget. When Texas lawmakers need to deal with emergency situations or revise their budget, they return for a limited, special session. During its 2007 session, Texas’ legislature passed 1,672 bills, while Pennsylvania’s full-time General Assembly passed less than one-fifth that number [over two years].
Indeed, states with part-time lawmakers can not only get as much, if not more, accomplished, the results of their policy-making turn out better. As the Commonwealth Foundation finds in our analysis, The Case for a Citizen Legislature, states with part-time legislatures have lower taxes, lower spending per capita, more economic freedom – leading to stronger state economies – than those with professional bodies.
Part of this effect may be due to the fact that part-time lawmakers do work at Macy’s, or perhaps own a small business, or manage a farm, or teach of living (click here for professions of lawmakers) and thus have experience – living under the laws they pass – that a professional politician never would.