Harrisburg acts with speed of light — and leaves us in the dark

Gov. Corbett ASSOCIATED PRESS
Gov. Corbett ASSOCIATED PRESS
Posted: July 06, 2012

THE BIG PHYSICS news this week was not the announcement of the Higgs boson, which could explain how the universe began, but something closer to home: the speed of light with which Harrisburg lawmakers passed 60 bills in their frenzy to make the governor's budget deadline.

As reported in the Inquirer, the General Assembly fast-tracked bills that few members actually had time to read. Some were complex, like a moratorium on gas drilling in southeastern Pennsylvania. More egregiously, they passed these bills by forgoing their own rule that prohibits debate after 11 p.m.

That rule was a cornerstone in a set of reforms following the scandal in 2005 over legislative pay raises that effectively were passed in the middle of the night, with no hearings. The state's gaming law was also the result of such midnight madness.

As a result of the public outrage over this practice, then-House Speaker Dennis O'Brien convened a legislative reform committee that held hearings on rules reform that included rules like the 11 p.m. cutoff, a waiting period for votes on amended bills, and more transparency on Senate and House votes. At the time, such reforms were called "the first step down a long road of restoring faith in government."

That road to reform is clearly on the list of the roads and bridges in this state that are overdue for repair. And that faith in government? That's gotten lost along the way.

But that loss is not something that seems to worry our state lawmakers very much. In fact, in 2010, when a special grand jury issued a harsh report on the Legislature and suggested sweeping changes after the Bonusgate scandal, it was met primarily with shrugs. Lawmakers dismissed it as a report that didn't accurately reflect the "new reformed Harrisburg."

At one point, we thought Gov. Corbett was worried about the loss of faith in government. He campaigned on legislative reform, and promised to make it a priority. One would have thought he was the best equipped to push for reforms, because he made his name on investigating the Bonusgate scandal. But aside from tinkering around the edges on a few fixes, the governor has retreated from that promise.

A rule was made to end lawmaking in the middle of the night. If a rule can so easily be sidestepped, we say it's not really a rule, just a nice intention. Laws that will have impact on the lives of many Pennsylvanians should not be done at warp speed, in the middle of the night, no matter how much the governor wants to beat a budget deadline. It's time to push for real reform — and real respect for the people.

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