John Baer: Pa. Legislature back from exhausting 2-month vacation

Back in July , demonstrators in Harrisburg protested the state's voter-ID law, which is still in the courts.
Back in July , demonstrators in Harrisburg protested the state's voter-ID law, which is still in the courts. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: September 25, 2012

HOLD YOUR breath, Pennsylvania, your Legislature and judiciary are back in action this week.

That's right, the dynamic duo that managed to screw up this year's election cycle in two ways - voter ID and redistricting - is back on deck for more, um, work.

For lawmakers, it's a return from a well-earned two-month-plus vacation. For the judiciary, it's ongoing badminton with voter ID.

So pull up a chair, get some popcorn, the House and Senate are back Monday, the court's back Tuesday, and who knows what happens next?

But you'd better hurry.

The nation's largest full-time Legislature with the nation's largest legislative staff (a bargain for taxpayers at only $300 million a year; something I may have mentioned once or twice before) is in session just 10 days for the rest of 2012.

Actually, only the House has such a heavy schedule. The Senate's in eight days.

But that's plenty of time to extend gun rights, restrict abortion rights and create a legal crisis around the right to vote.

Oh, wait. They already did all that.

So maybe now they'll privatize the sale of liquor and wine or address the coming fiscal crisis over public-worker pensions or find funding to start fixing infrastructure such as the state's 4,774 "structurally deficient" bridges.

Or not.

Maybe they'll do some lesser things.

There are bills floating around on prison reform, charter-school reform, capital-spending reform and the like.

But if history's a guide, and in this state it usually is, it's more likely that in an election year your electeds will (a) take up nothing to draw attention to them so that (b) they can get out of the capital and back to campaigning for re-election.

Hey, it works for Congress: Do nothing, go home, run for re-election.

Just make sure you have your photo ID when you go to give all these folks another term.

Speaking of which, here we go again.

Commonwealth Judge Robert Simpson, who in August was more than happy to kick the photo-ID mess upstairs to the Supreme Court, sits on the issue again since the high court last week dropped it back in his lap.

He's scheduled a 10 a.m.-to-5 p.m. session Tuesday and reserved Thursday if needed. He's charged with making another ruling on or before Oct. 2.

This means we face another round of, yes, the state can provide all required IDs and protect everyone's right to vote, versus, no, the state has created a mess that threatens voting rights.

By the way, did anyone really think PennDOT, the same agency overseeing 4,774 "structurally deficient" bridges, would handle this issue efficiently?

Not that PennDOT should get all the blame.

That the courts are still trying to sort out whether the Legislature and the Corbett administration endangered voting rights by requiring back in March photo ID by November tells you something about how well the law was thought out and executed.

But then this is the same Legislature and court system that couldn't get required-every-10-years redistricting done, meaning that this year's elections for state House and Senate are based on demographics a decade out of date.

So on redistricting, we get a federal lawsuit alleging unconstitutional representation, especially in Philly and especially among Latino populations. Because, come on, the state's changing, the makeup of the Legislature should reflect that.

And on voter ID, we get ongoing litigation because the argument for the immediate need of the law is weak and because its implementation seems to be going about as smoothly as the landing of the Hindenburg.

On a brighter note - no, wait, there aren't any bright notes - your Legislature and judiciary are back in action this week.


Contact John Baer at baerj@phillynews.com. For his recent columns, go to philly.com/JohnBaer. Read his blog at philly.com/BaerGrowls.

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