Meet the Pa. lawmaker who’s the king of cookie-cutter, special interest legislation | Monday Morning Coffee

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Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

So if you’ve been hanging around Harrisburg for a while, you probably know that, of the thousands of bills that lawmakers introduce in every two-year session, only a tiny handful ever become law. Most languish in committee, wither without ever gaining a hearing, let alone a vote, and then die at the end of every biennial session.

You may also know that many of these bills are, as our friends at the Center for Public Integrity reported last week, “dreamed up and written by corporations, industry groups and think tanks,” and that nearly identical bills are introduced in statehouses from sea to shining sea in an effort to further the agenda of this, that, or the other special interest group.

But what you may not know is that a Pennsylvania lawmaker has taken this process and turned it into a science, sponsoring more of these so-called “model bills” than any other state lawmaker in the nation, the joint project between The Center for Public Integrity, USA Today, and the Arizona Republic, determined.

State Rep Thomas P. Murt, R-Montgomery, was “listed as a sponsor on 72 bills substantially copied from model legislation from 2010 to late 2018,” the analysis found – and was apparently “stunned” to learn that this was the case.


Murt told USA Today journalists that he would have had no way of knowing who was behind a specific bill – or what interest group had authored the language – unless it was disclosed in one of the countless memos seeking sponsors that the House blasts out every day.

“I had no way of knowing unless it’s put in the … memo,” Murt told researchers.

More from the Center for Public Integrity/USA Today/The Arizona Republic:

Murt’s situation highlights how critical bill titles and summaries are – especially when it comes to copycat legislation – because lawmakers, even sponsors, often don’t read bills.

“Had  Murt probed further,  he would have seen the bills he signed onto came from ALEC, its liberal counterpart ALICE, the State Innovation Exchange, Council of State Governments, Goldwater Institute and other groups that specialize in writing copycat bills.

They dealt with cities’ ability to take action against blighted properties, prohibitions on businesses banning guns in employees’ vehicles, and a call for the U.S. president to be elected by popular vote, among many others.

USA TODAY provided Murt with a list of all 72 bills, 13 of which became law, and asked questions about his support for them. He was the primary sponsor of only one: a ban on smoking in workplaces written by the liberal State Innovation Exchange.

Murt said he would reconsider his support for two of the bills that were copied from ALEC, after learning more about their impact. One was a call for a constitutional convention to curb federal spending, backed by the controversial Koch brothers conservative political network. The other was a bill protecting Crown Cork & Seal from asbestos liability.

“I would be suspect of such a proposal,” Murt said of the constitutional convention model. “But bear in mind that when that co-sponsor memo was circulated, I’m sure it never mentioned the Koch brothers,because for some people that would have been a show-stopper.” Murt also said he would never support limiting asbestos victims’ ability to sue.

Our Stuff:
Our Washington Bureau Chief, Robin Bravender, writes her version of ‘Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,’ striving mightily to land an interview with the eternally elusive U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, D-17th District. Despite the fact that the western Pa. lawmaker successfully dodged yet another interview, Bravender did manage to find out that he’s having a not half-bad first term.
Elizabeth Hardison hung out at this past weekend’s Pennsylvania Leadership Conference, which is kinda like Coachella for Pennsylvania conservatives — if Coachella had 100 percent less fun and 100 percent more dark mutterings about government conspiracies.

On the Opinion side of the house, state Sen. Mike Regan, R-Cumberlandexplains how he’s making up his mind on marijuana legalization. And Capital-Star columnist Dick Polman says tone-deafness on healthcare is a pre-existing condition for Republicans.

Elsewhere:
Police in New Jersey are getting tough on distracted drivers. The same cannot be said of Pennsylvania, The Inquirer reports.
PennLive’s Charlie Thompson also swung by the annual Pa. leadership conference, where he found conservative activists still on Team Trump.
The Post-Gazette homes in on a tough Pittsburgh City Council race.
The Tribune-Review (via the AP) compares the risks of smoking tobacco vs. smoking cannabis.
BillyPenn explains why ‘Shazam’ is the “movie that Philadelphia deserves.”

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:

Supporters of the Lehigh Valley’s immigrant families rallied in Allentown on Sunday afternoonThe Morning Call has the story.
Philadelphia officials are trying to assuage the concerns of the city’s immigrant communityover a new municipal identification card, WHYY-FM reports.
Keystone Crossroads explains why real estate agents are getting involved in the fight over education funding.
LNP looks at efforts by Sen. Tony Williams, D-Philadelphiato overhaul civil forfeiture laws.
PoliticsPA has last week’s winners and losers in Pennsylvania politics.
The Trump administration is in the market for a new Homeland Security chief with the exit of Kirstjen NielsenRoll Call has the story.

What Goes On.
The House and Senate return to session after a week off. Both gavel in at 1 p.m.
9:30 a.m.,  Main Rotunda: Moms Demand Action rally for action on gun-control
10 a.m.,  Governor’s Reception Room: LG John Fetterman talks pardons reform

WolfWatch.
At 9:45 a.m., Gov. Tom Wolf joins that rally against gun violence in the Capitol rotunda. At 12:30 p.m., he’s off to Washington D.C., he’ll deliver a keynote speech on opioid abuse to newly elected gubernatorial administrations.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
5:30 p.m.: 
Reception for Rep. Perry Warren
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Sen. Gene Yaw
6 p.m.: House Republican Campaign Committee reception
Ride the circuit, and give at the max, and you’re out a mere $8,500 today.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Belated best wishes go out to GOP campaigns guy Ray Zaborney, who celebrated on Sunday.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s one from Mikey Mike“Cooler,” that’s been just stuck in our head sideways all weekend. Your turn.

Monday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Our beloved Carolina Hurricanes, who made the playoffs for the first time in a decade last week, have drawn the Stanley Cup-defending Washington Capitals in the first round of the NHL playoffs. Fine. It’s on.

And now you’re up to date.

An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I think your article regarding Rep. Murt is unfair. It implies that he is in the grasp of some nefarious out of state interests. The fact is that legislators are always looking for language that has already been vetted by introduction in other states and by those interests with which they have an affinity. A liberal legislator might seek language from a liberal think while a conservative might look to the Heritage Foundation. In addition, the groups representing state lawmakers also are legislative resources — National Council of State Legislators, American Legislative Exchange Council, Nation Council of Insurance Legislators, etc. I am certainly not bothered by a legislator who does his homework like Rep. Murt does and works efficiently by using and adapting draft language from others. This article was shallow sensationalism at best.

    • We allowed Rep. Murt to speak for himself. If nothing else, this should be an object lesson in reading the fine print.
      The piece also makes clear that this kind of work takes place across the political spectrum. – John Micek

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