Commentary

Once more into the breach, a new session brings a new bill to shrink the Legislature | Friday Morning Coffee

February 26, 2021 7:13 am

Members of the Pennsylvania House applaud newly elected Speaker Bryan Cutler on June 22, 2020. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

At the start of every two-year legislative session you can count on a couple of things happening: Legislative Republicans will kvetch about Gov. Tom Wolf’s latest budget proposal, no matter what’s in it. Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, will introduce a resolution calling for someone’s impeachment. Local cops will hang onto the vain hope that this year will finally be the year they get radar guns. And someone will roll out a bill shrinking the size of the Legislature.

Rep. Valerie Gaydos, R-Allegheny, step right up, it’s your turn to be the Charlie Brown for this ageless political football. This week, she rolled out a bill that would reduce the size of the state House from its currently utterly unmanageable size of 203 members to a relatively svelte 151.

“Pennsylvania has the second-largest legislature in the United States,” Gaydos said in a statement. “It is also a full time Legislature. Reducing its size will streamline the legislative process, make it easier for lawmakers to reach consensus and save taxpayers’ money.”

The second-largest part is provably true. But with a rigorous, three-day a week voting schedule, the full-time part is debatable (Yes, we know, constituent services …).

(Capital-Star file)

More astute readers will note that Gaydos’ proposal, which is now before the House State Government Committee, doesn’t include language shrinking the size of the 50-member Senate, which tends to be the poison pill for these bills. While it’s only too happy to shrink the size of the House, it’ll be darned if it’ll follow suit.

Which was the case last session when an amended version of a similar bill passed the Senate by a vote of 42-7, but failed to win approval when it was sent back to the House. It also unanimously cleared both chambers in the 2015-16 legislative session, Gaydos wrote in a ‘Dear Colleague’ memo seeking support for her plan.

And that’s the thing about these bills. Because they’re constitutional amendments, which require approval in two, consecutive legislative sessions and then by the voters at a statewide referendum, they never make it the final furlong and actually get onto the ballot.

That’s got a lot to do with the fact that these bills are maximum reward with minimum risk. Supporting them is politically popular and it makes lawmakers look reform-minded. But when it comes to actually pulling the trigger and allowing the voters to have their say, they scatter like a covey of the world’s jumpiest quail.

As our friends at WHYY-FM reported in 2019, state Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-Schuylkill, is currently the title-holder for coming closest to actually getting the bill onto the statewide ballot. But even after he inherited the proposal from former House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, he still couldn’t muster the votes to get it over the goal line.

“I think the best way I can describe it is, it ended tragically,” Knowles told WHYY-FM’s Katie Meyer. “Unfortunately, it was derailed by some people who didn’t want to see it happen.”

Which is pretty much the way you can describe any good government bill that makes the round in Harrisburg. Sooner or later, someone’s going to pull the football out from under you.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Citing its emergency powers, the Wolf administration has skirted public bidding requirements to award an $11.5 million consulting contract, Elizabeth Hardison reports.

Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement is ‘unable to fulfill its mission,’ state officials say, citing a lack of funding increases, Cassie Miller reports.

Johnson & Johnson’s game-changing one-dose vaccine could be in states’ hands shortlyCapital-Star Washington Reporter Laura Olson reports.

Former Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine found herself on the receiving end of a transphobic rant from U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., during her confirmation hearing Thursday for a post in the Biden administration. Olson has the story there, too.

Two trends have collided as a post-election purge of the voter rolls overpowers an exodus of Republican voters, Correspondent Nick Field reports, as he dives into the latest voter registration numbers.

In Pittsburgh, parents are worried that strife in the city’s troubled public schools is undermining goals to grow the city, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, two Indiana University scholars explain why Black and Hispanic small-business owners have been so badly hit in the pandemic recession. And opinion regular Mark O’Keefe says that while a controversial proposal to change the way Pennsylvania elects its appellate court judges is currently on hold, the risk remains.

Image via WikiMedia Commons)

Elsewhere.
Philadelphia’s students won’t return to the classroom on Monday, but a call on a return to in-person is expected soon, the Inquirer reports.
The former head of a suburban Pittsburgh nursing home has been indicted in a healthcare fraud case, the Post-Gazette reports.
Fracking has been permanently banned near the Delaware River, PennLive reports.
The Morning Call highlights the life and work of Black activist Esther Lee, a totem of the Lehigh Valley’s civil rights movement.
A fight is brewing over Luzerne County’s Board of ElectionsThe Citizens-Voice has the details.
Despite a bipartisan bill, the York Daily Record says Pennsylvania is unlikely to legalize recreational cannabis anytime soon.

Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:

 

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A post shared by Mark Rockwell (@mark_in_pa)

WHYY-FM has more on the delay of in-person learning in the Philadelphia public schools.
A Pennsylvania man texted his ex and called her a ‘moron’ as he stormed the Capitol. She turned him in to law enforcementWITF-FM reports.
An Erie physician has undergone a lung transplant after contracting COVID-19, GoErie reports.
A new vaccination clinic has opened in Washington County, the Observer-Reporter reports.
Pennsylvania’s 2022 U.S. Senate has been labeled a ‘battleground,’ by the insider publication Inside Elections (via PoliticsPA).
Roll Call explains how the lack of ticket-splitting leads to gridlock on Capitol Hill.

What Goes On.
The House holds a non-voting session today. And at 1 p.m. Gov. Tom Wolf and likeminded lawmakers pitch their plan for charter school reform.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
State Sen. Anthony Williams D-Philadelphia, holds a virtual birthday fundraiser tonight at 5 p.m., where admission runs a very real $60 to $10,000. Those deejays don’t pay for themselves, people. And on Saturday, Harrisburg mayoral candidate Dave Shankweiler holds a virtual feast with supporters, where ingredients, along with bottles of wine, will be delivered to them and a chef walks them through preparing it. Admission runs $35 to $200.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Christian Alexandersen with Senate Democrats, and to Tyler Jeski, of CBS-21 in Harrisburg, both of whom celebrate today. Congrats, gents. Enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s the lead track from ‘Poison Stream,’ the new record by Moat, one of many projects by the versatile English singer/songwriter Marty Willson-Piper. It’s called ‘Acid Rain.’ It’s just the burst of guitar pop you need to start your Friday morning.

Friday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Changing coaches didn’t do much to help the hapless Montreal Canadiens. The Habs were blown out, 6-3, by Winnipeg on Thursday night.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.

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