Pa. House lawmakers introduced 12 non-binding resolutions in 7 hours on Monday. Why? | Tuesday Morning Coffee

January 14, 2020 7:15 am

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Late last year, our colleagues at the investigative news outlet SpotlightPA set tempers in the General Assembly alight when they pointed out that, in addition to being large, unwieldy and expensive, Pennsylvania’s 253-member General Assembly was also “doing less and less lawmaking.”

“Just sheer volume of bills, whether introduced, voted, passed or signed does not tell the whole story,” Mike Straub, a spokesman for House Republicans told SpotlightPA last September. “We believe the success of our chamber is not measured in bill volume, but in how our constituents respond to our members.”

Well, if the measure is quality not quantity, then legislative leaders may want to go back and consider their process.

In seven hours on Monday, the House’s first voting session of the New Year, rank-and-filers of both parties blasted out 17 bills. That’s a rate of one bill every 2 hours or so.

But before you say to yourself, “Oh, they’re working hard, then,” consider this:

Our analysis of co-sponsorship memos posted to the House’s Slack channel on Monday found that 12 of those pieces of legislation were non-binding resolutions covering bridge re-namings; recognition for statewide days and weeks for one worthy cause or another, and in the instance of the final bill to come over the transom, a resolution honoring President Donald Trump and the American armed forces for a drone strike that killed an Iranian military leader.

The Pa. House State Government Committee considers gift ban legislation during a voting meeting on Tuesday, 11/19/19 (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

We’ll stipulate up front that some of these non-binding resolutions do, indeed, call attention to worthy causes. We’ll include a measure sponsored by Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Allegheny, that will mark this Feb. 7 as “National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day in Pennsylvania.

Another, sponsored by Rep. Matt Dowling, R-Fayette, that renames a bridge on U.S. Route 219 in Somerset County in honor of Army Spc. Michael William Twigg, who was killed in the Vietnam War, also falls into that camp.

But, we cannot help but wonder, do lawmakers really need to spend time voting on a resolution sponsored by Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, R-Clintonoffering the House’s official big-ups to the Trump administration for a political assassination that’s polarized half the American electorate, and put the nation’s long-term security at-risk (Yes, he was a bad person. That’s not the discussion here.)?

Based on Spotlight PA’s count, the number of bills that lawmakers have introduced, and gotten passed into law, each two-year session has dropped, going from a high of 600 between 1975 and 1982, to just 286 during last year’s legislative session.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, the most powerful House lawmaker on environmental matters, speaks at a DEP rule making board meeting.

Meanwhile, as Spotlight PA also reports, the number of non-binding resolutions introduced each two-year session has skyrocketed, reaching a historic high of 1,670 during last year’s legislative session.

The House now requires that all resolutions, which are usually publicity exercises, go through the appropriate oversight committee before they can be put to a vote by the full chamber. That’s an improvement, of sorts, though it does mean that they can be held up by committee chairs with an agenda.

We get the argument from lawmakers and staffers that there’s much more to their days than legislating. Thanks to social media, it’s now possible to see lawmakers out in their districts interacting with constituents at public events. And much of that work is clearly public service.

Despite that, the title is still “lawmaker,” and that still remains the most reliable barometer to gauge effectiveness.

And based on our casual observance of just seven hours of activity on Monday, Spotlight’s underlying thesis, despite the controversy and acrimony it generated, was largely proven correct. The ceremonial has largely overtaken the official.

If the argument is that a state as large and diverse as Pennsylvania needs a full-time Legislasture to ensure effective representation for the Commonwealth’s roughly 13 million residents, a return to actual legislating is a good place to start.

Our Stuff.
Stephen Caruso
 leads our coverage this morning with his look at a House committee’s vote to advance a bill rolling back environmental regulations for natural gas drillersCaruso also has an amusing look at a bit of legislative tit-for-tat between House Republicans and the Wolf administration over a push for a minimum wage increase.

Associate Editor Cassie Miller swung by an event, featuring second lady Gisele Fetterman, aimed at building public awareness of, and participation in, the 2020 Census.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate are facing serious pushback from the business community over a bill intended to curb Medicaid fraud. The legislation is based on recommendations in a grand jury report issued last spring by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

On our Commentary Page, Democratic Reps. Elizabeth Fiedler and Liz Hanbidge write that it’s time for Pennsylvania to end the outrageous practice of non-consensual, unnecessary pelvic exams by doctors and medical students on women under anesthesia. And a Case Western Reserve University scholar explains how pharmacy benefit managers can drive up the cost of specialty, life-saving drugs.

(Dsw4/WikiMedia Commons)

The Inquirer looks at how Pennsylvania teens are getting ready to vote for president in 2020.
Pittsburgh City Paper sits down to chat with the law professor who’s primarying U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-18th District, from his left.
The state House has passed legislation exempting newer cars from emissions testingPennLive reports.
Election security advocates are looking to block Northampton County from using its voting machines in 2020, the Morning Call reports.

Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:

‘Dozens’ of managers have left SEPTA in the wake of an FBI probe, WHYY-FM reports.
A year into its existence, a state center aimed at stopping school violence has taken more than 40,000 tips, the PA Post reports.
From Why police body cameras may not be the solution everyone believes them to be.
Politico has the latest on the feud between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders over whether a woman can win the White House.

What Goes On.
The House comes in at 1 p.m.
10 a.m, Main Rotunda: Event on electronic monitoring of those subject to Protection from Abuse orders.
10:30 a.m., Media Center: Reps. Elizabeth Fiedler and Liz Hanbidge hold a newser on a bill addressing the issue in that op-Ed you just read about.
1 p.m., Media Center: Rep. Mike Schlossberg and officials from the state Dept. of Human Services release a report by the state’s Suicide Prevention Task Force.
1:30 p.m., Main Rotunda: The Pa. County Commissioners Association does its budget-season impersonation of the seagulls from “Finding Nemo.”

Gov. Tom Wolf
 has no public schedule today.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
Rep. Dan Miller, D-Allegheny
, holds an 8 a.m. breakfast at Stock’s on 2nd. Admission runs $250 to $2,500.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s an old favorite from Elbow, ‘Mexican Standoff,’ but translated into Spanish for the band’s Spanish-speaking audience.

Tuesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Alright, so it’s bad enough that the ‘Canes lost 2-0 to the Capitals on Monday night. But did Ovi really have to set an NHL record on the way to the win?

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.