Want to avoid a veto? Fix the process, Pa. Sen. Schwank says | Wednesday Morning Coffee

It wouldn’t kill Republicans to bring Democratic bills to a vote once in a while, the Berks Co. lawmaker says

July 20, 2022 7:19 am

Pennsylvania Senate Chambers. Source: WikiMedia Commons

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

It’s no secret that legislative Republicans, who normally favor the government that governs least, have become huge fans of the constitutional amendment process.

Consider the recent record:

Earlier this month, as the Capital-Star’s Marley Parish reports, a majority of GOP lawmakers, joined by some Democrats, approved a five-pronged constitutional amendment package that could appear before voters as early as May 2023.

One of the proposed changes would revise the state’s governing document to state that there is no constitutional right to “taxpayer-funded abortion or other rights relating to abortion.”

Because, of course.

And, last year, in a triumph of partisanship over commonsense, Republicans pushed through, and convinced voters to approve, an amendment limiting the emergency powers of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and all his future successors, some of whom, logic dictates, might be Republicans.

If you’re looking for a common denominator for this amendment ardor, you don’t have to look any further than Wolf, who, as is his right, has enthusiastically wielded his veto pen to send GOP-backed proposals he doesn’t like straight to the Island of Misfit Legislation.

So Republicans turned to the amendment process, which doesn’t include Wolf, as a way to do an end-run around the Democratic governor, and take their case directly to the voters.

As a refresher, constitutional amendments have to be approved in identical form in consecutive legislative sessions, be publicly advertised, and then sent to the voters in a statewide referendum. There’s no role for the executive in the process.

So far, the gambit has worked. And that has a lot to do with the fact that these debates are settled in odd year elections, when turnout among the broader electorate tends toward the anemic, leaving the Big Questions to be decided by the most ardent partisans.

But what if it didn’t have to be that way?

What if, for instance, rather than gussying up the state’s foundational document with so much constitutional shiplap that it ends up looking some Idea House gone horribly wrong, lawmakers instead tried to improve the system by making it more inclusive and more reflective of the views of all Pennsylvanians?

Crazy, right? Enter state Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks.

Sen. Judy Schwank touts a bill to raise teacher salaries to $45,000 minimum. (Capital-Star photo by Elizabeth Hardison)

“Partisanship is so thick in the legislative branch that even the most commonsense bills introduced by House and Senate Democrats don’t receive a hearing, let alone a debate or a vote,” Schwank wrote in an op-Ed submitted to the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page.

“Keep in mind that the same politicians bellyaching about vetoes routinely refuse to move Democratic bills out of their committees,” she continued. “As Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa often points out, the frustration Republicans feel after a bill is vetoed, Democrats in the House and Senate feel that every single day.”

As Schwank notes, while Republicans “currently hold 58 percent of the seats in the Senate, yet 95 percent of the bills considered in the Senate this session were Republican bills.”

So far this session, just 17 of the 412 bills considered by the Senate were sponsored by Democrats, Schwank wrote. And only two bills backed by Senate Democrats have been signed into law.

That’s not exactly reflective of the broader electorate.

Nor is it an unfamiliar complaint.

Democratic bills on both sides of the Capitol routinely get buried in committee, and die every single legislative session. That’s true even when public sentiment, as in the case of gun violence reduction bills, or anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians, is on their side.

A protester holds a sign calling for action on gun violence during a meeting of the Pa. House Judiciary Committee on Monday 6/13/22 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek).

“The blocking of Democratic bills and arguments about the abuse of the governor’s veto power have something in common,” Schwank wrote. “Both are denying or seeking to deny duly elected Democrats the ability to govern granted to them by Pennsylvania voters.”

And if Republicans were serious about legislating — and not performative, partisan gain, they’d address the issue from the floorboards up, Schwank argued.

“The current legislative rules work against true representation and bipartisan governance,” she wrote. “That’s why many good government groups have set their sights on rules reform. If the numbers above tell us one thing, it’s that reform is badly needed.

“One thing should be clear about the veto argument. The issue is not that Gov. Wolf has abused his veto powers; he simply belongs to the wrong political party,” she said.

There’s a time and place for constitutional amendments. Simply not getting your way is not one of them. And Republicans, who pay lip service to the sacredness of the state’s foundational document when it suits them, should know the difference.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, attends the Senate Education Committee Hearing held at the Pennsylvania Capitol on May 24, 2022 in Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).
State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, attends the Senate Education Committee Hearing held at the Pennsylvania Capitol on May 24, 2022 in Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg for the Capital-Star).

Our Stuff.
Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano’s use of the far-right social media platform to engage potential voters is a step toward extremism that more moderate members of the Republican Party have a responsibility to repudiate, experts on politics and the internet say. Senior Reporter Peter Hall has the story.

A Pennsylvania appellate court agreed with the Office Of Open Records on Tuesday that the commonwealth’s Right-to-Know law does not reach all records and agreements between a state contractor and its third-party service providers. Cassie Miller has the details.

Pennsylvania Physician General and acting Health Secretary Dr. Denise Johnson joined legislative Democrats on Tuesday in cautioning against restricting abortion access, testifying before a committee that medical decisions should be between an individual and their doctor. Marley Parish has the story.

More than a dozen members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-4th Districtwere arrested Tuesday alongside abortion rights activists after they sat down and blocked an intersection between the U.S. Capitol building and the Supreme Court to protest conservative justices’ decision to overturn Roe v. WadeCapital-Star Washington Reporter Jennifer Shutt writes.

A group of U.S. House Democrats has called for the passage of legislation that would add four justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, following the overturning of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that provided the constitutional right to abortion, Capital-Star Washington Reporter Ariana Figueroa writes.

New accusations of “inappropriate conduct” against University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax were outlined recently in a 12-page letter to the school’s Faculty Senate by law school Dean Ted Ruger. He is requesting that the Senate levy a “major sanction” against WaxChanel Hill, of our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune, reports.

On our Commentary Page this morning: Bob Lewis, of our sibling site, the Virginia Mercury, considers what happens when laws that suppress protests clash with our freedoms. And as more people travel out of state, abortion funds may not keep pace with demand, a University of Tennessee scholar writes.

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The Inquirer looks at how Philadelphia’s workers are redefining the nature of hybrid work.

Allegheny County Council has overridden County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s veto of a bill banning natural gas exploration in county parks, the Post-Gazette reports.

A new, Republican-authored report makes the argument for a suite of changes to state election law, PennLive reports.

And the lawmaker behind the report, House State Government Committee Chairperson Seth Grove, R-York, says the outcome of Lehigh County’s undated ballots court case undermines the state’s mail-in voting law, the Morning Call reports. The Democratic Wolf administration has dismissed the argument as ‘preposterous.’

With food prices rising, Luzerne County charities are seeing an increased demand for food, the Citizens’ Voice reports.

Philadelphia has logged its 300th homicide, just short of short of last year’s record-setting rate, WHYY-FM reports.

State officials are using GPS to track wild turkeys as they try to learn why populations are declining, WPSU-FM reports (via WITF-FM).

An Erie County judge has cleared the way for Erie’s postmaster to pursue a libel case against Project Veritas for the claims it made about mail-in ballots, GoErie reports.

PoliticsPA considers what happened to GOP gubernatorial hopeful Doug Mastriano’s missing Facebook videos.

Republicans on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee are calling on the Pentagon to drop its efforts to root out right-wing extremism in the ranks, Roll Call reports.

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What Goes On
1 p.m., Capitol Media Center: Officials from the state Dept. of Human ServicesRep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, and others mark Black Maternal Mental Health Week.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
State Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, holds his annual pig roast at 5 p.m. at The Schoolhouse in Fairview, Pa. Admission runs $150 to $1,000.

Gov. Tom Wolf has no public schedule today.

Heavy Rotation
Here’s some new music from Australian singer-songwriter Vance Joy. It’s ‘Clarity.’

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link
The American League picked up its ninth straight All-Star Game victory on Tuesday night, holding off the National League for a 3-2 win at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

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.