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Harrisburg – October 19, 2016 – At the request of state Sen. Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin/Perry), the Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a roundtable discussion today in Harrisburg on ways to reform government and prevent gridlock in the legislature.
The discussion focused on numerous reform bills that would suspend pay for the governor and lawmakers during budget impasses, permit recall elections and reform the way Congressional and state legislative district maps are drawn.
Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton), who chairs the committee, said, “Let’s face it, our citizens deserve better than state government’s relentless failure to do its work – and do it on time. In the past decade, late budgets have become the norm – not the exception.”
“I have put forth legislation that will mandate a process for reaching the June 30 budget deadline — and impose numerous consequences for the members of the General Assembly and governor if that deadline isn’t met,” Teplitz said. “Under my proposals, lawmakers who fail to get the budget done on time will face pay suspension, the loss of their annual COLA and the very real threat of a recall election.”
Teplitz, who founded and co-chairs the bipartisan, bicameral Government Reform Caucus, introduced a legislative package that would:
- trigger recall elections for the governor, lieutenant governor, and all legislators if a state budget is not enacted before Jan. 1 (SB 1239 and 1240);
- amend the state constitution to require that a budget bill be introduced within a month following the governor’s budget address. It would also require that legislative leaders hold monthly public meetings to disclose the progress of budget negotiations and issue monthly progress reports until the budget is signed into law (SB 1236);
- suspend pay for the governor, lieutenant governor, cabinet officers and all members of the General Assembly if a state budget is not enacted on time (SB 187) – Teplitz has voluntarily suspended his own pay every time the budget was late;
- eliminate the annual cost-of-living adjustment for the governor, lieutenant governor, cabinet officers, and all members of the General Assembly if the budget is not enacted before Oct. 1 (SB 1237) – Teplitz returns his mid-term COLA to the Treasury and has introduced legislation to eliminate mid-term COLAs; and
- amend the constitution to block the consideration of any non-budget-related legislation if the budget is not enacted by Oct. 1 (SB 1238).
“The budget is the single most important piece of legislation you pass each year. It affects every single person in the state,” said Barry Kauffman, senior advisor of Common Cause of Pennsylvania. “We really do need a more disciplined system: a system with benchmarks, with deadlines and with penalties.”
State Sen. John Blake agreed. “It is unconscionable to inflict such pain on people of Pennsylvania. I appreciate attention to try to tighten things up and create consequences,” he said. “We take an oath to support, uphold, and defend the constitution, and that obligation should be paramount.”
“Not meeting that constitutional deadline just discourages people from the system,” added David Thornburgh, president and CEO of the Committee of Seventy.
In addition to bills aimed at preventing budget impasses, the discussion also focused on legislation sponsored by Boscola that would change the way Pennsylvania draws legislative boundaries.
Calling it a “necessity” to get politicians out of the redistricting process, Boscola’s bill (Senate Bill 484) would establish an 11-member independent citizens’ commission to draw state and congressional district boundaries.
“These protracted budget impasses are good examples of what can happen when so many legislators are politically hesitant about supporting negotiated agreements because they are afraid of being ‘primaried,’” Boscola said. “During the 112th Congress, just seven members accounted for 98 percent of cross-party votes.”
Teplitz, a co-sponsor of SB 484 added, “We need to return to the system that our founders intended, where voters choose their legislators, not the other way around.”
“Redistricting isn’t a Democrat or Republican issue,” said Professor Jill Family, director of the Law and Government Institute at Widener University Commonwealth Law School.
Family stressed the need to address redistricting reform now, as the next federal Census takes place in 2020, followed by legislative and Congressional redistricting.
“This is something that’s really imperative right now,” she said. Reforms to the redistricting process would require an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution, which need approval in the legislature in two consecutive legislative sessions.
Suzanne Almeida, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, suggested making the voting process easier and more accessible.
“We want people to feel like they have a voice and use that voice effectively,” she said.
She also urged the panelists to open the discussion about redistricting to the public. “We need to have this discussion with the broader population. It’s incumbent on all of us to bring that discussion and broaden it.”
“There is a nationwide increasing disdain for role of political parties,” said Thornburgh of the Committee of Seventy, who recommended opening up primaries to independent voters.
Teplitz and Boscola have both introduced legislation to allow registered independents to vote in primary elections.
While government reform legislation varies widely and focuses on many different aspects of the legislative process, the bills all seek to make state government more open and accessible to the public. The other issues discussed today included campaign finance reform, voting access, and pay to play.
“All these pieces are tied together. They all impact each other,” said Kauffman of Common Cause. “When you start solving one issue, you start solving others.”
Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) and Sens. John Blake (D-Lackawanna) and Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny) also participated. Joining the senators at the roundtable discussion were:
- David Thornburgh, president and C.E.O., Committee of Seventy;
- Suzanne Almeida, executive director, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania;
- Barry Kauffman, senior advisor, Common Cause of PA;
- Brinda Carroll Penyak, deputy director, County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania;
- Anne Gingerich, executive director, Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations; and
- Professor Jill Family, director, Law and Government Institute, Widener University Commonwealth Law School.
CONTACT: CHARLES TOCCI
PHONE: (717) 787-5166
# # #
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