Redistricting Reform

For over a year, the Senate State Government Committee, which I chair, has been reviewing proposals to change how election lines are drawn.

Under the current system, the four legislative leaders plus a fifth member they or the Pennsylvania Supreme Court appoints establish the General Assembly’s election districts.  Congressional districts are determined by statute.  Opponents say both systems too often result in “gerrymandering”.

“Gerrymandering” is named after Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry who in 1812 signed a bill establishing election districts.  Opponents said one map was so odd it resembled a salamander; Gerry’s name plus “salamander” gives us “gerrymander”.

Because the Commonwealth’s current process is outlined in Pennsylvania’s Constitution, changes require a constitutional amendment and California has been much of the focus.

California’s appointments begin with applications.  Of the over 35,000 applicants, 5,000 submitted essays reviewed by randomly chosen auditors and from this list, fourteen citizens were randomly chosen to serve on the California commission.

I agree:  Pennsylvania needs an independent citizens’ commission.  However, I simply cannot in good conscience delegate appointments to a process even supporters called “complicated and complex”.

I believe the Legislature has an unquestioned responsibility to ensure any redistricting commission is carefully chosen.  I take my oath of office seriously to support, obey, and defend both the United States Constitution and the Pennsylvania Constitution and to discharge my duties “with fidelity”.  Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution establishes the requirement to apportion congressional districts and gives states the authority to establish qualifications.

Working with various proponents of redistricting reform, I’m pleased to have helped advance a measure to bring needed changes to our Commonwealth’s redistricting process.

The Senate State Government Committee recently approved proposed changes to establish an 11-member independent commission approved by two-thirds votes of the General Assembly:  two Democrats and two Republicans approved by two-thirds vote of the Senate, two Democrats and two Republicans approved by two-thirds vote of the House, and three independents or other parties approved by two-thirds vote of both chambers.  A two-thirds vote ensures everyone is both heard and has meaningful input.

While details of the application and selection process need further refinement, I very much appreciate the willingness of those who have been working with me to defer this knotty issue while we continue to work with one another to advance the proposed constitutional amendment.  I’m honored by their trust and I look forward to continuing to work to resolve the issues associated with this key component of a revised redistricting process.

At the same time, I’ve questioned the role of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court under both our existing Constitution and with possible constitutional changes.

I believe the Pennsylvania Supreme Court exceeded its authority by their recent actions to redraw 2011 congressional maps.  The Court appointed a Special Master:  one person, from out-of-state.  No public input.  No public hearings.  No opportunities to question the new lines.

I find this lack of openness and transparency to be troubling at best and a blatant disregard of our Constitution at worst.  Either way, if we’re going to change the redistricting process, I believe these issues must be addressed as well.

I hope the changes we have proposed will help to secure and protect the integrity of our Constitutional Republic.  I believe in our system of government and I remain committed to its enduring ability to protect our inalienable God-given rights.

Modernizing the Civil Service Commission

The Senate State Government Committee, which I chair, recently held a public hearing on legislation introduced by Senator Vulakovich and me to modernize the Pennsylvania Civil Service Commission.

Senator Vulakovich and I introduced this measure to further modernization plans we started two years ago when we initiated some modest changes in the law to:

  • Allow civil service applicants to be notified of job openings or tests by email;
  • Expand the “Rule of Three” to create stronger pools of candidates to fill positions by permitting the Commission to provide lists of more than three candidates, and;
  • Bring “vacancy based hiring” to the Civil Service Commission by allowing them to post actual job vacancies rather than general lists of job classifications.

The General Assembly also approved a number of other changes to the Civil Service law to:

  • Prevent Civil Service Commissioners from being politically active or working for another government entity;
  • Establish a uniform method to apply for both civil service and non-civil service positions, and;
  • Allow appointing authorities to select the type of exams the Commission uses to develop lists of candidates for agency positions.

Our current legislation proposes further modernizations to better meet customer’s needs:  those seeking employment with the Commonwealth – especially veterans – and state government agencies needing to hire people.

Our legislation proposes to better meet these customers’ needs by moving hiring responsibilities from the Civil Service Commission to the Governor’s Office of Administration.  These proposed changes include:  merit-based hiring, civil service applications, certifications, examinations, and, promotions.

Although our plan would move hiring from the Civil Service Commission to the Governor’s Office of Administration, merit-based hiring would NOT be affected as agencies would continue to hire people based upon their qualifications.  Also, agencies and professions currently covered by merit hiring would continue to be subject to merit hiring.

Our initiative would also retain the Civil Service Commission’s jurisdiction over appeals from employment decisions.  This would include the Commission’s authority to:  conduct hearings and render determinations, exempt positions from civil service, and audit Commonwealth compliance with the Civil Service Act – the latter to provide checks and balances relating to the proposed transfer of merit-based hiring to the Office of Administration.

Most importantly, SB 1037 makes NO changes to veterans’ preference, as those protections are provided in the Military Code.

Many of our recommended changes are not new and have been offered in previous Legislation Sessions of the General Assembly.  These changes are also consistent with the Office of Administration’s successful efforts to consolidate human resources and IT functions.

The Senate State Government Committee recently held a public hearing on these proposed changes and I was pleased to hear from the Civil Service Commissioners, Office of Administration Secretary Minnich, Deputy Adjutant General Weller, Director of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation in the Department of Labor & Industry, the Pennsylvania War Veterans Council, members of the disabled community, and the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.

This input will be invaluable as we work to bring these changes to Pennsylvania.

Redistricting Reform

My “Promise to Pennsylvania” calls for strict adherence to Article III of the state Constitution on how legislation is passed.  It’s why I’ve insisted as chair of the Senate State Government Committee to publicly vet legislation prior to voting.

As redistricting changes have long been a goal of mine, I’ve wanted for some time to hold a series of hearings on proposed redistricting bills referred to the Committee.  However, lawsuits over the 2011 maps forced me to put these hearings on hold.

With the conclusion of these court challenges, I was both pleased and relieved to convene the first public hearing on proposals to change our redistricting process.  I hope those who watched found it as informative as I did.

Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution as amended by the 14th Amendment establishes the requirement to apportion Congressional Districts and gives the states authority to establish the qualifications.  Article II, Sections 16 and 17 of the Pennsylvania Constitution establish the number of House and Senate Members for the General Assembly and the manner in which those District lines are to be established.

These constitutional provisions are why I joined a lawsuit to block the congressional maps drawn by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  I believe the Court exceeded its Constitutional authority – even though I voted against the 2011 maps.

I voted against the 2011 maps.  I repeat this because of criticisms I’ve received from some saying I supported the 2011 maps – I didn’t.

Yes, I have been critical of the Court because I believe if we fail to follow our rules of law – the US and Pennsylvania Constitutions – our Constitutional Republic doesn’t work and the judiciary becomes a political weapon.

I don’t believe having one person draw election lines as the Court did is good public policy – especially when there was no public explanation of how the maps were redrawn, no public hearings were held, and no recourse was given to anyone to challenge the Court’s maps.  Hopefully, this isn’t the type of reform people have talked about with me.

There’s a reason why both the US and the Pennsylvania Constitutions both begin with an enumeration of the powers and responsibilities of the Legislature:  Article I of the US Constitution and Article II of the Pennsylvania Constitution (Article I is our Bill of Rights).

Several bills to change the reapportionment process have been referred to the Senate State Government Committee dealing with how the General Assembly’s election lines are drawn and/or how Congressional maps are determined.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) six states use independent commissions to draw legislative redistricting maps, one state (Iowa) has legislative staff draw the maps for their legislative districts.  Of the six states relying upon independent commissions to draw maps:  Alaska uses a 5-member independent commission, Arizona also uses a 5-member commission, California has a 14-member commission, Idaho a 6-member independent commission, Montana a 5-member commission, and Washington State also has a 5-member commission.

NCSL also notes 13 states have commissions to draw state legislative districts, including Pennsylvania.

Five states appoint advisory commissions to help advise their legislatures about where state legislative district lines should be drawn – these states include: Iowa, Maine, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

At the next public hearing, I hope to learn more about how other states do redistricting and additional possible ways Pennsylvania might change its process.  That hearing will be 10:00 a.m., Tuesday, April 24 in Hearing Room One of the North Office Building.

I look forward to continued discussion of these much needed and long overdue reforms.

Remembering Forgotten Founders

March 23rd marked the 243rd anniversary of Patrick Henry’s “give me liberty or give me death” speech. June 7th is the 242nd anniversary of the call for American independence. September 17th will be the US Constitution’s 231st birthday.

As we note these milestones, we should also remember often forgotten Founders who joined to “pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” to the independence and creation of our great nation.

Patrick Henry is remembered most for his 1775 speech: “. . . I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” No one who heard this speech ever forgot it.

Henry went on to serve in both the Virginia Assembly and as Governor. He chose not to attend the 1787 Constitutional Convention because: “I smelt a rat.”

Richard Henry Lee’s June 1776 motion in the 2nd Continental Congress called for independence: “Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”

It would take until July 2, 1776 to approve this Resolution and another two days to approve a document drafted by Thomas Jefferson offering reasons for independence. However, in writing to his wife Abigail, John Adams predicted July 2nd would be celebrated as the most memorable epocha in American the history.

Lee’s revolutionary spirit continued after independence as, like Patrick Henry, he too refused to attend the Constitutional Convention and he also opposed ratification.

While Lee served in the Continental Congress, George Mason was in the Virginia Assembly helping to draft the Virginia Constitution and 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights, which is similar to Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence: “That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

Although Mason served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, he was just one of three who refused to sign it.

These “Antifederalists” believed the Constitution needed a bill of rights. They also feared federal power to tax people without the consent of state legislatures – an issue that had led to the Revolution. They warned federal actions would trample state interests – and possibly a majority of the American people given the Constitution’s power for Congress “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper . . . .”

Lee and/or other so-called “Antifederalists” authored 18 pamphlets listing reasons to oppose the Constitution. While the “Federalist Papers” of James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay have survived the tests of time, “Letters from the Federalist Farmer” are largely forgotten.

The Antifederalist author(s) called for guarantees of: trial by jury, protection from ex post facto laws, the right of habeas corpus, freedom of press, right against self-incrimination and “infamous punishment,” meeting accusers and witnesses face-to-face, the “right [to] and justice freely and without delay,” security from unreasonable searches and seizures (of persons, houses, papers, or possessions), and judgements by one’s peers.

While the Antifederalists lost their battle to stop ratification of the Constitution, their push for a bill of rights did lead to adoption of the first ten amendments in 1791. These Founders may be forgotten but their work lives on today.

It’s About the Kids

“It’s about the kids.”  From the time I was first elected to the General Assembly, these are the words I’ve been hearing about education:  “it’s about the kids.”  The drumbeat became louder during my tenure as chair of the Senate Education Committee:  “it’s about the kids.”

A recent decision by the Pennsylvania Department of Education has me wondering about what’s most important to education:  is it really “about the kids?”  I’m especially concerned about the education of approximately 335 students within my District who live in Highspire.

In 2014, Highspire residents initiated action to move students from the Steelton-Highspire School District to the Middletown Area School District.  Their argument was such a transfer would be in the best educational interest of present and future school-age children living in Highspire.

Both the Steelton-Highspire and Middletown Area School Districts opposed this proposed transfer.  Steel-Hi was “opposed to this transfer based on the negative impact to educational quality this transfer will have on the remaining Steelton students and on the Highspire students, were they to transfer . . . .”  The School District added to its strong opposition citing the financial ramifications such a transfer would have on remaining students.

The Middletown Area School District also opposed the transfer of students from Highspire to their school district.  Middletown strongly believed the proposed transfer would adversely impact its student class size, special education service, and overall academic achievement, particularly at the elementary level.

While I don’t question the opinions of the parents or the positions of the two school districts, this proposed transfer of 335 students is precisely why I support educational choice.  I believe kids win when parents choose.  I simply don’t believe a child’s education should depend upon their zip code.

There are a number of plans for school choice.  Charter schools are publicly-funded schools that operate under a charter – often without some of the government regulations imposed on other public schools.

Cyber charter schools are also schools of choice but they teach students entirely or primarily online or through the internet.  Cyber schools and homeschooling are similar in that students’ education is usually dependent upon a parent or tutor.

Private schools rely upon finding their own funding:  tuition paid by parents, grants, donations, endowments, and sometimes vouchers.  Some private schools are affiliated with religious groups, like Catholic parochial schools.  Parents choosing this educational option need to cover the tuition costs that are in addition to the school taxes they pay to fund public schools.

Opponents of school choice are quick to criticize these options.  They don’t like charter and cyber charter schools.  They often have little or no respect for home schoolers.  School vouchers:  don’t ever go there – especially for private and parochial schools as vouchers would destroy education as we know it.

You can add to educational opponents’ list a recent legislative proposal to help students in persistently underperforming schools through the establishment of education savings accounts (ESAs).  This plan would allow approved families to withdraw their students from underperforming schools and receive the average state funding per pupil – deducted from the local district’s state education subsidy – as a grant from an account held in the Pennsylvania Treasury.

I believe ESAs would be a good way to help students like the 335 who live in Highspire.  Opponents disagree and they’ve been successful in keeping ESA legislation from advancing in the General Assembly.  They again say giving parents the resources and the ability to choose where their children go to school would hurt the overall education system.

And, I thought education was supposed to be all about the kids?

Respect the Constitution!

My love and respect for the Constitution is why I ran for office and it’s also why I recently joined in legal action to block the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s newly mandated Congressional maps.  I carry – and read – both the US and Pennsylvania Constitutions.

We are in a constitutional crisis thanks to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s actions to make the other two branches of government irrelevant.  Most alarming, they’re apparently doing this simply because they think they can.

Judges are essential elements of a constitutional republic.  Their role offers numerous protections of core government principles written into both our federal and Pennsylvania Constitutions.  These principles have worked for decades but are now in jeopardy due to a lack of respect for the Constitution.

Both our Constitutions first establish the Legislature, empowering it to make law – and, to ensure due deliberation, splitting it in two:  the Senate and the House of Representatives.  The executive branch was established to enforce laws; the judiciary to interpret laws.

Article I, Section 4 of the United States Constitution gives state legislatures responsibility for:  “The times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives shall be prescribed in each state by the Legislature thereof . . .”

Pennsylvania’s Constitution gives the Legislature responsibility to establish Congressional districts using the same process as all other legislation:  introduce a bill, consider it on three separate days in each chamber, vote it, and send to the Governor to be signed.

I opposed the 2011 bill that adopted congressional maps.  However, it became law using the required constitutional mandates of bill introduction, consideration by both chambers, and enactment into law.

Six years and three elections later, the PA Supreme Court is usurping legislative and executive authority by establishing new districts on its own without legislative or executive involvement.  First, they declared the 2011 maps unconstitutional – using standards found nowhere in the Pennsylvania Constitution.  Then, they dictated a timeline to draw new maps outside the constitutional requirements for how a bill becomes law.

Unfortunately, the outcry for changing how Pennsylvania Congressional districts are determined has been entangled with court actions.  Those proceedings have nothing to do with permanently changing the way redistricting is done.  In the process, citizens who have visited my office in the hopes of permanent change have been deceived by those seeking to change the political makeup of Congress.

As chair of the Senate State Government Committee, I remain committed to carefully examining the process by which Pennsylvania Congressional Districts are drawn.  It’s why I’ve scheduled a public hearing on bills to change the process.

For now, we have four PA Supreme Court justices relying on a California law professor to draw new maps – one person.  No public explanation has been offered for how the maps were redrawn.  No public hearings were held.  No recourse was provided to the public to challenge the new maps.  The maps were presented via Court order as if written on stone tablets from on high.

Judges are not deities.  Their actions must be grounded in the Constitution – they too are elected in Pennsylvania.  When they don their robes, they are to leave political affiliation behind.  Otherwise, the judiciary becomes a political weapon.

When courts exceed their authority as the PA Supreme Court has done, our system of government no longer works.  Our Constitutional Republic has issues but nonetheless allows all parties – including minority opinions – to be heard and to work out differences.  It’s what’s given our nation both stability and liberty.  People of good faith can disagree.

Judges have to respect the Constitution.  If they don’t, we have a right – an obligation – to say something.  And so I have.  I have too much respect for the Constitution to do otherwise.

Like judges, I swore an oath to support, obey, and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth.  To act differently, fails to respect the Constitution we’re all sworn to uphold.

THIS is “Reform?”

The outcry to change how Pennsylvania draws Congressional and General Assembly District maps began soon after the 2016 Presidential Election.

Redistricting reform has long been a goal of mine.  As chair of the Senate State Government Committee, I was looking forward to scheduling public hearings across the Commonwealth on all the proposed bills to change the redistricting process.

Some of those interested in redistricting reform decided they didn’t want to wait for the legislative process.  When lawsuits were filed to challenge the constitutionality of the 2011 maps, I was forced to put the planned hearings on hold.  It’s next to impossible to have a good public discussion while an issue is being litigated.

During the ongoing court proceedings, my staff and I met with many citizens and advocacy groups to discuss their support for various redistricting changes.  I am perplexed by comments from some advocates.  Most surprising were two board members from the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters who told me they had not read the bill they support.  They could not explain how it would work.  They couldn’t express why it’s better than other bills under consideration.

Other advocates surprised me when they declared voters could not be trusted to select delegates to a proposed citizens’ redistricting commission.  They argued “party bosses” would take over.  They seem to have forgotten I was opposed by the party establishment.

I have yet to meet someone who will address my biggest concern with proposed plans to change redistricting:  if a revamped commission would be unable to draw new maps, lines would be drawn by a “special master.”  How does having one – unelected – person drawing maps constitute “reform?”

Thanks to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, we may all soon get an answer to this question.  If the General Assembly isn’t able to get new maps to the Governor by February 9 and if the Governor doesn’t approve a plan by February 15, the Court will draw the lines.  They already have a “special advisor” – again, just one person.  This is “reform?”

Beyond the fear of one person redrawing maps, I’m shocked by the Court’s lack of respect for our Constitution.  Article III, Section 4 mandates:  “every bill shall be considered on three different days in each House.”

To meet this constitutional requirement, the Senate was forced to consider a bill with no details – just a shell to meet the Court’s unreasonable timelines.  How unfortunate.

The Court has also stepped on Article IV, Section 15 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which gives the Governor 10 days to sign or veto a bill.  Should the General Assembly get him legislation to meet the Court’s timelines, he’ll now have less than 10 days to act.

So, here we are in the quest for fair congressional districts – faced with an unreasonable timeline that doesn’t allow for openness and transparency, no details on how to draw the new lines so as to meet the Court’s expectations, little rationale of how the Court imagines the Constitution was violated or how it will evaluate if any new maps meet its currently secret definition of what’s constitutional and what is not, and the distinct possibility one person will be redrawing District maps.

I want to meet the person who calls this “reform.”

Amending the Constitution

An ongoing debate in our nation is the question of whether our rule of law is a “living Constitution” or one that should be taken literally.  The former says the Constitution was intentionally written in broad and flexible terms so as to change with the times.  The latter focuses on the original words, meaning, and intent of the Constitution.

This debate has been raging since 39 of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the document.  Three delegates refused to sign because they considered it a flawed document:  George Mason and Edmund Randolph of Virginia and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts.

In the state ratification debates that followed, these three were joined by a host of other “Anti-Federalists” who also opposed ratification, including:  Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, James Monroe, Richard Henry Lee and George Clinton.

The “Federalists” were rallied by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, who authored a series of 85 articles in support of the Constitution:  “The Federalist Papers.”

In Federalist No. 50, Hamilton and/or Madison focused on changes to the Constitution:  “Periodical Appeals to the People Considered,” which notes:  “IT MAY be contended, perhaps, that instead of occasional appeals to the people, which are liable to the objections urged against them, periodical appeals are the proper and adequate means of preventing and correcting infractions of the constitution.”

Interestingly, Federalist 50 cites Pennsylvania’s now forgotten Council of Censors, which met in 1783 and 1784 to determine “’whether the constitution had been violated, and whether the legislative and executive departments had encroached upon each other.’  This important and novel experiment in politics merits, in several points of view, very particular attention . . . .”

Among the benefits cited of such a Council of Censors are reasons why the amendment process is so important, including serving as a check to the “passion” of the moment that results in decisions based upon “not reason” and decisions that “misconstrue the limits prescribed for the legislative and executive departments, instead of reducing and limiting them within their constitutional places.”

In his Farewell Address of 1796, President George Washington said:  “If in the opinion of the people the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates.  But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this in one instance may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.  The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit which the use can at any time yield.”

I agree:  if we fail to follow the Constitution, it becomes mere words on paper.  When we adhere to the Constitution and amend rather than interpret it, it remains our rule of law.


Fred Sembach
Fallon Binner


Informed Consent

The ability to make decisions about what goes into our bodies is a basic human right.  This personal autonomy is challenged whenever government requires mandatory vaccinations.  Indeed, sticking needles into a human body is the very definition of intrusive.

For this reason, I am introducing “Informed Consent” legislation to require patients and parents be given information before they consent to vaccinations.  Consistent with my successful medical cannabis initiative, I believe all medical decisions should be between a patient and their physician – including the right to informed consent or informed refusal in the use of vaccines.

I am also introducing a Resolution calling upon Congress to repeal the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act.  This federal law prevents those harmed by a vaccine from suing pharmaceutical companies making these products.  I believe this Act violates patient’s rights by limiting options to refuse vaccinations or seek due process of law as guaranteed by the 5th Amendment to the US Constitution.

My goal is to ensure people are first given an explanation of the potential benefits and the potential risks whenever a vaccine is administered.  Only then are people able to exercise their basic human right to decide whether or not to allow intrusion into their bodies.

Informed Consent is already required for a number of medical treatments and procedures:  surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and blood transfusions.  My legislation would extend patients’ rights to Informed Consent to vaccinations by requiring them to be informed of the potential risks and benefits of the vaccinations they are being given.  More importantly, my legislation will require patients be given this information prior to their consenting to receive a vaccination.

I believe Informed Consent should, at a minimum, mean the person from whom consent is being sought be given the opportunity to understand what they are being given, what the risks and benefits are, and other potential consequences of the procedure they are facing.

Physicians and researchers are divided on the impacts of vaccines on children – especially the relationship of vaccines to autism – plus a number of other conditions and medical circumstances where vaccination may not be considered safe.

From the 1940’s when the first autism cases were diagnosed to the 1980’s when the vaccine schedule was expanded, the rate of autism remained relatively stable.  In the early 1990’s, parents and physicians witnessed an alarming rise, which some call an epidemic, in autism rates.  In one decade, the rate of autism increased 500%:  from one in 2,500 to one in 500.

A reanalysis of a 2004 CDC study showed a higher connection between incidences of autism for children receiving the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine prior to 36 months of age.  In 2008, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program awarded a family roughly $1.5 Million for a vaccine’s role in an autism-related diagnosis.

Until these issues are further researched and/or a Vaccine Safety Commission is established, I believe no patient or parent should be required to submit to a vaccination without Informed Consent.

I hope my colleagues in the Senate and House will agree:  Informed Consent is a basic human right of consenting or refusing a medical treatment or procedure – including vaccinations.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

In 1897, eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote to the New York Sun, “Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”  The reply was, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

Fast forward 120 years:  the Santa Claus of 1897 is now the government of 2017.  From the time we are born until the day we die, government is with us every step…from birth certificates to death certificates.

Official time is determined by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.  Government, not parents, decides where children go to school – all based on zip codes.  Today’s playgrounds are vastly different from those of Baby Boomers – sliding boards and swings are smaller and merry-go-rounds and jungle gyms aren’t the same.

Government requires a multitude of licenses and certifications.  When you marry, want to drive, fish, hunt, or get a dog, you need to get a license.  Cars must be registered and inspected; building codes and permits are required for new construction and renovation; and commodes just don’t flush as well since Congress limited the amount of water in them.

When I meet with business professionals I’m amazed at government’s reach into every aspect of doing business.  It’s why many ask if “free trade” really exists – either internationally or domestically.

Inspectors are everywhere, monitoring child care facilities, hiring, elevators, minimum wage, prevailing wages, and other government mandates.  Health care is the most recent government requirement that will impact both employers and individual employees.

Contractors and other professionals need permits and licenses to do business.  Food packages are filled with information that few read, and farmers even need a permit to sell raw milk.

Some government policies contradict one another.  For example, we spend taxpayer moneys to attract new businesses.  If and when employers come, we tax them – often times more than other states.  When they say they are leaving, we often spend more tax money to entice them to stay.

The Federal Communications Commission regulates programming and the signals used.  Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve attempts to manage or otherwise control the economy.

Taxes and government red tape have been cited for costing jobs and job opportunities.  But, government keeps adding them.  Tax policies benefit some and penalize others.  Depending upon how you’re impacted, you’ll either call them a “tax shelter” or a “tax loophole.”

The New York Sun wondered “how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus . . . A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”

I wonder what our government will look like in the future – especially since its role was to secure people’s rights and freedoms; it was never intended to be Santa.