Medical Cannabis Update

Much has been accomplished since my medical cannabis legislation was signed into law in 2016.  Twelve grower/processor and 27 dispensary permits were awarded and a number of facilities have opened, allowing patients across the Commonwealth to receive medicine.  The recent approval of thirteen additional grower/processor and the expected approval of 23 additional dispensary permits should help with both availability and the price of medical cannabis products.

I was pleased to work with Representative Kathy Watson to include a research component as part of Pennsylvania’s 2016 law as I believe it will make our Commonwealth a leader in the nation for medical cannabis research.

Often called “Chapter 20” because this is the section number where the research details of the law are found.  Under these provisions, eight of Pennsylvania’s nine medical schools were previously approved to conduct medical cannabis research as “Academic Clinical Research Centers”:  Drexel University College of Medicine (Philadelphia), Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (Philadelphia), Penn State College of Medicine (Hershey), Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University (Philadelphia), Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine (Pittsburgh), Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (Erie), and Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (Philadelphia).

However, shortly after the Chapter 20 research regulations were issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, they were challenged and a court issued a preliminary injunction to stop their implementation.  Fortunately, a majority of my colleagues in the Senate and House agreed with me that such a delay would be an absolute travesty for patients.  Patients have been – and will continue to be – my focus in bringing this much needed medicine to Pennsylvania.  Some patients are already travelling long distances to get their medicine and all patients pay for their medicines out of their own pockets as medical cannabis isn’t covered by insurance.

The court apparently misunderstood medical cannabis in general and Chapter 20 in particular in issuing the preliminary injunction:  “there will be sufficient or surplus supply to meet current patient demand.”

Thanks to bipartisan collaboration, legislation was passed to clarify the legislative intent of Chapter 20 and the Governor signed it into law.

At the same time, this new law makes clearer a number of issues related to medical cannabis research.  Chapter 20 permits are in addition to the 25 grower/processor permits and the 50 dispensary permits (plus the original law’s five permit holders who are able to operate as both a grower/processor and as a dispensary).  Chapter 20 provides for eight additional grower/processor and dispensary permits.

All eight Academic Clinical Research Centers must be approved by the Department of Health before entering into contracts with a party known as a “clinical registrant” that will help to foster research.  These contracts must be approved by the Department as well.

Clinical registrants will continue to be required to comply with the same fees and obligations as other grower/processors and dispensaries.  This includes the $2 Million in fees to be a grower/processor and the $150,000 in fees to be a dispensary.  Chapter 20 applicants must also demonstrate they have an additional $15 Million in capital in order to be considered for permits to operate as a medical marijuana organization under Chapter 20.

I was pleased to be part of this bipartisan effort to clarify the medical cannabis law and I look forward to its continued implementation, including – and especially – the important research components of the Chapter 20 provisions.

Civility and Consensus

I believe civility and consensus are essential to solving problems and addressing issues.  However, as American statesman and three-time presidential candidate Henry Clay once lamented:  “. . . everyone wants his own way, irrespective of the interests and wishes of others.”  Sadly, little has changed since Mr. Clay’s time.

Consider redistricting reform.  I support changes to the current system because I believe in the words of Article 1, Section 2 of the Pennsylvania Constitution:  “All power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their peace, safety and happiness.  For the advancement of these ends they have at all times an inalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think proper.”

That’s why I worked with a number of different people and groups to help fashion a consensus that was overwhelmingly accepted by the Senate for an 11-member, independent commission of citizens to draw election maps for both Congress and the General Assembly.

While we weren’t able to finalize the manner in which citizens would have applied and been considered for selection to the commission, the plan would have had legislative leaders and the Governor recommend four Democrats, four Republicans, and three independents to the independent panel for two-thirds confirmation by the General Assembly.  To reach the two-thirds threshold requirement would have necessitated some consensus and perhaps (and hopefully) civility as well.

Lobbyists or legislative staff would not have been allowed to serve on the independent citizens’ commission and those being considered would need to be properly registered to vote.

This plan would have also restricted splitting counties, municipalities, and election wards.  Splits were the unsuccessful focus of 2011 legal challenges to maps drawn after the last census.

The proposed independent citizens’ commission would have had a year to draw election maps.  Any map approved by the commission would have needed the support of seven of the 11 members – with at least two Democrats, two Republicans, and two independents or other parties supporting them.  Again, civility and consensus would have been essential in securing commission approval of any and all maps.

If the commission would fail to finalize maps, commissioners would submit two or three sets of draft maps to the General Assembly for two-thirds approval by both chambers.  The General Assembly could not draw its own maps – it could only consider those developed by the independent citizens’ commission.

If the General Assembly would also fail to reach consensus in approving maps, the same sets of maps would have been forwarded to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  However, the Court would also have not been allowed to draw its own maps.

My conversations with citizens and the different advocacy groups helped to address a number of concerns with proposed changes.  I appreciated the civility of our discussions as we worked toward a consensus that didn’t give everyone all that they wanted yet sought to ensure private citizens would be in charge of the independent drawing of election maps.

The consensus plan was ultimately approved by the Senate and although time ran out in the Pennsylvania House, I believe it nonetheless represented an improvement over the status quo.

I look forward to working on continued deliberations on possible changes to how congressional and House and Senate election lines are drawn.

Hopefully, these discussions will again embrace civility and the goal of working toward consensus.  Or, as Henry Clay once said:  “All legislation, all government, all society is founded upon the principle of mutual concession, politeness, comity, courtesy.”

Learning from the Past

Irish born political thinker and British statesman Edmund Burke said:  “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”

King George III should have listened to Mr. Burke, who questioned Britain’s policies for its American colonies.  Neither the King nor Parliament listened, which led to American independence.

Consider our earlier history.  In 1607, a small group established Jamestown, America’s first permanent English settlement.  They formed a government, built a fort, and sought food.  The land was said to have “good and fruitful” soil, with abundant deer and turkey, and “strawberries, raspberries and fruits unknown” growing wild.

The Jamestown settlers kept crops and game in a communal storehouse.  No matter how much or how little you delivered to the common store, you were entitled to eat.

Unfortunately, this experiment failed.  Within a few months, most settlers died from famine, which led Captain John Smith, governor of the colony, to declare:  “He who shall not work, shall not eat.”  Smith’s decree had a dramatic effect:  the death rate declined markedly.

But, Jamestown’s problems continued.  The worst was the “starving time”, leading settlers to institute a system of private property, which helped them to survive and prosper.  John Rolfe, husband of Pocahontas, said once private property was introduced, men could engage in “gathering and reaping the fruits of their labors with much joy and comfort.”

A Massachusetts settlement established further north in 1620 had similar issues.  Pilgrims and Separatists seeking to live in a society of “just and equal laws” called the place they landed “Plymouth”.  Their goal was to live and worship God according to their conscience, signing a contract with one another named after their ship:  the “Mayflower Compact”.

While Jamestown was becoming more entrepreneurial, the Plymouth Colony relied upon joint ventures:  communal farming, common stores, and shared property (hence the name “Boston Commons”).  People were expected to put into the common stock all they could and take only what they needed.  Everyone contributed to the common store and each member of the community was entitled to an equal share from it:  “all profits & benefits that are got by trade, working, fishing, or any other means” be placed in the common stock of the colony and “all such persons as are of this colony, are to have their meat, drink, apparel, and all provisions out of the common stock.”

Similarly, all the land cleared and all the houses belonged to the community.  No one owned anything.  Everything was owned by the community.  Everyone shared equally and all received equally.

These policies had the same results as Jamestown:  half the settlement died the first year from sickness, disease, starvation, malnutrition, or exposure.  Settlers began to question this system:  “to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop.”

The Massachusetts colonists – unaware of their southern neighbors’ actions – took similar corrective measures.  While the goal of a “common wealth” remained, they moved away from common storehouses, common stock, and communal lands and embraced free enterprise and private property.

People were allowed to raise their own food and build their own homes.  Colonists challenged themselves to advance themselves, innovate more, and acquire property of their own.  These free market principles not only increased production, they produced surpluses, leading the Massachusetts governor to write:  “instead of famine now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God.  Any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.”

Hopefully, we’ve learned from our history.

Justifying Government Growth

I’ve searched both the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions and I can’t find it.  Where’s it written government must grow each and every year?  Why isn’t government expected to live within its means just like people and businesses?

It took 51 Sessions of Congress to pass a $1 Billion budget – the “Billion Dollar Congress” of 1889.  The first $1 Trillion federal budget came in 1987.  Today, Pennsylvania spends well over $1 Billion on debt service alone.

In 1969, Governor Shafer branded his proposed state budget “The Fiscal Rubicon” in calling for $492 Million in new revenues:  “I believe history will not deal kindly with a rich Nation that will not tax itself to cure its own miseries.”

In 1970, spending for a population of 11,800,766 was $357.15 per person.  Our current budget will spend $32,714,991,000 to serve a population of 12,823,989, or $2,551.08 per person.  Spending increased 614% while population grew by just 9%.

Consider the state budget I opposed my first year in office:  $27,160,000,000, a 4.4% increase over the previous year.  When I said state government spending was increasing faster than taxpayers’ ability to pay, Governor Rendell declared:  “he’s certifiable”.

In 2007, welfare and education represented two-thirds of the budget:  medical assistance for nursing facilities, pharmacy services, and managed care; education funding increased 6.2% (to $10.5 Billion), including $5 Billion for basic education (a $167 Million increase).

Spending under the 2007 – 2008 state budget broke down to $74,410,958 a day, $3,100,456 an hour, $51,674 per minute, and $861 each second.

Under the 2018 – 2019 state budget, the Commonwealth will spend $32,714,991,000, a 2.2% increase over last year:  $89,630,112 a day, $3,734,588 an hour, $62,243 per minute, and $1,037 per second.  Imagine ten $100 bills passing through your hands every second.  That’s how much the Commonwealth is spending.

Education is again a focus:  $100 Million more for basic education, $25 Million more for Pre-K Counts and Head Start, and $15 Million more for special education.  School safety continues to be a priority, with more than $60 Million in new funding for school resource officers, security equipment, and initiatives to help prevent school violence.

From my first year in office until now, the General Fund has increased by over half a billion dollars a year – a 20.45% increase:  from $27.1 Billion to $32.7 Billion.

Government grows when the economy is good and government grows when the economy is bad.  Meanwhile, people must make ends meet as gas, housing, food, and health care costs rise. Unlike government, people can’t make others give them money.  Only government has the power to tax.

That’s why I remain committed to my “Taxpayer Protection Act” to restrict the growth of government by limiting spending to three years’ average change in personal income or the rate of inflation compared to population.

The State Government Committee, which I chair, reported out a proposed taxpayer protection constitutional amendment.  Full Senate action has not yet been taken on this proposal.

I also co-sponsored legislation to require Zero Based Budgeting to justify each dollar of spending.  Agencies should prove the legal need for their actions, quantitatively estimate adverse impacts should these activities be discontinued, and itemize each expenditure.

This year, the General Assembly and the Governor took a step toward “performance based budgeting” to require departments and agencies to justify budget requests for all existing and proposed programs before receiving any funding.

The goal of this new law is to better question how government money is spent and how much is spent.  Taxpayers deserve good explanations when government grows and I will continue to fight for answers and accountability.

Fred Sembach
Fallon Binner

A Tale of Two Revolutions

Consider the different outcomes of two revolutions:  America’s (celebrated July 4th) and France’s (celebrated July 14th, Bastille Day).  French military and financial assistance were keys to American independence.  Yet, the French Revolution produced a very different result.  Why?

The American Revolution largely focused on taxes and representation.  France’s issues were grounded in feudalism, repeated food shortages, unemployment, high and rising prices, and out-of-control inflation.

America’s rebellion began with “the shot heard round the world” when colonial militia stood against British royal troops at Lexington and Concord.  France’s revolution evolved over many years and produced much more internal upheaval.

Our Declaration of Independence proclaimed:  “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (i.e., property).  These rights are protected by the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights.

France’s 17 articles in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen included liberty, property, and safety and resistance against oppression.  However, subsequent French governments assaulted these rights in the face of increasing revolutionary discontent.

The United States has had two constitutions – the latter amended 27 times.  France has had at least 15.  America has had one Constitutional Republic, France five.  The United States Constitution has protected rights.  France didn’t always follow or implement constitutions.  One of the French constitutions wasn’t implemented because its legislature was invaded by a mob.

As the demands of the populace grew and violence increased, French governments worked to control the population, making the country more and more a police state.  Police responded to local demands and sentiment, arresting suspects and holding them for months without trials.  As the government became more centralized and powerful, anyone deemed a threat was beheaded.  Public opinion became more important than the rule of law.

French citizens could be interrogated with no evidence produced against them, denied lawyers or the ability to call witnesses.  And, they could only choose between two verdicts:  acquittal or death – neither based upon evidence but, rather, on the moral convictions of jurors.

Property rights were attacked as the government sought to redistribute property and fill holes in public finance.  Some warned:  “Property is sacred, for us as for you.  We are being attacked today, but do not deceive yourselves; if we are despoiled today, your turn will come.”

A major impetus for the French Revolution was lack of food.  As food shortages continued to plague France, there were increasing calls to abandon the free market by imposing price controls.  However, as controls were imposed, supplies dwindled and often government prices exceeded the black market.  Anyone spoiling, losing, or hiding food could face death.

As violence increased, so did the number and breadth of repressive laws.  Yet, the government vacillated between catering to popular demands and ordering troops to repress the people.  Those who resisted were subject to the guillotine.  The press was attacked, using the rationale:  “that to set up the Republic, they needed for a while the jurisprudence of despots.”

Individual rights were trampled with increased pressure for conformity and unity.  Efforts were made to incorporate the Church into the revolutionary government.  Calendars were changed to remove all religious and royal references.  Secret ballots weren’t used so as to expose voters to maximum political pressure and intimidation.

Two revolutions, two different outcomes.  One remained committed to the rule of law while the other catered to the times.  Something to remember whenever anyone says we need a “living constitution” to fit the times and temperament of the people.

A Busy Session

With the passage of the 2018 – 2019 state budget, the Commonwealth will spend $32,714,991,000 in taxpayer moneys for the General Fund.  This translates to $89,630,112 a day, $3,734,588 an hour, $62,243 per minute, and $1,037 per second.  Minus one-time allocations to balance, this year’s budget was within the limits of my Taxpayer Protection Act as it grew less than the combined rates of inflation and population:  1.7%.

During budget deliberations, a number of other issues were also advanced – most notably, how election lines are drawn.  Over the past year, legal and legislative actions collided with one another and I was pleased to help break the logjam by advancing a bill to establish an independent commission of citizens.  Although the mapping of judicial districts was added to this proposal over my objections, passage by the Senate gave advocates another option to pursue in the House. And, while it fell short in the House, I look forward to continued discussions in the future.

An initiative that was unanimously passed by both chambers and is on the Governor’s desk awaiting his signature is my bill to further the modernization of the Pennsylvania Civil Service Commission.  This legislation built upon work we started two years ago when modest changes were enacted.  The new law will continue efforts to better meet those seeking employment with the Commonwealth – especially veterans – needs.

Hiring responsibilities will be moved from the Civil Service Commission to the Governor’s Office of Administration.  Merit-based hiring will not be affected as agencies will continue to hire people based upon their qualifications.  The new structure will also retain the Civil Service Commission’s jurisdiction over appeals from employment decisions.  Most importantly, there will be NO changes to veterans’ preference requirements.

I was also pleased to address a court decision that had delayed an important component of Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis program:  research.  When medical cannabis came to Pennsylvania two years ago, one of the key provisions that made our Commonwealth unique was the so-called “Chapter 20” provision providing for cannabis research.  Of course, the devil is always in the details and there were (and continue to be) many issues related to Chapter 20.

Thanks to the work of all four legislative caucuses, the Governor’s Office, and the Pennsylvania Department of Health, temporary regulations were drafted over many months.  Unfortunately, the ink on these regulations was barely dry when they were challenged in court, which granted a temporary injunction to delay implementation of the research provisions.  As patients have been – and will continue to be – my focus, the new law will address the Court’s misunderstanding of medical cannabis in general and Chapter 20 in particular.

My legislation to provide Pennsylvania notaries with the additional option of remote or online notarization also passed the Senate unanimously.  My goal is to give notaries safe and secure online notarial tools.  Hopefully, the House will take action on this bill in the Fall.

A number of efforts were also initiated to advance bills providing for the total elimination of school property taxes.  The plan was to build upon the constitutional amendment approved by the voters to allow for a “homestead exemption” – people’s primary residences.  While there was much discussion on how to best reach this much needed and long overdue goal, we were not able to get it to the full Senate for a vote.  Rest assured, our efforts will continue.

In the interim, I’d like to thank everyone who provided input and support for the measures we advanced and I look forward to securing additional accomplishments in the weeks and months ahead.

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.