July 8, 2019
Column: What I Learned from Election Reform
First adopted in 1937, there have not been many substantial changes to the Pennsylvania Election Code over the years. I now better understand why.
Many advocates say they want changes. They love press conferences and rallies – yelling and chanting are especially popular. But, when it’s time to actually vote on bills, they’re too often hard to find. I guess it’s easier to criticize – especially after legislation begins to move.
Then, there’s the media. They, too, belittle elected officials, claiming various changes won’t be voted for one (negative) reason or another. When bills move, they are also hard to find.
The Senate State Government Committee held hours of hearings on voting machines and election reforms – little or no media coverage. Meanwhile, there were a host of stories on issues where there was no action – i.e., minimum wage. While I don’t subscribe to so-called “fake news” I do believe there’s a difference between reporting the news and trying to make news.
Most discouraging in trying to advance meaningful reforms are differences between Committee and floor votes. I try to ensure every bill referred to the State Government Committee is given due consideration. Time doesn’t always allow for all of them to be deliberated. It takes considerable effort to ensure proper public vetting: getting people to testify, listening carefully to all sides, and drafting amendments in an effort to reach consensus.
Senate State Government Committee hearings tend to be long. We want to give those appearing before the Committee ample time to be heard. We want Committee members to ask as many questions as they would like. We encourage and review written testimony from any interested party.
By the time we schedule a bill for a vote, everyone’s questions should have been asked and they should have gotten some kind of answer. Even when there isn’t broad agreement, we continue to work to find common ground on issues.
I’m proud to say we’ve often reached consensus on a host of issues. Despite our many successes, election reforms remain an elusive goal. While bills are reported out of Committee – often unanimously – we’re now seeing bipartisan “yes” votes turning into partisan “no” votes.
Two examples demonstrate this disappointment. The first are reforms to Pennsylvania’s redistricting process. When voted out of Committee last session, our plan was hailed as major reform among both Committee members and many interest groups. However, when time ran out and the plan had to be reintroduced this year, the praise turned into criticism – even derision.
The bill that was reintroduced used the same language as the bill that was previously praised. It was bipartisan and we thought it would lead to continued discussions to reform Pennsylvania’s redistricting process. Unfortunately, it didn’t. A previously unanimous bill has been slowed by partisan divide and it has languished on the Senate calendar.
Similarly, legislation to eliminate straight-party voting has met a similar fate. Unanimously reported from Committee, our media friends first ignored, focusing on Open Primaries. Then, their focus quickly changed as big political names from Washington DC started making calls in opposition. A proposal with not one negative vote from Committee and introduced by a Democratic colleague magically became a Republican electoral threat.
I remain committed to meaningful reform – real reform, not blue reform or red reform, purple reform. However, I now better understand why no one previously has tried to advance election reforms. It’s difficult and it’s painful.
Disappointed by the Governor’s Veto of Senate Bill 48
I am extremely disappointed by the Governor’s veto of Senate Bill 48, which established a process for future decertification of voting machines; authorized $90,000,000 for grants of up to 60% for counties to comply with the Governor’s mandate to replace voting machines; eliminated the “Pennsylvania Method” of straight-party voting; reduced the number of ballots counties must print, and; established new absentee ballot requirements.
This is especially frustrating as the Senate State Government Committee, which I chair, held a lengthy public hearing where these proposals were thoroughly vetted. Nobody from the Governor’s Administration expressed their concerns during the vetting process – only after the legislation passed and they received feedback from big-name DC influences. The Governor turned real bipartisan reform into partisan politics with the veto of this important legislation. Real reforms come from the vetting process and open discussions, not from press releases after the fact. Read Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman’s statement here.
Governor Vetoes Milk Hauling Legislation
Governor Wolf also vetoed House Bill 915, part of the Farming First package to help PA’s dairy farmers. HB 915 would have allowed milk haulers to travel on highways during a declaration of disaster emergency. Prohibiting travel of milk trucks causes a milking disruption that may result in dumping milk to make room for the next milking, adding financial burden to the already struggling dairy industry.
Bills Signed into Law by the Governor
House Bill 790 – Act 1A – 2019-2020 State Budget;
House Bill 1350 – Act 2A – appropriates $268,832,000 to the Pennsylvania State University;
House Bill 1351 – Act 3A – appropriates $154,853,000 to the University of Pittsburgh;
House Bill 1352 – Act 4A – appropriates $158,206,000 to Temple University;
House Bill 1353 – Act 5A – appropriates $15,166,000 to Lincoln University;
House Bill 1354 – Act 6A – appropriates $31,955,000 to the University of Pennsylvania;
Senate Bill 235 – Act 7A – appropriates $55,525,000 to the PA Department of State for the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs ($9,581,000 to the State Board of Medicine; $2,564,000 to the State Board of Osteopathic Medicine; $420,000 to the State Board of Podiatry, and; $845,000 to the State Athletic Commission);
Senate Bill 236 – Act 8A – appropriates $70,364,000 to the PA Department of Labor and Industry for the Worker’s Compensation Act and PA Occupational Disease Act, and $280,000 to the PA Department of Community and Economic DevelopmentOffice of Small Business Advocate;
Senate Bill 237 – Act 9A – appropriates $1,795,000 to the PA Department of Community and Economic Development Office of Small Business Advocate;
Senate Bill 243 – Act 15A – appropriates $47,512,000 to the PA Gaming Control Board, $9,391,000 to the PA Department of Revenue, $29,686,000 to the PA State Police, and $1,460,000 to the Attorney General;
House Bill 33 – Act 12 – eliminates the general assistance cash benefit program;
House Bill 262 – Act 13 – 2019-2020 Tax Code;
House Bill 856 – Act 14 – reinstates the Subsidized Permanent Legal Custodianship Program;
House Bill 1461 – Act 15 – 2019-2020 Administrative Code;
House Bill 1615 – Act 16 – 2019-2020 School Code;
Senate Bill 127 – Act 17 – reauthorizes PA’s 911 Law;
Senate Bill 144 – Act 18 – establishes a Keystone Telepresence Education Grant;
House Bill 315 – Act 21 – criminalizes female genital mutilation;
House Bill 384 – Act 22 – increases the fine for driving a vehicle without the proper endorsement;
House Bill 502 – Act 23 – aligns PA with federal law to ensure victims can attend proceedings against abusers;
House Bill 504 – Act 24 – expands the rape shield law;
House Bill 1166 – Act 26 – provides a rate increase for the River Pilots of the Delaware River;
Senate Bill 338 – Act 28 – Farming First: increases the allowable width of farm vehicles on roads;
Senate Bill 399 – Act 29 – establishes the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights;
Senate Bill 469 – Act 30 – applies the existing Tender Years Exception to those with intellectual disabilities or autism;
Senate Bill 479 – Act 31 – applies the existing Tender Years Exception for out-of-court statements to include additional serious sexual offenses;
House Bill 1324 – Act 32 – establishes a PA National Guard Military Family Education Program;
House Bill 370 – Act 33 – Farming First: allows voluntary relinquishment to construct a residence on preserved farmland;
House Bill 1514 – Act 34 – Farming First: reestablishes the Healthy Farms Healthy Schools program into the PA Farm-to-School Program;
House Bill 1516 – Act 35 – Farming First: creates the PA Rapid Response Disaster Readiness Account for the PA Department of Agriculture;
House Bill 1520 – Act 36 – Farming First: creates butchering operation inspection incentives;
House Bill 1526 – Act 37 – Farming First: reestablishes an Agriculture Linked Investment Program;
House Bill 1590 – Act 38 – Farming First: creates the Dairy Investment Program;
Senate Bill 634 – Act 39 – Farming First: establishes a Conservation Excellence Grant Program;
Senate Bill 661 – Act 40 – Farming First: establishes the Commonwealth Specialty Crop Block Grant Program;
House Bill 3 – Act 42 – establishes a PA state-based health insurance exchange and reinsurance program;
House Bill 24 – Act 43 – accelerates repayment of debt obligations;
House Bill 131 – Act 45 –clarifies the definition of “alcoholic cider”;
House Bill 195 – Act 46 – allows for synchronization of prescription medicines;
House Bill 423 – Act 48 – establishes revised ballot referenda requirements to change from “dry” to “wet” municipalities under the Liquor Code;
Senate Bill 547 – Act 50 – allows First Class Townships to set property tax millage rates by annual resolutions;
House Bill 548 – Act 51 – allows Boroughs and Third Class Cities to set property tax millage rates by annual resolutions;
House Bill 786 – Act 54 – addresses outcomes and funding formulas for PA trauma centers;
House Bill 807 – Act 55 – aligns the compensation of Deputy Adjutant Generals and commanding General Officers with federal military base pay;
House Bill 826 – Act 56 – creates the Sports Raffle Charities Act for 50/50 raffles;
House Bill 1524 – Act 57 – allows the transfer of Restaurant Liquor licenses to Mixed Use Town Centers;
House Bill 1614 – Act 58 – clarifies police jurisdiction among municipalities;
Senate Bill 321 – Act 63 – allows municipalities in a Third Class County the option to prohibit video gaming terminal (VGT) establishment licenses;
Senate Bill 440 – Act 64 – codifies a three-year pilot program for Flexible Instructional Days;
Senate Bill 478 – Act 65 – Farming First: establishes a beginning farmer tax credit;
Senate Bill 585 – Act 66 – Farming First: establishes the PA Dairy Future Commission;
Senate Bill 700 – Act 70 – implements a new Plan Con program for school construction and renovation projects;
2019-2020 Budget Statement
Contrary to what the media and our colleagues on the other side of the aisle say, the PA Senate Republicans DO understand the needs of our constituents and are focused on #FundingWhatWorks, committed to helping those in need while respecting taxpayers hard earned dollars. The 2019-2020 budget includes increases for some of the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable. Listen to my comments on both the budget, and the unfortunate and blatant disregard to the rules of the Senate by Lt. Governor Fetterman:
Executive Nominations Unanimously Confirmed by the Senate
Unemployment Compensation Board of Review – Marguerite C. Quinn, Furlong
Judge, Court of Common Pleas, Allegheny County – Mary C. McGinley, Pittsburgh
Judge, Court of Common Pleas, Elk/Cameron Counties – Shawn T. McMahon, Ridgway
Judge, Court of Common Pleas, Lehigh County – Anna-Kristie Morffi Marks, Allentown
Judge, Court of Common Pleas, Lycoming County – Ryan M. Tira, Montoursville
Judge, Court of Common Pleas, Pike County – Kelly Anne Gaughan, Milford
Judge, Court of Common Pleas, Washington County – Traci L. McDonald-Kemp, McDonald
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