This version of Harrisburg should be the rule, not the exception
Before adjourning for the spring primary, Pennsylvania's General Assembly showed this week how it can and should work in a bipartisan way to protect and assist Pennsylvanians, and advance the priorities of the public.
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation to create a legal medical marijuana program in Pennsylvania. The new medical marijuana law will bring relief to thousands of Pennsylvania patients who need a more effective and less addictive way to manage the symptoms of serious health problems such as seizures, cancer, post-traumatic stress and more.
Earlier in the week, the House also passed legislation reforming the state's statute of limitations for criminal and civil cases involving child sex abuse. The bill, which now goes to the Senate, would eliminate the statute of limitations for prosecuting criminal cases of child sex abuse, and allow child victims of sex abuse to bring civil cases up to the age of 50.
While final passage of both bills in the House -- and the governor's pending signature in the case of medical marijuana -- was good news, it also ironically demonstrated how broken and ineffective the General Assembly has been in the past 16 months on many other issues and priorities important to the public.
Pennsylvania did not have a final 2015-16 budget in place until March, and the legislature has made zero progress on issues such as raising the minimum wage, property tax relief, full funding for schools, fixing the state's growing structural deficit, a commonsense shale tax, pay equity, prohibiting discrimination against all Pennsylvanians and other important priorities that enjoy strong support from the people. When it comes to these issues, why does Harrisburg seem completely broken and ineffectual?
It's worth pointing out that medical marijuana and statute of limitations reform were also bottled up for a long time -- especially in the House -- until catalysts made further obstruction by special interests too politically risky. In the case of medical marijuana, it was a campaign by patients and their families of constant visits to the state Capitol, which allowed the public to see the pain and suffering that the legislature's failure to act was prolonging. In the case of statute of limitations reform, a damning grand jury report revealed decades of child sex abuse in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese and a systematic effort by Church officials and municipal authorities to cover it up and prevent victims from seeking justice.
But it shouldn't take bombshells to force action on what is good for Pennsylvania. That's why House Democrats have introduced a series of reform proposals that would reduce the tremendous influence special interests have gained in state government and allow lawmakers to respond to the priorities of the people, and not be constantly gridlocked by the narrow interests of lobbyists and wealthy campaign contributors.
This week, the people of Pennsylvania saw what is possible in a Harrisburg that is not constantly broken. Moving forward, we need to pursue the fixes necessary to make that kind of Harrisburg routine and not the exception.