East Falls NOW Article: When it Comes to Rating a Fair Agenda: PA Scores Zero

The Pennsylvania General Assembly meets in a two-year session and we are winding down to the end of our 2019-2020 session on November 30. Plenty of bills have been introduced this session, fewer brought to the floor for a vote, and very few signed into law. Why is this?

According to a study conducted by Fair Vote, a national nonpartisan organization advocating for electoral reform, PA scores zero on an index of the fairness of rules governing the legislative agenda in its state chambers. 

You may ask, why does PA score zero? We score zero because our legislative leaders have significant control and power over what bills run in committee and what bills run on the floor of each chamber.

Of the 99 legislative chambers in the United States, (Nebraska has a unicameral legislature) 23 chambers require committees to hear all bills; 18 chambers require committees to report all bills and 33 chambers automatically place bills reported from committee on the agenda for a floor vote. 

If you are looking for a fair state that has received a 100% score on this fairness index, we can look to Colorado for an example.  The legislature in Colorado has truly been committed to reform by requiring each bill submitted to the Colorado legislature to receive a full hearing and a committee vote, ending the Rules Committee which party leaders often used to stop legislation from reaching a full floor vote, and cementing their rules in their state’s constitution so they cannot be changed each session.

You may also ask how can we do better? Pennsylvania is in dire need of rules reform to promote good government legislation.

Session after session there are good reform bills that languish. Leadership is often focused on bills that are either politically expedient (it is an election year for the PA House and half of the PA Senate) or those bills which are influenced by special interest groups, particularly those groups with significant financial influence. Elections and financial influence via affiliated political action committees (PACs) often drive the focus of the PA House.

I am not being cynical- just factual.

Here is a sampling of good government legislation that will most likely not get finished this session.

Redistricting and campaign finance reform lead the way, with criminal justice reform, merit selection of judges, and closing loopholes in gun laws all tie for a close second; and last but not least, ensuring our environment stays clean, and funding basic education fairly.  The list continues beyond these topic areas.

Getting these good government bills heard and passed would make a big difference in how fairly our general assembly operates and how better policy, for the greater good of our citizens would impact our commonwealth. However, these bills usually never make their way to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law. This could change with rules reform.   

Pennsylvania needs elected officials to serve in the General Assembly who are committed to fairness. We need elected officials who are committed to a change in the rules that permit no one small group of individuals to run the show and decide the fate of Pennsylvania citizens. These same citizens have the power to elect leaders who will advocate for fairness.

Please know I am committed to advocating for fairness. As I have shown throughout my tenure as your representative, I have and will continue to advocate vociferously for Rules that will take Pennsylvania from a rating of zero to 100%.