One of my biggest frustrations with the legislative process is that it can be like a glacier – frozen solid and unmovable. In Harrisburg, the rules give power to a single person – a committee chair from the majority party – to freeze a bill and keep it from ever being considered. This power is ripe for abuse – and it has kept bills that had more co-sponsors than the 102 needed to pass the bill from reaching the full House.
This week we saw that power wielded again by Rep. Rob Kauffman, the majority chair of the Judiciary Committee. Chair Kauffman is on record that he would never pass or move forward bills that reflect commonsense gun safety policy. For this entire session, and for many sessions before, he has refused to move bills on safe gun storage (HB699), an assault weapons ban (HB770), local control over firearms regulations (HB1538), and temporary prevention of people in mental health crisis from possessing firearms (HB1903).
Last week, I joined my Democratic colleagues in asking for those four bills to be discharged – to allow them to fly over the glacier in the Judiciary Committee and come to the full House for debate and a vote. These four bills do not represent the entire solution to our gun violence epidemic, but they are important pieces of the puzzle. It is wrong to reject them, like Chair Kauffman has done, and prevent us from even discussing them. Regardless of where you stand on the wisdom of the policies, the refusal to debate is wrong and cowardly
When the discharge resolutions were presented, the glacier appeared to move. Chair Kauffman scheduled a meeting to consider them. We were informed of a number of amendments proposed that would have changed the fundamental structure and purpose of the bills – and we prepared for the debate and discussion that these commonsense measures deserved.
Instead, immediately at the start of the hearing, a motion was submitted by a Republican member to move all four bills to a different committee – the Local Government Committee. The motion was put forth and it froze the process yet again. No discussion on the actual bills and policies was permitted. The bills – under the rules – are now under a different committee where they will not see the light of day.
To me, this is a travesty and an abuse of the process. It prevents discussion of controversial topics and keeps us from doing the job we were elected to do. I have no problem with engaging in debate about the wisdom of gun safety laws, which policies make sense, and which do not. I wanted to have that debate – but the power vested in one member, Chair Kauffman, means that we will not have debate.
Right now, with all of the victims of gun violence in Philadelphia, and the rest of the state and country, we have an obligation to try to change course – to consider and investigate new policies to keep all of our people safe. I am frustrated that I cannot do my job on this issue. All I can do is continue to advocate in other spaces for what I consider to be the best policies and the best ways we can all be safe. Unfortunately, Harrisburg is frozen in a glacier, and it won’t help us now.