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HomeHarrisburg Watch
 binocular purple      Harrisburg Watch

    Action Item:  LWVPA opposes PA Senate Bill 106.  SB 106 proposes 5 new amendments to the PA Constitution which:

  • state that the PA Constitution does not grant any right relating to abortion
  • add to the types of legislation that are exempt from the Governor's veto
  • add new voter ID requirements, eliminating some forms of ID that are currently valid for voting.
  • add a 90-day waiting period for new PA residents to register to vote, (effectively disenfranchising new residents including out-of-state students at PA colleges and universities.)
  • move the authority to audit elections from the PA Secretary of State to the Auditor General
  • change the role of the Lieutenant Governor, including eliminating the role as a tie-breaker in the Senate, and changing the way a Lt. Governor is elected.

You can read more information and find a list of suggested actions in this announcement from the LWVPA:  LWVPA Statement on SB 106


   Bills We're Following  

BILL TRACKING  - This chart provides automatic updates on selected bills pending in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.   These bills are being followed by our Advocacy Committee.
(
Scroll or use arrow keys to view additional columns on the right. "Hover" over sections of the chart to expand information.)

Commonly Used Legislative Terms:

When a bill is...

"Placed on the table," or "Laid on the table,"  it is taken out of consideration and set aside.  It may be considered at a later time.
"Taken off the table," or "Removed from the table," it is back in consideration and may be brought to the floor of the chamber.
"Recommitted," it is sent back from the chamber floor to its committee for further work.
"Reported as committed," has been passed by its committee with no changes.
"Reported as amended," it has been passed by its committee with changes.
Learn more with these resources:

Glossary of Legislative Terms  
"Making Law in Pennsylvania" pamphlet describing the path of a PA bill.  See more resources at PAcapitol.com.

Process and Problems in Harrisburg

The Lawmaking Process in the PA General Assembly


Before contacting your representatives about a bill you are following, it's important to understand the steps and common roadblocks in the legislative process.  Many times, your own representatives will not have the opportunity to vote for or against a bill because it is "stuck in committee,"  or because the Speaker of the House or President of the Senate will not bring it up for a vote.  


There are at least four places where a gatekeeper, always a member of the majority party, can single-handedly stop the progress of a bill.  When this happens, you need to contact the gatekeeper in addition to your own representative.

Learn more about the role of the gatekeepers and how to up your advocacy in the "Tracking a Bill in the PA General Assembly" infographic.

Direct link for sharing: www.lwvpgh.org/docs.ashx?id=759674


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Gatekeeper #1 

House Committee Chair


When an idea for new legislation is first developed, it is introduced by one or more legislative sponsors, assigned a number, like House Bill 38, and sent to one of several standing committees for review. These committees review the bill, and may hold hearings or gather information. Then they decide whether or not to support the bill. 

But Committee Chairs can refuse to consider the bill. In effect, one vote from the chair can defeat the bill at this stage.

Gatekeeper #2

Speaker of the House

 

If the bill makes it out of committee, the Speaker of the House may bring it before the chamber for debate and review... or may not. There are no rules or norms requiring the Speaker to bring a bill to the floor, even if it has broad bi-partisan support. This allows the Speaker of the House to stop any legislation he or she is opposed to.

The current Speaker of the House is

Representative Bryan Cutler

(717) 783-6424 


Gatekeeper #3

 Senate Committee Chair

 

When the bill is sent to the Senate, the same process plays out again. Again, the chair of the standing committee can simply set aside the bill, never advancing it out of committee.

The current President pro Tempore of the Senate is Senator Jake Corman  

(717) 787-1377 

Gatekeeper # 4

President pro Tempore of the Senate


If a bill makes it to the Senate, the President pro Tempore can unilaterally decide not to bring it to the floor for a vote, just like in the House.

Blocked bills aren't the only problem caused by PA's legislative process...  The majority "gatekeepers" also have the ability to quickly introduce and pass bills that they favor.  Because these gatekeepers do not need to debate or collaborate with other legislators in order to pass their bills, many bills are passed without study and input from their committees, public input, or the participation of minority party lawmakers.   This makes it very difficult for citizens to learn about legislation in time to engage with their representatives and express their views.   This limited opportunity for citizen engagement is even more important in the case of amendments to the PA Constitution where voters, and not the governor, give the final approval...

fair_districts_logo_on_white.png
All members of the State House of Representatives and half of our State Senators are up for election in November. 

What do your candidates think about Rules Reform and Redistricting?  Read their answers to  Fair District PA'sKnow Before You Vote Candidate Survey page.

Learn more about the 2022 Candidates on our  PA State Legislative Races page.

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Direct link for sharing: www.lwvpgh.org/docs.ashx?id=778335

Harrisburg 101

Legislating by Constitutional Amendment -  (Bypassing the Governor's Veto)

The Governor's veto is a constitutional check on the power of the General Assembly.  If the Governor vetos a bill, the General Assembly can override the veto and pass the bill with a two-thirds vote.  The ability to override the veto is a constitutional check on the power of the Governor.  This system of checks and balances is designed to prevent one branch of government from becoming too powerful and to require collaboration and compromise.  

Recently, several amendments to the PA Constitution have been proposed in the General Assembly.  Once an amendment is passed, it is very hard to reverse.  This is why the process for passing an amendment in the General Assembly is designed to be slow and allow deliberation.  A bill proposing an amendment has to follow the full path of a bill twice.  It has to pass both the House and the Senate in two legislative separate sessions.  This allows voters to elect a new group of legislators between the two votes.  

Once an amendment passes in two sessions of the legislature, it goes directly to the ballot for final approval.  The bill proposing the amendment does not go to the Governor for a signature, and therefore the Governor has no veto power over an amendment.  See the Harrisburg 101 "explainer" on the left for more detail. 

Because the "gatekeepers" in the General Assembly can pass their own bills quickly, they can pass an amendment at the end of one session, and again a few months later in the beginning of a new session, landing the amendment on the ballot in a municipal primary election.   It is very hard to raise public awareness or allow for public comment with this short timeline, and even the engaged voters who turn out for primary elections often learn of the amendment for the first time when they see it on the ballot.   Voters have the final say on PA Constitutional Amendments, and should be on the lookout for amendments to appear on the 2023 primary ballot.

When we learn about our system of government in school, we develop a picture of legislators studying policy, and reaching decisions after floor debate and discussion.   This rarely happens in the Pennsylvania General Assembly because of the internal process rules that they set for themselves.  Changes to these internal rules can give the majority party control over the committee and floor vote process while encouraging bipartisan collaboration.


Many state legislatures have policies that allow bills a fair chance to make it to a floor vote, including

  • giving all committee members a vote in deciding whether to hear a bill
  • giving all committee members a vote in deciding whether to advance a bill to the floor
  • requiring committees to "report" or send to the floor, all bills that they hear
  • requiring "automatic calendaring" of bills -- all bills that come out of committee are advanced to a floor vote
  • requiring that a bill that passes in one chamber be brought to the floor in the other chamber

This Currier and Ives print shows the Continental Congress appointing George Washington as Commander and Chief of the colonial armed forces. Prints and paintings like this one, showing the founders in legislative sessions, help form our idealized picture of how our legislatures operate.

This image is in the public domain.

Every State legislature follows the same basic committee review and floor vote process.  However, Pennsylvania's process is unusual because it gives so much power to such a small number of gatekeepers Fair Vote and the Bipartisan Policy Center give the PA legislature a fairness score of zero.  This is why Rules Reform is one of the legislative advocacy priorities of LWVPA.
Learn more with these resources:

"Best Practices for Collaborative Policymaking"  - a report from Fair Vote and the Bipartisan Policy Center 
Fair Districts PA - "Reform the Rules"  - advocacy options from Fair Districts PA
Rules of the PA Senate
Rules of the PA House of Representatives



   2022 Advocacy Priorities    
* Note:  To receive frequent updates and action alerts on priorities #1-3, join the Fair Districts PA Mailing List. 
Fair Districts PA is a project of LWVPA.

Fair Districts PA

The League of Women Voters has always advocated on behalf of ballot access, fair election law, and issues of transparency and good government.  In 2022, the LWVPA will focus advocacy on four issues in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.    Click on the binoculars to jump to an issue.

issue #1
issue #2
issue #3
issue #4

Legislative Rules Reform

Redistricting

Proposed Amendment to

Elect Judges by Region

Election Law Reform



Legislative Rules Reform

The LWVPA supports reforms to the procedural rules in the General Assembly enacting best practices ensuring that all legislators have a voice, and collaboration is encouraged.  These best practices include guaranteeing a committee vote to every bill, and floor vote to every bill that makes it out of committee. 
 Legislators vote to adopt procedural rules at the beginning of each two-year session.  It is the first vote every PA legislator takes after their election, and defines the balance of power in the General Assembly for the entire session.

star yellow on lt blue (harrisburg) Action Item:


Contact your candidates for the PA House and Senate, and ask if they will make their first vote of the 2023-2024 
session a "NO" to retaining the existing procedural rules in the General Assembly and a vote FOR adopting procedures that allow and encourage collaboration.




Redistricting


LWVPA  strongly supports transparency and accountability in the redistricting process.

Action Item
LWVPA Opposes Election Reform Bill
HB2207 


HB2207 would amend the PA Constitution to change the way state legislative districts are drawn. It would create a ‘redistricting commission’ that would be under control of legislative leaders.  This gives incumbent House and Senate members the ultimate power to draw their own districts.


Read the full text of the bill here:   HB2207

Contact your state representative now:   Contact your Representative here


"
For decades, Pennsylvania has been one of the most gerrymandered states in the country. However, now that the Legislative Reapportionment Committee is about to adopt fair election districts, certain majority party leaders are angry and pushing back.

They have proposed House Bill 2207, which would amend the PA Constitution to change the way state legislative districts are drawn. It would create a ‘redistricting commission’ that would be under control of legislative leaders.
This gives incumbent House and Senate members the ultimate power to draw their own districts...

...This bill is an unprincipled attack on the civic process in Pennsylvania. If only one party can win elections, our democracy is no longer free or fair.
"


Election of Judges by Region - House Bill 38


The LWVPA strongly opposes HB 38, which would advance the process of amending the PA Constitution to create regional districts for judges in the Commonwealth, Superior, and Supreme Courts of PAThe LWVPA joins the Pennsylvania Bar Association, Fair Districts PA, the Committee of Seventy, Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, and other good government organizations in opposing HB38.

star yellow on lt blue (harrisburg) Action Item:


If you have not already done so, contact your own PA House Representative, and ask them to oppose House Bill 38 when it comes to the floor.

Contact information is available here:  Find Your PA Legislator



Election Law Reform

LWVPA  supports the continuation of No-excuse Absentee Voting (Mail-in Voting) with some change in implementation, including 

  • allowing pre-canvassing of mail-in ballots 7 days before Election Day,
  • allowing voters to "cure" (correct) mail-in ballots that are rejected due to errors in the signature.

Carol Kuniholm, LWVPA Vice President for Goverment and Social Policy, testified at the PA House State Government Hearing on April 15, 2021.  For information on LWVPA's positions on election law, read her testimony here: Election Law Testimony to PA State Govt. Committee, 4/15



The Links You Need to Track a Bill


The Pennsylvania General Assembly website has several tools for tracking legislation and your representatives.   



You can find your own representatives and their contact information here:   Find Your PA Legislator

Click on their names to see what legislation they've sponsored, and what committees they're on.

You can read the text of a bill, or sign up for notifications of the bill's progress here:   Track a Bill  

Find a list of standing committee chairs here for the State House:  Standing Committee Chairs - House.  

And here for the State Senate:  Standing Committee Chairs - Senate

Are you new to contacting your elected officials?  These two documents can help.

The "Keep it Simple" infographic has tips and and sample script for calling or emailing your representatives.

If you live in Allegheny County, bookmark the "Facts for Citizens" directory so you can find contact information for most of your federal, state, and local elected officials in one place.

Direct link for sharing: www.lwvpgh.org/docs.ashx?id=741434

View or Download


Find the latest copy of Facts for Citizens at lwvpgh.org/ffc