Here are some suggestions on how to fix state Legislature
The results from recent special elections are in and Pennsylvania soon will have almost a full House of Representatives.
That means House Speaker Mark Rozzi can stop stalling and finally get the chamber to work.
Two months into the year, the state House has done zilch. By the end of the month, representatives will have been paid more than $3.4 million, while holding no session days except to elect Rozzi as speaker.
With Republicans holding a slim majority because of three vacant seats, members of the House couldn’t agree on operating rules. So it went dormant.
Rozzi, a Democrat from Muhlenberg Township, closed the chamber until Feb. 27. He was just buying time for his party to win the House majority in the special elections, which filled open seats that had been held by Democrats before.
And as anticipated, Democrats swept the three elections Tuesday in Allegheny County. They will have a slim majority when the House reopens and enough votes to impose their operating rules, assuming all representatives vote the party line.
Over the last few weeks, Rozzi has traveled across the state to ask residents how the House should operate. Here are my suggestions.
All bills that are endorsed by a committee must be voted on by the full House.
The speaker, whether Rozzi or a replacement, should not have the power to keep a bill off the voting agenda because he or she disagrees with it.
Move committee votes
The first step of the standard legislative process is for a committee to vote on a bill. If a bill isn’t voted on in committee, it cannot be voted on by the House, except under rare circumstances. So it dies. That’s unfair.
In the past, committee chairs have held too much power. They have acted like kings and queens, burying bills they and their party opposed.
The new House rules should prohibit that. Any bill that has bipartisan support, meaning at least one member of each party has signed on as a co-sponsor, must be voted on in committee.
In previous legislative sessions, the party in power has had too much control over committees. They’ve stacked committees in their favor.
Last year, when Republicans ruled the House, they put 15 of their members on most committees and only 10 Democrats.
The important Appropriations Committee had an even larger margin in favor of the GOP.
That made it unlikely that any Democratic-sponsored bill would ever get through most committees.
The partisan divide should be much narrower. With Democrats in power now, Republicans are playing defense. They are calling now for a split of 13 Democrats and 12 Republicans on typical committees.
Of course, when Democrats suggested similar rules under the Republican empire, they were shot down, according to Spotlight PA.
Now House Republicans want Democrats to cede some power. What a crock. Why should they?
Because it’s good government. Committees should have a nearly even split.
Rozzi announced when he was elected House speaker that he would operate as an independent and advocate for good government without regard for partisanship. This is his opportunity to do that.
It would set a precedent moving forward that hopefully Republicans would follow if they gain control of the House again in future elections.
Yes, I know, wishful thinking. That’s why legislative operating rules should be made permanent.
All of these rules should be adopted by the state Senate, too. And they should be made permanent.
Rules should not be subject to political whims. They should be consistent and written into the state Constitution. Let the public vote on amending the Constitution.
Enacting these commonsense, good-government rules would go a long way toward ridding Harrisburg of its political stench and finally making state government functional.