by Dave Hickernell
State Representative, 98th Legislative District
What’s the word in Harrisburg these days?
The misguided and ill-fated legislative pay raise fiasco of 2005 (which I opposed from the very beginning and never accepted) ignited a public outcry for more transparency and accountability in state government. That outcry was sustained throughout the Primary and General elections of 2006, as voters sent a clear message that they were serious about what they want: A government that is more representative of the people and more committed to the public interest.
January brought a new year, a new legislative session, and a drastically new look to Pennsylvania’s Legislature. We have new Republican leadership in the Senate, a new Democrat Majority in the House, a new Republican Speaker of the House, and the biggest wave of freshman legislators to hit the Capitol in more than two decades.
Fifty-five new lawmakers have arrived in Harrisburg – constituting slightly more than one-fifth of the Legislature.
A fourth of the State House is now filled with new faces. Fifty of the 55 new legislators are House members, including 23 freshmen Republicans. Most of them successfully campaigned on a platform of legislative reform and good government in the wake of the ultimately repealed pay raise.
Newly elected Speaker of the House Dennis O’Brien (R-Philadelphia) responded in short order. In his first official act as Speaker, O’Brien established the Speaker’s Commission for Legislative Reform. This bipartisan commission, composed of 12 House Republicans and 12 House Democrats, will soon recommend significant changes to House Rules designed to make the legislative process and the internal operations of the House more open, accountable and effective.
The foundation for the commission’s final recommendations will be the work done last year by a bipartisan coalition of roughly 60 House members who outlined a series of reforms to the legislative process and House operations.
The Speaker’s Commission met for the first time on Jan. 23, at which time it proposed several House rule changes, including:
- Limiting the hours of voting sessions in the House to between 8 a.m. and 11 p.m.
- Making roll call votes publicly available and posted on the Internet at the close of each daily session.
- Prohibiting the House Rules Committee from adding substantive amendments to bills. This will prevent quick floor votes on controversial public policy, providing greater opportunity for review and public comment.
- Allowing bills to be amended on second consideration only. The only votes authorized on third consideration would be final passage, constitutionality and re-referral.
- Limiting House Standing Committee chairmen to no more than four consecutive terms as chair of the same committee.
The commission continued to hold meetings and solicit the public’s input early this month. Final recommendations are to be presented to the full House for adoption later this month.
When the House adopts its rules, it also will formally establish the newly created House Gaming Oversight Committee. This new standing House committee will deal with legislation affecting Pennsylvania’s newly expanded gaming industry. The Republican chairman on that committee is Rep. Paul Clymer, perhaps the staunchest opponent of gambling in the Legislature.
As an opponent of gambling myself, I am encouraged by the formation of this committee, and I see this as a significant reform measure in and of itself. I trust the committee will work to ensure the integrity of Pennsylvania’s gaming industry.
Closely monitoring the gaming industry is an example of good government at work. I support gaming oversight, as well as the Speaker’s Commission on Legislative Reform. Making our Legislature, and state government as a whole, more accountable, open and responsive to Pennsylvania citizens is a goal to which all elected officials should aspire.
Rep. Dave Hickernell
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Contact: Greg Grasa
House Republican Public Relations