The Journey Begins

Welcome to the blog of the League of Women Voters of the Lewisburg Area (LWVLA).  We hope you enjoy the discussions and articles from our contributing members.  Please note that blog posts are independent editorials and opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the LWVLA (see Disclaimer in ABOUT).  Thanks for taking this journey into civic education with us!

To the wrongs that need resistance, To the right that needs assistance, To the future in the distance, Give yourselves.Carrie Chapman Catt, Founder of the League of Women Voters

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40 thoughts on “The Journey Begins

  1. Blue Jacket June 14, 2018 / 9:16 am

    A correction to yesterday’s posting which indicated that the House Committee on State Government would b meeting to consider HB 153 and HB 110. The House had already passed those bills earlier in the year, and it is now the Senate’s Committee on State Government which met yesterday to consider them. After consideration, both bills were reported out of Committee without change and the Senate has now given both bills a First Consideration.

    In other news from the Legislature’s Update of session activity, we note that a bill pertaining to the State Sunshine Act is progressing in the House of Representatives. Those who are interested in the meetings of State agencies and the public’s participation in those meetings may wish to take note of the proposal. The bill — House Bill 1531, sponsored by Representative Jim Christiana of Beaver County — had earlier in the session been reviewed and amended by the House Committee on State Government and yesterday was reported out of the Rules Committee. In its current form, the bill would require that all State agencies publish, at their meeting sites and their websites, the Agendae of their public meetings at least 24 hours prior to the meetings. The Agency must list each item of official business that is to be deliberated or acted upon at the meeting. A number of exceptions to the requirement are included in the bill in order to allow for emergency items that may arise and require consideration.

  2. Blue Jacket June 13, 2018 / 10:49 pm

    Today, the Legislature’s Update of its section activity includes a report that Senate Bill 299 was passed by the State Senate yesterday. The bill, as has been previously noted in these posts, proposes that incumbent Magisterial District Judges need not file a petition for nomination with 100 signatures in order to have the candidates’ names placed on a ballot for re-election.

    We are also informed that the House Committee on State Government has scheduled a meeting today to consider House Bill 153 (which proposes reducing the number of legislators in the House of Representatives to 151) and House Bill 110 (the so-called Taxpayer Protection Act).

    The Taxpayer Protection Act proposes that the State Constitution be amended to limit the amount that the Government can spend in any fiscal year. The limit on spending would be tied to the amount that had been spent in the previous fiscal, adjusted by the sum of (a) the 3-year average percentage change in the Consumer Price Index and (b) the average percentage increase in the State population. That all sounds very similar to the TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) which Colorado implemented by an amendment to that State’s Constitution about 10 to 15 years ago. Colorado found it rather difficult to un ravel the financial difficulty that ensued when its economy suffered a downturn and the Constitutional amendment conflicted with a requirement that education be adequately funded. Query, whether Pennsylvania will eventually also discover that it may not be advisable to cement such well-intended limitations in a Constitution rather than in statute.

    The Update also reflects that the State Senate amended Senate Bill 22 — the measure which would reform the State’s reapportionment and redistricting procedures by establishing an independent commission of citizens to perform the function, rather than continuing the Legislature’s control of the process. Yesterday’s amendment came up as the Senate was giving the bill its required Third Consideration. The amendment to the bill adds a requirement that the Constitution be amended to also require regional elections of State judges, a controversial issue that may not yet have been adequately considered by the public. It was submitted by Senator Ryan Aument (R-Lititz). We have difficulty discerning on his website any direct connection to committees considering issues related to the judiciary, state governmental structure, or elections.
    Nonetheless, that amendment to Senate Bill 22 was passed, to the chagrin of Fair Districts PA and other groups which had thus far endorsed and urged passage of the bill.

    In another State, this type of amendment is sometimes referred to as a “rat” and tests the commitment of a bill’s supporters. In effect, the sponsor of such an amendment is saying, if you really want this bill (here, calling for an independent citizens’ commission to control redistricting), then you must also swallow the rat and accept an additional, perhaps unpalatable requirement (namely, that judges be regionally elected).

    Today, we see that a motion was made to restore the bill to its previous version (without yesterday’s amendment), but the motion failed by a vote that was largely along party lines. As amended yesterday, the bill was passed by the Senate by a vote of 35-14. Fair Districts PA has today disseminated an email message to its followers, announcing that the organization can no longer support passage of the bill in its current form.

    There is a quotation, the origin of which is not clear, but which is sometimes ascribed to an ancient Chinese proverb or curse. Robert F Kennedy paraphrased it and added to its popularity during a speech in 1966 — “Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind. And everyone here will ultimately be judged – will ultimately judge himself – on the effort he has contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which his ideals and goals have shaped that effort.”

  3. Blue Jacket June 12, 2018 / 11:20 am

    The morning Update of legislative activity from the State Capitol includes a report that on June 6 the House of Representatives concurred (by a vote of 167-27) in a recent amendment offered by the State Senate to Representative Boback’s bill (HB 564) – the bill which had initially proposed to require high school students to pass a test on civics and government in order to graduate. As amended, the bill now requires that schools conduct only an “assessment” (not a test) of students’ knowledge of civics and government, that passing the assessment will not be a condition for graduation, and that a Certificate of Recognition will be awarded to those students who achieve a perfect score on the assessment (rather than to all students who achieve a passing score). As so amended, the bill was presented to the Governor yesterday for his consideration and signature.

    In the State Senate, SB 299 was amended yesterday by a vote of 46-3. The bill proposes to relieve incumbent magisterial judges from having to file a nominating petition bearing 100 signature in order to have their names appear on a ballot for re-election. As amended, the bill includes a stipulation that, if an incumbent judge files a Certificate of Nomination in lieu of a Nominating Petition, he or she will not be permitted to challenge the Nominating Petition filed by another candidate.

  4. Blue Jacket June 8, 2018 / 10:39 am

    Wow! In the wake of Majority Leader Reed’s action earlier this week (mentioned in our posting of June 6), we now see in this morning’s Update of Pennsylvania’s State legislative activity a report that a spate of six proposals related to reapportionment and redistricting have been referred to the House Rules Committee for consideration.

    (Talk about D-Day? All six are proposals are by Democrat legislators. Reed’s action, referring his own proposal- HB 2449 – to the Rules Committee which he Chairs seems to have opened the beachhead for other legislators).

    We see no introductory Memoranda summarizing the proposals, four of which have been introduced as Joint Resolutions calling for reforms by Constitutional amendment, and two are submitted as calls for changes to statute. Since the text of each proposal is 10 to 15 pages long, it would take some time to review them and, therefore it seems inappropriate to attempt to dash off a summary now. Perhaps, all we should do at the moment is list the bill numbers and the names of the sponsoring legislators for those who might like to inquire further. As we see further action develop with regard to the proposals, we will try to set forth a summary and comment.

    As always, the text of each bill can be found by way of the legislative search page: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/bills

    HB 2332 introduced by Representative Neilson (D- Philadelphia County)
    HB 2368 introduced by Representative Sims (D-Philadelphia County)
    HB 2379 introduced by Representative Davis (D- Bucks County)
    HB 2402 introduced by Representative Samuelson (D – Northampton County)

    HB 2352 introduced by Representative Conklin (D – Centre County)
    HB 2365 introduced by Representative Daley (D – Montgomery County)

    .

  5. Blue Jacket June 6, 2018 / 9:09 am

    This morning’s Update of legislative activity reports that two proposals by Representative Reed (R-Indiana County), Majority Leader and Chair of the House Rules Committee, were referred yesterday to the House Rules Committee for consideration. As described in Reed’s preliminary memorandum of May 2, 2018, the bills are:

    HB 2448, which “would remove the exclusion of independent or non-affiliated voters from Pennsylvania’s primary process. All such voters would have the opportunity to choose which primary ballot they wish to record on Primary Election Day. With nearly 750,000 of our state’s voters now registered as independent or non-affiliated, the time has come stop excluding them from a significant portion of our electoral process. Too many races, especially local races, find finality in the spring election, and these voters should not be left out.”

    HB 2449, which “would replace the current process for determining the districts for the General Assembly and Pennsylvania’s congressional districts. Thus far, the debate about the proper method of drawing electoral boundaries has been about choosing between elected officials or a potentially biased “independent” commission. This proposal would establish a truly independent commission for the purpose of the decennial drawing of boundaries. The commission would be selected in a similar fashion as a jury is selected: randomly from all eligible voters. The members of the commission would be seated in a way that preserves party and geographic balance.”

    HB 2449 appears to present the House with the option of reforming Pennsylvania’s Congressional and legislative redistricting process in a way that differs substantially from the manner set out in an amended version of House Bill 722. The latter bill, which has been pending for some time, had been amended by the House Committee on State Government in a way that was intended by that Committee’s Chair to maintain the Legislature’s (and political party) control of the redistricting process.

  6. Blue Jacket June 5, 2018 / 10:05 am

    This morning’s Update of legislative activity indicates that yesterday Senate Bill 22 has been now been given its second consideration in the State Senate and has been referred to the Appropriations Committee for review of what fiscal impact it might have upon the State budget. The bill, as amended so far, proposes that the State Constitution be amended to reform the way in which Pennsylvania conducts its reapportionment and redistricting of Congressional and State Legislative districts.

    If passed by the Senate, the bill would have to be transmitted to the State’s House of Representatives, which has its own version of an amended reform bill (HR 722). The two bills would need a good amount of reconcilement

    Fair Districts PA, an organization that endorses the establishment of an independent commission of citizens to conduct the redistricting process, has indicated support for the amended version of Senate Bill 22 as a compromise measure. However, a news report yesterday indicated that several other organizations have expressed reservations about the bill’s provisions. A copy of their views has been published at:
    .pennlive.com/opinion/2018/06/this_pa_senate_bill_doesnt_fix.html#incart_river_index

  7. Blue Jacket May 31, 2018 / 9:27 am

    The daily Update of activity in the State Legislature reports that Representative Reed (R-Indiana County), the Chair of the State House of Representatives has introduced HR946, proposing that the operating rules of the House (Rule No. 43, in particular) be changed to limit to three full terms of service the time for which a member can serve as Chair of a standing committee, with the exception of the Chair of the Appropriations Committee. The proposal has been referred to the House Rules Committee for consideration.

    In his initial Memorandum, submitted on May 2, Reed had expressed a broader intention, entitled “Proposed Legislation – Government Reform Package,” in which he proposed that (a) redistricting of legislative boundaries be performed by an independent commission of citizens, randomly selected, much like the way juries are selected for service to the courts, but with provisions to assure fair party representation, and (b) that party primaries be open to independent voters. Those aspects of his initial intention are not included in the Resolution now being offered for consideration, although the topics have been discussed among other proposals in the Legislature.

  8. Blue Jacket May 26, 2018 / 3:08 pm

    In the Update of legislative activity received yesterday, we note that on Thursday (May 24) Senate Bill 1034 was laid on the table in the State House of Representatives for a second time since February and was again removed from the table — perhaps an indication that the members of the House are (still) not yet ready to consider the bill. The bill (which had been passed unanimously by the Senate in January) merely reflects the repeal of the Congressional District boundaries that had been described in 2011 after the 2010 census report, and which were found to have been unconstitutionally gerrymandered.

    It is also noted that the House has referred Senate Bill 1038 to the Committee on State Government for consideration. This bill (which was unanimously passed by the Senate on May 23) would authorize political candidates to distribute unexpended campaign contributions to nonprofit organizations. (It is interesting that the bill includes no mention of any criteria or limitations that might be expected of a candidate when selecting a nonprofit organization to receive such funds. It will be interesting, also, to see whether or not the Committee on State Government sees any potential for conflict or abuse of a politician’s discretion to make such distributions).

  9. Blue Jacket May 24, 2018 / 12:30 pm

    Today’s Update of activity at the State Legislature confirms that Senate Bill 22, as amended in the Committee on State Government, was received and was given its First Consideration by the Senate on May 22.

    Also noted is the Senate’s Final Consideration and passage of Senate Bill 299, which would waive the requirement that, in order to have their names appear on a ballot for re-election, incumbent candidates for the position of Magisterial District Judge file a petition signed by at least 100 individuals. There is a like bill still pending in the House of Representatives, based on the premise that studies have shown incumbent Magisterial Judges frequently experience threats and dangerous encounters with people and families who have previously appeared before them in court. The waiver of a requirement that the candidate gather signatures would, it is thought, minimize the risk of such encounters. ……Query whether new (non-incumbent) candidates do not experience threats or dangerous encounters when gathering signatures on a petition for nomination.

    And, we see that the Senate has now given a Second Consideration to Representative Boback’s House Bill 564. As initially proposed in the House, the bill would have made Pennsylvania one more State to require, as a condition for graduation from high school, that students pass a civics education test equivalent to what immigrating individuals must pass to attain citizenship. The House amended the bill to delete the requirement for a test as a condition for graduation, to substitute instead a call for school districts to conduct an “assessment” of students’ knowledge of civics and government, and to issue a Certificate of Recognition to students who receive a passing grade on the assessment. As so amended, the House passed the bill in April by a vote of 191-4. The Senate then received the bill and referred it to the Committee on Education, which amended the bill further to stipulate that Certificates of Recognition would be issued only to students who achieve a “perfect score” on the assessment. As so amended the bill was given a First Consideration by the Senate on May 22, and a Second Consideration on May 23. Query whether this represents progress in accomplishing the sponsor’s initial goal.

  10. Blue Jacket May 23, 2018 / 9:06 pm

    It is unusual for me to be offering postings twice in one day. However, today I cannot help commenting further with regard to the issue mentioned in my posting earlier today.

    A little while ago, I received an e-mail update from Fair Districts PA about the changes that have been made to Senate Bill 22 by the Senate Committee on State Government. Fair Districts is an organization that I trust on the matter, and surely it has the best information about the status of the legislative redistricting proposal. The organization’s e-mail indicates that the proposed Constitutional amendment called for by Senate Bill 22 would be followed by “implementing legislation.”

    Yet, when I read the text of the amended version of Senate Bill 22, I see that it recites: “(c) The General Assembly shall prescribe by law the qualification to serve as a commission member. Each commission member shall possess all of the following qualifications, in addition to any qualifications prescribed by law:…”

    The bill then sets out in six subparagraphs an itemized list of specifically detailed criteria for qualifications of citizens who wish to be nominated for positions as members of the Redistricting Commission — criteria which (if I am properly reading the quoted text of the bill) would be included in the State Constitution…in addition to any qualifications prescribed by law. (See my earlier post for brief descriptions of some of the detail specified in those six subparagraphs).

    Gosh, I certainly hope that they know what they are proposing to cast in stone.

  11. Blue Jacket May 23, 2018 / 1:04 pm

    Well, today’s Update of legislative Committee action confirms that the Senate Committee on State Government did meet yesterday (May 22) and voted to approved an amended version of Senate Bill 22,which proposes that the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to provide for establishment of a “Legislative and Congressional Redistricting Commission” comprised of citizens who are registered voters.

    The proposed amended version of the bill has been reported out of the Committee for further consideration by the Senate. It is quite lengthy and tedious. Rather than attempt to summarize it here, this citation should take you to the full text:

    http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/PN/Public/btCheck.cfm?txtType=PDF&sessYr=2017&sessInd=0&billBody=S&billTyp=B&billNbr=22&pn=0397

    Perhaps, the bill is so detailed as to produce a squeaky clean procedure for establishment of the proposed 11 member Commission. That such detail would be embedded in a Constitution leaves open the possibility that, if all consequences of that detail have not been taken into account, the surgery needed to correct errors or omissions may take years to accomplish. As Sir Edmund Burke cautioned centuries ago, perhaps there is some wisdom in attending to the faults of the state as one would attend to the wounds of a father. Hopefully, the crafters of the proposed Constitutional changes have taken into consideration the experience and examples of things done in other states.

    In any legislative bill, there is, of course, the possibility of further fine tuning up to the time of final action. And, even afterwards, a technical revisor or editor may set out a bill amending the grammar or text of a bill that was voted upon. That is particularly important when wording for a Constitution is being considered.

    Some of the detailed provisions in this bill caught my eye as I wonder how I might have worded them. The proposed Commission is to be constituted by December 31 in “each year ending in a zero” and is “to expire” after all required redistricting plans have been filed and appeals have been exhausted. Section 17 of Article II of the Constitution is apparently to have both a subsection “(m)” and an “(m1).” One subsection, “(u),” gives a good example of the need for editing: “A district that does not include the residence that a member of the Senate was elected whether or not scheduled for election at the next general election shall elect a senator at the election.” Surely, that must mean something to someone somewhere.

    But, there are more significant issues that might warrant further consideration. The list of qualifications for a citizen to be chosen as a Commission member is very lengthy and specific. One thinks of a Constitution as setting out broad principles and standards. This bill, however, seems to focus on pinpoint tailoring of eligibility. A candidate must be a voter who has been continuously registered with the same party or has had the same political affiliation for 3 years, has voted in 2 of the past 3 elections, does not have an immediate family member who has been a public official or judicial officer for 5 years, does not have a spouse who has served as a staff member or consultant to government officials for 5 years, is not a lobbyist, has not been nominated as a candidate for office for 5 years, etc. And, after completing service on the Commission, the member cannot serve as a staff member, consultant or lobbyists at the federal or state level, and the member’s spouse cannot hold an elective office or be appointed to a position or hold office in a political party for 5 years, etc. All this in a Constitution?

  12. Blue Jacket May 22, 2018 / 2:02 pm

    It has been awhile since our last report of legislative activity. The Legislature was in recess for the party primaries, but is now back in session. We had received a notice that the Senate Committee on State Government would be meeting yesterday (May 21) to consider Senate Bill 22 and proposals for reform of reapportionment and redistricting procedures. However, yesterday, Fair Districts PA sent an e-mail indicating that the Committee is meeting today (May 22) to consider the issue and to vote upon an amendment to the Bill. The Fair Districts organization’s email indicates that the amendment removes some provisions from the original version of the bill and adds others, which reflect a compromise but retain the goal of establishing an independent commission of citizens to perform the function of reapportionment and redistricting.

    You can read the Fair Districts summary of the changes at this web address: https://fairdistrictspa.com/updates/senate-state-government-committee-to-vote-on-sb22?link_id=1&can_id=3ec7e1b49259af06a40436745c2882bb&source=email-tell-turzai-to-refer-reform-bills-to-another-committee&email_referrer=email_357213&email_subject=tell-turzai-to-refer-reform-bills-to-another-committee.

    Apparently, Fair Districts supports the bill with the proposed amendment. I wonder if the amendment doesn’t go too far in preserving the legislators’ control of the process. But, whether or not the amended version is approved, the bill still calls for the reforms to be embodied in an amendment to the State Constitution. For, better or worse, that means Pennsylvania is still several years away from seeing a citizens’ commission established by law.

    In the meantime, there is still ill-feeling about the power exerted by the Chair of the House Committee on State Government, as he appears to make no bones about his mission to defeat any bill that weakens his party’s control of the Legislature. You’ll note that Fair Districts is urging citizens to contact the Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to express a desire that the House version of the redistricting reform bill be referred to a Committee other than the Committee on State Government. Fair Districts mentions that the House Rules Committee might be a more palatable choice.

    Here, too, I wonder. Does the Rules Committee really have a record of being any less dilatory or obstructive to the progress of reform bills being considered? Or, do I — like Shakespeare’s Caesar said of Cassius — think too much?

  13. Blue Jacket May 12, 2018 / 9:56 am

    Today’s Update from the State Legislature includes a notice that the Committee on State Government will be meeting at noon on May 21, 2018 (a Monday), in Room 8E-B of the East Wing of the State Capitol to consider Senate Bill 22 — the bill that proposes that the State Constitution be amended to provide for a citizens’ commission to have authority and responsibility for Legislative and Congressional redistricting. The bill has been in Committee since February 27, 2017, The topic has had at least two public hearings in which it and alternative proposals have been considered.
    It might be well to remember that a Committee “meeting” is not a “public hearing,” and that legislative proposals may change or be modified by vote of the Committee before the bill is reported out, with or without amendments, for further consideration by the Senate. Still we might expect to see numerous members of the public at the Capitol to express their support, either silently by their presence or by calls and visits to legislators’ offices Not unlike expectant parents in the waiting room of a maternity ward, one might say.

  14. Blue Jacket May 11, 2018 / 11:50 am

    Sometimes a bill in the Legislature is worded so pin-pointedly that one wonders if the bill isn’t intended to address only a specific constituent groups’ special concern rather than the general rules of law that apply to society in general. Such, it seems, is a bill mentioned in today’s Update of activity in the State Legislature.

    A Senator representing various counties in the southern part of the State has introduced SB 1168, which proposes only that the court of common pleas shall — no longer “may” — certify to the county board of elections for a referendum vote of the residents a question, if raised by 5% of the voters in “any borough not divided into wards, which…had a population of not more than 3,000,” which proposes to reduce the number of borough council members from seven to five or to three.

    We note that the bill recites that “Upon receipt of the certified election results, the court shall enter a final decree granting or denying the request of the petitioners.” Hmmmm…..The bill as drafted took the time in the initial part of its provisions to change the word “may” to “shall.” A clear mandate to the court. But, does the bill intentionally leave some discretion to the court in its later language? That is, based on the language used, can we safely presume that the court’s decree must be in accordance with the results of the election?

    It sounds like something is brewing in a particular borough down south. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Local Government for consideration.

  15. Blue Jacket May 4, 2018 / 11:27 am

    Hmmmm. What were we saying yesterday about Spring being a time for new ideas?

    Today’s legislative Update from the State Legislature reports that a new bill, HB2319 has been introduced in the House of Representatives by a legislator from Chester County. It proposes that incumbent Magisterial District Judges be relieved of the need to file petitions evidencing 100 signatures in order to have their names placed on a ballot for re-election, but that they be allows to file a Certificate of Nomination instead.

    Sound familiar? About three weeks ago, the same proposal was submitted in the State Senate as SB299. by a legislator from Adams County.

    The new House bill’s sponsor indicated in his preliminary Memorandum that “Requiring them [incumbent Magisterial District Judges] to petition for signatures often leads to dangerous encounters with people they have had to judge in court, or their family members. In a recent study by EB Jacobs and Penn State University, nearly 37% of PA District Court Judges reported some sort of hostile behavior while they were out petitioning, and 10% of those judges experienced physical harm and threats.”

    Oh, dear. Must we now search for ways to insulate our elected officials from having to encounter the very individuals who elected them? Might we not instead consider appointing all Magisterial Judges on a merit based system, without need for any of them (incumbent or not) to campaign for election?

    And, if we are really fearful that our elected officials might be in danger of “dangerous encounters” and “hostile behavior” of the electorate, perhaps we can ask ourselves whether we really need a bi-cameral Legislature instead of currently having two legislators (a Senator and a Representative, each at a cost of $87,000 per year– more than twice the average of all states) spending their time developing identical pieces of legislation. Was Nebraska wrong to have implemented a unicameral legislative body? Are States like Texas and Nevada wrong to have their Legislatures meet biennially? Or, do we have a full- time bicameral Legislature laden with costs, redundant operations, and power struggles because “that’s the way things are done”?

    Wasn’t there recent series of bills by some Pennsylvania legislators proposing to update and reform Pennsylvania’s government for the 21st century and to make it more responsive to the needs of people?

    Just sayin’.

  16. Blue Jacket May 3, 2018 / 11:43 am

    The fresh air of Spring appears to have at last arrived for good in central Pennsylvania. Blossoms of dogwood, magnolia, and sakura delight the eye. Even in today’s Update of legislative activity we sense signs of fresh thought wafting through the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

    Representative Paul Schemel (R-Franklin County) floated an idea last November when the winds of winter were approaching — why not try to control the expense of maintaining PA’s Legislature by reducing legislators’ salaries? Now, he has introduced his proposal as House Bill 2314, and it has been referred to the Committee on State Government

    Schemel pointed out in his introductory Memorandum: “Since 1967 our Commonwealth has lost nine congressional seats, we have amassed a pension liability in excess of $75 billion (which the “landmark” pension reform of 2017 does not address) and we resorted to borrowing $1.5 billion to close this year’s budget. In return for a significant annual investment of taxpayer dollars, the political website FiveThirtyEight lists Pennsylvania fifth worst in the nation in political corruption. Satirist Dave Barry last year quipped that his home state of Florida’s legislature, being among the least costly in the nation, provides taxpayers with ineptitude and corruption for a fraction of the cost of other states. Pennsylvania cannot even claim the distinction of low cost ineptitude.”

    Schemel’s bill calls for reducing legislators’ salaries from the current level of $87,000+ annually to $25,000 and compressing the calendar of the Legislature’s sessions.. By doing so, he says, “we would limit both the time which legislators will tolerate being in session and reduce the opportunity for political corruption which comes with Members’ financial dependence on their elected positions.”

    He appeals to his colleagues in the Legislature: “…Look to our sister states whose part-time legislatures are filled with competent and willing elected officials…. You cannot look to a list of legislative accomplishments in Pennsylvania as a defense of our full-time status.”

    Schemel’s Memorandum points out, “There are many avenues which we may consider, this is only one. I invite you to offer ideas and to join the conversation by joining me in co-sponsoring this transformative legislation.”

    Indeed. One topic that is comes to mind and continues to vex me is the astounding number of “Noncontroversial Resolutions” that the Pennsylvania Legislature addresses. In today’s Update from the Legislature, I counted some 27 items labeled as “Noncontroversial Resolution under Rule 35.” That’s only one day’s worth ! Everything from designating next week as “Drinking Water Week” in Pennsylvania to recognizing May 12 as “National Train Day.” There are another 3 or 4 other items reported as actions on bills to give certain portions of State highways or particular bridges names or titles in honor or memory of some noteworthy individual. Is this really constructive use of a legislator’s time? At $87,000 a year? Researching and composing Memoranda in support of such resolutions, having them printed and calendared for consideration? Might there not be another way to accomplish announcement and publication of such actions without losing the significance of the commemorative action for the constituent, group, or issue involved?

    But, let’s focus on reports of other constructive actions. Another bill that Representative Schemel has introduced is HB 2309. It proposes that the terms of legislators be limited: 3 full terms for Senators, 6 terms for Representatives, effectively holding each elected legislator to 12 years of consecutive service before having to wait a full year before again running for re-election. That bill has now been referred to the Committee on State Government.

    One other bill we noted in today’s Update is House Bill 2311, introduced by Representative Michael Corr (R-Montgomery County). It proposes that individuals be prohibited from running simultaneously for more than one elected position in the same election. The bill has been referred to the Committee on State Government.

    In the field of geopolitics, Spring is said to be a time of re-birth, for development of new ideas, and fresh starts. Wouldn’t it be nice to see some of these ideas about the Legislature discussed and earnestly considered? As Nanki-Poo sings in the Mikado, “As welcome as the flowers that bloom in the Spring. Tra-la.”

  17. Blue Jacket May 2, 2018 / 10:02 am

    Today’s Update of legislative activity from the State Legislature shows the signs of progression in the making of laws. Six bills are reported to have now been presented to the Governor for his decision to sign or veto them. None of them pertain to elections or voting.

    In the House of Representatives, we note one new bill related to elections that has been introduced and referred to the Committee on State Government. According to its sponsor’s introductory memorandum, Following up on a study of the Joint State Government Commission’s Report that had been issued in December 2017, HB2323 proposes that, “the Pennsylvania Election Code be amended to improve the integrity of voting equipment in Pennsylvania.”. The law would require that voting machines purchased in the Commonwealth will produce a permanent paper record for each vote cast. In the event of a recount of an election, the paper record would be used to verify the accuracy of the votes cast on the voting equipment.” You may recall that PA’s Department of State issued a directive to this effect last month; this bill would in effect make it a statutory requirement.

    Among other bills that caught our eye, we noted HB1970 — “”An act declaring what offices are incompatible.” Now, that’s an interesting title. The bill was introduced in December 2017 considered by the Committee on State Government and has already received its first consideration. The sponsor’s introductory memorandum explains that the legislation “prohibit a Senator or Representative from holding the position of solicitor of a municipality, municipal authority or school district.” We shouldn’t mix religion and politics in our postings, but, in this instance, we can’t resist a smile as we recall something in the Bible: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Luke 16:13-15. Perhaps, our legislators do have some understanding of the concept of “conflict of interest.” One can wonder how they might feel about codifying provisions in law governing legislators employed in non-governmental businesses.

  18. Blue Jacket May 1, 2018 / 12:01 pm

    The State Legislature’s daily Update of activity today reports that House Bill 638 (eliminating the ability of school board candidates to cross-file as candidates for more than one political party) has now been referred to the Senate Committee on State Government. The bill has already been passed by the State House of Representative on April 18 by a vote of 114-77.

    In the House of Representatives, Resolution 83 has been placed on the table and removed from the table five times since it was first reported out of the Committee on State Government in April 2017. The Resolution pertains to the advisability of studying and replacing the system that is used to count votes of legislators on the floor of the House of Representatives. The current system is reportedly very old, requires significant maintenance, and is prone to malfunction. The matter was again on the table and off the table yesterday.

    Although the Legislature’s Update does not include mention the continuing struggle to address the State’s reapportionment and redistricting procedures, a report from Fair Districts PA has provided a report of some of the behind-the-scenes activity. You may recall that a public hearing on the issue was held by the Senate Committee on State Government on March 27. That hearing included testimony on Senate Bill 22 (favored by the Fair Districts PA group) which would have redistricting responsibilities assigned to an independent commission of citizens. A similar, companion bill (HB722) to the same effect remained pending in the House of Representatives.

    Fair Districts PA reported that the House Committee on State Government conducted a Committee meeting on April 11 and voted to revise HB722, apparently deleting the proposal for an independent citizens’ commission and ensuring that the Legislature would remain in control of redistricting. (We have not seen a copy of the bill as reportedly amended). However, another bill, HB 563, had been introduced and proposed that the responsibilities for both Congressional and State legislative redistricting be performed by a citizens’ commission. Fair Districts PA indicated that it supported that alternate bill. Now, Fair Districts PA reports that the House Committee on State Government has again met, impromptu, and voted to revise the alternate bill, again removing the proposal for a citizens’ commission to have authority for redistricting. (Again, at this time we have seen no official report of the bill as so revised).

    As the issue develops, it is interesting to follow the tenacity of the legislators and the persistence of Fair Districts PA. Since Pennsylvania’s Constitution has long recognized the authority of the Legislature in redistricting, the legislators have a legitimate claim that the procedures not be changed. However, Fair Districts PA seems to have a legitimate claim that the continuing implementation of gerrymandered voting districts by the legislators on behalf of the major political party leaders raises questions of conflict of interest, usurpation of power, and unfair lack of representation and participation by the citizenry in their government. It is of concern that much of the political maneuvering by the legislators goes on in impromptu meetings with little opportunity for meaningful public input.

    “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” is a quote attributed to many nineteenth century political philosophers, including Thomas Jefferson. We’ll leave you with what might be a more pithy statement “Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner” (James Bovard, Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty).

  19. Blue Jacket April 26, 2018 / 11:59 am

    An Update of legislative activity received today indicates that Senate Bill 1038 was given its Second Consideration in the State Senate yesterday. As previously noted, the bill pertains to the disposition of residual or unused campaign funds and would allow such funds to be distributed to nonprofit organizations.

    The Update also mentions that House Bill 444 (which had been passed by the House of Representatives previously) has been “placed on the table,” pursuant to one of the Senate’s procedural rules. As initially presented in the House of Representatives in early 2017, the bill sought to clarify a discrepancy in the State’s statutes regarding the number of signatures required on a petition to place a school board candidate’s name on a ballot. (Some school districts extend into municipalities of differing classifications and require differing numbers of signatures for nomination–25 signatures in some districts, 100 signatures in others). But, now, in the Senate, the bill seems to have given rise to some concern about a requirement in the bill that a school board candidate indicate his “residence,”, as opposed to saying that the candidate indicate the “address at which he is duly registered and enrolled.” ……Interesting, isn’t it? The legislators are so concerned about the word residence, but suggest using a phrase that overlooks the advisability of saying “he or she” or “enrolled as a registered voter.”

    But, who am I to criticize? For, if you read the posting I offered yesterday about PA’s effort to address the need to improve civic education, you probably noticed that I left unattended numerous typographical errors. Hopefully, a corrected copy of the posting can be substituted soon.

  20. Blue Jacket April 25, 2018 / 6:48 pm

    Joe Foss was a WWII veteran Marine Corps General who was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Roosevelt for his service in the Battle of Guadalcanal. In 2001, Joe was enroute to give a speech at West Point, but was detained by airport security officials in Arizona, when he was found wearing the medal and carrying a souvenir replica of a bullet and a commemorative nail file. Not recognizing the medal or the person, the airport security officials demanded that the items be confiscated. Ultimately, Joe was able to keep the medal and the nail file by agreeing to have them shipped back to his home address before being he was allowed to board his plane. Joe reportedly said that he was less concerned about the delay in his travel than by the fact that the airport personnel did not recognize what the medal was.

    That same year, Joe and his wife established the Joe Foss Institute to “educate our youth on the importance of America’s freedoms and to inspire them to public service.” Joe did not live long after that, but the Institute has gone on to carry out his wishes for improving America’s civic education. By 2014, the Institute undertook an initiative to respond to reports about the nation’s growing lack of knowledge about civics. The program has endeavored to provide classroom education, materials for teachers, and scholarships for students in the effort to improve knowledge and understanding of the principles upon which our government was founded.

    The Initiative posits that, as they attain the voting age, the nation’s youth should be able to pass the U.S. Citizenship Test—the same test that immigrants are required to pass when they apply to become citizens of—as a condition of graduation from high school. As of 2018, it is reported that 23 states have enacted this same or similar requirement and 12 other states have been considering such legislation.

    Coincidentally, you may recall that the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center has conducted annual surveys of the public’s knowledge of civics and government. In 2014 the Center’s survey indicated that, among other things: (a) although 1/3 of those surveyed could name all three branches of the U.S. government, just as many could not name a single one; (b) just over 27 percent of Americans know that it takes a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override a presidential veto; and (c) one in five Americans (21 percent) incorrectly thinks that a 5-4 Supreme Court decision is sent to Congress for reconsideration. Subsequent survey results have been as disappointing, if not worse.

    In February, 2017, Representatives Karen Boback (R-Lackawanna, Luzerne), and William Kortz (D-Allegheny) introduced HB 564 in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives, proposing that Pennsylvania be among the states enacting a requirement of civics knowledge for graduation from high school. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Education for consideration. It was ultimately reported out of Committee on April 9, 2018, bearing a substantial change to its terms.

    The bill was changed in Committee by deletion of the requirement that students pass the US Citizenship Test as a condition of graduation. Instead, the amended bill provided that, beginning with the 2020-21 school year, and every two years thereafter, Pennsylvania’s schools “administer at least once to students during grades 7 through 12 a locally developed assessment” of US history, government and civics. The word “assessment” is not defined in the amended bill, except by stating that “each school entity shall determine the form of assessment,” and that a school “may” use the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Test to satisfy the requirements.

    Students who receive a passing grade are to receive a “Certificate of Recognition,” and the State’s Department of Education is subsequently to survey the schools and post on post, on its publicly accessible website, data concerning how many students took the “assessment,” how many attained a passing grade, etc.

    Within a week after having been reported out of Committee, the bill was passed by the House of Representatives by a vote of 191-4. In its amended form, the bill now goes to the State Senate for its consideration.

  21. Blue Jacket April 19, 2018 / 9:42 am

    A further Update about legislative activity.

    House Bill 638, mentioned in yesterday’s posting, is today reported as having been given its Third Consideration and was passed by the State’s House of Representatives, 114-77.

    In other activity, a series of new bills (HB2101 though HB2105) has been introduced in the House under the primary sponsorship of Representative Bloom (R-Cumberland County). This forward thinking and far-reaching plan would realign, consolidate and eliminate some of the State’s governing entities. Under the title “Reinventing State Government for the 21st Century,” the effort includes HB2104 by Representative Matt Dowling (R-Somerset and Fayette Counties), which proposes a Department of Local Government and Community Affairs (DLGCA). He indicates that the Commonwealth’s focus on economic and community development has become “watered down” since former Governor Ridge’s consolidation of those topics into the current DECD.

    Dowling’s introductory Memorandum recites, in part:

    “Pennsylvania has the second most local governmental entities of any state with almost 5,000 local governments. This proposal would merge different state agencies to create a new state department to address local community needs and concerns…. This department would be comprised of powers and authorities from the Department of State and the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).

    “The department would be overseen by a cabinet secretary who would act as Secretary of the Commonwealth, which is a constitutional position. The department would oversee and assist counties across the state with managing elections. The department would also handle local government grant and tax credit programs transferred from DCED. Similar to the newly created Department of Business, Tourism and Workforce Development, the DLGCA would have an office of Local Government Consultant. The role of this office would be as a liaison between the department and local governments assisting with grant applications and other issues facing local government. DLGCA will be divided into: Center for Local Government, Bureau of Elections, State Athletic Commission, Office of Local Government Consultants”

    The five bills have now been referred to the House’s Committee on State Government and would appear to be well worth following.

  22. Blue Jacket April 18, 2018 / 11:20 am

    A brief note of information derived from a reading of the State Legislature’s daily Update.

    In the State House of Representatives, a Resolution was presented yesterday to discharge the Committee on State Government from giving further consideration to House Bill 563. As introduced, the bill proposed that the State Constitution be amended to consolidate the responsibility for legislative reapportionment and Congressional redistricting in a single independent commission of eleven members. (Perhaps, this is some sign that the Legislature is homing in on which proposals for reform of the redistricting process will and will not be given further consideration).

    Also , the House has given a Second Consideration to House Bill 638, which would clarify statutes which currently allow candidates for school boards to “cross-file” and have their names appear on the ballot as candidates for both political parties in uncontested races. The bill now goes to the Appropriations Committee for review of what fiscal impact, if any, the bill might have.

    In the State Senate, SB 299 has been returned from the Committee on State Government (which voted in favor of the bill 12-0) and has been given its First Consideration. As noted in a previous posting, the bill would eliminate the need for incumbent Magisterial District Judges to gather signatures and file a petition for re-nomination as a candidate for re-election.

    The Committee on State Government also voted 12-0 to approve Senate Bill 1038, which would allow candidates to disburse residual campaign funds to 501(c)(3) organizations. The Senate then gave the bill its First Consideration.

  23. Blue Jacket April 17, 2018 / 11:52 am

    This morning, the State Legislature’s Update of pending bills reports a busy day at the Capitol yesterday. We note two bills that might be of interest to LWVLA members.

    House Bill 638, described in a previous posting on this blog on March 14, 2018, after receiving a first consideration in the House of Representative, was removed from the table yesterday. In its latest rendition, we note only that use of the phrase “Justice of the Peace” has been changed to “Magisterial District Judge,” wherever it appears.

    Perhaps of more interest, Senate Bill 1078 yesterday received its second consideration and is on the Senate’s calendar for a third consideration today. The bill proposes to allow municipalities and school district boards to meet in executive session for discussions of the topics emergency preparedness, public safety and security. Our Senator for the 23rd District, Gene Yaw, is one of 12 co-sponsors of the bill. The Senate is scheduled to convene at 1:00 pm. If you would like to see the action without traveling to Harrisburg, you can see the session via live streaming on your computer at: http://www.pasen.gov/Video/SenateVideo.cfm

    As mentioned in a posting yesterday, the Senate Committee on State Government will be meeting today at noon, and the Committee’s agenda includes two bills related to election laws,

    However, LWVLA has scheduled a luncheon Forum meeting with the County Commissioners at 11:30 a.m. Perhaps, we can learn a bit about what plans are in store, if any, for changing the county’s voting machines.

    Which meeting might offer the bill of fare that is easier to digest?

    In other news, the local newspaper reports that an overflow crowd appeared at the Capitol yesterday to express support for Fair Districts, Inc., and the proposal to require that the State Constitution be amended to require that legislative redistricting be conducted by an independent citizens rather than by the Legislature. As previously reported, a second public hearing on the issue is scheduled for April 24.

  24. Blue Jacket April 14, 2018 / 1:24 pm

    This morning’s Update from the State Legislature tells us that the Senate Committee on State Government has scheduled a meeting for noon on Tuesday, April 17, 2018. The Committee’s agenda includes consideration of two bills related to the State’s Election Code.

    Senate Bill 299 proposes that, in order to have their names placed on the ballot for election, incumbent Magisterial District Judges need only file a “Certificate of Nomination,” in lieu of filing a petition signed by 100 voters, as is currently required. According to the introductory Memorandum of its sponsoring Senator, “Any non-incumbent candidate is still permitted to collect the signatures and run in a contested election.” Query: Fair? Does it promote greater participation in government by the electorate?

    Senate Bill 1038 proposes that candidates for political office be allowed to dispose of residual campaign funds not only (a) by using them for permissible expenses or (b) by returning them to the contributors pro rata, as is currently allowed, but also (c) by distributing the funds to 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. Query: So, if the candidate chooses to distribute the unused campaign funds to, say, only the NRA, would that be consistent with the wishes of everyone who contributed the funds?

    In passing, we should mention that the Senate’s Committee is also holding a public hearing on April 24, 2018, to give further consideration to redistricting reform. We note that Fair Districts, Inc., and LWVPA have expressed deep disappointment about the House Committee on State Government’s submission of an amendment to House Bill 722 on April 11 so as to allow the legislative leaders to control reapportionment and redistricting. The Legislature’s Bill Information web page does not yet show the text of the House Committee’s action.

    As initially submitted, HB722 was intended as a companion to Senate Bill 22, which proposed that redistricting functions be handled by an independent commission of citizens, not by the legislators. However, in a prior public hearing, on March 27, some testimony by former political party leaders argued that the function is properly that of a Legislature; and, on that same day, the sponsor of SB 22 testified that she was “not wed” to any specific provision of the initial bill. She also submitted SB1060, in which she suggests that perhaps the responsibility for redistricting could be initially left with the Legislature.

    Otto Von Bismarck has been credited with having restated, “Laws are like sausages. It is better not to see them being made.”

  25. Blue Jacket April 10, 2018 / 11:11 pm

    A newsletter from Senator Yaw’s (R-23rd PA Senatorial district) office today advises that the Pennsylvania State Senate will be reconvening on April 16, 2018.

    The Legislature’s daily Update indicates that the Committee on State Government will be holding a second public hearing on the issue of redistricting of Congressional voting districts.
    The hearing will be held at 10:00a.m. on Tuesday April 24, 2018 in Hearing Room 1 of the North Office Building of the State Capitol in Harrisburg.

    As warm weather approaches, I should think that this hearing will be as well attended as was the previous one and that it will be both informative and interesting to LWVLA members truly concerned about our State legislators’ plans about the issue.

    Perhaps, this is a good time to remind LWVLA members that new and pending bills in the PA Legislature, including information about the background and status of those bills, can be found by accessing the Legislature’s website. A cite that will bring you directly to the search page for State legislation is:
    http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/bills/
    Why not copy or write down that web address for future reference?

    You can also find legislation that your State Senator or Representative has introduced by visiting his or her individual website. Simply click on (select) the tab for “Senate” or “House” at the top of the Legislature’s webpage. Then, you’ll be able to click on the legislator’s name and be taken directly to his or her website. And, there, you will find links to sponsored bills as well as a means for contacting the legislator. If you have concerns that you’d like to share or questions you’d like to ask, this is an easy way to speak up and request answers from your legislator. (It is also an effective way to make use of the Internet services and e-mail that you are likely already paying for, and a meaningful way to keep yourself informed and involved in the government that your tax dollars support).

    Bills sponsored by Senator Gene Yaw:
    http://www.legis.state.pa.us/
    CFDocs/Legis/BS/bs_action.cfm?SessId=20170&Sponsors=S|23|0|Gene%20Yaw
    Bills sponsored by Representative Fred Keller (R-85th PA Legislative district):
    http://www.legis.state.pa.us/
    CFDocs/Legis/BS/bs_action.cfm?SessId=20170&Sponsors=H|85|0|Fred%20Keller

    While we are at it (and, since there seems to be a bit of a lull in State legislative activity), you might find the following links helpful if you are interested in tracking the progress of federal bills and the legislative activity of your US Senator or member of the House of Representatives:

    Bills in Congress:
    https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/
    Bills sponsored or co-sponsored by Senator Bob Casey:
    https://www.congress.gov/member/bob-casey/C001070
    Bills sponsored or co-sponsored by Senator Pat Toomey:
    https://www.congress.gov/member/pat-toomey/T000461
    Bills sponsored or co-sponsored by Representative Tom Marino (R-PA)–District 10 (to be 12) :
    https://www.congress.gov/member/tom-marino/M001179

  26. Blue Jacket April 10, 2018 / 10:58 am

    With regard to laws affecting voting and elections, it seems to have been rather quiet in the Legislature lately. But, this morning, the legislative Update reports that Senators Alloway (R-Adams County) and Reschenthaler (R-Alleghany County) have introduced Senate Bill 299. They stated in their preliminary Memorandum to fellow legislators that the proposed legislation would:
    “change the way in which an incumbent magisterial district judge gets on the ballot for re-election. As former MDJs, we realize the difficulties placed upon these members of the judiciary, which are prohibited from engaging in politics, except during the period of time in which they are seeking re-election. Therefore, our legislation will change the election code and permit incumbent MDJs to file a certificate of nomination for re-election, as opposed to collecting the 100 signatures, as is currently required. Non-incumbent individuals seeking the office will still be required to collect the requisite number of signatures.
    “To be clear, this is not retention, which is constitutionally prohibited for district judges. Our legislation merely changes the way in which an incumbent gets on the ballot, in recognition of the fact that members of the judiciary are statutorily prohibited from engaging in politics, except during their re-election cycle. Any non-incumbent candidate is still permitted to collect the signatures and run in a contested election.”

    Forgive me my inability to understand. Is the intent to make it easier for incumbents to be re-elected ?
    The bill as been referred to the Committee on State Government for consideration.

  27. Blue Jacket March 28, 2018 / 10:37 am

    In updating news of legislative activity, we note that two bills mentioned in our posting yesterday (SB 263 and SB 762) have been reported as passed by a vote of 48-0 in the State Senate.

    Yesterday was a special day at the State Capitol; for, the Legislature’s Committee on State Government held a public hearing on the issue of redistricting of the State’s Congressional and State legislative districts. The issue has long awaited action in the Legislature

    Before a crowd of approximately 250 people gathered by presence in the main hearing room or by televised viewing in adjoining hearing rooms, 11 of the Committee’s 14 members entertained testimony and asked questions about several proposals to reform the way Pennsylvania sets the boundaries of its voting districts.

    The individuals presenting testimony knew their subject and seemed to be in agreement that changes are needed. Senator Mike Folmer (R-Dauphin), Chair of the Committee, and Senator Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia), Democratic Chair of the Committee, welcomed them and invited the other members of the Committee to ask questions and express their own perspectives.

    Senator Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh), the catalyst behind Senate Bill 22, shared her own frustration in running for office under the current redistricting procedures. She explained why she put together a bipartisan group of her colleagues to study and set forth a proposal for formation of an independent commission of citizens to have the responsibility for preparing district boundaries, instead of continuing to entrust the work to the State’s legislators.
    Pointing out that her bill is in part a reintroduction of a proposal she had made in a previous session of the Legislature, she said she had studied a similar arrangement in California that effectively performs the function in that State, and which has significantly improved the electorate’s confidence in their legislators.
    When asked by Senator Folmer why she favored California’s approach, as opposed to Arizona’s procedure, she indicated that she was impressed by the fact that California voters, through an initiative and referendum, had demanded that there be an independent commission of citizens, not one of party leaders or legislators with vested interests in retaining power. (In passing she allowed that she wouldn’t mind seeing an initiative and referendum procedure in Pennsylvania; but, she acknowledged that that is an issue for another day).
    Another concern expressed by Senator Folmer centered on the proposed reform’s reliance upon a Special Master, a single individual, to develop an acceptable map in the event that the citizens’ commission could not reach agreement. Boscola pointed out that, by analogy, under Pennsylvania’s current system, if the Legislature cannot reach agreement, the State Supreme Court steps in and engages a single individual or firm to prepare a new map. Nonetheless, Folmer’s concern seems to have persisted. Several times during the hearing he mentioned that, whatever approach the Legislature takes, he wishes to “do it right.”
    Senator Alloway asked Boscola what her objective or goal was in seeking reform. She indicated that she wishes to see Pennsylvania’s districts established by a procedure that is fair and transparent to voters and which respects the Constitutional criteria of compactness, contiguity of geographical boundaries and preservation of community interests. Senator Alloway seemed to challenge that view, asserting that what is fair in the eyes of some may not be fair in the eyes of others. Senator Boscola urged her colleagues to support the bill, but said that she was “not wed” to any of its provisions if better suggestions could be offered.

    Later in the hearing, Carolyn Kuniholm of FairDistricts PA, echoed Senator Boscola’s call for an independent citizens’ commission, and urged the Committee to support SB22. She provided the Committee with a further in-depth review of the problems of the State’s current redistricting process. Partisanship has become entrenched in gerrymandering and is causing political gridlock, economic stagnation, and the electorate’s lack of confidence in its representatives. Gerrymandering is, she said, the worst in the nation when one considers the efficiency gap shown in voting results, and is repugnant to the Constitution. Again Senator Alloway asked what the goal of the movement for reform is, and again the answer came – fairness, competitive districts, and improvement of voter participation and confidence in their government. And, again, Alloway suggested that what is fair to one may not be fair in the eyes of another. When asked if there might not be another way to improve voter participation, Kuniholm mentioned that the League of Women Voters has recently conducted a study which might lead to a conclusion that a hybrid of an open primary system might help.

    Senators John Blake (D-Lackawanna) and Jay Costa (D-Alleghany) offered two other approaches to revise the redistricting process. Blake’s bill (SB464) would engage a commission of9 members to be responsible for both Congressional and statewide redistricting. Costa’ bill (SB767) suggests that the reforms could be implemented by legislation, until a longer term remedy could be developed by Senator Boscola’s proposal to amend to the State Constitution or by another approach.

    Two former state political party chairmen, Alan Novak (Republican) and T.J. Rooney (Democrat), testified and presented their case for retaining the Legislature’s authority for redistricting. They insisted that the process should be the responsibility of the representatives of the people, the body that was elected and is accountable to the electorate. Senator Anthony Williams gave an impassioned rebuttal, pointing out that the legislators are clearly “untrusted” to handle the process, whether or not they are responsible. His remarks drew applause from those in attendance at several points during the hearing.

    In review, the most searching and profound questions to those testifying seemed to have come from by Senator Andrew Dinnniman (D-Chester). It was truly enjoyable to hear his perspectives. Among his observations, he suggested that citizens are asking for more than reform of the redistricting process. He pointed out that, perhaps, the question we should be asking is what process will result in greater participation and confidence of the electorate.

    In sum, it was a day long in coming. Perhaps, the Legislature has begun to sense the public’s frustration and desire for an end to gerrymandering and partisan gridlock.

    POST POST —

    Timing is sometimes everything. As if to address a concern that was raised in yesterday’s public hearing about the provisions of Senate Bill SB22, Senator Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh) has now introduced Senate Bill 1060, a Joint Resolution, proposing that the State Constitution be amended to reform the redistricting process in a different manner. The Chair of the Committee on State Government had expressed concern yesterday about the possibility that SB22 might rest in a Special Master, a single individual, the authority for resolving disagreement about proposed redistricting plans.
    Perhaps, she saw it coming. For, in a preliminary Memorandum to her fellow Senators, on February 8, Senator Boscola had said that an alternative approach “would effectively model a break-through, bipartisan compromise recently put forward in our neighboring state of Ohio.”
    In her new Senate Bill 1060, introduced yesterday, Boscola appears to indicate that the alternative might be to allow the Legislature to retain first authority for redistricting. Each legislative chamber would be required to approve by three-fifths vote proposed maps for state legislative and Congressional districts. But, in the event that the General Assembly does not muster the required three-fifths support, an eleven-member bipartisan Redistricting Commission would be asked to hold public hearings across the state and then to develop and approve new maps. Composition of the Commission would be solely independent citizens, appointed in a process that “includes a series of random selections by lot.” 4 members would be individuals registered with the largest political party in the state; 4 would be individuals registered with the second-largest political party; and 3 would be individuals with affiliations to neither of the two largest parties. In order for a redistricting plan to be approved, it would have to receive 7 votes in the Commission, with at least 1 vote coming from each of the Commission’s subgroups.

    It will be interesting to see how the Committee Chair and FairDistrictsPA react to this new bill.

  28. Blue Jacket March 27, 2018 / 9:27 am

    In this morning’s Update of State legislative activity, three bills related to the State’s election systems are reported to have made further progress in the Legislature yesterday.

    Senate Bill 761 (proposing that the State Constitution be amended to allow candidates for the positions of Governor and Lieutenant Governor be allowed to campaign as a team) has been referred by the House of Representatives to the Committee on State Government. As noted in a previous blog post, the bill has already passed the State Senate.

    Senate Bill 263 (proposing the elimination of the requirement that permanently disabled voters file a written confirmation of their continuing disability every four years in order to qualify for an absentee ballot) has now been returned from the Appropriations Committee for the Senate’s further consideration.

    Likewise, Senate Bill 762 (proposing that the State’s SURE system be made subject to external audit has been returned from the Appropriations Committee for the Senate’s further consideration.

    In the House of Representatives, Representative Frankel (D-Alleghany) has introduced a joint Resolution that proposes to urge Congress to pass the “Secure Elections Act.”
    The proposed federal law might provide some financial assistance. The bipartisan federal bill, introduced by Sen. Lankfor (R-OK) and Sen. Harris (D-CA), proposes that grants be made available to states wishing to replace voting machines, provided that the new machines include a voter-verified paper ballot. States might also be allowed to apply for money to improve election procedures, if the procedures conform with recommendations of an advisory committee regarding post-election audits. The bill also suggests that an insurance pool be started for states that must conduct recounts for close elections; and require voting-equipment manufacturers to provide prompt notification of possible cybersecurity incidents.
    Frankel points out that many counties in Pennsylvania lack needed funds to replace outdated voting machines and that it might cost as much as $26 million to purchase voting equipment in his county alone.

  29. Blue Jacket March 21, 2018 / 11:30 am

    An Update of State legislative activity related to election laws indicates the following actions in the State Senate yesterday.

    Senate Bill 761 (mentioned in my posting on 3/20/2018, referring to a proposal to allow candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor to campaign together as a team) is now reported to have been returned from the Appropriations Committee, has received a third consideration, and was passed unanimously by the Senate.
    The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for that chamber to consider. If passed by the House, it must be reconsidered and passed again by both chambers in the 2019-2020 session before it can be placed on a ballot for consideration as a Constitutional amendment by voters.

  30. Blue Jacket March 20, 2018 / 11:23 am

    An Update of State legislative activity yesterday related to election laws indicates the following actions in the State Senate.

    Senate Bill 263 (a reintroduction of a proposal that was made in the 2015-16 legislative session) would eliminate the requirement for disabled voters with permanent absentee voter status to submit a written statement every four years asserting that they remain disabled and continue to qualify for permanent absentee voter status. Now, having received a first consideration in November, 2017, it was given a second consideration yesterday and has been referred to the Appropriations Committee, to review what fiscal impact the bill might have.

    Senate Bill 761 proposes to amend the state’s Constitution to allow gubernatorial candidates to select their running mate (similar to the process by which Presidential candidates select their running mates and campaign as a team). Having received a first consideration in December, 2017, the bill it has now been given a second consideration and has been referred to the Appropriations Committee.

    Senate Bill 762 proposes to require an external performance audit of the Pennsylvania Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors (SURE system) by the Auditor General and the process by which voter registrations records are entered and maintained. (SURE is the centralized voter registration and election management system designed to secure the accuracy and integrity voter registration records. The Department of State reviews county compliance with the requirements of the system, but no comprehensive external audit of the system has ever been done. Having received a first consideration in December 2017, it has now been referred to the Appropriations Committee.

    House Bill 444 had been passed by the State’s House of Representatives in December, 2017, by a vote of 191-0. It proposes to correct an inconsistency in current law that creates different ballot access requirements for candidates for school board within the same school district. In order to clarify the law, the bill would require that all candidates for School Director be required to submit 25 signatures for nomination. A minor amendment to the text of the bill was made by the Committee on State Government, and the Senate had given it a first consideration in December, 2017. It is reported that, yesterday, it was laid on the table and then removed from the table, (perhaps a suggestion that the Senate wishes more work on the bill before it is given further consideration on the floor).

  31. lwvlablog March 17, 2018 / 2:58 pm

    LWVLA Candidates Night Participation Policy
    1. The LWVLA will invite candidates registered with the Secretary of State and Local Board of Elections and Declared Write-in candidates, if any, for the office in question to participate in our events. All candidates will be invited simultaneously and in the same manner, which will include email. If an email address is not available for the candidate, regular mail may be used for that candidate. Invitations will specify this new policy.

    2A. If an invited state or local candidate is unable or decides not to appear at a scheduled Candidates Night, the event will still be held. This is the case even if only one candidate for an office with a scheduled panel appears. Unopposed candidates may appear alone.

    2B. Federal Races- In cases where more than one candidate for a federal office is present, but not all the candidates, the League will follow the same format as originally planned with those candidates who are in attendance. Names of absent candidates will be announced as the office arises. If only one candidate is present, the debate for that office will be cancelled.

    3. No substitutes or stand-ins for the candidates will be allowed.

    4. The moderator will announce that all candidates were invited to participate. In announcing that a candidate is not participating, the moderator will present a brief statement that a candidate either did not respond or declined or was unable to participate without any editorial comment.

    5. The candidate or candidates who attend will have an opportunity to make opening and closing statements and to express their positions on issues and respond to questions submitted by our League and the audience. Should a candidate, that committed to attend, advise our League in writing, that he/she is unable to appear due to extra ordinary circumstances, and at the discretion of our League’s Board, may then submit a written statement to be read by the moderator equal in length to the opening statement of the candidate or candidates present on the panel for that office.

    6. All media outlets that typically cover LWVLA events will be notified of this policy in the press releases, media interviews, social media and other communications prior to the events.

    7. The League of Women Voters of the Lewisburg Area Candidates Night events will be conducted in accordance with other event rules as provided to candidates with their invitations.

  32. Carole Madle March 17, 2018 / 2:12 am

    Thanks to Janice Bigelow for getting this set up and to Blue Jacket for blogging the updates on state legislative actions/inactions. Anxious to see what else shows up.

  33. Blue Jacket March 16, 2018 / 9:22 am

    An update of recent activity of the State Legislature that might be of interest to LWVLA members

    The Legislature’s Update of activity reports that, yesterday, Senator Stefano (R-Fayette) has introduced Senate Bill 1085 to improve transparency in local elections. The bill proposes that counties, upon receiving required reports of campaign contributions, would then convey this information to the Department of State to post on their public website for review.

  34. Liz Clement March 15, 2018 / 5:58 pm

    Me too…I’ve always been proud to be a part of LWVLA. Kudos to Janice – this blog looks fantastic!

  35. Susan Warner-Mills March 15, 2018 / 4:16 pm

    Me Too! Nice job, Janice, getting this great blog up and running

  36. Anonymous March 15, 2018 / 4:15 pm

    ME TOO! Nice work, Janice, getting this up and running!

  37. Blue Jacket March 15, 2018 / 9:08 am

    An update of recent activity in the State Legislature that might be of interest to LWVLA members.

    League members may recall that House Bill 722 is one of two bills concerning legislative reapportionment procedures which have been supported by the League and Fair Districts, Inc. The bill proposes “to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution by establishing an Independent Redistricting Commission to provide a nonpartisan process for redistricting in the Commonwealth for State Senate, State House and Congressional districts.” It was introduced in May, 2017, and was referred to the Committee on State Government. The Committee has taken no action on the bill since that time. Yesterday (March 14, 2018), a Joint Resolution was introduced in the State House of Representatives to discharge the Committee from further consideration of the bill. However, the companion or counterpart to this bill is still pending in the State Senate (The companion bill is SB 22, which is also supported by the League).
    .

  38. Blue Jacket March 14, 2018 / 11:17 am

    3/14/2018. A further update of recent activity of the State Legislature that might be of interest to LWVLA members
    .
    The Pennsylvania Legislature’s daily Update of activity indicates that, on 3/13/2018, the State House of Representatives passed House Bill 153, which proposes an amendment to the State Constitution in order to reduce the size of the House of Representatives from 203 legislators to 151. This is the second year in which a bill containing that proposal has been passed and, if it were also to pass the Senate in that form this year, it would be placed on a ballot for the voters to consider in the upcoming election.
    However, this year’s version of the bill also includes another provision, calling for a reduction in the size of the State Senate from 50 members to 38. That provision was not in the version of the bill which was passed last year. It is conceivable that the Senate could pass a bill that does not call for a reduction in the size of the Senate (thereby making the proposal identical to last year’s legislation). Should that occur, the House would have to consider the Senate’s version and, if the House accepts the Senate’s change, the measure would be placed on the ballot for the voters to consider.
    But, if the Senate accepts and passes the bill in its new form (calling for a reduction in the size of the Senate as passed by the House yesterday), the issue would again have to be considered and passed by both the House and Senate again next year before it could be placed on a ballot for the voters to consider.

    In other action, the House has given its first consideration to a recent bill (House Bill 638) which would eliminate the ability of candidates for certain judicial positions and school board positions to “cross-file” petitions to represent both political parties. The bill’s sponsor, Representative Simmons (R-Lehigh County), indicates that, historically, such positions have been thought to be nonpartisan. But, once the candidates are elected and take positions on issues, voters are increasingly perceiving them to be partisan. So, voters are confused when they see candidates’ names shown on the ballot as representing both political parties. Eliminating the ability to cross-file petitions might provide some clarification for voters. The bill must be considered twice more before the House votes upon it.

  39. Blue Jacket March 13, 2018 / 12:32 pm

    So do I.
    In an effort to help keep the members of the LWV of the Lewisburg area informed of Pennsylvania’s legislative activities, perhaps the following notes about new and pending legislative bills might be of interest. If you have interest or questions about the bills, you might consider contacting your State Representative or State Senator. Also, information about bills can be found on the Legislature’s wesbsite at: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/bills/

    An Update of the State Legislature’s activity today indicates that Senator Costa (D-Alleghany County) yesterday (3/12/2018) introduced Senate Bill 1068, which is reported as having been referred to the Committee on State Government for consideration. The title of the bill is “Preventing Foreign Corporate Influence on State and Local Elections.” An excerpt from the Senator’s earlier Memorandum about the bill best summarizes its purpose, indicating that it is intended “to address an alarming loophole in federal and state election law allowing foreign influence in our state elections.” The Memorandum further explained the bill as follows:
    “Recent reports regarding foreign interference in the 2016 election through ads purchased on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other platforms demonstrate just how easy it is for a foreign government or corporation to influence the U.S. election system. As countless federal lawmakers and election officials closely studying this issue have put it, ‘a major foreign power infiltrated U.S. elections with the specific goal of sowing conflict and distrust among American voters with their own government.’ These lawmakers and election officials are not talking about the winners and losers of the 2016 election, they are talking about a breach of national security.
    “Federal campaign finance law prohibits foreign nationals from making contributions or expenditures in U.S. elections – at the federal, state and local level. Shockingly, however, this does not prohibit corporations that are registered in the U.S., but still have foreign ownership, from making contributions to political committees that make only independent expenditures (“super PACs”) that are then spent on state and local elections.
    “What’s more, the [US Supreme Court’s 2010] decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission makes it nearly impossible to discern whether a contributing corporation is significantly owned by a foreign national by making it very difficult to track the corporation making the contribution through a super PAC, let alone its ownership.
    “This problem requires an amendment to our Election Code to ban foreign influence in our elections and require that donations are made in a transparent way. My legislation would prohibit foreign-influenced corporations – those with a foreign owner holding at least 5% ownership or foreign owners holding at least 20% ownership – from making independent expenditures, electioneering communication expenditures or contributions to super PACs to spend in state and local elections in Pennsylvania. It would require the CEO of any corporation making such an independent expenditure to file a statement certifying that it is not a foreign-influenced corporation.
    “State and local elections are the foundation of federal elections. Foreign money spent for the purpose of infiltrating or influencing an election, whether it be federal or local, affects the very functioning of American democracy at all levels.”

    In other news, an Update of legislative activity reports that another bill (House Bill 111) has been “Laid on the Table” for a fifth time. The bill was introduced as a Joint Resolution in the Spring of 2017 to amend the State Constitution. It proposes that the way in which judges of the State’s three statewide appellate courts are chosen be changed by establishing a bipartisan citizens’ commission to appoint the judges on a merit system, instead of the current partisan election system.
    The Update also indicates that a new bill (House Bill 2137) was introduced yesterday by Representative Hahn (R-Northampton), proposing that, for reasons of school safety and security, public schools be used as polling places for elections only as a last resort. The bill has been referred to the Committee on State Government.

  40. JANICE BIGELOW February 16, 2018 / 12:47 am

    I like the LWV of the Lewisburg Area

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