New Pennsylvania caucus promises reform
HARRISBURG — State lawmakers are joining a newly formed government reform caucus and hoping that recent scandals and its bipartisan membership will help propel their bills into law, state senators said Monday.
About two dozen proposals are among those being touted by members of the caucus, including some that seek to strengthen public confidence in government and expose more campaign contributions or gifts that might influence public officials.
“We as a state have very challenging, substantive issues ... that we’re going to be making tough decisions on and asking the public to join us in those tough decisions,” Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-Dauphin, a caucus co-founder told reporters at a Capitol news conference. “And the fact is that the public is never going to buy into those tough decisions if they’re constantly feeling like they’re being sold out.”
Some are bills that have been introduced before and stalled. But public displeasure over recent scandals and bipartisan support in the Legislature for the measures could give them momentum, said Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair.
“We have people on both sides of the aisle working on these issues ... and working with this caucus and making a bigger effort than I think we’ve seen to get these bills done,” Eichelberger said. “My question on any of these bills would be to ask members of the Legislature, ‘Why not?’ I mean, this is common-sense reform.”
The proposals come in the wake of state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin’s campaign corruption conviction and state prosecutors filing charges in an alleged “pay to play” scandal at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.
More than 30 House representatives and senators are listed as members of the reform caucus.
One bill being written by Eichelberger would seek more transparency in state contracting by requiring the state to quickly post the final scoring of the bidders. Eichelberger suggested such a practice might have deterred alleged contracting abuses in the unfolding Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission scandal, although the Department of General Services said Monday its policy requires executive-branch agencies to publicly post online the final scoring for all vendors who respond to a request for proposals.
Last month’s grand jury report accused a former state senator and three former top commission officials of steering lucrative contracts to engineering firms that agreed to give campaign contributions to certain elected officials.
None of the bills would prohibit businesses seeking or holding government contracts from giving money to political campaigns, although a similar prohibition applies to casino license applicants or licensees in Pennsylvania. The bills also would not ban no-bid contracts.
Another bill would be designed to prevent lobbyists from managing or consulting on campaigns, a status Eichelberger said gives them an unusual amount of influence.
Lobbyists also organize fundraisers for lawmakers, raise campaign donations through political committees and donate substantial sums of money to lawmakers. Eichelberger suggested his bill could be expanded to bar other types of political campaign activity.
Other bills being drafted by Eichelberger and Sen. Michael Stack, D-Philadelphia, would require more gifts to lawmakers and executive-branch officials to be publicly reported and prohibit the governor or his staff from accepting gifts from friends who do business with or are regulated by the state.
Teplitz has written legislation and a constitutional amendment to require the auditor general to review spending from the Legislature’s internal accounts.
The Legislature has not created any rules or limits on the use of its approximately $130 million cash reserve, a large and relatively unfettered surplus that is unheard of in other states and is managed by a top-level group of lawmakers who meet in secret.
In the past, the money has been used to fund a since-repealed midterm pay raise for lawmakers and programs that are favored by legislative leaders.
Teplitz and Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, are the co-chairs of this new caucus and other members include senators Pat Browne, R-Lehigh; Ted Erickson, R-Chester; Scott Hutchinson, R-Venango; John Rafferty, R-Montgomery; and Judy Schwank, D-Berks. Representatives include Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster; Rosemary Brown, R-Monroe; Lynda Schlegel Culver, R-Northumberland; Sheryl Delozier, R-Cumberland; Pamela DeLissio, D-Philadelphia; George Dunbar, R-Westmoreland; Eli Evankovich, R-Westmoreland; Garth Everett, R-Lycoming; Mindy Fee, R-Lancaster; Jaret Gibbons, D-Lawrence; Glen Grell, R-Cumberland; Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin; Patty Kim, D-Dauphin; John Lawrence, R-Chester; Ryan Mackenzie, R-Lehigh; Steven Mentzer, R-Lancaster; Rick Saccone, R-Allegheny; Mario Scavello, R-Monroe; Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh; Justin Simmons, R-Northampton; Rose Marie Swanger, R-Lebanon; and Dan Truitt, R-Chester.