On November 6, Pennsylvania voters watched as other states wielded power too long denied the citizens of our state.
Three states resoundingly instituted redistricting reform measures to ensure fairly drawn electoral districts. In two of those states, the reform was made possible by a citizen-initiated referendum, now a possibility in 26 states.
Voters in 43 states enjoyed expanded voting opportunities designed to offset the challenges of our mid-week elections: early voting in 35 states, all-mail or no-excuse absentee voting in 30 states, guaranteed time off to vote in 30 states. Pennsylvania is now one of only seven states that offer no relief to commuters, shift-workers and others who struggle to make it to their local polling place.
Reforms addressing all of these issues have been repeatedly offered in our state legislature. Few have been considered in committee. None have come to a final vote.
In fact, only a tiny fraction of bills introduced in Pennsylvania’s legislature come to a final vote, no matter how much public support or how much interest from legislators themselves. In the 2013-14 legislative session, PA ranked 39th in the nation for number of bills passed (381) and 49th for percent passage of bills introduced (just 7%). By any measure, our legislature is by far the most expensive per bill enacted.
Our research suggests this reality is by design. Procedural rules introduced and immediately voted on the first day of session put far more power in the hands of a few leaders than is the case in most state legislatures. The same individuals who draw district lines to barricade themselves and their closest cronies from the public will have also built in seniority rules to ensure that those who stay longest have most control.
Rules and unchecked precedent allow some committee chairs to function as petty dictators rather than as moderators or facilitators. Bills are scheduled according to the Majority Leader’s agenda or partisan preference rather than by automatic calendaring rules, an essential fixture in most other states. Rather than move important bills forward at a steady pace, as happens by rule in states across the country, PA legislative leaders save important bills as bargaining tools to leverage in the last weeks of session. The result is that many bills of importance are never heard and that only a small handful of bills of real benefit are enacted in any given session.
This manipulation by a few impacts every person in Pennsylvania, every day, in every area of our lives, from potholes in roads, to lead in our air, to the cost and quality of our children’s education or how likely it is our homebound commute will be blocked by flooding streams.
We at Fair Districts PA are working hard to expose the foundational reasons for dysfunction in Harrisburg and working even harder to explain and promote real solutions.
Come join us for our Reclaiming Our Democracy Town Hall, December 1,10 AM to 4 PM, in the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg. Among others, we’ll be joined by
The event is co-hosted by the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania. It will be live streamed and available afterward on YouTube. Questions to panelists will be accepted through both Facebook live chat the day of the event on our state Facebook page and through text messages to 1-800-313-1597.