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Opinion: Harrisburg Needs to be Fixed

Fairness and representation are essential to a functioning democracy when it comes to government. However, when the rules governing the General Assembly become tilted, the consequences are far-reaching and ominous. Such injustice encourages corruption, skews representation, and creates the conditions for an ineffective government. 

In the state of Pennsylvania, both houses of the General Assembly vote on procedural rules on the opening day of each session. For the next two years of the session, their work is shaped by these rules. Those who can schedule bills, select committee chairmen and members, hire staff, and other duties are governed by these rules. Currently, a small group of political gatekeepers have complete control over which measures are brought up for a vote. Bipartisan solutions are thwarted by unjust legislative rules.

How it Creates an Ineffective Government 

An ineffective government hurts everyone. Legislators cannot effectively govern when the rules don’t help them but stop them. Pennsylvania is one of the least effective legislatures in the entire country, despite being one of the few, well-paid, full-time legislatures. In the 2021–22 legislative session of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, more than 93 percent of all bills that were introduced never got scheduled for a final vote. Bills that would help Pennsylvanians never get looked at because these rules stop them. Stop unsolicited telemarketers? Create a statewide literacy program? School lunches? These are just some bills that have been stopped using these rules.

How it Enables Corruption and Abuse

The current situation in Pennsylvania is ripe for corruption and abuse of power. The lack of proper rules, accountability, and checks and balances creates an environment where unscrupulous individuals can exploit their positions for personal gain from lobbyists. It further degrades faith in the system to actually work for them. This corruption undermines democracy at its very core. Even bills that attempt to stem corruption and abuses of powers get caught in these unfair rules. 

House Bill 1009 is one of these bills. HB1009 would have banned lawmakers from receiving gifts valued over $250 from a single lobbyist each year. Sponsored by 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats and introduced in March 2021. It passed through committee in October 2021. It then went 13 months with no vote on the House floor despite being passed 24-0 in committee. The Speaker of the House did not schedule a vote on this bill. Why? 

How it Limits Representation

Legislators cede power to a few party leaders when they vote on the rules. Our legislators’ capacity to represent us is therefore constrained. Most lawmakers have no control over which bills are put to a vote. Voters frequently lack a voice on the topics that matter to them the most as a result.

For an example of this, look to Senate Bill 1225 in the 2021-2022 session. 26 Republicans, 21 Democrats, and 1 Independent sponsored the bill, who represent 12,222,186 Pennsylvania residents. This bill clarified that MRI/Ultrasound coverage extends to women with any risk factors and without the application of any deductible, copayment, or coinsurance provisions. This bill died in the Insurance committee in the House because of the chair. One Representative canned a bill that passed 49-0 in the State Senate. The bill died in committee because of one legislator who represents 64,098 residents. How is this fair to the 12,222,186 voters? 

Now is the time to reflect and take action. To level the playing field, eliminate corruption, and reinstate the fundamental principles of democracy, the General Assembly needs to go through considerable reforms. Only by providing equal opportunity for all voices to be heard and taken into account can true representation be accomplished. The Assembly should be built with transparency and accountability at its core in order to support healthy democratic processes.

By addressing one of the root causes of corruption, representation deficits, and governance inefficiencies, we pave the way for a stronger, more resilient society. For the survival of democracy and the empowerment of all citizens, it is morally important that the General Assembly rules reflect fairness and equity. Let’s take charge of the situation and forge a future in which justice, equality, and democratic consent will be the guiding principles of government.

If bills and amendments, which are broadly supported by both Democrats and Republicans, cannot get a vote because of one individual. Why are voters surprised that nothing gets done?

Fix Harrisburg seeks to change this issue. Fix Harrisburg wants to put pressure on all members of the PA General Assembly. It is time to stop letting the rules in Harrisburg hurt Pennsylvania. Don’t let another bill join the 93% of bills because of one official. Sign the petition and learn more by heading over to FixHarrisburg.com.

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