Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Update on Reform

The state legislature returns to session this week with an ambitious agenda, including some items still on their plate from last year:

Still unresolved from 2007 is a bill overhauling Pennsylvania's Sputnik-era Right-to-Know law; as well as a ban on most public smoking, and components of Rendell's second-term energy conservation and healthcare reform plans.

Source: John Micek, "State lawmakers return to overstuffed agenda," Morning Call 1/14/08

Reform measures are still a priority for some state representatives. Josh Shapiro (D-153) posted a note on the state party website at the end of last November that says in part:
Reform is continuing in Harrisburg. To date we have passed more than 30 reforms in the House to make more openness and transparency in the process. Next week we will continue our debate on the state’s open records law. Coming up are serious conversations on campaign finance reform and reducing the cost of government -- two proposals that I authored. Put in perspective of the lack of reform in the last 30 years, reform today is moving at a quick pace, but we must accomplish a lot more.

With the real impact reformers have had on elections over the last few years, lawmakers in Harrisburg are not trying to read the tea leaves of past elections to look for permission to stop working for reform. The men and women I’m working with every day on reform are committed to the cause. We cannot and will not let cynical observers dissuade us from doing what is right.

Bryan Lentz (D 161) published an op ed piece in the Inky on a similar topic recently. It is also posted on his website and begins:
When I was a prosecutor, I followed a simple formula when it came to sharing information with the defense: whether the information hurt my case or not, I turned it over. In our system of public justice, the district attorney’s case file had to be an open book.

The same is true of our state government. With more than $26 billion of public money being spent every year, it is important that our public records be truly public. For years in Pennsylvania, accessing public records – particularly the expenditures of the legislature – has been a difficult process. In most cases, the individual citizen had to prove to the government why he or she had a right to see a public record. The result has been an increasing distrust of our government and a skepticism surrounding the motives of our political leaders.

Recently, the state House of Representatives took a major step toward opening up our government. In late November, the Senate sent an open-records bill to the House (S.B. 1) which contained numerous exceptions and loopholes. The Democratic majority in the House strengthened this bill and passed a law which has the potential to make Pennsylvania a leader in open government.

I was disappointed in the results of the leadership election (new wine, old wineskins, not a good idea) and hope that more reforms can be passed.

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