Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Pennsylvania State House Journals for June

The Pennsylvania House was very busy in June. It was in session for 16 days. Here are the days for which a House Journal was produced and how many pages that issues was: June 5 (17), June 6 (55), June 7 (12), June 12 (32), June 13 (28), June 14 (193), June 15 (3), June 19 (18), June 20 (14), June 21 (71), June 22 (42), June 26 (45), June 27 (37), June 28 (68), June 29 (37), and June 30 (81). That’s a lot of pages taken all together. I don’t read but skim. Much of the page space is taken up by reproducing the text of bills or amendments being considered, some of these are quite lengthy, running tens of pages in a few cases. Since a list of bills introduced, shuffled, and passed are distributed in daily emails (and I compile the list of bills passed into the weekly legislative updates), what I look for is discussion or interesting things said. I won’t claim to even read all the discussion, often just looking at the subject of the bills being discussed.

Please note that the last of the House Journals for June wasn’t released until after the first of the year. That means it is taking SIX MONTHS to find out what is happening in the house and how representatives are voting. Page numbers are usually the page numbers of the pdf files on the House’s web site. In some of the individual quotes I am working from printed pages and those are numbered in one long stretch throughout the year or session and so don’t match up to the pdf page numbers, as those begin anew with each issue. It is hard to keep it all straight over the several days it takes to get through all the issues for a month. That being said there was only really anything to look at on these days and on these topics. I didn’t catch everything but this will provide some idea what the house was up to.

June 6, on pages 34-55 there is discussion of the defense of marriage act. A number of our elected officials felt a need to speak on this, with varying degrees of lucidity and sense, depending on your personal viewpoint.

June 12, on pages 13-22 find a pithy and thorough debate on executing the “mentally retarded.” A discussion of a bill on bullying took up pages 22-23, and the Praxis text for teachers on pages 27-32.

June 13, pages 20-24 a discussion on part-time work. On page 17 future speaker Dennis O’Brien makes an impassioned speech on protecting police officers.

June 14 – yes, 193 pages, much of it on property taxes. This is one of those very frustrating situations where the legislature discusses a topic, votes on some aspect of it, votes on something else, then goes back to the original topic, and repeats the process several times. It is maddening to try and keep track of what they are talking about. Property tax takes up around page 54, through 68, again on 96-102 (with lengthy bills in between)

June 21 – pages 11-19 voice over Internet protocol, pp. 35-37 museum funding, 61-63, money from the tobacco settlement, 65-69, back to voice over Internet protocol

June 22 – pages 6-8, the Municipalities Financial Recovery Act, pp. 11, then on and off through most of the rest of the issue, lobbyist reform. See some quotes below.

June 25, pp. 17-18 worksman’s compensation, pp. 25-27 scholarships, pp. 28-32 health care programs.

June 27, pp. 11 onward (did not catch ending page), public welfare code and medication, pp. 14-18, wine

June 28 – pp. 38-51 English as the official language. The discussion here got a little wild, pp. 56-61, Insurance law

June 29 – pp. 14-20 uniform trust act, pp. 21-26 cost of cigarettes, 31-35 tax and gaming and parks

June 30 – pp. 6-7 child support, 16-30? Health care insurance and auditing, pp. 45-48 and then off and on throughout, minimum wage.

One thing to consider when reviewing some of the discussion items below is what do we want the House Journals to be? Are they solely concerned with the legislative duties of the house? Should every word said be recorded? A lot of space is taken up with introducing guests, canned statements regarding items being commemorated, and personal notes like the following from June 13 (printed page 1222):

Mr. Speaker, my wife, Jane, and I have some joyous news. We were blessed with out fourth grandchild – I know I do not look that old – on Saturday, who arrived [I am excising information on the child’s name, parent’s name, other grandchildren’s names, weight, length, name of hospital, etc. for privacy considerations]. I will note that with this addition, I am still far behind Representative Micozzie, but I think I am ahead of my archrival, Tom Tangretti, and that is really what counts. So I would like to say to all four of my grandchildren, Pappy Fleagle loves you , and I will see you soon, babes.

This prompted a few other grandchildren announcements. Now, I had a grandfather who thought I was the neatest thing since sliced bread (never spoken, always understood) and left me with the firm belief that grandfathers, and mine in particular, are among the wonderful people in the world. No doubt “Pappy Fleagle” is devoted to his family and that is to his credit. But do these announcements need to be made on the House floor and preserved for all to read? I could do without.

Sometimes, though, there is an effort to stifle debate. On June 22, p. 1547 of the print version Mr. S Smith asks that debate on an amendment to lobbying reform be limited to leaders instead of to everyone. This is part of a suspension of the rules. The rules are suspended a lot and it seems to mean different things at different times. Also note this comment by Mr. Samuelson

A further parliamentary inquiry. The majority leader said this was distributed yesterday. Yesterday I got one that is 8343, and it is marked “preliminary draft.” The 8417 that is on the board right now, that was distributed about an hour ago, maybe 90 minutes ago. Is that the one we are going to be voting on, the one from today, not the one from yesterday?

On the next page we have this exchange:

Mr. Leach: There have been a number of questions asked, and then when the person who hass ked the question was called up to the podium, there was a private discussion, which the membership at large was not privy to, and I am very interested in what bills are in order or what amendments are in order and what amendments are not and why, so I am wondering as we debate the disclosure bill, if the Chair would disclose the answers to those questions

The Speaker pro tempore: Currently we are on the motion to suspend, but if anyone would like to come up the podium and have their questions answers, we will be more than glad to do so.

Mr. Leach: Mr. Speaker, I am asking if there is a method, by which the questions can be answered publicly on the record, on television, and so all the members can heard, not just the two or three who are invited up for a private conversation?

The Speaker pro tempore: Not at this time or right now, Mr. Leach.

On page 1549 Mr. Samuelson asks if he can repeat what he was told at the podium, to place it into the record and get confirmation that his information is correct. He is told he can. Mr. Vitali protests his microphone being turned off.

I understand that tempers can flare and it is good to have elected officials who are passionate about items like executions and minimum wage and property taxes, but can we hope for a little civility, such as not turning off each others microphones, and for open discussion and debate?

And, finally, I leave you with this from page 1334 of June 14, where Rep. Bill DeWeese says “To use the honorable gentleman from Upper St. Clair’s specific word ‘duplicative,’ which is a fancy way to say duplicate, God bless America, I think if we just go along with my friend’s effort, we are just going to have the same debate all over again.”

Do I read this correctly? Did Bill DeWeese just comment on someone using, possibly incorrectly, a polysyllabic word? Pot, call Kettle.

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