THOSE WHO STYMIED GAMBLING REFORM NOW OFFER FALSE SOLUTION
HARRISBURG, July 24, 2006 – The call by a handful of Republican Senators for a special session of the Legislature to address gambling reforms is nothing more than a hypocritical and hollow gesture from the very group of people who prevented those issues from being settled already, state Senator Vince Fumo (D-Philadelphia) said today.
The Legislature was poised to pass Senate Bill 862 in late June and early July, right before the summer recess. The concerns that Sen. Jane Orie (R-Allegheny) and two of her fellow Senators raised last week were to be dealt with in an amendment to SB 862 that had been developed with the active participation of all four House and Senate caucuses.
Rank and file Republicans – the same people now saying we have to pass a gambling reform bill before the fall – prevented it from coming up for a vote. Then late last week, Senators Orie, John Rafferty (Montgomery) and Bob Regola (Westmoreland) asked Gov. Rendell to call a special session of the legislature, saying it was vital to enact needed reforms to the gambling law before the Gaming Control Board begins issuing casino licenses, which it might do this fall.
"Like arsonists complaining that the fire department didn’t arrive soon enough to save the building, they created a problem and are now grandstanding with demands for someone else to hurry up and solve it," said Fumo.
Fumo briefly held up passage of the state budget on July 1 in an unsuccessful attempt to force a vote on the gambling reform bill, because he hoped to address the reform measures prior to licenses being issued.
The four-caucus amendment that was contemplated to SB 862 contained a list of significant changes to the gambling law, including those now trumpeted by Orie.
Among them were:
Adopt Orie’s proposed language on employment
standards for board employees, including requirements for a background check
and drug testing.
Require that prior to issuing a casino license,
the Gaming Board hold at least one public hearing within the municipality
where the facility is to be located.
Establish a code of conduct for the Board, and
set specific recusal standards for Board members.
Reduce the prohibition on public officials
holding ownership in a gambling license from one percent to zero.
Clarify the authority of the state Attorney General regarding gambling crimes and provide the AG’s office with funding to carry out those duties.
Clarify tax-related issues raised by Republican
Senator Jane Earll (Erie) concerning the percentage of tax that race tracks
must pay to host municipalities.
Require the Board to obtain annual spending authority from the Legislature.
The only controversial provision pertained to zoning matters in Philadelphia only, and was agreed to by the entire Philadelphia delegation.
"Senate Bill 862, as it was to be amended, made necessary mid-course corrections to the difficult and arduous process of creating a new gambling industry in Pennsylvania. It represented the combined effort and input of people in all four Legislative caucuses, and it was in the best interests of the people of the state to bring it up for a vote before we left town several weeks ago," Fumo said.
In published news stories, Orie has been critical of the gambling law because it does not bar those associated with a gambling licensee from making campaign contributions. The law does prevent gaming license holders from making such contributions, a measure that was included at the insistence of Fumo, one of the main authors of the law. While the prohibition against political giving by license applicants or license holders has been upheld by the Supreme Court in other states, it would be unconstitutional, under the principle of free speech, to restrict the contributions of others who have an association with them.
While criticizing others, however, Orie herself has no qualms about accepting political contributions from those with gambling connections. She accepted a campaign contribution from a lobbyist for the Isle of Capri on February 13 of this year, just 29 days after publicly endorsing the Isle of Capri proposal for the Pittsburgh casino license over the plan of two other applicants.
"There are several changes that we should make to the gambling law," said Fumo. "We should have made them before we went on break for the summer. While I am pleased to see that some members of the Senate Republican caucus are now serious about addressing the gambling law, we are already scheduled to return to session on September 19th, so calling for a special session to begin in early September is little more than an attempt to grab headlines at taxpayer expense."
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