FUMO PLANS TO INTRODUCE LEGISLATIVE REFORM PACKAGE AGAIN IN ‘07
He will formally present the three-bill package shortly after the Senate convenes for the 2007-08 session in January.
With the unified backing of the entire Senate Democratic caucus, Fumo last session offered a set of reforms to guarantee adequate public notice of bills before they are considered by the state House and Senate. They were designed in co-operation with the public interest lobby Common Cause.
Despite additional support from several Republicans as co-sponsors, the package failed to make it out of the Senate Rules and Judiciary Committees.
“We are coming back to try again with an idea that is simple, and should be non-controversial: We want to make sure that all members of the Legislature have a chance to read and understand a bill, and to obtain input about it from their constituents, before they vote on it,” Fumo said.
Fumo again expects to have the full backing of all 21 Senate Democrats for the package. Several members of the caucus joined him at a news conference today in Philadelphia. He hopes to attract even broader support from Republicans during the next session.
“We had approximately half the Senate as co-sponsors last session. This time, there are newly elected members who have been sent to Harrisburg in an atmosphere of reform, so we are optimistic that we will have their support and succeed in passing these constitutional amendments,” he said.
Pay raises for officials in all three branches of government, introduced and voted upon without advance notice to the public and with no debate on the floor of the House or Senate, focused public attention on the problem of “sneak” legislation, but Fumo noted that last-minute, wholesale amendments have been a problem for quite some time. The electric deregulation law of 1996 was done in similar fashion, as have been several state budgets and other bills. Fumo has, on several occasions in the past, brought suit challenging that manner of passing some legislation.
Currently, the state Constitution requires that any bill must be considered in each chamber on three separate days before final passage. Frequently, however, the process circumvents that requirement through the use of amendments. A bill receives the required three days of consideration on the calendar in each chamber. Then at the 11th hour, its original language is removed or significantly modified, and it is “amended” with completely new legislation. The House or Senate then calls up the new version of the bill and passes it shortly afterward.
“We have to stop legislative sneak attacks,” Fumo said. “It is detrimental to the public’s confidence in their government, and it is equally harmful to an individual legislator’s ability to do his or her job properly – to make informed decisions about the bills we are voting upon, after hearing our constituents’ opinions.”
The key proposal would require that a chamber put a bill on the calendar for at least 72 hours, in its final form as amended, before putting it up for a final vote.
Similar provisions of the package would establish time frames to ensure advance notice before bills or amendments could be voted upon in committee.
Two other proposals would increase opportunities for hearings. Under the first, 10 percent of the members of either the House or Senate could require a public hearing on the final version of a bill, as amended, before it is brought up for final passage. Under the second, no bill in one chamber that has come from the other chamber for a concurrence vote could be amended to change its original scope and purpose unless there is a public hearing prior to passage.
Additionally, the package would require the roll call votes of the House and Senate be posted on the internet within 24 hours, and committee votes within 48 hours. The complete journal of each legislative session day would have to be on the Internet within 30 days.
An enforcement provision would grant legal standing to any adult resident of the Commonwealth to challenge in court the legislature’s compliance with these rules.
News releases containing details on these proposals are available on Fumo’s web site. His original proposals in concept were announced on December 14, 2005, and are described in the following news release:
The three bill package as drafted and introduced in legislative form on April 19, 2006 are described in the following news release:
In this session, Fumo will introduce the bills as statutes so they could take effect immediately, but will also attempt to solidify them in Pennsylvania law as Constitutional amendments. To amend the constitution, the bills would have to pass both chambers during the current legislative session, then be introduced and approved again during the session that will begin in January of 2009. They would then have to be approved by the voters in a statewide referendum.