Lawmakers address concerns with legislative process

When we talk about partisan gridlock in Harrisburg or Washington D.C. the focus tends to be on the partisan nature of our politics.

Democrats vs. Republicans. Conservatives vs. Liberals. Urban vs. Rural.

That’s certainly some of it but, at the state level, some of it may be the very system itself.

Fair Districts PA, a non-partisan coalition focused on fair legislative districts, has also undertaken a “Fix Harrisburg” campaign aimed at highlighting problems with the state’s legislative process.

“More than half of the bills passed in each chamber were ignored in the other,” Carol Huniholm Fair Districts PA Chair said in an email “and more than half of ignored bills had passed unanimously from the other chamber.”

Kuniholm said that “was the case even though the same party controlled both chambers. What a colossal waste of time, effort and PA funds.”

Making matters worse, Kuniholm acknowledged that some of the bills ignored renamed bridges or highways but “far more of them addressed real, pressing, persistent problems,” that were legislative priorities for entities like the Farm Bureau, County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania and “major medical associations.

“Some have been passed in one chamber and then ignored in the other for multiple sessions, sometimes going back a decade or longer,” she said.

State Senator Scott Hutchinson and State Representative Kathy Rapp responded to a question in this area during last Friday’s Warren-Forest Hi-Ed legislative breakfast.

“I do think most of the bipartisan things do get done,” Hutchinson said. “If you look at the end of the day on the votes on the things that become law, most of them are pretty close to unanimous.”

He argued that the founders of our system intended to make the legislative process challenging so that bad things don’t happen.

“The beauty of our system, that’s the system working,” Hutchinson said. “As legislators we are the voices of the people that elected us…. We take that collective voice and try to work through issues so that in the end” legislation is “acceptable to the vast majority of people.”

Rapp pointed out that there are 3,000 to 4,000 pieces of legislation introduced each session.

“They never meant for legislation to be easy,” she said of the founders of the system. “They really wanted limited laws burdening our citizens.”

She said there is an effort to “prioritize” legislation. “That is something that a chairman of a committee is responsible for…. We have to analyze those pieces of legislation” to determine if a piece of legislation is a good bill for the district and state.

“Because the last thing we want to do,” Rapp said, “and we have done it…. We’ve overdone legislation because people wanted more and more safeguards.”


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