Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dems offer lip service on reform

Republican lawmakers in Harrisburg continue to push for ways to reform state government. Unfortunately, the Democrats who control the state House continue to put up obstacles for reform measures.

And Gov. Ed Rendell appears to be losing his grip on the troops, unable to force a fellow Philadelphia Democrat to allow a vote on a redistricting bill in the House.

Barry L. Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause/Pennsylvania, reports that the Senate State Government Committee passed two important government reform bills on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 346 upgrades the way that legislative and congressional districts would be redesigned after each Census, Kauffman says.

Changing the way Pennsylvania politicians draw political boundaries is "considered one of the critical pillars of reform," Kauffman says.

SB 346 moved out of committee by an 8-3 vote.

Kauffman complimented Committee Chairmen Jeffrey Piccola and Anthony Williams for working together to get the bill moving and give it a chance to meet the mid-July constitutional deadline.

"This redistricting reform bill is crucial to making Pennsylvania's legislative and congressional elections meaningful again. When SB 346 becomes law, there will be much greater likelihood that voters will have meaningful choices on election day, and therefore have a greater ability to hold their elected officials accountable." Kauffman said.

A companion piece of legislation is bogged down in the House, where the Democratic chairwoman of the House State Government Committee, Rep. Babette Josephs, D-Phila., (pictured above) is refusing to allow a vote on the measure.

The Senate committee also unanimously approved Senate Bill 1488, which would make it illegal for lobbyists and those who hire lobbyists to provide gifts, hospitality, entertainment, meals or lodging to state-level officials and employees, Kauffman says.

The bill contains a reasonable exemption for plaques and also permits an official to participate in a group meal when speaking at a major organizational event that pertains to official duties, according to Kauffman.

"The Piccola gift ban proposal largely closes one of the big loopholes in the recently passed lobbyist disclosure; and in so doing ends a practice that appears to have raised serious concerns with most citizens. Lobbyists themselves have raised concerns about demands from officials for gifts and meals, while most citizens want to feel assured that their officials' loyalties lie with them rather than with special interest lobbyists that provide the largesse," Kauffman says.

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