FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
House Democratic Caucus
Amendments to improve state government in jeopardy
Democrats withdraw some amendments, will still offer others
HARRISBURG, Jan. 27 – House Democratic leaders today reflected on yesterday’s unprecedented action to gag members of the Rules Committee, and they expressed optimism that some of the amendments that Democratic and Republican legislators planned to offer will eventually be considered.
"We were disappointed and upset when presented with a resolution that would change the House rules which were agreed to just three weeks ago, and even more so when Rules Committee Chairman Mike Turzai refused to answer one question and then refused to allow committee members to ask any further questions," said Democratic Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny.
The resolution (H.R. 6) offered by Turzai, R-Allegheny, was apparently approved by the Rules Committee although the roll call vote was unintelligible and Democrats did not record any votes.
"The sham proceedings of the Rules Committee gave the people of Pennsylvania a clear illustration of what reform means to House Republican leadership," Policy Chairman Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, said. "In our honest attempt to improve legislation and work together to make Pennsylvania government work as efficiently, effectively and as openly as possible we and the people we represent were silenced."
The Turzai Rule would cut the number of Democrats serving on 23 House committees and remove a four-year-old House rule that worked to protect the ability of all representatives to have their ideas considered by linking consideration of amendments to consideration of bills. Under the Turzai Rule, a House majority could table any amendment and then proceed to consider the bill to which that amendment was offered.
Tabling an amendment does not return it to committee for further action. It simply removes that amendment from consideration, and under the Turzai Rule there would be no recourse.
"While these issues are important to the Democratic Caucus, civility must be restored to the House," Dermody said. "As a show of good faith by our side, Democratic sponsors today withdrew many of the amendments that were originally filed. We still have amendments we want to offer, but if it will help move the process forward we are willing to withdraw amendments which had their general intent covered by other amendments."
"Members offered these proposals in an effort to improve the associated bills. There was no other agenda," said Democratic Caucus Chairman Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny. "During the last four years when Democrats held the House majority, Republicans in the minority offered 5,480 amendments and Mike Turzai was the author of 143 of those. He used the rules of the House to do his job and he was not blocked. For him to now deny other members the right to offer amendments is shameful."
Frankel noted that the amendments Democrats offered to the government reform bills cover topics such as: extending protection under the Whistleblower Law to staff of the General Assembly; requiring state contract applicants to disclose campaign contributions; prohibiting state officials and employees from owning any part of a business they are assigned to regulate; prohibiting state officials and employees from awarding a contract and then immediately going to work for the winner of the contract; stopping state agencies from spending tax money to hire lobbyists to lobby other state agencies; reducing the number of state vehicles assigned to cabinet secretaries and deputy secretaries; and requiring members of the General Assembly to disclose if members of their immediate family are registered lobbyists.
"The legislative session began with House Democrats pushing for accountability in state government," said Democratic Whip Mike Hanna, D-Clinton/Centre. "The Republican leader’s action would move us further away from the goals of trust and accountability and would reverse a key procedural reform produced by the 2007 Speaker’s Commission on Legislative Reform.
"Weakening House rules in this way would let the majority leader silence the voice of any House member and the people represented by that legislator. We owe it to our constituents to continue fighting for openness, transparency and accountability in state government," Hanna said.
"I’ve served in the House for 13 years, with Republican and Democratic majorities," caucus Secretary Jennifer Mann, D-Lehigh, said. "I have never seen such a push to abuse the power of the majority and silence the minority as happened yesterday. What happened in the Rules Committee speaks for itself – the new Republican leaders clearly are not interested in open debate."
"On a day when the House was set to advance good bills that would make government more open, accountable and transparent, the Majority Leadership did just the opposite by muzzling discourse," said Appropriations Committee Chairman Joe Markosek, D-Allegheny. "When that happened to this country’s Founding Fathers, they held a tea party. The modern day Tea Party movement would not approve of the stifling of free speech."
"Coming so soon after President Obama and members of Congress pledged to raise the level of civility in politics, this was a disappointing step backward," said caucus Administrator Ron Buxton, D-Dauphin. "It would have been much simpler and fairer if the Republican leader had just allowed the debate on amendments offered by House members to proceed in normal fashion. He still could decide to do so, and that would begin to heal the wounds."