East Falls Now Article: Part-time or Full Time

The discussion periodically arises as to whether Pennsylvania should have a full-time or part-time legislature. 

When I am researching what other states do and looking for best practices, a resource I use is the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) website.

NCSL, founded in 1975, is committed to advancing the effectiveness, independence, and integrity of legislatures and to fostering interstate cooperation and facilitating the exchange of information among legislatures. Check it out, it has great information.

It helps to understand all the aspects of the position which goes beyond attending legislative sessions and voting on laws. There are committee meetings, constituent services, studying state issues, building relationships with colleagues and campaigning for re-election. Legislators attend events in the community and interact with constituents to hear about constituents’ state policy priorities and concerns.

The job of a state representative is not uniform across the country. In some states House members have 4-year terms and other states, like ours, have 2-year terms. 

Length of the legislative session also varies. Some legislatures restrict the number of days their legislature convenes, other states are unrestricted. Session length limitations are set in a variety of ways, and can be found in constitution, statute, or chamber rule.

Only 11 states do not place a limit on the number of regular session days; including our commonwealth. In the remaining 39 states, the limits are proscribed.

A few legislatures convene every other year (biennial) versus annually. There are arguments to be made for both scenarios.

In the early 1960s, 19 state legislatures met annually in regular session. Today, 46 state legislatures meet annually. The remaining four states hold session every other year.

Compensation further highlights the distinctions between state legislatures. California legislators remain the highest paid with a salary of $114,877. New Hampshire pays the lowest salary; their legislators have been paid $100 per year since 1889. Pennsylvania’s rate is $90,335. 

The qualifications for running for PA office are residency and age. The benefit of our form of government is that the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker are on the same level playing field as the doctor, lawyer, and Indian chief, when it comes to running for office.

I have asked for your thoughts on this topic and would like to share mine. I believe we can be as effective, and perhaps more so, if we were a part-time legislature.  

Given our current full-time status I think that the amount of meaningful and substantive policy that is enacted into law is inadequate.  In my town halls, I have discussed the legislation that has languished session after session and during these town halls, I report on the number of bills introduced and signed into law.

On average, between the House and Senate, about 3800 bills are introduced each session with under 8% of those bills becoming law.  That report further enumerates bills that originated in the senate versus house and those prime sponsored by a Republican versus a Democratic member.

In my opinion the PA House could be more productive.  I have been working with a bipartisan group of legislators (8 Rs and 8Ds) to change the rules of how we operate.  Currently the chair of a committee makes the decision as to whether a bill runs in that committee – regardless of the support for the bill among committee members or the public. 

Meanwhile, the majority leader controls which bills that have been voted from committee are placed onto the House Voting Schedule (HVS).  The Speaker then controls which bills on the HVS are brought up for a floor vote.  You could discern that we are control freaks in PA, and not in a good way.  Other states operate differently.  There are rules in other states that govern when and how a bill is brought forward at all levels; therefore, the decision is not ultimately in the hands of 3 individuals (Committee Chair, Majority Leader and Speaker).

Please know that I continue to put time and energy into the most meaningful reforms.  Without these reforms the process is flawed, and the good citizens of our commonwealth suffer flawed results.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts at RepDeLissio@pahouse.net or by calling the office at 215-482-8726. There are past articles and videos of my town halls at www.RepDeLissio.com