East Falls NOW Article: A Win for Bipartisanship

Along the way, I have mentioned my involvement in several initiatives over the years to change and reform how the General Assembly and/or the House chamber conducts business.  I have been involved in efforts for redistricting reform, gift ban legislation and campaign finance reporting, to name a few.  I direct my energy to these types of endeavors because I believe that they will pave the way for policy initiatives to be considered based on merit versus politics. If you have any doubt that these initiatives have value, consider that on average 3,800 bills that are introduced each 2-year session, yet less than 8% will make it to a governor’s desk for consideration.

The latest initiative in which I have been involved is the Pennsylvania One Caucus. We are a group of 8 Democrats and 8 Republicans who first convened in December of 2020. We tend to meet in the evening and on weekends, which I believe indicates our sincere commitment to changing the culture in Harrisburg. We generally seek no press, having held a single press conference in April of this year. We just do the hard work of convincing our leadership (both Democratic and Republican) that serious change is needed; and then propose said changes. 

Our plan was to first propose institutional changes, followed by House rules changes, then followed by legislative initiatives in line with our stated goals.

The institutional changes we proposed were to help the chamber to operate more efficiently, conserve taxpayer resources and promote an ethic of reform. Of the 6 changes we proposed, 3 have recently been adopted by the Bipartisan Management Committee (BPMC), which is the committee responsible for how the chamber operates.

Those changes include combining messenger services, print shop services and a centralized system for purchasing of goods and services, including district offices. Currently district offices must negotiate individually for the goods and services that they need to operate.

The additional 3 initiatives that have been tabled for the time being, including the merging capitol police and security services, merging IT departments and placing human resources under the authority of the Chief Clerk.

These changes are not simple to undertake, and we appreciate that the committee will start with a study on the best way to proceed with our proposed initiatives.

We are also currently working on reform of our House rules. The House rules were last reformed in 2007 and before that in the early 1990’s. Some of the reforms put in place in 2007 have been eroded. According to FairVote.org the PA legislature scores an abysmal 0. Other states, such as Colorado implemented substantive rules reform, memorializing them in their state constitution. FairVote.org gave their chamber a score of 100.  

Our 0 score stems from the following process that our rules permit: a committee chair makes the decision as to whether or not to bring legislation up for a committee vote, regardless of the amount of support within the chamber or from the public at large.  The same occurs at the next level, as it is the majority leader who decides which legislation, once voted out of committee, will be scheduled for a floor vote.  Even when scheduled for a floor vote by the majority leader, the Speaker has the sole discretion to decide which legislation will receive a floor vote.  In my opinion, and I hope your opinion too, there is too much discretion concentrated in too few members.

This is my second engagement with substantive reform initiatives. Previously, I was a charter member of the Government Reform Caucus for 4 years before that group was, in a word, sabotaged.  That caucus was bicameral, bipartisan, and met monthly and minutes were taken and distributed.

I am proud to be a founding member of this latest initiative.  We are making progress and please know the ‘lift’ has not been light as we have had to learn to trust each other, share thoughts on sensitive matters and be willing to advocate for change with our respective leadership.

My commitment to this group is strong and I look forward to updating you on future progress.  As always, I am interested in your thoughts on this topic and other state related matters.  I can be reached at RepDeLissio@pahouse.net or at 215-482-8726.