10 House Democrats outline rules reform legislation at news conference

HARRISBURG, April 26 – State Rep. Steve Samuelson was joined by nine House colleagues at a virtual news conference today to discuss a package of House rules reform legislation designed to support procedural rules that provide a more transparent and collaborative process.

Samuelson said these proposed changes to House rules will bring fairness and balance to the legislative process, improve the working of House committees, and ensure that bills with broad bipartisan support get a vote.

“We are committed to openness and transparency,” Samuelson said. “These rules changes would increase opportunities for public input on legislation, reduce partisan gridlock and ensure that the House and its committees stay focused on the needs of our constituents. We need to eliminate legislative roadblocks to allow for more open debate.”

House Democratic members participating in the news conference were Samuelson, D-Northampton; and Reps. Joe Webster, D-Montgomery; Bob Freeman, D-Northampton; Tim Briggs, D-Montgomery; Kevin Boyle, D-Phila.; Jennifer O’Mara, D-Delaware; Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster; Elizabeth Fielder, D-Phila.; Pam DeLissio, D-Phila.; and Mike Zabel, D-Delaware. 

The rules reform legislation:

H.R. 30 – Bipartisan Support Demands an Open Vote, sponsored by Samuelson. This amendment would guarantee that any proposed legislation sponsored by more than the 102 members required to pass a bill in the House get an up-or-down vote in the House. This change would prevent an individual leader or committee chair from bottling up bills that are clearly a top priority for the people.

H.R. 31 – Good Idea/ Fair Debate, sponsored by Webster. Under this amendment, any bill with 20 co-sponsors from each party would be guaranteed debate and an up/down vote in committee. More than 60,000 people count on legislators to represent their views and communities, and these people bring great ideas that are too often bottled up in the name of partisanship and special interests. We need to change the House rules so good ideas get a fair debate.

H.R. 32 – Committees Should Look Like the House, sponsored by Webster. This amendment would make sure the standing committees of the House – the places where introduced bills go for intensive study and debate before being sent for consideration by the full House – better represent the makeup of the actual House instead of being so heavily weighted by partisanship. This change would still preserve the Republican majority in committees, but by a majority proportionate to the actual election results.

H.R.  33 – No More Moving Targets for Legislation, sponsored by Freeman. This amendment would end the practice of legislative leaders sidestepping debate and an open vote on proposals they oppose by sending a bill ready for passage to a different committee. This practice is most used when the minority attempts to force legislation that is being bottled up in committee to the full House for debate and a vote – the majority party will simply vote to send the bill to a different committee to slow down and even halt its progress. This change would end this practice and require open votes.

H.R. 34 – Let the People Speak on Constitutional Changes, sponsored by Briggs. This amendment would require any potential constitutional question placed on the ballot to come with a full public hearing. This change would improve transparency and allow the people to comment and get more information before being asked to alter the state constitution.

H.R. 35 – Ending Surprise Meetings, sponsored by Boyle. This amendment would prevent House standing committee chairs from calling voting meetings of committees with little to no notice, which has been done in the past to prevent committee members from having the time required to file amendments or even prepare questions for debate. This change would ensure the people can be informed and lawmakers can be fully prepared to debate vital legislation.

H.R. 36 – Let the People See, sponsored by O’Mara. This amendment would restore the rule requiring a full 24 hours before final passage of any bill, including all bills amended in the House chamber or in committee, or sent over from the state Senate for a House concurrence vote, after changes were made. Even in a nonstop news cycle like today’s, the people need more than the current three hours to be informed and should be given a chance to have input on major changes to bills impacting the state.

H.R. 37 – Fair and Balanced Hearings, sponsored by Sturla. This amendment would require that majority and minority chairs of a standing committee have equal opportunity to invite testifiers at public hearings. It also would require that testifiers invited by the minority chair are allotted equal time as given to testifiers invited by the majority chair.

H.R. 38 – Play by the Rules, sponsored by Fiedler. This amendment would end the current requirement that all bills during a certain time period every year – normally around the budget deadline – be sent to the House Rules Committee before being sent to the full House for final debate, which puts far too much power in the hands of a few House leaders when important legislation that affects every single citizen is being considered. This change would reduce the control the majority leader has over bills and allow members to move bills without one person stopping them.

H.R. 39 – Giving the Majority of Members Final Say, Not a Few Leaders, sponsored by DeLissio. Under current practice, the chairs of the Appropriations and Rules committees have the final say on the language of bills, not a majority of the House. This change would empower the House by ensuring that the entire House always has the last opportunity to amend a bill, not leadership.

H.R. 40 – Mandatory Public Hearings, sponsored by Sturla. This amendment would require every bill to have a public hearing before moving to the full House for a vote unless both majority and minority chairs agree to waive this hearing requirement.

H.R. 85 – Protect the Right to Debate, sponsored by Zabel. This amendment would change the current requirement of a simple majority vote to revert to the previous question – that is, to end any attempt to amend a bill and to end all debate and force an immediate vote. This change would still allow such a move but would require a two-thirds supermajority of the House – 136 members versus the current 102 – to approve so any such move would need a true bipartisan consensus.

News Organizations: The news conference can be viewed at this link.