Bryan Cutler: The Collaborative Conservative
Rep. Bryan Cutler’s (R-Lancaster) ice bucket challenge for ALS research may be the most heartfelt in the nation. Both his parents developed the rare and deadly disease while he and his sister were still in their early teens.
He credits his "normal" childhood, in the face of the tragedies, to the involvement of his church, neighbors, and the entire south Lancaster county community. He embraces the same spirit of working together as a "very important part of his job" in Harrisburg. Few reach across the aisle more than Bryan Cutler. Yet the high mark he receives, year in and year out, from the American Conservative Union is hardly in jeopardy. He holds onto his convictions much the same as one of his heroes did; even when trying to find common ground.
"Imagine President Reagan accomplishing what he did with a Democratic House all those years (and later a Democratic Senate)," Cutler said. "He reached over, worked with the other side. It really is true what he said about getting anything accomplished if you don’t care who gets the credit."
Nearly all of Cutler’s bills, including four signed into law, list a Democrat as the other prime sponsor. Act 164 of 2012, for example, implements fraud detection and prevention mechanisms in the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The law also strengthens fraud-reporting measures and includes whistleblower protections.
Other efforts make up the platform of the Government Reform Caucus he formed in 2013 with Democratic State Senator Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin). These proposals are at the center of why he sought elected office in the first place.
"The 2005 pay raise really showed how bad the culture was in Harrisburg in those days," he said. "We’ve made a lot of good changes, but more are needed."
Cutler has authored legislation that would:
• Restore a part-time Legislature to combat escalating costs and the excessively slow legislative process;
• Restructure appointments by the governor to base them on merit rather than political favors;
• Increase penalties on lobbyists who fail to properly register;
• Forfeit gains of lobbyists realized through illegal means;
• Reform the policy on reimbursement of legal fees for lawmakers and staff to comply with the Constitution of Pennsylvania;
• Limit the base amount of annuities to prevent public retirees from earning more in retirement than they did while working for the government;
• Ensure that there is a very clear line between governmental functions and political activity; and
• Budget on a two-year cycle to save costs and budget more efficiently.
A measure strongly supported by the business community, his "paycheck protection" legislation, would stop direct payroll deductions that support the PACs of public sector unions from the paychecks of state and public school employees. The bill, HB 1507, cleared the State Government Committee just before summer recess and many anxiously await action in the upcoming fall session.
"If we learned anything from Bonusgate is that we must have absolute separation of public dollars and political activity," he said.
Another of his bills with bipartisan backing would create a merit selection system for judges on the state’s appellate level. The business community has long supported a move away from the election of judges as a way of lessening the trial bar’s inordinate influence in judicial races.
Under HB 1848, a bipartisan citizens’ nominating commission of both lawyers and non-lawyers, selected by legislators, would draft a short list of qualified candidates for the governor. The governor would then nominate a candidate from the list. The Senate would affirm the nomination, and the judge sits for a short term before standing for non-partisan retention election.
Time ran out to run the bill this session (being that it amends the state Constitution, it must be advertised) but with co-sponsor Philadelphia Democrat Brian Sims, the legislation will be back in the 2015-16 legislative session come January.
Cutler’s bills often face the toughest political opposition in Harrisburg. For example, his Fairness in Claims and Transparency Act would stop trial lawyers from double dipping in asbestos suits. This common sense reform is opposed by an almost unbeatable partnering of the trial bar with organized labor. HB 1150 has been in Judiciary Committee since being introduced in April of 2013. The bill would require those seeking asbestos compensation in court to reveal any claims that they have made against an asbestos bankruptcy trust or whether they are eligible to make such a claim. The trusts were set up following the bankruptcies of companies that were responsible for exposing people to asbestos to ensure these victims receive compensation. Cutler will not back down from this fierce opposition and persistently urges the passage of this needed reform.
"The patients will benefit most from the legislation since it will guarantee the money is there for those who really need it," Cutler said.
Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, David N. Taylor, praised Cutler’s ability to work with Republicans, Democrats, and different interest groups. "Bryan is proof that a conservative legislator can be principled and effective in governing," Taylor said. "He leads by example in showing how it’s done."
"Our representative democracy was made to put the citizens in control of their government," Cutler said during a press conference introducing the new caucus. "This push for good government is about ensuring lawmakers remain focused on serving the needs and the will of the people. Their priorities should always be considered first."
Bryan Cutler was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 2006. Prior to his election to the House, he worked at Lancaster Regional Medical Center as an X-ray technologist, providing direct clinical care to patients, while attending law school. The United States Constitution and the Pennsylvania Constitution are central to Cutler’s law-making ideology.
Before serving in the state House, he served on the Drumore Township Planning Commission, the Regional Planning Commission and the Emergency Management Team for Drumore Township. At Widener Law School, Cutler qualified for Law Review. He graduated summa cum laude from Lebanon Valley College.
He is an active member of the Wrightsdale Baptist Church and a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Bryan and his wife, Jennifer, have three children, Cheyanne, Caleb and Drew.