Turmoil in the House

Member Group : Democracy Raising PA

Lost from the news reports, YouTube videos and other accounts of the angry House Rules Committee meeting last Wednesday was the substance of the bills and amendments up for consideration. With this edition of DR News, we will put the partisan posturing aside and look at the potential for improvement in standards of public integrity.

There are six "reform" bills in play. Together they have attracted dozens of amendments. This is fairly common. Those wanting to amend proposals often will offer one large amendment with several changes as well as separate amendments for each change. If lawmakers agree to the large amendment, the other amendments become unnecessary and are withdrawn, reducing significantly the number of amendments that require a vote. If the larger amendment fails, the other amendments allow lawmakers to choose which individual changes to accept and which to reject.

One lingering problem from last Wednesday is whether the House will adopt new rules on Monday that will prevent many amendments from being offered and voted upon.

Following are three of the six bills with individual amendments listed as bullet points. For reference, the amendment number is in parentheses at the end. The other three bills – two dealing with purchases by state agencies (House Bills 107 and 108) and one dealing with the Legislative Code of Ethics (House Bill 109) – also are important. We will report on them in another edition of DR News in order to keep this edition brief.

House Bill 103 increases the fines the State Ethics Commission can impose when a lobbyist or the interest employing a lobbyist breaks the law. Proposed amendments would:

• For two years, prohibit executive branch employees from working for a business that the employee regulated or licensed while working for the state. (A00120)

• Ban public officials and candidates from receiving gifts worth more than $50 per year from lobbyists, and ban hospitality, transportation and lodging worth more than $500 per year, with a few exceptions such as gifts from family members. Current limits are $250 for gifts and $650 for other gratuities. (A00122)

• For one year, prohibit any public employee from working for a contractor with state government if the employee influenced the decision to award the contract to the contractor. (A00126). Another amendment would extend the prohibition to two years. (A00158)

• Require lawmakers to identify on their financial disclosure statements any members of the lawmaker’s immediate family who is a lobbyist. (A00153)

• Require lawmakers to disclose (but not identify) whether members of the lawmaker’s immediate family are lobbyists. (A00155)

• Define "domestic partner" and include domestic partners as members of a lawmaker’s immediate family for purposes of financial disclosure and restricted activities. (Three amendments: A005157, A00159 and A00185)

• Prohibit any state agency from using public funds to hire a lobbyist to lobby another state agency. (A00250)

• Prohibit cabinet secretaries and deputies from having a financial interest in any business that the official’s agency licenses or regulates, both during the time of public service and for two years thereafter. (A00273)

House Bill 104 changes the state Whistleblower Law to include the General Assembly and its legislative agencies. Proposed amendments would:

• Define the employers whose employees are covered by the Whistleblower Law and include violations of codes of conduct or ethics as subject to the law. (A00201)
• Extend the law to cover contractors who work for county offices. (A00216)

House Bill 105 also changes the Whistleblower Law, extending protection to employees of non-profits and businesses who report the waste of public funds by their employers. Proposed amendments would:

• Include the General Assembly as an employer whose employees are protected when reporting waste or illegal activity. (A00163)

• Prohibit employers from adopting policies to prevent employees from reporting waste or illegal activity under the Whistleblower Law.

• Define the employers whose employees are covered by the Whistleblower Law and include violations of codes of conduct or ethics as subject to the law. (A00202, the same as A00201 for HB 104)

Whether you believe these amendments are good or bad, let your representatives know what you think. By doing so, you also will let them know that you expect them to put partisan politicking aside and deal with the work at hand.
While you’re at it, ask where your representative stands on a referendum in November for a constitution convention.

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