How Rules Block Reform

Current legislative rules allow a few partisan gatekeepers complete say about what bills get a vote. Our experience and research have made it clear that unfair legislative rules slam the door on bipartisan solutions.

What are “the rules”?

On the first day of every session, both chambers in the General Assembly vote for procedural rules. These rules shape their work for the next two years. The rules decide who can schedule bills, choose committee chairs and members, hire staff and more.

Who makes “the rules”?

The rules are not in the constitution or in law. They are decided by majority leaders and put all the legislative power in the hands of leaders and committee chairs.

When are “rules” made?

On the first day of each session a vote is pushed through – quickly. Rank and file legislators are pressured to vote rules into place, sometimes without even reading them. While these rules could be changed at any time, that rarely happens.

Why does it matter?

Citizen priorities are ignored

Current rules let one person elected by a few thousand voters in one district block priorities supported by millions of voters across the state.

Limited representation:

When they vote on the rules, legislators surrender control to a few party leaders. That limits the ability of our legislators to represent us. Most legislators have no say in what bills are given a vote. As a result, voters often have no voice on issues they care about most.

Bipartisan collaboration is discouraged:

The rules allow the majority party to ignore the minority party completely. Decisions are made without minority input and often without public hearings, expert testimony or genuine debate.

Fewer bipartisan solutions are enacted:

Many important bills with clear bipartisan support never get a vote. The PA General Assembly passes less than 7% of bills introduced each session. Less than 20% are considered in committee, and some that DO pass from committee with bipartisan support are never given a vote on the floor. Over half the the bills passed in one chamber are blocked in the other. As a result, solutions promised in campaign speeches, session after session, are never given a final vote.

Ripe for corruption and abuse of power

PA has no rules against lobbyists’ gifts and minimal regulations surrounding campaign contributions. The same people who can draw district lines can determine legislative rules, choose committee chairs, and set the legislative agenda. They are also most likely to receive large donations and personal gifts from lobbyists and dark-money donors. As a result, the interests of the people of PA are too often ignored in favor of the wishes of those donors.

The result is a full-time legislature that enacts far fewer bills than most part-time legislatures and that is consistently unresponsive to bills with strong bipartisan support.

We expect real representation. It’s time to #FixHarrisburg and #ReformtheRules.

Redistricting reform is not alone.

Rules have been used to block bipartisan legislation addressing a wide array of critical issues such as broadband access, childhood lead exposure, equitable school funding, health care related concerns, legislator ethics and money, open primaries, property tax reform and more.

It doesn’t have to be this way!

Pennsylvania has pressing problems that demand bipartisan collaboration and real solutions. We can no longer afford to have reasonable legislation die in committee session after session, or stall because majority leaders prefer not to schedule a vote.

It’s time for new rules that ensure good bills with broad bipartisan support are given a vote. And it’s time to make sure legislators from all parts of the state and across the political spectrum have a meaningful role in the legislative process. That’s an essential part of government of, by and for the people.

Sign the #FixHarrisburg Petition

Reform the Rules Action Toolkit

Read: Stories of Dysfunction

Watch: forums about need for rules reform

Dive into the weeds: