On the first day of the 2023-2024 legislative session, supporters came to Harrisburg to ask for better procedural rules.
Despite heavy fog and near-torrential rain, over 100 Pennsylvanians from all parts of the commonwealth gathered on the capitol steps in a Fix Harrisburg rally.
Earlier, dozens met in the East Wing Rotunda to hand-deliver informational postcards to every legislative office. The cards called attention to PA’s legislative inefficiencies and asked legislators to vote NO on rules that take away their right to represent us.
That message was repeated at the rally by speakers from a mix of organizations and areas of concern.
Stanley Chapaitis, Fair Districts PA Indiana County coordinator and small organic farmer, spoke about the Clean Streams Act and other bills impacting PA farmers that were never considered in committee, despite broad bipartisan support.
Brandon Flood of Ceasefire PA spoke as a Republican gun owner and victim of gun violence about red flag/Extreme Risk Protection Order legislation and other common sense gun safety bills with bipartisan public support blocked by one committee chair.
Sandra Miller, advocacy coordinator for Education Voters of PA, shared frustration regarding years of advocacy for equitable, adequate school funding and the Pennsylvania legislature’s failure to consider charter school reform bills supported by more than 88% of Pennsylvania school boards.
Ann Pehle, former president of AAUW-Pennsylvania, spoke about the bi-partisan PA Family Care Act, bills to address wage equity for women and other bipartisan issues AAUW has supported for years that have yet to be given a vote.
Glen Heise, a retired physician, lamented inaction on bills of importance to PA health, including carbon monoxide detectors in day care centers, insurance provision for telehealth, and bills to address childhood lead exposure.
Tony Crocamo, one of FDPA’s most active speakers and also co-chair of the advocacy advisor team, shared a Vietnam veteran’s perspective on courage, service to country, and how the legislative process impacts our democracy.
The event concluded with Jodi Reese, a member of the rules research team, providing a brief history of Swearing-In-Day timing and what attendees might expect as the rest of the day unfolded.
The Senate moved much more quickly than expected, with swearing-in and leader elections completed quickly and with little discussion before a vote on Senate rules. Those rules followed past rules closely, with a few small improvements:
Substantive changes proposed by Senators Katie Muth and Lindsey Williams were quickly sent to the Rules Committee. If the past is prelude to the future, they will never be considered. The two senators have provided a Senate Rules Reform webpage with information on their proposals, FAQs, and also an opportunity for “citizen co-sponsors” to sign on in support of changes to the rules.
The House did NOT proceed as usual. Late in the afternoon, after multiple recesses, Republican Jim Gregory nominated Democrat Mark Rozzi as Speaker. Leaders from both parties expressed support for that nomination. A second nomination was made for Republican Carl Metzger, but the entire Republican leadership team joined the Democratic caucus in voting for Mark Rozzi. The final vote: 115 for Rozzi, 85 for Metzger.
The House recessed without a vote on rules. Until they meet to vote on a rules resolution, committee chairs and members cannot be selected and the work of the House cannot begin. It seems likely that everyone involved will be motivated for rules that balance power between the parties. In the meantime, consider contacting leaders and your own legislators with the continued message about rules that allow bipartisan solutions a vote and 24 hours for legislators to read, review and discuss proposals.
Video of the rally is available on the Fair Districts PA YouTube channel here.