Many important bills with bipartisan support die in committee, never making it to a vote in the Pennsylvania Legislature. The reason? Our procedural rules make it harder than it should be. Let’s change that.
Since our bills, SB 22 and HB 722, died last summer, we’ve been on a crash course to learn why it’s so hard to get a bill to the floor of the Pennsylvania legislature. What we’ve found is that unlike many other state legislatures, Pennsylvania lacks procedural rules that ensure bills with bipartisan support and broad backing are actually heard. Without these rules, legislative committees can do as they please—against the wills of their constituents.
Data we’ve collected suggests the Pennsylvania General Assembly is among the least effective state legislatures in number of bills enacted and at the very bottom for percentage of introduced bills passed. This lack of effectiveness means:
That’s why we’re working to change the procedural rules—so that future redistricting bills, and other good-government measures, have the chance to reach the floor and get the full legislative vote they deserve.
Read on for background information and links to research, as well as our proposed next steps: changing the rules in the PA House for upcoming legislative session.
In developing our proposed changes, we’ve consulted a range of reports. Here are a few:
In the early 1970s, the Citizens Conference on State Legislatures, predecessor to the National Council of State Legislatures, undertook extensive research that yielded “The Sometime Governments,” a ground-breaking report still considered an important reference in any examination of state governments. Many important recommendations made in that report have transformed other state legislatures, but are not in place here in Pennsylvania.
A more recent report describes the way control of the legislative agenda can open the door to collaborative policymaking or fuel partisan gridlock and destructive division. PA has much to learn from Best Practices for Collaborative Policymaking: Learning from Power-Sharing Arrangements in State Legislatures.
The authors of that report also provide data on “agenda fairness.” By their assessment, PA rates a 0%, indicating that only the priorities of majority party leaders can advance through committees and on to final vote.
The National Council of State Legislatures offers a final helpful source for assessment of our state legislature, What State Legislatures Need Now. Some criteria suggest areas where the PA Legislature does well (constituent service, oversight of executive actions), while others point to glaring dysfunction and the need for immediate remedy.
While we believe both houses in our General Assembly fall short of the standards suggested by best practices and recommendations, we are initially focusing attention on the PA House, in part because, by definition, we believe the House of Representatives should be most immediately responsive to voters and most representative of their concerns, and in part because, by our recent experience, the PA House appears most easily hijacked by individual legislators and partisan agendas.
Our request to our legislators on January 1 is that they NOT vote on anything that would limit the possibility of amending the rules, that they NOT vote to approve any rules package they haven’t been given adequate time to review and that they weigh all proposed amendments carefully and vote for any that would permit them to represent their constituents more fully.