Friday, May 26, 2006

156: “Roadmap to Reform”


Good friend Tim Potts from DemocracyRisingPA has sent us some news and several documents. As you all know, Tim is one of the principles in the lawsuit currently awaiting a procedural ruling in Federal Court, seeks to declare last year’s pay raise Unconstitutional because of the actions of the Governor, the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court, the Judges of the State Supreme Court, and the General Assembly, particularly the leadership.

This procedural step will allow the Federal Court to either throw the case out, or hear the case. Hopefully the Federal Court will hear the case and decide that the actions of those named above violated your Constitutional Rights by passing legislation that violated the Pennsylvania State Constitution both in essence and in procedure.

Should the case be heard, and should Tim, and the other Citizen-Patriot Heroes be upheld, this would provide a precedent for future actions against a state government that is out of control, and acting collusively to deny you your rights. It will also provide precedence for the declaration of unconstitutionality of other laws passed in the same fashion, such as the notorious and ethically challenged Gambling Law, Act 71 of 2004.

Meanwhile, here is Tim’s News on another front – legislative reform:
In this issue:
  • United We Stand – “Roadmap to Reform”
  • OK. You Win.

United We Stand – “Roadmap to Reform”
Nine organizations representing the left, right and center of the political spectrum held a news conference in the Capitol yesterday. The groups called on the General Assembly to accomplish 10 improvements in state government before October 1. Called the “Roadmap to Reform,” the agenda includes actions to make government transparent and to make elections more competitive. It also includes the state’s first general constitutional convention since 1873.

Organizations proposing the “Roadmap to Reform” are:
Common Cause Pennsylvania
Commonwealth Foundation
Democracy Rising PA
League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Citizens for Legislator Accountability
Pennsylvania Council of Churches
Rock the Capital
Stop the Illegal Pay Raise, Inc.
Young Conservatives of Pennsylvania

The complete agenda is attached, as is the statement by DR Co-founder Tim Potts at the news conference.

OK. You win.
On May 19, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania held a hearing on the lawsuit filed by Common Cause PA, the PA League of Women Voters, and a few individual plaintiffs. The lawsuit argues that the way the pay raise was enacted violated the federal Constitutional rights of Pennsylvania citizens – the rights to free speech, the right of due process and the right of equal protection of the law.

Occurring just three days after the stunning primary election, the hearing became heavy with irony. Attorneys for the House, Senate, Governor and Supreme Court argued that the federal court should throw out the lawsuit. When state government misbehaves, they said, the remedy is not to have the law declared unconstitutional; the remedy is to throw the incumbents out.

OK. You win.

If incumbents don’t clean up their act, we’ll take the advice of their counsel. Again.Of course, their argument entirely misses the point. It’s no use closing the barn door after the horses are gone. The right of citizens to participate in creating or preventing new laws must be upheld if we wish to keep our system of representative democracy.

How can any court fail to understand that?

Here is the “Road Map to Reform”:

Roadmap to Reform
The coalition of organizations seeking to improve state government has endorsed the following priorities as a “Roadmap for Reform” in 2006. We expect to see these priorities enacted between now and Election Day.


Common Cause Pennsylvania
Commonwealth Foundation
Democracy Rising PA
League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania
PA Citizens for Legislator Accountability
PA Council of Churches
Rock the Capital
Stop the Illegal Pay Raise, Inc.
Young Conservatives of Pennsylvania

Transparency
Lobbyist Control:
· Ban gifts and entertainment
· Quarterly reporting for lobbyists with expenses greater than $2,500 per quarter
· Restoration of reporting requirements that were modified in the House

Over by October:
· End session on or before October 1 by joint resolution
· Propose an amendment to the Constitution to prohibit lame-duck session

Open Records:
· Require the General Assembly and each of its members to comply fully with existing law to the same degree and in the same detail as required of executive agencies
· Require the judicial branch to comply with the Open Records Law
· Assign a legislative body the immediate task of re-writing existing law to give Pennsylvania the highest standards of integrity and openness in America for public access to government documents

Legislator Voting Records:
· All votes by individual legislator – including committee votes, procedural votes and votes on amendment and final passage – must be posted online within 24 hours with links to the language actually voted upon and the final outcome of the vote

Citizen Opportunity Period (COP):
· Require a waiting period of at least 72 hours, preferably two weeks, between final amendment and final passage of all legislation in each chamber

Perks:
· Provide a monthly, online accounting for each legislator detailing the cost of all salary, benefits and expenses paid during the previous month
· Permit per diems for actual expenses only as documented by detailed vouchers
that are open to public inspection via the Internet
· Prohibit all forms of unvouchered expenses
· Adjust health care insurance benefits for lawmakers so that they are consistent with current private sector practices for ordinary workers

Competition
Campaign Finance:
· Prohibit fundraisers while the Legislature is in session
· Require public reporting of campaign donations one week prior to the primary and general election

Reapportionment:
· Enact a requirement for legislative districts to be as politically competitive as possible (in addition to existing requirements)

Elections:
· Amend election laws so that they level the playing field for all citizens who want to run for public office regardless of party affiliation

Comprehensive Constitutional Change
General Constitutional Convention:
· Authorize a general constitutional convention at which all sections of the Constitution are available for amendment and to which all interested citizens have an equal opportunity to become delegates

That is quite an agenda, and one with which we I heartily agree. Now, just to add a little more light on the subject, Here is Tim Potts’ statement on presentation of this “Road Map to Reform”:

Roadmap to Reform News Conference: May 25, 2006

Statement by Tim Potts, Co-Founder:

“Good morning.

322 days ago, our state government – all three branches – committed one of the worst acts of arrogance, cowardice and constitutional contempt in modern history. Since then, voters have removed one Supreme Court justice from the bench and forced the repeal of the pay raise.

Thirty incumbent lawmakers chose to retire rather than face the voters. And voters threw out three caucus leaders and 14 other lawmakers in last week’s primary election.

Yet despite voter protest, despite the lamentations of losers, despite soothing words of contrition by survivors, nothing has happened in these 322 days to improve standards of public integrity and clean up the most corrupt legislature in America.

Outside this building there is a political movement that is growing in its power and determination to bring the bad old days of Pennsylvania politics to a close. It is a movement for a general constitutional convention, the first of its kind since 1873, and it’s long overdue. As a Lancaster businessman told me recently, any business that didn’t re-examine its operations from top to bottom for 130 years wouldn’t be in business at all.

We need to re-invent our government:
· So that our Constitution prohibits the “culture of concealment” that makes it nearly impossible for ordinary citizens to know how their own government spends taxes and makes important decisions.
· So that opportunities for responsible growth and development will finally get off the drawing board because our Constitution will make it easier for communities to devise local governments that work for them.
· So that our Constitution requires a consistent quality in our public schools to prevent children from being disadvantaged solely because of where their parents want or need to live and to prevent taxpayers from bearing an unfair tax burden for the same reason.
· So that our Supreme Court has explicit authority to protect citizens from abuses by the executive and legislative branches and a mandate to interpret the Constitution in ways that honor its plain meaning and clear historic intent.
· So that the Constitution’s provisions for paying public officials – executive, legislative and judicial – are unambiguous and fair to both citizens and public officials.
· And so that our Constitution requires government leaders to abide by the highest standards of public integrity in America, including transparent enforcement and penalties harsh enough to deter unethical and unlawful conduct.

We Pennsylvanians have the imagination, the skill, the tenacity and the knowledge to do better. We need to replace today’s weary and stifling state government with one that actively encourages citizen creativity and problem solving.

We ask the General Assembly to authorize and fund a general constitutional convention where every section of the Constitution is available for examination and improvement and where any citizen has an equal chance to be chosen by fellow citizens to serve as a delegate.

We hope the General Assembly will embrace this work and establish a new government that serves the common good for our Commonwealth. If not, we at Democracy Rising PA will undertake to do the job with community leaders throughout the state.

Whoever takes on this task, one thing is clear from the past 322 days: It’s our government, and it’s time for us to fix it."

Thank you Tim Potts. You are indeed one of our most stalwart Citizen-Patriot Heroes. The fine work you and your coalition are doing will build a good momentum by election time so that the next session of the legislature comes into office under a wholesome set of rules, rather than the “business as usual” of the current crop of incumbents.

These changes are necessary to the rescue of Pennsylvania Government from the graft and corruption of our politicians and the lobbyists that now own them.

Folks, contact your legislators and tell them you want these reform measures
DONE BY OCTOBER 1, 2006!

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