Thursday, December 28, 2006

Tony Phyrillas: Promises of legislative reform

Promises of legislative reforms While Gov. Ed Rendell is busy planning his inaugural ball and John Perzel is barricaded in the Capitol waiting for the SWAT team to remove him from office, some Pennsylvania politicians are actually promising to reform the way they do the people's business.

Just got a press release today from state Sen. Rob Wonderling, who represents the sprawling 24th Senate District in Montgomery County and the Lehigh Valley.

Wonderling, a freshman Republican who easily won re-election on Nov. 7, says in the release that he will vote for new rules designed to make the legislative process more open to the public when the Senate returns to session next week.

Wonderling said the Senate expects to consider seven reform proposals compiled by Republican and Democratic leaders when the 2007-08 legislative session begins Tuesday, Jan. 2.

Under the new rules:

1) Session times will be limited to between 8 a.m. and 11 p.m.

2) Amendments will be posted to the Internet before being offered on the Senate floor.

3) The Senate will wait at least six hours before voting on an amended bill or a conference committee report.

4) All roll call votes will be posted on the Internet as soon as possible after a vote, but always within 24 hours of a vote.

5) Committee votes on bills will be posted on the Internet within 48 hours of the vote.

6) The Senate’s Legislative Journal — which includes the full text of all floor debates — will be posted on the Internet upon Senate approval of the Journal or within 45 days, whichever is earlier.

7) An updated fiscal note will be prepared if a bill is amended after consideration by the Senate Appropriations Committee, if the amendment has a fiscal impact.

"Openness and accountability are the hallmarks of good government, and these measures will improve public access to information about the bills we vote on in the Senate," Wonderling said. "We have an obligation to the people we represent to make this information more readily available in a timely manner, and these reforms are critical as we continue our efforts to build the public’s trust."

That's the kind of talk we like hearing from our elected representatives. In the past, it's been just talk. But with the ouster of 55 members of the political aristocracy in 2006 though the ballot box or force retirements and the Republican loss of the state House, maybe ... just maybe ... the message is beginning to sink in.

Wonderling is one of the good guys in Harrisburg. He's served his constituents well during the past four years and he is a rising star in the state Senate. Same goes for John Rafferty, the state senator from the 44th District, which covers parts of Montgomery, Chester and Berks counties. Rafferty has also been outspoken on the need to clean up the way things are done in Harrisburg.

Unfortunately, you have a lot of political dinosaurs still left in Harrisburg whose only goal is get as much for themselves as they can. For many of these obstructionists to reform, 2008 is right around the corner when voters can get rid of 25 state Senators (and all 203 members of the House).

Look for more promises of reform, but remind your state lawmakers that you're on to them and have run out of patience. Here's a simple message to deliver to your representative and state senator: "Get the job done or you'll be out of a job."

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. E-mail him at tphyrillas@pottsmerc.com