By Andrew Staub | PA Independent
It’s a rule that, apparently, is meant to be broken.
Protocol in the Pennsylvania state House requires lawmakers wait 24 hours to cast a final vote on a bill that’s been amended. Essentially, the rule allows the House to sleep on legislation and return the next day to decide the amended bill’s ultimate fate.
The problem is the House often doesn’t wait the full 24 hours — instead using procedural motions to sidestep the requirement.
“It just gnarls up the process on the House floor in my view,” said state Rep. Dan Truitt, a Chester County Republican who wants to reduce the 24-hour rule to a 12-hour rule.
ROLLING BACK THE CLOCK: One Pennsylvania lawmaker thinks the House should change a rule requiring the chamber to wait a full day before voting on an amended bill.
Truitt plans to introduce legislation to change the requirement. As of early this week, only two other lawmakers had signed on as co-sponsors, but Truitt hopes the issue draws more attention when the General Assembly returns to Harrisburg next week.
A 12-hour rule would still force lawmakers to mull a bill overnight, Truitt said, but would eliminate the time the House spends taking procedural votes or waiting for the final hours of the clock to expire. He also said it won’t adversely affect the public’s ability to weigh in on legislation.
“I feel like the benefits far outweigh the risks there,” said Truitt, who is part of a group of lawmakers who usually votes against moving forward before the mandatory wait time expires.
The House approved the 24-hour rule in 2007 as part of a package designed to reform chamber operations. It came partly in response to the fallout over the midnight pay raise that lawmakers approved for themselves two years earlier.
Gene Stilp, a Harrisburg activist, said he still doesn’t believe the General Assembly has enacted meaningful reform since that issue and the ensuing Bonusgate scandal that rocked the state. The House should make it more difficult to use procedural votes to circumvent its own rules instead of reducing the waiting period, he said.
“The Legislature is still as corrupt as it used to be,” Stilp said. “This is another example of a lack of leadership of those in power right now.”
Last year, the House used a motion to proceed 15 times to vote on 32 bills, said Clancy Myer, the chamber’s parliamentarian. Other times, lawmakers simply suspended the rules to move forward.
In most cases, Myer said, only a couple of hours were left before 24 hours had passed.
“It’s not like we’re voting bills with very little consideration,” he said.
Bills that aren’t amended can go to a vote anytime the following day. The same applies to bills that incur only technical amendments, such as adding a missing comma.
Even if the time period is reduced to 12 hours, the House still couldn’t send a bill to final vote the same day it was considered for a second time. The state constitution still requires that a final vote wait until the next day, Myer said.
Truitt’s legislation would just let lawmakers vote earlier, boiling his proposal down to a “time-saver,” he said.
Stilp still isn’t sold, saying anything that decreases the window for public input is a dangerous move.
“The Legislature is like a house of mirrors. They can basically do whatever they want,” Stilp said. “But let’s keep it as it is now.”
Andrew Staub is a reporter for PA Independent and can be reached at Andrew@PAIndependent.com. Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.
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