PA Senate leader: Complicated bills unlikely to reach Corbett before term ends

By Andrew Staub | PA Independent

Republicans have controlled the governor’s office, state House and state Senate the last four years, but couldn’t push liquor privatization past the finish line or muscle through public pension reform before the November election essentially halted legislative activity.

That said, there’s still technically time for a final drive to pass legislation near and dear to conservatives. Whether lawmakers and outgoing Gov. Tom Corbett use it or just take a knee is the question.

EARLY START: State Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman hasn’t ruled out having session days before Gov. Tom Corbett leaves office, but said it’s unlikely that momentous legislation such as liquor privatization will pass in that time.

State Sen. Jake Corman, the new Republican majority leader in his chamber, hasn’t ruled out having session days in the two weeks that fall between new lawmakers being sworn in Jan. 6 and Democratic Gov.-elect Tom Wolf taking office Jan. 20.

But, Corman told the PA Independent on Monday, it’s “highly, highly unlikely” legislation as complicated as liquor privatization or pension reform could be ready to sign before Corbett leaves office.

“We may get them started,” said Corman, a Centre County Republican who chaired the Appropriations Committee before ascending to floor leader earlier this month.

For anything to get to Corbett’s desk before his term ends, the state House would also have to convene, and legislation would have to clear both chambers. There’s time for it to happen, but bills would have to move quickly.

State Rep. Dave Reed, R-Indiana, the new House majority leader, has read about Corman’s comments, but said there have been no discussions in the House about a topic that’s quickly become political water cooler talk.

“It seems like an awful lot of folks are talking about it,” Reed said. “I think more folks outside the building than inside the building are talking about it at the moment.”

State Rep. Fred Keller, R-Snyder, said there has been “scuttlebutt” among rank-and-file lawmakers about the possibility of convening during the two-week period known as interregnum.

Keller would “absolutely” be in favor of it, he said, especially if pension reform is addressed. He also sees the controversial paycheck protection as possible legislation that could arise in the final weeks before Wolf takes over.

“Whatever work we can get done, I think we should try and get done no matter who the governor is,” Keller said.

While there is no guarantee it would happen, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, has already sounded alarms that having a session before Wolf takes office would be “inappropriate, unprecedented and inexcusable.”

“The ill-conceived idea to empower and use an unaccountable governor in his last days in office to revive already rejected policies would be viewed as an act of desperation and a serious blow to reform,” Costa said in a written statement. “I would be very surprised if Governor Corbett would allow himself to be used by Republican leadership in this way.”

Costa has been trying to dissuade GOP leaders from having such a session since the spring. In his most recent statement, Costa said the so-called lame-duck strategy would be ineffective, contending voters didn’t want to “perpetuate gridlock.”

While Corbett has reached lame-duck status, Corman has tried to bat down the term when it comes to lawmakers. He pointed out the new members of the Senate will have taken their oaths of office and be in place by Jan. 6.

Some of the newcomers are “chomping at the bit” to get started, Corman said, adding that he sees nothing wrong with getting to work immediately instead of idling for two weeks.

“We have our own agenda to get things done,” he said, “and we’re not on the governor’s timetable necessarily.”

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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