Value of Politics: Pa. legislature votes just one/Four of all work days. What do they do once they’re not in Harrisburg?
FOX43 asked the 45 state officials and senators in the display area to provide calendars for their working days outside of the meeting. Nobody did.
HARRISBURG, PA. – Dauphin County’s State Representative Andrew Lewis wants you to know he loves his job, but maybe the days before the State Capitol are better.
These days, viewed by lawmakers as non-session days because the 203-member House or 50-member Senate do not have to vote on legislation in the Capitol, are typically spent by lawmakers in their districts meeting with constituents . and writing and reviewing laws.
That day in mid-April, when FOX43 was visiting Lewis at his Lower Paxton Township office, he was working on a bill to improve public facilities for volunteer fire and rescue companies.
“I can focus on these issues, and it will not be the firehouse effect of all the laws that we consider on a given law day,” said the second-term Republican.
Lewis’ sentiments are shared by a number of state lawmakers. Rep. Patty Kim, a Democrat in neighboring Harrisburg, says she gets more done on days outside of session. Over the past year, constituent services like helping people collect unemployment checks, finding vaccine appointments, or finding work during the pandemic have taken up a lot of time. Kim, in particular, has been busy trying to contain the violence that is taking place in Harrisburg and Steelton.
“We have incredibly serious needs out there and this is the time we go out and talk [out constituents] Sitting face to face versus sitting in a nice chamber trying to settle bills, “said Kim.” Very few passed, especially in my group. “
The FOX43 Price of Politics series has tried to shed some light on the work that gets done within the state assembly – or, depending on who you ask, it doesn’t get done. In the 2019-20 session, 4,198 bills were introduced by state officials and senators. Ultimately, only 770 were expelled from the committee, and 311 went to Governor Tom Wolf’s desk. According to Rep. Kim, less than a fifth of all House and Senate bills that were being moved came from Democrats, and even fewer – 7 percent, or 19 bills specifically – made it to the governor.
Critics have argued that one of the reasons for the lack of movement in bills is that lawmakers need more election session days on their calendar. In 2020, out of the 267 business days in the year, the House in Harrisburg met to vote 53 of those days. The Senate met for 52 days.
However, state lawmakers argue that the work done outside of session days is just as, if not more important, to their constituents.
“To think that when we look at our meeting calendar, [state lawmakers] Just sit around on that lovely house floor and then sit on the beach in the summer, it’s absolutely not true, “said Kim.
FOX43 then asked all 45 state officials and senators in the designated market area to open their books and provide calendars so their constituents can see what they are doing when they are not in Harrisburg to vote on laws. (Note: the motion was made prior to the 48th Senate District elections on May 18.) You were not required to do so by law and were protected by the current Commonwealth of Rights to Know.
State Representatives Lewis and Kim invited FOX43 to their district offices, and House Speaker Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) and Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R-Mifflin) gave interviews discussing district work. The MP Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon) refused. No other state legislature responded.
The list of all 45 state legislators is as follows:
- State Senator Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster)
- State Representative Kerry Benninghoff (R-Mifflin)
- State Senator Jake Corman (R-Mifflin)
- State Representative Jim Cox (R-Lancaster)
- State Representative Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster)
- State representative Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon)
- State Senator John DiSanto (R-Dauphin / Perry)
- State representative Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland)
- State Representative Torren Ecker (R-Adams / Cumberland)
- State Rep. Mindy Fee (R-Lancaster)
- State Representative Mark Gillen (R-Lancaster)
- State Representative Keith Gillespie (R-York)
- State representative Barbara Gleim (R-Cumberland)
- State Representative Keith Greiner (R-Lancaster)
- State Representative Seth Grove (R-York)
- State representative Susan Helm (R-Dauphin / Lebanon)
- State Representative Johnathan Hershey (R-Juniata / Franklin / Mifflin)
- State Representative David Hickernell (R-Lancaster)
- MP Carol Hill-Evans (D-York)
- State Representative Rich Irvin (R-Mifflin)
- State Representative Mike Jones (R-York)
- State Representative Rob Kauffman (R-Franklin)
- State Representative Dawn Keefer (R-York)
- State Representative Joe Kerwin (R-Dauphin)
- State representative Patty Kim (D-Dauphin)
- State Representative Kate Klunk (R-York)
- State Representative John Lawrence (R-Lancaster)
- State Representative Andrew Lewis (R-Dauphin)
- State Senator Scott Martin (R-Lancaster)
- State Senator Doug Mastriano (R-Adams / Cumberland / Franklin / York)
- State representative Tom Mehaffie (R-Dauphin)
- State Representative Steven Mentzer (R-Lancaster)
- State Representative Brett Miller (R-Lancaster)
- State Representative Dan Moul (R-Adams)
- State Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York)
- State Senator Mike Regan (R-Cumberland / York)
- State Representative Greg Rothman (R-Cumberland)
- MP Frank Ryan (R-Lebanon)
- State Representative Stan Saylor (R-York)
- State Representative Paul Schemel (R-Franklin)
- State Representative Perry Stambaugh (R-Perry / Cumberland)
- State Representative Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster)
- State Representative Jesse Topper (R-Franklin)
- State Senator Judy Ward (R-Cumberland / Franklin)
- State Representative David Zimmerman (R-Lancaster)
“Some of them may be safety issues about where we are, what we do every second of the day,” Corman said. “Look, we are held accountable by voters every four years.”
Corman pretends to be one of the vocal advocates of greater legislative transparency. On January 5, Corman called in his first speech in the Senate of Pa. After his election as Senate President Pro Tempore, the highest position in the General Assembly, the Senators jumped on to show the public more behind the curtain.
“This means making sure that all of our activities in the Senate are up to the standard of openness. I know some of you should put your office bills online and we should all be doing more to make sure the public sees how we do our business” said Corman.
FOX43 checked all 50 Senate websites and found that only three Senators – Kristin Phillips-Hill, Mike Regan, and Lindsey Williams – had published expense reports. Six Senators announced outdated salaries, including Senator Elder Vogel, whose most recent salary information dates back to 2012.
Corman didn’t have his expense report online, despite listing his updated salary of $ 141,019, the highest in law.
Senator Jim Brewster, while not a member of the lawmakers who published spending online, has proposed laws that would make the spending process more transparent.
Brewster, who has a baby-size boxing glove hanging on his desktop computer in his Capitol office, has wanted to spend daily rates for six years. That is how long he has proposed a bill to ban the use of daily rates in the state parliament.
Daily rates are the tax-free expenses for which lawmakers can receive US $ 178 to US $ 200 per day for meals and accommodation on days they do business. However, there is no way to prove that the money is being used for meals and accommodation, as daily rates do not require receipts. According to Brewster, lawmakers get the money in their bank accounts.
A FOX43 investigation, filed with multiple requests for information, found that lawmakers had raised $ 1,041,121 in daily rates in 2020.
“We’re doing the public a disservice,” Brewster said. “There is no disadvantage to anyone in the General Assembly. You will be reimbursed exactly what you have spent.”
Brewster also has a proposal, Senate Bill 363, that would end car rentals for lawmakers in the General Assembly. The practice is currently in use by 42 of the legislature’s 253-member body, and in 2020 taxpayers issued a bill for $ 285,941.18.
Brewster isn’t the only lawmaker looking to save money with rule changes.
Lewis and Rep. Paul Schemel, a Franklin County Republican, tabled a bill to make Pennsylvania a part-time legislature. Pennsylvania is currently the largest full-time legislature in the country. In previous sessions, the current House Speaker, Bryan Cutler, chaired the bill. The bill was never considered in the committee.
There is also a movement for more bipartisanism, not necessarily on legislation, but on cost-saving issues in the Capitol. Led by State Representatives Tom Mehaffie (R-Dauphin) and Jared Solomon (D-Philadelphia), the PA One Caucus is made up of eight Democrats and eight Republicans who pledge to find and eliminate areas of wasteful spending in the State House.
The PA house currently uses separate print shops, information technology departments and human resources departments. They believe that by merging these areas, lawmakers could save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars over time.
“I understand the skepticism about what is going on, but I hear from my voters that they want to do bipartisan work,” Mehaffie said.
Like everything in Harrisburg, if you want to change something, you need votes. 102 in the house, 26 in the Senate. Depending on your office, you can decide every two to four years where these votes come from.