Friday, April 06, 2007

Hearings in PA on Reform Measures


'Reform' is still the buzzword in Harrisburg

Getting the state Legislature to open up its deliberations to the public and news media used to be like trying to push a 1,000-pound rock up a steep hill. But with the backlash from the 2005 legislative pay raise and the generous 2006 staffer bonuses still going strong, the current crop of legislators can't seem to do enough toward "reform'' of the previous closed-door procedures.

A bipartisan, 24-member panel named by new House Speaker Dennis O'Brien has already adopted improvements such as ending sessions by 11 p.m. so as not to make important decisions while most people are sleeping. It has also decided to require at least 24 hours between an amendment being made to a bill and a vote being held on the bill, so legislators know what they are voting on.

The panel, co-chaired by Rep. David Steil, R-Bucks, and Rep. Josh Shapiro, D-Montgomery, will hold its next meeting April 11 at the Capitol to discuss changes to the House Ethics Committee.

But now the bipartisan panel is going into phase two of its work, with three hearings set around the state in April to get public input on even weightier issues, such as reducing the size of the Legislature or imposing term limits on legislators.
The public hearings are:

April 19 at 9 a.m. in the Allegheny County Courthouse's gold room in Downtown Pittsburgh

April 26 at 9 a.m. at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia.

April 27 at 9 a.m. at the Capitol in Harrisburg.

People who want to speak, for no more than 10 minutes, should e-mail to or call Bill Patton at 717-787-4610.

see Pittsburgh Post Gazette Early Returns


February 27, 2007
Democrats Wasting Money Faster Than Republicans


DeWeese signs open records bill
By:Alison Hawkes
Updated 04/06/2007 12:04:23 AM EDT

HARRISBURG - More than a month after its introduction, House Democratic Leader Bill DeWeese has signed onto an open records bill that would give the public expanded powers to view state government spending. DeWeese, of Greene County, announced his support late Tuesday for the open records legislation developed by neighboring Rep. Tim Mahoney, a Fayette County Democrat.

In a press release, DeWeese said he's cosponsoring Mahoney's bill because, "It's time that we revisit Pennsylvania's open records law so that the public has easier access to state information." ...

Mahoney's bill has been assigned to the House State Government Committee, but it has not been scheduled for a public hearing yet, Mahoney said.

While they all expand the public's right to review how tax dollars are spent, the three proposals have some key differences. Pileggi's keeps an existing legal presumption that spending records are private unless explicitly noted in the law. Mahoney's and Rendell's proposals turn the tables on presumption by giving the public a basic legal right to all documents, with certain exceptions for government agencies. Under such a scenario, supported by reform activists and the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, state agencies would have to prove to the requester why a document should remain secret.

All three proposals set up an open records clearinghouse where the public may appeal a denied request with an intent to cut down on the number of lawsuits.

Musselman said the presumption issue will be a key part of the open records debate, as well as which exemptions get carved out of the definition of an "open record."

"There are a lot of things that are not public ... that frankly don't seem appropriate to ask for, like people's personal information, Social Security numbers, and security," she said. "There's been a lot of attention paid to public safety since 9-11."

Musselman said she would like to see entirely new case law developed on open records, which would happen if the presumption of openness was tilted in the public's favor...

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