Sunday, April 01, 2007

PA House acts on reforming itself

31 of 32 proposed Pennsylvania legislative reform measures passed the House of Representatives in bipartisan support, according to the Herald Standard. Yet further in the article is mention of two measures which did not pass? Sifting through the material to determine what happened. Check back.

Local legislators outline positions on reform efforts
By Amy Zalar, Herald-Standard
Updated 04/01/2007 01:15:50 AM EDT

While the state House of Representatives has voted in favor of 31 of the 32 recommendations made by the Speaker's Reform Commission to change House rules, a proposal to take away the House Appropriations Committee's power to substantively amend bills was not approved.

A proposal to allow the leadership-controlled Appropriations Committee to amend bills was introduced by state Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia, who chairs the committee, and it passed by a vote of 149 to 50.

Ironically, the only local legislator to vote against the amendment was state Rep. Timothy S. Mahoney, D-South Union, who serves on the Appropriations Committee. Mahoney said he voted against retaining the power of the Appropriations Committee to substantively amend bills "so the budget would go a lot smoother."

Local legislators who voted to keep the power to essentially gut and replace language of bills in the hands of the committee were: state Reps. Peter J. Daley, D-California; H. William DeWeese, D-Waynesburg; Deberah Kula, D-North Union; Jess Stairs, R-Acme; and Ted Harhai, D-Monessen.

Explaining why he supported allowing the Appropriations Committee to amend bills, DeWeese said he did so at the request of both Evans and the Republican Appropriations chairman from the Philadelphia area. DeWeese pointed out that while he is the only representative from his corner of the state, the Philadelphia region has more than 50 representatives of both parties.

DeWeese said the House passed 31 out of the 32 recommendations made by the Reform Commission. "The Speaker's Reform Commission offered 32 recommendations and I embraced 31 of them," DeWeese said. "I was privileged to be an engineer of the Speaker's Reform Commission on Jan. 1 when I promised Dennis O'Brien from the confines of a suburban Philadelphia Marriott conference room if he would become Speaker and allow us to maintain a Democratic majority, his legacy would be the Speaker's Reform Commission and a complete change in the way the Pennsylvania House does business," he said.

DeWeese further said that both Mahoney specifically and the many legislative political challengers of the past two years in general have convinced him that there was "an absolute and incontrovertible" need for change...

The majority leader said one thing that was "altered forever" was the ability of the Rules Committee, of which he is chairman, to gut and replace a proposal.

DeWeese said the two other issues that he voted against "flew out of nowhere from the floor by zealous partisans of the issue."

The other two issues that the majority of the House did not embrace included a proposal to ban the use of a lawmaker's name, face or voice on public service announcements during election years.

The other proposal that failed was a vote to allow the House majority and minority leaders to call a voice roll call vote, as opposed to a normal electronic roll call vote, a means of ensuring that lawmakers are present when voting.

Among the 160 opponents of the PSA ban were DeWeese, Daley, Stairs, Harhai, Kula and Mahoney. Harhai was the only local legislator to support allowing a voice roll call vote...

Meanwhile, in part, Justice Castille is right in his comments about criticism from Mr. Ledewitz.

He said justices are used to criticism, but Mr. Ledewitz crossed the line when he accused them of corruption, which is a crime.

There is a line between accusations of criminality which have not been proven in court, and opinions which may be harsh criticism, even coarse criticism which could involve use of curse or swear words, or unflattering characterizations.

Public officials should be able to take it if they want to serve the public.

However, there is a responsibility to refrain from libel and slander.

At all times, no one should be able to stifle freedom of expression of anyone, but there could be potential repurcussions such as a lawsuit, which unfortunately, the individual must be prepared to lose if it is found indeed statements were libelous or slanderous.

It will remain to be seen whether Justice Castille actually sues Mr. Ledewitz for his commentary or testimony in which he, according to the news item, characterized an opinion Justice Castille wrote in the 2006 pay-raise case as a "judicial swindle."

We'll be watching...

Supreme Court justice, state senator trade brickbats
Thursday, April 05, 2007
By Tracie Mauriello, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG -- A state senator and state Supreme Court justice are throwing brickbats at each other over a letter the jurist wrote about a court critic from Duquesne University.

Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin, and Justice Ronald D. Castille called each other arrogant and self-important during separate telephone interviews last evening.

The feud was spurred by Justice Castille's letter last week assailing Duquesne University for allowing one of its law professors to criticize the judicial system...


The spat first came to light last week when Mr. Ledewitz testified before the Senate State Government Committee on a bill to prevent judges from receiving automatic raises whenever federal judges' pay increases.

Mr. Ledewitz, a frequent court critic, testified that he felt threatened by Justice Castille's letter, which indicated he could be brought before the court's Disciplinary Board for violating the Rules of Professional Conduct when he called the court corrupt and characterized an opinion Justice Castille wrote in the 2006 pay-raise case as a "judicial swindle."

Reached last week, Justice Castille said he had no plans to file a formal complaint, but he is rethinking that.

"Let's just say that of the moment I have not," he said. "It's not often that I refer an attorney to the Disciplinary Board, but this is egregious. It's a personal insult to me and it's a slur on the profession."

He said justices are used to criticism, but Mr. Ledewitz crossed the line when he accused them of corruption, which is a crime.

"We can take our criticism, but it's nice when it's fair. Attorneys can't go around making unfounded, baseless, slanderous allegations they can't support," he said. "I don't like to be called corrupt. ... I have a reputation that I've earned and I'm not going to take it lying down when some liberal law professor goes around charging me and my court with criminal conduct."

Mr. Ledewitz was shown the letter but did not have a copy of it when committee members asked to see it last week...

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