Secrets to a Healthy Legislature.
The antics, corruption, and gridlock that we see daily in Harrisburg and D.C. erodes people’s faith in government. However, it doesn’t have to be this way! In other states – including Colorado, where I was a non-partisan legislative budget analyst for seven years – it is different. The legislature passes the budget and other important bills each year, elected officials are not regularly sent to jail for corruption, and there are established means for public participation and government accountability. It’s not always pretty, but it isn’t magic.
What is needed in PA to transform our dysfunctional system into a healthy legislature?
- Transparency so that the public knows what’s going on. Bills are posted on the legislature’s website, but unless you’re a lawyer they can be nearly impossible to understand. Bill summaries – and their potential fiscal impacts – need to be written in layman’s terms and easily accessible.
- Accessibility to enable greater public participation. Controversial bills – the bills that merit the most debate – often get pushed through the legislature with no public hearings. This practice robs the public of the chance to have input on the laws that affect us. Public hearings of all bills (with prior notice) is a must for both the House and Senate.
- Decision makers who focus on common goals, are willing to learn, treat others with respect, and compromise to get things accomplished. Many of our legislators are too busy adhering to political dogma or advancing their political careers to worry about their responsibilities, such as funding state government. We need to elect thoughtful leaders with integrity who can and will work across the aisle to get things done.
- Rules to prevent corruption. PA legislators can – and do! – accept almost limitless gifts from lobbyists: meals, tickets to events, even international trips. Not all donations are quid pro quo, but to earn our trust, legislators must behave without a hint of impropriety. We have some of the weakest gift regulations in the nation, but HB 39 (now stalled in the House) would change that.
It’s understandable that people have lost faith in government – in recent months and years, our legislature has given us plenty of reasons to feel that way. But it’s not inevitable. With the right systems and people in place we can transform Harrisburg into a legislature that we respect and trust, and that does its job. How? Step one: Put pressure on our current elected officials to make the changes described above. And when that doesn’t work, step two: Elect new members of the legislature who will make those changes.