Bad Moon Rising

The latest post from Tom DiStefano:


There are bills in the state legislature that could possibly, though some blue moon, white magic sort of miracle, make things better.

But there are also bills out there in the legislature that through some sort of black magic, bad-moon-rising sort of travesty make things worse. Much worse. 

One of the bad-moon-rising type was introduced by none other than our neighbor and Jefferson County’s favorite son, Cris Dush. That’s right, old Cris is prime sponsor of House Bill 590 which could spread the pure evil of unfettered gerrymandering to the highest office in the land.

In his co-sponsorship memorandum, Cris applies some twisted rationalizations to call for fellow house members to sign onto his bill, trying to make it sound like it would improve things, but nothing could be further from the truth.

What House Bill 590 does is elect the members of the electoral college from each separate congressional district, rather than statewide, like it is now. It actually wouldn’t be such a bad thing, if there was no such thing as Gerrymandering. But the existence of gerrymandering makes it a very, very bad thing.

If it passes, whichever party gets to gerrymander the districts gets to elect the president. In just the same way that Pennsylvania has more Democrats than Republicans, but the Republicans elected the most Congress-critters and state legislators, the majority of gerrymandered districts would go to the Republican presidential electors.

Dush’s bill is pretty simple, and it doesn’t even require an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution, It just adds two paragraphs to Section 1501 subsection b of the Pennsylvania Election Code: 

“(1)  Two of the presidential electors shall be elected at large to represent the entire Commonwealth and shall cast their ballots for the presidential and vice-presidential candidates with the greatest number of votes Statewide.

“(2)  Each of the remaining presidential electors shall be elected in the presidential elector’s congressional district and shall cast a ballot for the presidential and vice-presidential candidates with the greatest number of votes in the congressional district.”

While it takes a human of great talent, intelligence and energy to make the world a better place, it seems, like the Donald, any hackified assholic clown can make things worse without too much effort at all.

As it stands, the bill has only three co-sponsors, which is a good sign, but is only a sign and carries no technical weight. It was refereed to the State Government committee, of which Dush is a member, which is a bad sign, and could be of more portent that its small number of co-sponsors.

All three cosponsors are Republicans. Besides Dush, they are the Honorable Francis Xavier Ryan of Palmyra Pennsylvania (yes, he went to Catholic school) and the Honorable Dan Moul of Gettysburg. None of those guys are heavy hitters in the Republican Party, but this could be stealth legislation, as similar stuff is popping up in Republican legislatures around the country. I’m keeping an eye on it. The saving grace is that Governor Wolf is likely to veto such crap.

☁︎ ☁︎

On the other side of the coin, we have Senate Bill 270, introduced by Daylin Leach of Philadelphia, which would have Pennsylvania join the National Popular Vote Compact. And there is a companion bill, House Bill 189, and they would, wonder of wonders, turn the Electoral College on its head.

The states in the compact pledge to award their Electoral College votes to the winner of the popular vote nationwide. This make the presidential election a popular election without changing the US Constitution. 12 states have signed on so far and as soon as states with 270 electoral votes sign on, the compact goes into effect. 

Now I have a few qualms about this, as it removes one of the safety valves built into the Constitution by the Founders, but I have to admit the Electoral College hasn’t really functioned as a safety valve after all. If it had, Trump would not be president, and if the Compact was in place now, Trump would not be president. 

But  Senate Bill 270 and House bill 189 only have a few sponsors and they are all Democrats in a heavily Republican legislature, so I fear this is another example of Aero Porcus (my made-up phony Latin for “when pigs fly”). 

But how do I know? How can you tell which bills will advance and which will never get out of committee? It’s something I’m working on, and there are a few clues, but without being a Harrisburg insider, it’s something I will likely never decipher on my own. 

It’s a tough puzzle. More than five thousand bills and resolutions are introduced in the legislature in a two-year session. We are now three months into the 2017-18 session and already there are more than 1,000 House bills, 350 or so House resolutions, half a thousand Senate bills and around 75 Senate resolutions. 

Only a few hundred bills, at most, will become law in any two-year session, and a lot of those are for naming bridges after war heroes, which seems a favorite pandering pastime of our Senators and Representatives.

The best I can figure is to watch the committees and see which bills they vote out to the House or Senate floor. And if a bill is some really nasty piece of work, it sometimes flies right though both chambers and get adopted before anyone knows what’s happening. Bills that would actually do us some good usually get fought over and watered down with amendments until they are mediocre mush.

And our 253 Senators and Representatives are known as one of the biggest, most bloated, over paid, ineffectual, corrupt and gerrymandered state legislatures in the country. Can this be changed? Aero Porcus, but we got to try. 

☁︎ ☁︎

Some links:

House Bill 590

http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/billInfo/billInfo.cfm?sYear=2017&sInd=0&body=H&type=B&bn=590

Senate Bill 270

http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/billInfo/billInfo.cfm?sYear=2017&sInd=0&body=S&type=B&bn=270

House Bill 189

http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/billInfo/billInfo.cfm?sYear=2017&sInd=0&body=H&type=B&bn=189


 

Aero Porcus

Our local patron saint of Journalism, Tom DiStefano, writes:

Today I wish to invoke the patron saint of lost causes. I couldn’t remember what saint that is, he or she has apparently been forgotten. But I looked it up and there are actually four of them: St. Jude the Apostle (the best known), St. Rita of Cascia, St. Philomena and St. Gregory of Neocaesarea.

My skeptical side sees a move in the state legislatures as a lost cause, but my hopeful side sees, well, hope. State Rep. Anthony DeLuca, a Democrat from the East Side of Pittsburgh, has introduced a series of election reform bills, co-sponsored by mostly Democrats.

My skeptical side calls these bills by the legal term (I just made up) Aero Porcus – when pigs fly, you will see these bills signed into law. Still, it is good to push for these bills, to pressure legislators to back reforms and to let people know these bills exist and that our legislature is ignoring them and the will of their constituents.

House Bill 945 – Same Day Voter Registration

Thirteen states and DC have it. In 2012, voter turnout increased over 10% in states where it existed. Voters simply register at their polling place on election day, showing a photo ID. There have been no documented incidents of voter fraud due to same day voter registration. (18 cosponsors, all Democrats).

HB 946 – Early voting

Over 30% of votes in last two Presidential elections were cast by early voting; 37 states and the District of Columbia allow it. This bill would authorize early voting 15 days before the election at early voting sites set up by the county boards of election. (20 cosponsors, 19 Democrats and one Republican.)

HB 947 – Resign to Run

Any federal, state, county or municipal official must resign prior to running for an elected office that begins before the end of their current term. This avoids the additional cost of some special elections. The bill also bars individuals from running for more than one office in the same election year. In general, it means one less advantage for incumbents. (4 cosponsors, all Democrats).

HB 948 – Limiting a Legislator’s Outside Income

This bill prohibits members of the General Assembly from receiving more than 35% of their base salary as a legislator from outside sources.

Full-time legislators are paid for full-time service, and should devote all their time to being a legislator, DeLuca argues. Influences and time demands from other jobs mean legislators aren’t serving their constituents. don’t serving our constituents. (6 cosponsors, 4 Democrats and 2 Republicans.)

HB 949 – Outside Income Disclosure

This requires legislators filing a statement of financial interest to list not only the source of any outside income, but also the amount within specified ranges. This helps reveal real or perceived conflicts of interest, improves transparency, and limits the influence of wealthy individuals, corporations and special interests. (13 cosponsors, 10 Democrats and 3 Republicans.)

HB 950 – Sick Day Campaigning

This prohibits public employees from using sick time to campaign. Legislators are known to order or allow their staffers to do this. It closes a little loophole that had taxpayers supporting re-election campaigns. (12 cosponsors, 7 Democrats and 5 Republicans, including our neighbor Cris Dush.)

HB 951 – Stand Back

This increases distance campaigners must be from a polling location from 10 feet to 35 feet. DeLuca says this will help prevent any unwanted confrontations or voter intimidation. (4 cosponsors, 3 Democrats and Republican perennial gadfly Russ Diamond.)

♣︎

DeLuca introduced all of these bills March 23 as a package of reform legislation. All were referred to the House State Government Committee where they will die unless people make a big stink and demand their passage.

To read the full text of these bills and to follow their progress (or lack of it), go to www.legis.state.pa.us, click on the Legislation tab, and type HB (bill number) in the top left search box.

Action Alerts for the Week of March 3

Please: Call, write a letter, send a postcard or fax regarding these urgent concerns:

  1.  Defend healthcare
    • So far the repeal and replace plans are a mess… or possibly out and out non-existent. Tell your MoC’s to oppose repealing the ACA and protect Medicaid. Fine-tuning and improving can be worked out later.
  2.  Demand Trump’s tax returns
    • OK, enough is enough on this. Anyone who has applied for college aid must disclose tax returns, yet President Trump refuses — in spite of growing suspicions about possible conflicts of interest and ties to Russia. Demand that your MoC’s sign on to Rep. Bill Pascrell’s letter that would instruct Congress to exercise its legal authority to obtain those returns.
  3.  Push for truth and full disclosure about Trump’s Russian influences
    • Tell your MoC’s that the American people deserve to receive a full report on this situation provided by an independent team of investigators.
  4.  Oppose a dangerous gun law
    • Ask your MoC’s to vote against Concealed Carry Reciprocity. This bill would force Pennsylvania to allow dangerous people from every other state to carry hidden, loaded guns on your streets — convicted stalkers, domestic abusers, people with no training, even the legally blind… and there is nothing PA will be able to do about it! The views of the head of the NRA have gone beyond what most members believe or want. He recently declared that anyone in opposition to the Trump agenda is part of “the violent left.”
  5. Protect Our Earth
    • Ask your MoC’s to fight the gutting of the EPA. In addition, ask them to specifically oppose a proposed $800 million giveaway to Big Oil. When fossil fuel companies drill on our public lands, they often burn away — or flare — natural gas. This sends climate-busting CO2 straight into the atmosphere. And it pollutes the air in local communities.
    • They used to be able to do this for free. But President Obama changed that. His Administration made a rule that makes the fossil fuel industry pay taxpayers and tribes for the wasted natural gas. This made Big Oil think twice about destroying our wild places.
    • Now, Congress is trying to undo the Obama administration’s action. And we know why. Thanks to an investigation Friends of the Earth launched in 2015, we know exactly which companies are getting the most free natural gas from our public lands. The biggest winners are some of Trump’s biggest donors… companies like ExxonMobil, which is now running the State Department through former CEO Rex Tillerson. And companies like Devon Energy, which was so close to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt that back in Oklahoma they actually drafted letters for him to copy and paste onto his letterhead when he was state Attorney General.
    • Reversing the rule would be a huge win for companies like these — and a huge loss for taxpayers and the climate! (This vote is going to be very, very close. The difference between protecting our air and letting Big Oil go back to destroying it for free is going to come down to one or two Senators!)

Thanks for rising up!

–Kathy Krouse

A Visit to Rep. Thompson’s Office

On Valentine’s Day, Indivisible We Rise (five of us, anyway) made a trip to Rep. Glenn Thompson’s office in Titusville for an action orchestrated by Dan Doubet of Keystone Progress. About 25-30 people showed up to demand that our elusive representative hold a live Town Hall event with his constituents in Erie. (I will post the details on that when I can confirm the date.)

Thompson’s staff were certainly not expecting us when we began crowding into their tiny office. Our Clarion group was among the first to get in the door, so I was able to hand a letter to Rep. Thompson detailing the concerns of Indivisible We Rise members directly to his office manager.

The engagement was boisterous but cordial, and his staff were accommodating. (It seems they—or someone—called the cops when we first arrived, though, but they never came inside the building, as the situation was clearly non-confrontational; we discovered them outside when we left the building.)

A good day was had by all. As to results, we’ll have to wait and see whether Rep. Thompson deigns to attend the Town Hall that Keystone Progress has arranged for him…

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