Did Pa. House meet constitutional mandate to show up Tuesday?

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The Pennsylvania Constitution has an interesting section on mandatory attendance and it came into play on Tuesday.

Article II, Section 4 states: “The General Assembly shall be a continuing body during the term for which its Representatives are elected. It shall meet at twelve o’clock noon on the first Tuesday of January each year. Special sessions shall be called by the Governor on petition of a majority of the members elected to each House or may be called by the Governor whenever in his opinion the public interest requires.”

It seems pretty clear: shall meet at noon on the first Tuesday of January.

“I think it was wise to specify that in the beginning of the year, on the first Tuesday, we’re gonna start the people’s business,” said Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), who chairs the House State Government Committee and is fairly well versed on all things Constitution.

Metcalfe was one of 10 state representatives (7 Republican, 3 Democrat) in the hall of the House at high noon. ABC 27 tried to get on the floor for the required first day but the session was gaveled in and gaveled out. We were kept out. But we were in the ante room and could see clearly that only 10 of 203 members showed up.

Representative Brad Roae (R-Erie/Crawford) was one of them.

“I think my constituents would expect me to be here and I was here,” Roae said. “You’d have to ask the other representatives what they think, but I would think we should be here when it says we should be here.”

Roae concedes that Tuesday was a non-voting session day, which his colleagues typically take for “no presence required.”

“Attendance is not taken,” Roae said. “There’re no votes, they don’t take roll call to see who’s there.”

House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin says leaders were in Harrisburg and continued budget talks, but there was nothing for rank-and-file members to do. So, why have them in Harrisburg collecting taxpayer-funded per diems? Session was held and the constitutional requirement was met.

“Members, unless they happen to be here for a specific purpose, were not or did not need to plan to be here to be on the floor,” he said.

But Metcalfe counters it should have been a voting session and, therefore, a working day for everyone.

So are lawmakers law breakers for blowing off a mandated day?

“The constitution says we should be here on the first Tuesday,” Metcalfe said. “I think it’s certainly within our abilities to make sure we’ve scheduled work that can be done on the first Tuesday of the year.”

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