Clock ticks down as bills await action in Pa. legislature

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The Capitol is busy, busy, busy.

The lobbyists are swarming, trying to bend the ears and twist the arms of any lawmaker they can corner.

The clock on the legislative calendar is ticking.

There are just four session days left to get a bill passed – or watch it die.

“Everything stops and everything has to be reintroduced again,” Sen. John Wozniak (D-Cambria/Bedford/Clearfield) said of the end of this legislative session. “It has to go through the committee process. So, if you didn’t accomplish your goal, you’re back at square one.”

Square one is not where advocates, lobbyists, organizers and stakeholders want to go after toiling for two years on issues important to them and often, a majority of Pennsylvanians.

A little more than a month until Thanksgiving and lawmakers have much on their plate.

– legislation to combat opioid abuse

– pension reform

– gaming expansion

– statute of limitations for abuse victims

– charter school reforms.

There are also side dishes to deal with before the clock runs out. It’s an impossible task.

“If these guys were in the military, they would call their actions a dereliction of duty,” government watchdog Gene Stilp said.

He points to the legislative calendar as contributing to the problem. Legislators were not in Harrisburg from Mid-July until Mid-September (except for one day when the Senate confirmed Attorney General Bruce Beemer).

The House was in session for six days in September and six days in October.

The Senate schedule is even lighter: three session days in September and six in October.

“It’s really a part-time legislature that gets a full-time salary,” Stilp said. “That is wrong.”

Republican leaders in the House and Senate set those schedules. Why don’t they add more days to the calendar to get more done?

“If need be, if it looks like we’re close to getting some things across the finish line, we very well may add days,” House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin said.

But that’s not likely with all of the House seats and half of the Senate seats up for election in three weeks.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale knows the drill. He’s a former lawmaker from York County. But that doesn’t mean he approves.

“The idea that there’s so few fall legislative days after Labor Day is simply unacceptable,” DePasquale said. “There’s so much work that needs to be done in Pennsylvania, and I understand it’s election season, but you have to learn how to walk and chew gum.”

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