HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – It is a loud and busy time at the Capitol as advocacy groups want to be seen and heard by legislative movers and shakers.
March on Harrisburg, a self-described non-partisan, inclusive movement of anti-corruption activists, managed to be louder and more observed than the rest on Monday. They also caught the attention of Capitol Police, who arrested more than 20 members for disorderly conduct.
The group is calling for good-government reforms like a legislative gift ban, automatic voter registration, and redistricting reform. They staged sit-ins in a Capitol hallway and, though the word march is in their name, preferred to be dragged from a House committee meeting. As a handful of protesters were removed from the meeting, a larger group in the hallway chanted, “Call the vote on HB 39.”
House Bill 39 would ban gifts to lawmakers.
“Right now, Pennsylvania is one of the only states that has no limitations on what these paid lobbyists can give these legislators,” said Emmie DiCicco, the protest organizer.
Several in the group surrounded Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Allegheny), who wrote HB 39.
“I want you to support my bill. I’m glad you’re supporting it, believe me,” Saccone said. “Come talk to me, but don’t be violent and don’t disrupt.”
There was no violence. There was too much disruption for Rep. Daryl Metcalfe’s liking. Metcalfe (R-Butler) chairs the State Government Committee that has thus far not moved HB 39. To the protesters, he’s the bad guy.
The feeling’s mutual. He called their sit-in childish and said it hurts their credibility and doesn’t motivate him to move HB 39. Though their stated agenda is both non-partisan and bi-partisan, Metcalfe insists there’s a left-wing agenda and likened them to the people who are protesting President Trump and congressional Republicans at town halls.
“The people who are losing in the public arena, losing on Election Day, are trying to impose their will on us like 2-year-olds,” Metcalfe said.
He wasn’t the only riled up Republican.
“I am absolutely offended at that theatric show that was put on out in the hallway,” Rep. Frank Ryan (R-Lebanon) said.
Ryan spent four decades in the U.S. Marine Corps and didn’t appreciate that his entrance to the committee room was blocked and delayed by protesters.
“I spent 41 years of my life defending other people’s freedom and I’ll be damned if anyone’s gonna take mine,” Ryan said in the public committee hearing.
Capitol police, in a business-as-usual manner, arrested about 20 protesters. They picked them up, zip-tied their hands, and marched them out to be processed. They showed great restraint while restraining protesters, who also were peaceful and non-violent.
“We always give them the option to leave on their own and once they don’t then they’re arrested and cited for disorderly conduct,” explained Joe Jacob, superintendent of the Capitol Police.
It might become a really familiar routine. The protesters promise to keep coming back until good government bills become a priority in the legislature.
“It is no secret that democracy is broken in Pennsylvania,” DiCicco said. “We have consistently received failing grades in state integrity polls across the nation.”