Pennsylvania lawmakers find a way to hinder so-called ‘open meetings’

editorial, Daily Local News, 7/17/14

Talk about decisions being made in smoke-filled back rooms.

A report by PAIndependent states that in this year’s state budget process, the Pennsylvania Legislature “routinely hosted key committee meetings in hot, cramped rooms that couldn’t accommodate all those interested in watching.”

“While crowds of observers and lobbyists were left in the hallway, craning to hear the action inside, those lucky enough to find a spot sweated it out or battled claustrophobia,” reported Andrew Staub.

Leave it to Pennsylvania lawmakers to find a way to keep taxpayers out of an “open meeting.”

According to the report, the Republican leadership, especially in appropriations, routinely uses for meetings conference rooms that are both too small for observers and also lack the camera feeds found in larger meeting rooms.

Without the camera feeds, folks at home, i.e. taxpayers, miss out on budget proceedings that could be broadcast on the Pennsylvania Cable Network.

In some cases, the rooms become so hot and crowded with lobbyists and legislators that some have complained of possible fire code violations and the danger of people passing out — “or worse” — in the words of Bill Patton, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, PAIndependent reported.

Melissa Melewsky, an attorney with the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, told Staub that while the Sunshine Act does not address the size of the meeting rooms, it might be something for the General Assembly to consider.

“As much public access as possible is ideal, whether that’s through a bigger room or televised access or both,” Melewsky said. “The important thing is that anyone who’s interested needs to have a method of access to that decision because once it’s over, it’s over, and the public has lost the opportunity to see what’s going on.”…

keep reading at Daily Local News

What should Pennsylvania be doing to address Climate Change?

From: Rep. Greg Vitali
Sent: Tuesday, December 10, 2013 4:30 PM
Subject: What should Pennsylvania be doing to address Climate Change?

What should Pennsylvania be doing to address Climate Change?

House Democratic Policy Committee Hearing Monday, Dec. 16

On Monday, Dec. 16, the House Democratic Policy Committee will conduct a hearing in Harrisburg (Minority Caucus Room, 418 Main Capitol) to attempt to answer the question “What should Pennsylvania be doing to address Climate Change?” It will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The hearing is being put together by State Representative Greg Vitali, Democratic Chairman of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

Panelists will include:
•  Richard Alley, Evan Pugh Professor, Penn State University;
•  Tom Peterson, President and CEO, Center for Climate Strategies;
•  Janet Milkman, Executive Director, Delaware Valley Green Buildings Council;
•  Christina Simeone, Energy Center Director, PennFuture;
•  Rick Price, Executive Director, Western Pennsylvania Clean Cities; and
•  Erik Johanson, Manager of Strategic Business Planning, SEPTA.

Public attendance is welcome, but questions will be limited to Policy Committee members. Members of the public can submit written questions and comments to the committee.

If you have any questions or would like to submit comments or questions, please contact Rob Fogel at RFogel@pahouse.net or call my Havertown office at 610-789-3900.

Greg Vitali
State Representative
166th Legislative District

Bill won’t limit religious liberty

by Dan Frankel, Philly.com, 8/27/13

As the prime sponsor of House Bill 300, which will extend protection from discrimination to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Pennsylvanians, I feel compelled to explain why protecting people’s rights doesn’t infringe on religious liberty. My bill does not limit freedom of religion any more than allowing people of different racial backgrounds to marry does.

H.B. 300 does not require individuals to violate their conscience by giving tacit approval to behavior that they feel is immoral. In essence, the bill adds only seven words to an existing law: gender identity or expression and sexual orientation. All existing religious conscience protections remain. Rather than creating a new set of rights, this simply ensures that people are not discriminated against due to their inherent characteristics – in the same way that people are protected based on other characteristics they were born with.

Inherent characteristics include anything a person can’t readily change about himself or herself. For example, a person can’t be discriminated against in the workplace based on sex (female or male) or race or ethnicity (black, Hispanic, or white).

However, under current law, you can fire someone based on whom they love. So an excellent employee can’t be fired for being white or male. But you can fire him for being in a long-term, committed relationship with a person of the opposite sex – or of his own. The latter is more likely, and that’s why the LGBT community benefits most from this bill….

keep reading at Philly.com

Pennsylvania Legislature Breaks Silence on Gun Laws

CeaseFirePA, 7/17/13

HARRISBURG, PA- Today the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the firearm background check system. The committee heard testimony from state police, mayors, CeaseFirePA and the mother of a little boy who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

While this hearing was not about specific legislation, CeaseFirePA focused on HB 1010 which would close a loophole in Pennsylvania’s background check system that exempts sales of long guns by private sellers.

Francine Lobis Wheeler, whose son was killed in the Sandy Hook Shooting, and is a native of the Philadelphia suburbs, spoke on the loophole and the need for HB 1010.

“Right now in Pennsylvania, a convicted felon- say, someone who has been to prison for rape or abusing a child or even homicide- couldn’t go into a licensed firearm dealer and buy an assault weapon like the one that killed my son. The background check would stop the sale. That same convicted felon, however, could buy a rifle from a private seller,” she said.

This hearing was the start of a conversation and the first official action from our state legislature to start addressing gun violence prevention in Pennsylvania since the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in December of last year.

“Pennsylvania has an opportunity to be a leader by further improving its already strong background check system. Ensuring that the system covers every gun every time will make us safer,” said Shira Goodman, Executive Director of CeaseFirePA. “Background checks do not burden in any way the rights of law abiding gun owners. Background checks create problems only for those whom we all agree should not have guns.”

Posted 18:24PM on July 17 2013 by Orla Treacy

Gay-marriage ruling sparks a bitter fight in Pa. House

by Amy Worden, Philadelphia Inquirer, June 28, 2013

The U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings on gay marriage have sparked a bitter dispute on the Pennsylvania House floor over the last two days.

On Wednesday, State Rep. Brian Sims (D., Phila.), who last fall became the first openly gay candidate to win a seat in the House, rose to praise the landmark decision overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act, only to be silenced by other lawmakers’ objections.

That was in keeping with rules for that part of the session, when members can rise to speak on almost any subject. Then, in an interview Thursday with WHYY FM, the legislature’s most outspoken conservative, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler), explained why he had objected.

Metcalfe said, “I did not believe that as a member of that body that I should allow someone to make comments such as he was preparing to make that ultimately were just open rebellion against what the word of God has said, what God has said, and just open rebellion against God’s law.”

10 wacky state House boundaries in Pennsylvania

Lancaster Online, 5/12/13

Hey, is that an Elvis wig?

Earlier this week, the state Supreme Court upheld a revised plan to redraw the boundaries of Pennsylvania’s legislative districts, ruling that a panel’s new plan is constitutional. The court’s unanimous ruling Wednesday came after it initially rejected a map drawn by a five-member commission of top lawmakers and a former judge.

The map will take effect for Pennsylvania’s 203 House districts and 50 Senate districts in next year’s election.

So what do the new House districts look like? The bright green blobs below represent some of the most oddly shaped House districts in Pennsylvania. Do you recognize any of them? Do you think they look a little goofy?

Tell us what you see by weighing in in the comments section below this article. To see a map of all the new House districts in Pennsylvania click here. If you spot any weird districts you think should be on here, or have a better name for any of the ones below, send an email to digital editor Tom Murse at tmurse@lnpnews.com.

District 35: The Lobster (Or Some Sort of Crustacean)

The newly redrawn 35th Legislative District covers the western Pennsylvania cities of Clairton, Duquesne and McKeesport and several other municipalities in Allegheny County. Democratic Rep. Mark Gergely represents the district.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See other examples at Lancaster Online. Examples below are added at the CCDC site:

The article could have mentioned that in Chester county, PA Senate district 19 (held by Andy Dinniman), about 15 times as long as its width in the middle of the district, also looks somewhat bizarre:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here is the totally preposterous US House district PA-07, whose gerrymandered boundaries make a total mockery of representative community-based democracy:


Pa. legislators propose budget with more for themselves

editorial, Pottstown Mercury, 6/5/13

The calendar has turned a page into the last 30 days of the Pennsylvania fiscal year, and budget negotiations in the state Legislature are beginning in earnest.

The process of ironing out the 2013-14 state budget started in February with a $28.4 billion proposal introduced by Gov. Tom Corbett. Now, four months later, the Pennsylvania House Republicans are pitching a budget that is $100 million less than what Corbett proposed.

The House GOP plan leaves out increased money for transportation funding, despite the accepted observation that Pennsylvania’s roads are crumbling and bridges are falling down.

The plan doesn’t address the state public employee pension crisis, despite a $47 billon shortfall and an aggressive awareness campaign by Corbett.

It doesn’t mention liquor store privatization, a highlight of the governor’s proposal as part of an approach to increase education spending.

What the legislators did include is a spending increase for themselves….

keep reading at Pottstown Mercury

Where’d he get the gun?

CeaseFirePA, 4/23/13

Last Thursday, in Bucks County, PA, a man with an active protective from abuse order against him killed his wife and shot a police officer with a rifle.

How did this man get a gun?

Currently, in Pennsylvania, you can buy rifles and other long guns in a private sale — that is any sale not from a federally licensed dealer — without a background check.

Under a bill pending in Harrisburg, H.B. 1010, introduced earlier this session by Steve Santarsiero (D, Bucks), such sales would require background checks. If this bill were law, abusers would not have unchecked avenues to obtain guns.

This is a familiar story. It’s exactly what happened in Wisconsin this summer, when a man with a protective order against him bought a gun in a private sale and shot and killed his wife and several others.

How many more times does this have to happen?

Please take a moment and tell your Pennsylvania state representative to support HB 1010. Background checks work to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them.

Shira Goodman
Executive Director
CeaseFirePA

Gov. Corbett must show leadership on climate change

letter, Daily Local News, 12/29/12

The World Meteorological Organization recently reported that an area of arctic ice bigger than the United States melted this year. This prompted WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud to state: “Climate change is taking place before our eyes …” This is just the latest in a stream of increasingly dire climate change news.

Pennsylvania emits about 1 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas. Yet Gov. Tom Corbett has failed to even acknowledge the climate crisis.

Gov. Corbett is charging full speed ahead with the Marcellus Shale natural gas development but paying scant attention to renewable energy.

Admittedly, natural gas-fired power plants may emit less greenhouse gas than the coal plants they are displacing. But natural gas is a fossil fuel and still produces a significant amount of greenhouse gas.
RELATED ASSETS

To avoid destabilizing the Earth’s climate we must significantly increase our use of energy from renewable sources like wind, solar and geothermal.

Soon I will be introducing two bills to promote renewable energy:

The first bill would increase the amount of electricity companies like PECO must obtain from renewable sources to 15 percent by 2023. The current requirement is 8 percent by 2021. New Jersey requires 17.88 percent of its energy to come from renewable sources by 2021.

The second bill would provide $25 million per year to the PA Sunshine Solar program. This is an extremely popular program (currently out of money) which provides rebates to homeowners and small businesses that install solar systems. The funding would come from the recently enacted Marcellus Shale impact fee.

Gov. Corbett should support this renewable energy legislation. Climate change is too important an issue to ignore

STATE REP. GREG VITALI
House Environmental Resources
and Energy Committee member