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Pa. lawmakers had just 8 session days in final 6 months of 2012 - abc27 WHTM

Pa. lawmakers had just 8 session days in final 6 months of 2012

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

On June 30, on time, Pennsylvania's budget was signed. Lawmakers and Governor Tom Corbett fulfilled their only constitutionally mandated duty.

Then, the Harrisburg campus recessed for the summer. Lawmakers left for July, August, and nearly all of September. There were two voting session days in late September and two three-day voting weeks in October.

Lawmakers then left the Capitol for elections and their voting days were done.

The last six months of 2012, lawmakers were in session in Harrisburg for eight days. They did come in after the election to vote on their leadership team for next year. There was a swearing-in of a senator and a couple of non-voting session days.

"Eight session days in six months is simply not acceptable," said Tim Potts of Majority Party Pa.

Potts is a former staffer for the Democratic leader and current watchdog. He concedes that lawmakers often work outside of Harrisburg by helping constituents and fulfilling committee assignments.

"I don't mean to diminish the value of committee work. That is very important to getting things ready for the session. But if the committee work doesn't result in anything getting to a vote during session, then you have to wonder what that time was spent on," Potts said.

Potts is frequently critical of the Legislature, but he's not alone in blasting the minimalist calendar.

Less is not more, says Rep. Eugene DePasquale (D-York). What does DePasquale say to critics who suggest their lawmakers aren't doing enough?

"I say they're right," he said.

DePasquale is now the auditor general-elect, the state's top fiscal watchdog, and says he has frequently complained to leaders of both parties that lawmakers aren't accomplishing enough.

"If you're gonna pay the Legislature, myself included, as full-time, you should be working at it full-time and it's not just district office work. There is still work that needs to be done," he said.

Corbett at a recent bill signing said he and lawmakers accomplished much the past two years. But when I pressed him, he admitted the limited calendar limits achievement.

"Dennis, I think you make a good point," Corbett said. "There's so little time to deal with it on votes. You get what you can get done."

And critics say with a looming transportation crisis and a looming pension crisis, there should have been more days in Harrisburg to confront those crises. The calendar, the number of session days, is set by the majority party in each chamber. In both cases, that's Republicans.

December 2 was an important day on the legislative calendar. That's when lawmakers got an automatic, built-in, cost of living raise. They got a 2.2 percent pay bump.

"You're not getting your money's worth," Potts says to taxpayers. "It's time to tell your legislators you want better for your money than what you're getting."

 

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