Candidate Rob Teplitz promised government reform during his campaign.
Senator Teplitz (D-Dauphin/York) is delivering -- bills.
Teplitz recently unveiled six good-government measures he hopes to push through the legislature: SB690 would require the auditor deneral to audit the legislative account, SB692 would eliminate mid-term cost-of-living increases for legislators, SB694 would suspend pay for governor and legislature if state budget is late, SB695 would eliminate lame-duck sessions, SB 696 would allow registered independents to vote in primary elections and SB 697 would prohibit one state agency from spending public money on lobbyists to lobby other state agencies.
These are six distinct bills, with one overarching goal, Teplitz said.
"To bring transparency, inclusiveness and accountability to state government in Pennsylvania," he said at a recent news conference unveiling his bills.
Teplitz is a former employee of the auditor general's office and says the legislative slush funds need much stricter scrutiny, even though leadership in both chambers and both parties insist they are adequately audited.
"It's a very superficial audit. It only looks at whether or not the legislature's financial statements are accurate. It doesn't look at whether or not the money's being spent appropriately."
Teplitz, a first-term senate Democrat, is teaming up with House Republican Bryan Cutler (Lancaster) to form the Government Reform Caucus. It's an unusual move and only a handful of legislators have joined them.
Cutler, a three-term senator who supports a part-time legislature, has pushed reforms in the past and has seen such many bills rolled out with great fanfare only to see them quietly die.
"Similar bills would pass the house and senate and then we'd find ourselves at end of the legislative session without an actual piece of legislation that was signed into law," Cutler said.
Teplitz knows that most expect his proposals to fail.
"I think everyone is skeptical based on what we've seen in the news the past couple years and I understand that," he said.
Teplitz has an uphill fight, even in his own caucus. When asked about the reform measures, minority leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) was supportive in word but dismissive in tone.
"I think that Senator Teplitz is moving in a direction where he's looking for more accountability and more openness along those lines and I think we've made great strides in the past couple of years along those lines."
In other words, in Costa's view, if it ain't broke so why would we bother fixing it.
Teplitz and Cutler understand the skepticism of those who say the business-as-usual culture at the capitol will never change. But they promise to keep trying. Cutler insists that every election increases the chances that real change happens.
"As we get new members and increase interest in this [Government Reform Caucus] I don't think the issue is going away."
Teplitz promises not to be steered away from reform issues.
"What I think is scandalous is not what's illegal in Harrisburg, but what's legal."
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