Friday, February 5, 2016

A funny thing happened on the way to the quorum

Storm clouds swirled around a House committee room in the Capitol today after objections were raised about a "lack of sunshining" on a hearing to address the hot button issue of tuition vouchers.

A funny thing happened on the way to the quorum


CLARIFICATION: The five-calendar-day notice requirement for meetings is part of House Rules (Rule 50), not the state Sunshine Law. The Sunshine Law requires notice for meetings of the General Assembly, including committees, “not later than the preceding day” as long as the meeting is in Harrisburg.

Storm clouds swirled around a House committee room in the Capitol today after objections were raised about a "lack of sunshining" on a hearing to address the hot button issue of tuition vouchers.

With a packed house looking on, education committee chairman Rep. Paul Clymer (R., Bucks) abruptly canceled the hearing after the ranking Democrat on the committtee, Rep. James Roebuck (D., Phila.) said the public had not been given proper notice of the meeting.

Under House Rules, meetings must be advertised five calendar days in advance. Today's hearing only was posted on the education committee website yesterday.

Among those tentatively schuduled to testify were Education Secretary Ron Tomalis and Rendell-era Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak (now superintendent of the Allentown School District.)

After discussions with staff lawyers, Clymer dismissed most of the committee, in order for the numbers to get below a quorum, or majority, to hear remarks from several of those who had travelled several hours to speak. Among them was Bill Winters, the chief executive of Collegium Charter School in Exton, who spoke generally about charter school funding.

Barry Kauffman, executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause Pennsylvania, said he was pleased that Clymer cancelled the meeting, but was surprised a veteran lawmaker like Clymer or his staff would be unaware of the rules.

"Legislators should not take a cavalier attitude about requirements," said Kauffman. "It's there so the public can stay informed through their representatives and the Fourth Estate or attend themselves."

Kauffman continued: "If he wants to have a hearing that's credible he did the right thing to make it available to the public at the proper time."

Also scheduled to testify was Baseerah Watson, a Sayre High School student and a member of the Philadelphia Student Union, which opposes vouchers.

She said she told the handful of committee members she would wait for a formal hearing to present her group's argument against vouchers.

The hearing comes as the GOP-led House makes a late-hour push to consider at least three bills dealing with school tuition vouchers before breaking for the summer.


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Commonwealth Confidential gives you regularly updated coverage of the state legislature, the governor and the workings of the state bureaucracy. It is written by Angela Couloumbis in the Inquirer's Harrisburg bureau, based in the statehouse, and by the newspaper's far-flung campaign reporters.

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