September is back to business for school children and workers who have burned off their vacation time. Why isn't it the case for state lawmakers?
The House had originally been scheduled to return to Harrisburg for two voting sessions this week, but Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) canceled them — with no public explanation given — effectively extending their summer recess by another two weeks, for a grand total of 86 days off. The Senate didn't even bother to schedule voting sessions for this week.
Pennsylvania has the nation's largest full-time legislature, and its average base pay of $87,000 a year is second only to California's. That's not even counting the free cars, including gas and maintenance, as well as excellent health and retirement benefits that lawmakers give themselves.
As legislators continue to cash their paychecks, they are ignoring important state business. Here are some key issues that demand action.
School funding is always going to be a pressing issue, but this year, it has taken on more urgency for a number of reasons. First, a Commonwealth Court upheld a lawsuit challenging the state's funding formula and its failure to correct inequities in funding between high income and poorer communities — a gap that's worse in Pennsylvania than in any other state. Figuring out how to balance these inequities will require time and thoughtful debate. Ignoring it won't make it go away. In addition, the dismissal of Philadelphia schools during extreme heat last week was yet another reminder that the aging infrastructure of schools throughout the state must be addressed as a key safety issue.
On guns, the Senate in March passed a bill to tighten the 60-day window for violent domestic abusers and those who pose a threat to self and others to give up their guns to 24 hours. The House just couldn't muster the courage to concur, despite the fact that last year, the number of victims of domestic violence killed with a gun in Pennsylvania increased. Of the 117 domestic violence deaths, 78 were caused by a gun. How many of those 78 deaths might have been prevented if lawmakers were paying attention?
This summer's explosive grand jury report that 301 priests abused more than 1,000 victims was a five-alarm reminder of the need to adjust the criminal and civil statutes of limitations so that victims of abuse could pursue justice. Right now, criminal charges can't be brought if the victim is over 50 and civil cases can't be filed if the victim is over 30.
The legislature has also failed to address the need to restructure state taxes – especially giving communities much-needed property tax relief. And an unprecedented grassroots movement calling for an end to gerrymandering, the process through which legislators stack the deck in their favor with voters of their own party, also fell on deaf ears.
The legislature's failure to attack our problems is putting the progress and health of the state at risk.