Time to pop the cork on reform bills bottled up in Harrisburg | Editorial

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State Sen. Mike Folmer, left, and State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, the Republican chairmen of the State Government Committees in their chambers, have bottled up 10 bills that would reform how legislators accept and report gifts, and set limits for campaign contributions.

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Pennsylvania voters entrust state legislators with plenty of power. They can help or hinder people, industries, and special interests. They can also exploit that power, accepting gifts, side jobs, and unlimited campaign contributions.

Why do we put up with this embarrassment?

State senators and representatives can accept gifts of up to $249 in value without having to publicly report who paid for them.

Members of the nation’s largest full-time legislature can hold side jobs without reporting those salaries on their annual statements of financial interests.

Pennsylvania also is one of just 11 states with no limits for campaign contributions for state elected offices.

It’s all so cozy, with little to break the amorous embrace of legislators and generous gift-givers. And it comes in all sizes. Pennsylvania legislators have been tripped up in criminal cases for gifts worth thousands of dollars and, in one instance, $750 in money orders. It leaves the General Assembly with a sullied reputation for corruption.

Gov. Wolf has banned members of his administration from accepting gifts. But legislative leaders routinely block efforts by senators and representatives pushing for reforms.

Legislation to regulate gifts, increase scrutiny for side jobs, and limit campaign contributions were sent last year to the State Government Committees in the House and Senate. And then? Nothing.

The chairman of those committees, State Sen. Mike Folmer (R., Lebanon) and State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler), have bottled up those reform efforts. The two Republicans take different tacks when queried about a combined 10 reform measures stalled in their committees.

Folmer pleads a hectic committee schedule, and vows to move on the bills if he can find time before the legislative session ends in December.

Metcalfe, who blustered on Facebook on April 20 that he would never move substantive Democratic legislation, refused through spokesmen to even discuss the legislation, some of which was proposed by fellow Republicans.

So what are Folmer and Metcalfe stonewalling?

Senate Bill 388 would ban members from accepting cash gifts while Senate Bill 517 and Senate Bill 131 would drop from $250 to $50 in value the threshold for requiring the public reporting of gifts.

These three bills have a combined 22 cosponsors — 15 Republicans and seven Democrats. That’s nearly half the Senate’s 50 members. So, an appetite for reform clearly exits.

In Metcalfe’s committee, House Bill 568 would drop the gift threshold to $25; House Bill 570 drops it to $50; and House Bill 774 to $100.

House Bill 949 would require members to report salaries for side jobs with eight ranges of income, starting at $1,000 to $74,999 and topping off at more than $1 million.

Senate Bill 868 would remove an exemption allowing legislators to leave gifts from “friends” off their statements of financial interests.

Meanwhile, on campaign finance reforms, Senate Bill 11 and House Bill 1332 would create limits on the amount of money candidates could collect.

These are important reforms with bipartisan support. If you agree, now is the time to tell Metcalfe and Folmer. Call Metcalfe at 717-783-1707 and Folmer at 717-787-5708.