HARRISBURG — Republican State Rep. Tom Murt leads the pack of state legislators across the country who have either introduced or supported legislation pushed by corporations or special interest groups, according to a report published this week.
Murt, of Montgomery County, has introduced one bill and supported 71 others since 2010 that appear to be “model legislation.” The language for such bills gets shipped to legislators across the country after heavy influence by private groups, according to an investigation by USA Today, the Arizona Republic, and the Center for Public Integrity.
In an interview Friday, Murt defended his record, saying that he supports good legislation, whether it comes from a constituent, a colleague, or groups that advocate for causes he believes in.
“I know right from wrong, and I know good policy from bad policy,” said Murt, a House member for more than a decade. “I think it’s important, when we are trying to make the world a better place, [that] there are lots of sources of good legislative ideas and concepts.”
The news outlets used a complicated algorithm to analyze more than 10,000 bills introduced in state capitols across the country and spot patterns in their wording. That included 72 bills on which Murt was listed as a sponsor or co-sponsor. In Pennsylvania, legislators are “prime sponsors” only when they introduce a bill. They can show support for fellow lawmakers’ bills by signing on as co-sponsors.
Of those bills in the report tied to Murt, a moderate Republican, he was listed as the prime sponsor on one to expand a ban on workplace smoking, which the report says was written by a group called the State Innovation Exchange.
Murt said Friday that he did not have conversations with the group — which says on its website that it advocates for progressive policies — and that he introduced his bill to mirror one that was circulating in the Senate.
“I’m telling you, God as my witness, I have never had contact with that organization,” Murt said.
Data compiled by the news organizations have not yet been publicly released, so it is difficult to determine how Murt compares with other Pennsylvania legislators.
Murt spokesperson David Foster said Friday that Murt sponsors or co-sponsors hundreds of pieces of legislation every year. Since 2010, the Republican legislator has signed on to 6,017 bills. Thus, the 72 bills identified in the report represent just over 1 percent of what he has supported in that time period. The one bill the article notes as having been introduced by Murt represents 0.02 percent.
In the interview, Murt said legislators rarely fully write the language in bills. Instead, they work with a specially trained staff inside the Capitol that puts their ideas and concepts into legal language that is then included in bills, he said.
When he signs on to legislation sponsored by colleagues, said Murt, he does not ask who wrote the language or whether it is modeled after a bill introduced elsewhere.
He said advocates on all types of issues stop by his and his colleagues’ offices to lobby for various issues. If he believes the idea is good, he said, he will support it.
For instance, he said, a veterans group recently proposed codifying in law that therapy dogs be allowed to accompany their owners or handlers — including veterans — on public transportation. Murt said he agreed, and has introduced legislation.