State Rep. Curt Schroder of Chester County is on a roll. When his party won a majority in the state House last fall, the eight-term legislator became chairman of the gaming oversight committee. Gov. Corbett has echoed his calls for banning the legislative pork known as "walking around money," or WAMs. And this week the House approved Schroder's bill to limit the liability of multiple defendants in injury lawsuits, a move long favored by business groups and opposed by plaintiff lawyers.
Schroder answered questions in his Harrisburg office. Excerpts are below.
- Amy Worden
Question: Why does Pennsylvania need liability reform?
Schroder: We are one of only nine states that has not reformed its "joint and several liability" rule. From employers I talk to, abuse happens in two ways: Those who have a fraction of liability end up having to pay the entire amount. And, what goes unseen is that lawyers will search for the deep-pocketed party to pull into a suit to get a quick settlement, because they know they could end up paying a catastrophic verdict.
Q. House Democratic leader Frank Dermody calls it "the wrong-doer protection act."
Schroder: To suggest that anyone sued in civil court is a wrong-doer, an evil-doer, or any doer is just plain wrong and he knows that.
Q. You've been involved in drafting legislation to create a new public integrity commission. Are you waving a white flag on reform, after the 2005 legislative pay raise, saying those efforts failed?
Schroder: We're concerned with more recent events; the indictment, prosecution, and guilty findings of former and current members of the General Assembly. Our concern being, if we don't establish a permanent oversight agency to continue to look over the shoulder of the General Assembly, the executive branch and courts as well, once the prosecution has run its course, the danger is, it goes back to business as usual.
Q. How's that anti-"walking around money" crusade going?
Schroder: Good. At least in the governor's proposed budget no WAMs are included in there. When we're cutting back almost every other area of the budget, there is no legitimate reason to have that kind of legislative pork. And even if the state was flush with revenue, it's the type of program that needs to go, because it doesn't have accountability.
Q. Isn't one lawmaker's pork another lawmaker's new baseball stadium or firehouse?
If it were taken out of the hands of individual legislators, there could be good use for that money. But it's used as part of the culture of the controlling members of the legislature, to bow to interests of leadership.
Q. Do you have a favorite WAM?
Schroder: I've given them. I've freely admitted it. I'm not taking them now - let me get back to you on that one.
Q. As a veteran lawmaker, do you have occasion to offer advice to newcomers?
Schroder: What I've told them is to stick to their gut feeling about an issue, the feeling that they had out on the campaign trail, and stay true to that. There's a lot of subtle seduction that goes on around here. Next thing you know, you're roped in and could be taking a different position than you should be.
Q. What do you think of Gov. Corbett's budget proposal?
Schroder: It's a realistic proposal. The money is not there to spend more than what he has proposed. Will there be areas where we will try to do better for education, whether K-12 or higher-education institutions? Yes.
Q. Are you hearing from constituents on that?
Schroder: I answer angry budget e-mails every day.
Q. What do you tell them?
Schroder: I try to tell them how we got to this point. The governor is not proposing this for sport. I tell them we will look at all areas of the budget to see where we should do better.
Q. Should there be a shale tax?
Schroder: The companies already pay every tax that every other company in Pennsylvania pays. We already have one of highest business taxes of any state.
Q. One issue you worked on that's somewhat under the radar is the bill to ban simulcasts of greyhound races - a bill that passed the House and is now in the Senate. We don't have greyhound racing; why do we need the next step of banning simulcasts?
Schroder: The simulcast still contributes to the industry that really mishandles, mistreats, and abuses greyhound dogs.. . . Those that can't make the grade for racing get put down.. . . It's a cruel industry. The [bill is] to make sure we're not contributing to it.
Q. What book is on your nightstand right now?