In this issue:
Each month, the Senate State Government Committee prepares a summary of recent meetings of the committee and highlights from the Pennsylvania Senate. Here is this month’s “State Government Chairman’s Report”. As always, if you have any suggestions for a future edition or concerns you would like to see the State Government Committee address, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Senator Dave Argall, Chairman
Senate Committee Passes Anti-gerrymandering Bill
The Senate State Government Committee, which I chair, passed my bill to establish new, nonpartisan qualifications for the Legislative Reapportionment Chair with unanimous, bipartisan support. Due to the controversial nature of this process, my bill would require that this person have no political ties.
Gerrymandering—the artificial manipulation of political boundaries to aid individuals or political parties—has been a problem in this state and this nation for hundreds of years, dating back to the 1700s. Today, we took one small step to begin to roll back the sins of the past.
Senator Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia), the Minority Chair of the committee, spoke in favor of this bill due to its ability to increase transparency in the reapportionment process and inspire confidence in the final map that will determine legislative districts for the next ten years. This bill was also supported by both Fair Districts PA and the Committee of 70, two of the largest organizations that advocate for legislative reapportionment reform.
Senate Panel Holds First Two Hearings on Election Integrity
The bipartisan Senate Special Committee on Election Integrity and Reform held its first two hearings of a series reviewing all aspects of the 2020 General Election in Pennsylvania. Senator Jake Corman (R-Centre/Huntingdon/Mifflin/Juniata), the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, created this committee after widespread concerns with our election process arose last year.
The first hearing reviewed best practices other states use to ensure the security of their results and featured officials from Colorado, Utah and Florida. Visit this link to watch the first hearing. The second hearing focused on state and local insight on Pennsylvania’s current methods of holding elections and featured officials from the Department of State, county election officials, and county commissioners from around the state. Visit this link to watch the second hearing.
Additionally, if you are interested in sharing your experiences with the 2020 election or general thoughts on changes you would like to see Pennsylvania pursue regarding our election process, visit this link and fill out the online form to leave a comment. Your comments will be reviewed by members of the committee as they go through this extensive dive into our state’s election.
Recognizing the Importance of Open Government
Why do we celebrate “Sunshine Week” from March 14 to 20 this year?
Imagine this: What would the reaction be today, if State Senators and Representatives voted in secret to approve Governor Wolf’s multi-billion-dollar income tax and spending increases? While this may seem like the “dark ages,” it was not that long ago that these debates and votes took place with no one from the public or the media in the room.
If this last year of living under COVID-19 pandemic restrictions has taught us anything, remember this: A free society can only exist as long as its institutions remain free and transparent to the public. We have made considerable progress in the past 40 years to “let the sun shine in” but, as we have seen throughout the last 12 months, there is still more work to be done!
To learn more, visit this link to a column I wrote on the importance of Sunshine Week. Watch an interview I did with the PA NewsMedia Association here.
Williamsport Sun Gazette: Fair Wording Needed for State Ballot Questions
A recent editorial brought attention to the questions that will appear on the ballot for the May primary election regarding proposed constitutional amendments to limit the length of future emergency declarations. As the editorial states, “they include language that sounds like the governor making his arguments for why he thinks these amendments are a bad idea.”
I supported the legislation to place the question on the ballot in May because I believe the existing law regarding emergencies gives way too much power to one person—the Governor!
Voters should not be subjected to misleading ballot questions when dealing with topics as important as our system of checks and balances during future emergency declarations. Read the full article here.
Budget Hearings Recap
Throughout the month of March, the Senate Appropriations Committee has been holding hearings reviewing the Governor’s budget proposal. I had the chance to ask the Secretaries of many of our state agencies about how their departments have been operating throughout the past year.
I asked the Secretary of the Department of Corrections whether or not the ongoing pandemic would lead to more state prisons closing. Hundreds of constituents that I represent who work at SCI Mahanoy and SCI Frackville continue to be worried about the ongoing pandemic.
I also asked the Secretary if assaults on prison staff have been on the rise or decline as a result of the pandemic and whether he believed that ongoing transfers of prisoners were consistent with the COVID-19 safety policies that he put in place (his employees don’t think so.)
I asked the Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth if data from the 2020 election will be preserved and what changes she would propose to improve the election process in Pennsylvania.
I asked the Director of the IFO about how many people will be affected by the massive income tax increase proposed by the Governor. He stated that 39% of Pennsylvanians would likely pay more in taxes under this new proposal!
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