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Looming election jolts Harrisburg into motion as Pa. lawmakers go a flurry of payments, money in on fundraisers – The Philadelphia Inquirer


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HARRISBURG — Horse-trading, nose-holding, and an entire lot of money.

The Pennsylvania Capitol this week jolted into motion with simply six extra voting days earlier than the pivotal midterm election, advancing a slew of payments with one widespread theme whereas lawmakers raced from fundraiser to fundraiser looking for to bolster their marketing campaign coffers.

Amongst different priorities, the GOP-led legislature voted on payments to mandate a second of silence in colleges each Sept. 11, enhance data-sharing about overdoses, and enhance public entry to monetary data from Penn State, Pitt, and different state-related universities.

Every of these efforts acquired bipartisan help, however in addition they all have the identical title on the prime: state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin), the Republican gubernatorial nominee who will face Democratic Legal professional Basic Josh Shapiro this November in a tightening race.

It’s an open secret in Harrisburg that come fall in essential election years, payments backed by lawmakers in aggressive races might take priority. Political motives helped persuade Republicans in 2018 to muscle via a uncommon gun management invoice sponsored by a lawmaker working for increased workplace.

That may put lawmakers within the minority celebration — which, traditionally, has been legislative Democrats in Pennsylvania — within the tough place of deciding whether or not to help a invoice that may align with their coverage objectives but in addition would supply a lift to their political opponent.

Mastriano’s payments aren’t the one measures shifting after months of inactivity. The state Home this week unanimously handed a bill by Mastriano’s working mate, state Rep. Carrie DelRosso (R., Allegheny), that makes a small tweak to the state’s lottery regulation to offer extra cash for property tax relief.

“I’m really working a invoice at the moment,” DelRosso mentioned in a Facebook live video with Mastriano, streamed Wednesday morning earlier than session started. “That’s why I’m sticking round.”

Each Democrats and Republicans voted sure on DelRosso and Mastriano’s payments. One invoice put forth by Democrats — to require carbon monoxide detectors in some little one care services — additionally acquired a vote this previous week.

Mastriano’s state-related college bill has been praised by Pennsylvania’s media lobbying group as a win for accountability, and three of the affected colleges have signaled their backing. It had additionally sat untouched for greater than a yr earlier than it was introduced up for a committee vote in June after which a full state Senate vote in September.

Mastriano is at present polling behind Shapiro, whose marketing campaign has highlighted Mastriano’s unpopular and extreme positions on abortion, LGBTQ rights, and voting rights. A legislative win with bipartisan help may enable him to interrupt that narrative.

The payments, if handed and signed into regulation, would additionally bolster Mastriano’s legislative document. He has launched 86 payments since taking workplace in 2019, together with a six-week abortion ban and a cap on insulin copayments at $30, of which three have been signed into regulation.

One prolonged time period lengths for members of an obscure state fee, one elevated penalties for passing a disabled automobile in an unsafe trend, and one tweaked how drivers apply for a particular veterans license.

Of the 5 payments of Mastriano’s that superior this week, the closest to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk would require the State Police to map drug overdoses. Democratic lawmakers opposed it within the state Home Judiciary Committee this week, which Mastriano chalked as much as them taking part in political video games.

“They’re attempting to make use of parliamentary process to cease working a invoice that may save lives,” he mentioned in a Facebook live video.

However rating committee Democrat Tim Briggs, of Montgomery County, mentioned he thought the invoice was too targeted on offering info to regulation enforcement versus public well being authorities. He added that the invoice offers no extra funding for the mapping effort.

“I feel the politics is coming in to present Sen. Mastriano a invoice,” Briggs mentioned, “and probably not caring if it’s an excellent invoice or not.”

One other proposal from Mastriano, state Senate Invoice 488, would expand the quantity of economic info that the 4 state-related universities — Lincoln, Penn State, Pitt, and Temple — need to share with the general public via already mandated annual filings.

The faculties can be required to launch an audited monetary assertion, employment and enrollment info, contracts of greater than $10,000, and aggregated college wage information yearly amongst different info.

In an announcement, Mastriano mentioned the faculties’ greater than $600 million in state funding “shouldn’t be a closely-guarded secret.”

“This laws gives a degree of transparency essential to maintain these universities accountable to the general public they serve,” he mentioned.

The invoice handed the complete state Senate 38-12 on Sept. 20 and was despatched to the state Home for consideration. One transparency advocate mentioned tweaks to the state’s open-records regulation are lengthy overdue.

“Improved accessibility fosters higher accountability,” mentioned Brad Simpson, president of the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Affiliation (of which Highlight PA is a member). “We’re completely happy to see the passage within the Senate and sit up for the Home passing it and the governor signing the invoice.”

The invoice additionally seems to have the backing of three of the faculties. In a June letter, lobbyists for Penn State, Pitt, and Temple advised senators the invoice “keep[s] the cautious stability” between privateness and transparency.

Regardless of that help, 12 Democrats voted towards the invoice this month.

In an announcement, Senate Minority Chief Jay Costa (D., Allegheny) mentioned he voted no as a result of he had considerations “about authorizing expanded entry into the day-to-day enterprise of our unbelievable increased training establishments to a gubernatorial candidate who has threatened and disparaged members of the LGBTQ+ group and anybody who has sought an abortion for any purpose.”

Seven Democrats joined the chamber’s Republicans in supporting the invoice, together with state Sen. Katie Muth (D., Chester), a vocal opponent of the Harrisburg established order.

Muth famous that Democrats don’t management which payments come up for a vote — that energy belongs to Republican management — in order that they “need to vote for these folks’s payments on a regular basis.”

She added that Mastriano’s proposal is sort of similar to a bill repeatedly proposed by a now retired Democratic senator which went nowhere for years.

“It’s a transparency invoice,” Muth mentioned. “I can suck up my dislike for the person. Do I feel it was an ideal invoice? No. However once more, none of these things we vote on is just like the gold normal.”

It’s common for payments to languish for months, if not a year-plus earlier than getting a vote (in the event that they get one in any respect).

The precise purpose why a invoice fails to advance is commonly opaque, however committee chairs maintain an unlimited quantity of energy to resolve which payments advance or wither on the vine.

As soon as a invoice is voted out of committee, it’s then as much as a chamber’s majority chief to choose which payments will get a vote, and which gained’t. Home Majority Chief Kerry Benninghoff (R., Centre) has constantly argued his alternative boils all the way down to determining which payments 102 lawmakers again.

“As you possibly can think about, with 203 members right here, 50 within the Senate — in response to every one in all them, their invoice is a very powerful one,” Benninghoff mentioned this week. “So, my job is to search out what payments we have now the vast majority of votes to get via.”

Opponents have countered that such arguments are solely half true. Very conservative lawmakers will argue that their pet proposals don’t run due to a lack of political will from their leaders. The minority celebration, at present Democrats, has little recourse underneath chamber guidelines to pressure a vote on standard payments, like a minimal wage hike, that would go with some average Republican help.

“If we’re given the chance after the November election to set the agenda, you will note some of these payments shifting via the Home,” Home Minority Chief Joanna McClinton (D., Philadelphia) mentioned final week.

For her half, Erica Clayton Wright, spokesperson for Senate Majority Chief Kim Ward (R., Westmoreland), mentioned that marketing campaign issues didn’t play a job in bringing Mastriano’s open-records invoice up within the closing days of session.

Time is working out for any of Mastriano’s payments to achieve Wolf for consideration earlier than the top of November, when all payments expire and have to be reintroduced the next yr. The state Home has simply three scheduled session days left earlier than the election, then one other three earlier than the top of the session.

State Rep. Seth Grove (R., York), whose committee should think about Mastriano’s college open-records invoice for it to advance, mentioned Wednesday he was not planning to carry one other committee assembly earlier than the election.

However he acknowledged that would change with a telephone name from management.

“It’s that point of yr the place trades occur,” Grove mentioned.

Whereas bringing lawmakers to Harrisburg for even a single day can price taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars in particular perks together with per diems, mileage, and different bills, it’s common for some politicking to be on the agenda each inside and outdoors the Capitol — particularly within the run-up to an election.

On the six days of voting session this month, lawmakers within the state Home and Senate took 55 flooring votes on payments, amendments, procedural motions, and extra.

Legislators superior proposals to improve conditions for girls in jail, enable for the third-party sale of vanity plates, and increase transparency within the state’s pensions system. (None of these payments have handed each chambers and been despatched to Wolf.)

However particularly amid a high-stakes election season, session days are as a lot about legislating as they’re about refilling marketing campaign battle chests with checks from Harrisburg’s donor class of lobbyists and different influencers.

On those self same six days, lawmakers hosted at the very least 53 fundraisers within the Harrisburg space, with attendance costing donors from $250 to $10,000 a head, in response to an unofficial calendar maintained by a Harrisburg lobbying agency.

Lengthy-time Capitol watchdog Eric Epstein has referred to as for a ban on session day fundraisers, and referred to as the latest numbers “tone deaf.”

After taking the summer time off, lawmakers “return to Harrisburg to replenish their marketing campaign coffers whereas working for taxpayers?” Epstein mentioned.

“How is that this totally different than campaigning whereas working?”

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