York County's newest senator has an ambitious reform agenda, but his first legislative action is a housecleaning measure to address what's hanging on the walls.
Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, on Monday filed his inaugural co-sponsorship memo for a resolution he'll be introducing in the Senate.
Wagner's resolution calls for an end to the hanging of portraits in the Capitol building that honor former legislative leaders who have been convicted of felonies related to abuse of their public offices.
State law already requires state lawmakers convicted of certain felonies to forfeit their pensions, "yet we honor some of these same individuals with portraits in our state Capitol," Wagner wrote in the memo. "While I recognize that many of these individuals have played critical roles in our Commonwealth's history and it is impractical to leave them out of that history, I believe that to revere them with portraits is a line that we should not cross."
Wagner, on the campaign trail for the special election he won March 18, has railed against "career politicians" and lush benefits and staffing for legislators. He said Wednesday he selected the measure as his first legislative proposal because it's "simple" and common-sense.
He said he walks the halls, and he doesn't want to see their faces.
"It's inappropriate to include (felons) on the walls," he said. "I just think it's a bad practice, almost like it's rewarding people for bad behavior."
Room of shame: He said portraits of those legislators should be "put somewhere else" such as "a Room of Shame, and they should be clearly identified ... that these men and women have a past that is not within the professionalism that we're looking for."
"There are school children walking down the halls," Wagner said, playing out a scenario:
"'Mrs. Jones, tell me about that guy.'"
"'Oh, he went to jail, Johnny.'"
The faces: Wagner said there are three main offenders he would like to see removed from the walls of former leadership:
Robert Mellow, a Democrat from Lackawanna County who was President Pro Tempore of the Senate and in 2012 pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge stemming from the use of Senate staff members for campaign-related work and filing a false tax return and was sentenced to 16 months in a federal prison;
Former Speaker of the House John Michael Perzel, a Republican from northeast Philadelphia who was convicted of corruption-related charges in 2011 and sentenced to 30 months in prison; and
Former Speaker of the House Bill DeWeese, a Greene County Democrat who was in 2012 convicted of five felony charges related to using state resources for campaigning. He was sentenced to 30 to 60 months in state prison.
The photo collections are posted in both the House and Senate sides of the Capitol. The resolution would require the Senate to remove the portraits and "urge our colleagues in the House of Representatives to resolve the same," according to the memo.
Colleague responds: Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-Dauphin and Perry counties, is a reform-centered policy maker on the opposite side of the aisle.
Teplitz said the Senate portraits hang just outside his office, and he had considered introducing similar legislation but didn't consider it a priority.
"I won't criticize what he chooses as his first bill," Teplitz said. "I'm not sure whether there's any symbolism behind this being his first bill. My first bills were also in the nature of government reform. ... They were more along the lines of eliminating perks, rather than redecorating ... but I think we all have to choose how we approach these issues."
Teplitz said he's very selective about what he chooses to co-sponsor, but he would vote for Wagner's measure if it comes up for a vote - which he doubts will happen.
"I think (Wagner) recognizes in his co-sponsorship memo that the leaders of the institution are part of the history of the institution, and I think the current leadership is probably very protective of that history and may be unlikely to move this kind of a bill that would literally require taking portraits down," Teplitz said.
Leadership could consider it bad taste to pull people's photos from the walls, he said.
It might be better to establish a rule moving for future lawmakers, as it's "trickier" to impose a policy for past conduct, he said.
- Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.