A York County legislator is among those hoping to revive some perennially unsuccessful reform efforts through the creation of a new Government Reform Caucus. But the optimism of the 30-member reform group might be tempered by the doubtful reactions of some more senior legislators.
Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-York/Dauphin counties co-created the bipartisan caucus with Rep. Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster County.
Initiatives include lobbying reform, suspension of pay for the governor and legislators if they don't pass a timely budget and opening the state's closed primary to independent voters.
Teplitz on Monday called for a "new era" of transparency in state
government, announcing the group's creation at a press conference with Cutler.
The two co-chairs said they'll recruit other legislators to gain momentum on the package of 14 reform bills, six of which Teplitz wrote for the Senate and introduced last week, and eight of which Cutler penned for the House and for which he is still gathering co-sponsors.
Cutler said Monday that some of his initiatives are being reintroduced after failing to pass last session and the session before, but he's hopeful the caucus will be able to succeed where a single representative or senator might not.
Seven senators and 22 members of the House have joined the caucus; Teplitz is the only one whose district includes part of York County.
Reaction: Sen. Pat Vance, R-York/Cumberland counties, is a co-sponsor of one of Teplitz's bills, a proposal to prohibit the government from using taxpayer money to hire lobbyists to lobby other government agencies.
While Vance said after Monday's press conference that she applauds the effort and supports some of the bills, she said she's not likely to join and she's skeptical that a caucus will be the vehicle needed to achieve reform.
"I think right now there must be 20 something caucuses, and every member should be interested in making a good honest government," she said. "I'm not sure what we attempt with a caucus can't be done in a standing committee."
She said she was a reformer before it was "popular," and legislators can achieve reform through their actions and don't need legislation.
She's not hopeful the legislation to hold pay will pass.
"Do you know how long that bill's been around?" she asked. "Year after year after year. (Teplitz and Cutler) want to change the world and I wish them luck. I hope they can, and I don't mean that to be jaded."
Waugh's input: Sen. Mike Waugh, R-Shrewsbury, said some of the bills sound very popular publicly, but they cover practices that are already in place.
"Not getting paid until the budget's passed ... truth is, we don't," he said. "The chief clerk holds our pay until the budget's passed. If it takes four months, we don't get paid for four months."
Another of the proposed bills eliminates lame-duck sessions, but Waugh said the Senate hasn't had a lame-duck session in at least five years.
He said he'd have no problem agreeing to make it law, and he would in fact probably vote for "any and all" of the Reform Caucus proposals -- if they go to vote.
"A number of these bills have been down the pike several times," he said. "The bottom line is you need to get enough numbers up here that are willing to vote to change status quo. And God bless Rob Teplitz. I hope he can get it done, but he's not the first guy to come up with these ideas."
Waugh said he'll help however he can, though he hasn't signed onto any bills and doesn't plan to join the caucus.
"I'm not a 'sign onto every bill that crosses my desk' kind of person, just like joining caucuses," he said. "I try to focus my attention where I know I'm going to get traction."
The impetus: Gifts to legislators have been the topic of debate since a recent report showed legislators taking free trips overseas and accepting tickets to sporting events.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has been under fire since a recent grand jury report resulted in allegations of a "pay-to-play" culture in the agency.
Teplitz and Cutler said those scandals are symptoms of the culture in Harrisburg, but not the impetus behind the reform initiative.
Teplitz, who was chief counsel for former Auditor General Jack Wagner before joining the Senate this year, said he's a reform-minded legislator. He said more proposals, such as a ban on certain gifts to public officials, are forthcoming from the caucus.
-- Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.