OPED: Reform is in the eye of the beholder

Sen. Mike Folmer
48th Senate District

During the latter part of the debate on medical cannabis, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman took charge, saying: “This issue is too big, it’s too important, and too many people are depending on us to ‘get it right.’  And, for all the times the Senate has been criticized for acting too quickly, this is one time we’re going to take our time and ‘get it right’.”

Corman was spot-on then and his comments form a guiding principle I follow as chair of the Senate State Government Committee:  the need to “get it right.”

I waited 8 years to chair the State Government Committee and it allows me to work to advance my “Promise to Pennsylvania”: legislative and political reform, tax and spending reform, and legal and labor law reform.

The State Government Committee has regulatory oversight over: the governor’s office, Pennsylvania Department of State, Department of General Services, Office of Administration, Office of General Counsel, the Executive Board, Board of Claims, Civil Service Commission, Council on the Arts, Historical & Museum Commission, Lobbying Disclosure Law Regulation Promulgation Committee, Office of Open Records, State Athletic Commission, and the State Ethics Commission.

This oversight has generated over 100 bills so far this session, including: elections, state procurement (including state leases and land sales), Right to Know, lobbying disclosure, conduct of public officials and employees, and various Constitutional amendments.

My goal as chair is to give each bill due consideration. That’s why we hold public hearings: To be sure bills receive proper deliberation. Last session, nearly 200 bills were referred to the Committee and about a third were reported to the full Senate.

A common question I’m asked is: “Why does it take so long to change government —even the simple things?” The answer comes from the Founding Fathers who rebelled against a king making decisions and they vested authority in three separate but equal branches of government:  checks and balances.

To be sure our Constitutional Republic would be especially deliberative, the Founders divided the Legislative branch into two chambers, who must agree before sending bills to the executive to be signed into law.  This deliberative process helps protect everyone’s rights — including those with opinions contrary to those of the majority (50% plus one).

Our Constitution protects inalienable rights that cannot be taken away by government.  It’s why some of the Founders insisted on a Bill of Rights. In a democracy, the majority is not restrained and can impose its will on the minority.

This leads to a big frustration of mine: groups who decide what constitutes “reform” and demand action on a particular bill. It’s “reform” because they say it is and don’t you dare disagree because then you’re anti-reform.

However, what’s “reform” to one may not be to another.  That’s why I ask questions about any “reform.”  Surprisingly, some have admitted they didn’t read the bill(s) they’re advocating.  Others don’t have the answers to questions about bills they insist are “reform.”  What was the process used to draft their legislation?  Who made decisions and how?  Why is their legislation “reform” while other bills aren’t?

Openness, transparency, and accountability are foundations of my work in the General Assembly.  Sometimes this takes time.  It’s always hard work and tedious details.

To quote an old advertisement, it’s important for the quality to go in before the name goes on.  This is especially true whenever anyone says they want “reform.”

— State Sen. Mike Folmer represents the 48th Senate District in the Pennsylvania State Legislature. Reach him at — State Sen. Mike Folmer represents the 48th Senate District in the Pennsylvania State Legislature. Reach him at www.senatorfolmer.com.