New rules spell out obvious miss in House ethics

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review/AP

If Pennsylvania legislators ever wonder why they might not be seen as completely trustworthy, they need only to look to their track record of how they govern others versus how they govern themselves.

The most infamous example is always the 2005 pay increase — passed at 2 a.m. without any comment or oversight despite more than doubling paychecks.

But that is hardly the only instance.

MORE:New Pa. House rules expand who can file sexual harassment complaints against lawmakers

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Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, speaks on the Pennsylvania House floor, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023 at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

For years, wresting information from lawmakers about their own expenses has been like pulling teeth. Even when it was provided, it often was incomplete or half-hearted. They also can avoid detailing expenses with a hefty per diem. Former lawmaker Chris Sainato of Lawrence County racked up $1.9 million in reimbursements over 19 years.

Likewise, legislators have a tendency to nod along in agreement at the suggestion of a gift ban. When it comes time to pass one, it never seems to get done. Maybe that’s because they are too busy taking trips to Wyoming with a skill game company or to Europe on the Pittsburgh Symphony’s dime.

New rules for the state House of Representatives show exactly how politicians will not just gerrymander the law for their own election and power but also gerrymander the law — drawing improbable shapes around simple ideas that ultimately protect them from consequences.

The rules were adopted Wednesday after Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, stepped down from his two-month speakership and handed the gavel to Rep. Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia. Among them was a new rule that should never have had to be spelled out.

It is now acknowledged that harassment can happen to people who don’t work for you. The language specifies that harassment is prohibited against “any individual.”

This comes after an SEIU lobbyist was unable to file ethics complaints against a lawmaker because previous rules demanded complainants be House members or employees.

This is utterly ludicrous as representatives’ work brings them into constant professional contact with, among others, senators, elected officials from other levels of government and taxpayers.

Pennsylvania has spent more than 10 years in a very public sex abuse spotlight because of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, followed by multiple grand jury reports regarding Catholic church dioceses. Changing the state constitution to better protect victims and allow them to find justice has been the work of the past five years.

And that’s without even mentioning the #MeToo movement. One of the most spectacular examples of that was the Bill Cosby case in Montgomery County.

No one in the House thought maybe cleaning up the language and closing the loopholes of their own guiding principles would be a good idea?

At least it’s done now — but not unanimously. The new rules passed along party lines, with Democrats in favor. Republicans say they aren’t strong enough.

The GOP members may have a point. There is always room for improvement, but you can’t wait for perfect when you are looking for accountability.

— From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review/AP.