Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A New State Senate Resource

The Pennsylvania State Senate is really stepping up to the plate. The Journals are being published faster -- they are up to January 17th now, just a few weeks behind. But the big news is that votes are posted daily. On the state senate's website, roll call vote are available day by day, and today's has been posted as well. I am impressed and salue the senate for these improvements in tranparency and public information. House, take note!

PA Legislation Cuts Out the Fat

The University of Baltimore has done a study on state legisation and policy aimed at curbing child obesity. Pennsylvania scores fairly well. We currently rank 21 in obesity prevalence and get an overall B in state efforts to control obesity. We rank 28 in childhood obesity prevalence but get an A in state efforts to control childhood overweight prevalence.

For the full report and all the pretty graphics go to:

September House Journals Amended Post

Note: Yesterday I posted an earlier version of this but realized I had made an error, missing one of the days the House was in session. This post is intended to replace the flawed one yesterday.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives was in full session for three days in September. As I promised I would do at the start of the fall session I am reporting mentions of legislative leaves and leaves of absence.

In reviewing the house journals I look in particular for discussion of issues. My apologies for any errors or misrepresentations. Page numbers refer to the page of the pdf files available on the state house’s website.

Sept. 25th (22 p.), leave of absence for Rep. Steil, Armstrong, and Stetler

Sept. 26th (14 p.) leaves for Rep. B. Smith (returns), TAylor, Rieger, Belardi, Civera (returns), Bishop, and Lancaster.
On pages 9 through 11 there is a discussion of homicides and police in Philadelphia

Sept. 27th (13 p.) leave of absence for Reps. Hennessey (returns), Maitland (returns), Nichol, Taylor, and Rieger. Leaves of absence for Lagrotta, Armstrong, Rooney. Legislative leave for Pallone
On pages. 9-10 there is discussion on the FAA sending more traffic for the Philadelphia Airport over Delaware County.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

September House Journals

NOTE: This post is in error. The House met for three days. An amended posting is being published on Jan. 31 to correct this one.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives was in full session for two days in September. As I promised I would do at the start of the fall session I am reporting mentions of legislative leaves and leaves of absence.

In reviewing the house journals I look in particular for discussion of issues. My apologies for any errors or misrepresentations. Page numbers refer to the page of the pdf files available on the state house’s website.

Sept. 25th (22 p.), leave of absence for Rep. Steil, Cruz, Tangretti Rieger and Belardi. Legislative leave for Argall, Armstrong, Grucela and Stetler

Sept. 26th (13 p.) leave of absence for Reps. Hennessey (returns), Maitland (returns), Nichol, Taylor, and Rieger. Leaves of absence for Lagrotta, Armstrong, Rooney. Legislative leave for Pallone
On pages. 9-10 there is discussion on the FAA sending more traffic for the Philadelphia Airport over Delaware County.

October Senate Journals

The Pennsylvania State Senate met in full session for five days in October. Journals are available for Oct 3 (18 p.), Oct 4 (12 p.), Oct 16 (30 p.), Oct 17 (18 p.), and Oct. 18 (21 p.). The Journal for the 18th indicated that the senate would return on Oct. 23rd but no journal has been released for that day, although the journal for Jan. 2, 2007 has been released so either they are going out of order or the senate did not meet again between Oct 18th and Jan 2nd. If other Oct issues are released I will write an addendum.

In reviewing the senate journals I look in particular for discussion of issues and also note senators who are away on legislative leave or have been granted a leave of absence. My apologies for any errors or misrepresentations. Page numbers refer to the page of the pdf files available on the state senate’s website.

Oct 3, legislative leave for Sen. Armstrong (returns later) and Sen. Conti
Part of the journal is devoted to memorials to the late Mayor O’Connor of Pittsburgh. Later Sen. Fumo gives a statement on Iraq. Sen. Hughes, perhaps inspired by Sen. Fumo, presents a brief life history of a young man murdered in Philadelphia.

Oct 4, legislative leave for Sen. Fumo, a leave of absence for Sen. Conti. The leaves for Sens. Armstrong and Conti are canceled. Try as I might I could not find a leave granted to Sen. Armstrong
Sen. Hughes presents a brief life history of another young man murdered.

Oct. 16, leave of absence for Sen. Rhoads. Legislative leave for Sens. Punt, Washington, Wozniak (returns), O’Pake and Musto.
Sen. Hughes again presents a brief life history a young woman murdered

Oct. 17 Legislative leave for Sens. Rhoades (returns), Hughes, Washington and Tartaglione
Sen. Fumo gives another speech on Iraq

Oct. 18 Legislative leaves for Sen. Madigan (returns), Washingon, D. White, Tomlinson, Lemmond, and Punt
On pages 14 and 15 there is a discussion on a bill that calls for charging a booking fee for someone convicted of a crime, as a way of financing centralized booking systems.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Carrie Budoff's First Politico Article

Carrie Budoff, who covered the Bob Casey / Rick Santorum race for the Philadelphia Inquirer, recently left the city to write for Politico, an online / print hybrid in DC. I've been watching for her byline and noticed it this evening. If I missed an earlier article, I apologize.

Check out "New Fear: Being 'George Allen-ed'"

State Rep Rick Taylor Hosts Open House

State Rep. Rick Taylor, from Montgomery County's 151st state house district, will host a grand opening of his constituent service office in Horsham from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 9. The office is at 701 Horsham Road, Suite 101 .

It will be a "working open house" and staff will be available for constituent service, to assist with forms and paperwork for state programs, and so on. Taylor says he is also eager to hear from voters in his district. Refreshments will be available.

A Brief Note on Bucks County Commissioners

It has been twenty years since Bucks County elected a new county commissioner. While it’s true that the three county commissioners face re-election every four years, all of the men and women who have taken office since 1987 were initially appointed, not elected. They have been re-elected every time they ran, but all were initially appointed. Current commissioner Charley Martin was appointed in 1995 to fill out Andy Warren’s term when Warren resigned to take a position at PennDOT. Warren was initially elected in 1979. Current commissioner Jim Cawley was appointed in 2004 to fill out Mike Fitzpatrick’s term when Fitzpatrick resigned after being elected to Congress. Fitzpatrick was appointed in 1994 to fill out Mark Schweiker’s term when Schweiker was elected lieutenant governor. Schweiker had been initially elected in 1987. Current commissioner Sandy Miller was appointed in 1991 to fill out Lucille Trench’s term when Trench resigned to join the Crime Victims Compensation Board. Miller and Trench are the only Democrats mentioned here. Miller is the niece of former county commissioner Adolph A. Andrews who was in office in the later 1960’s and early 1970’s, and she is now the longest serving commissioner in Bucks County history.

If you look at the numbers, though, you will see that all of the commissioners who initially took office since 1987 were appointed. The last commissioner who joined the board by election was Mark Schweiker, in 1987. This doesn’t necessarily mean anything; I just noticed it and thought it was interesting. The Bucks County commissioners race doesn’t show much sign of liveliness at the moment but I’ve heard rumblings that things might heat up. We’ll have to see.


“Best in Bucks: Fitzpatrick and Miller offer ideas and leadership,” Philadelphia Inquirer 11/03/1995

Callaway, Brian, “Democrats hopeful of ’07 victory in Bucks,” Morning Call 12/08/2006

Mark Schweiker,” Pennsylvania Governors Past to Present, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission

Scheid, Brian, “Count commissioner sets a record,” Bucks County Courier Times, 7/12/2006

Stark, Karl, “New commissioner draws on experience,” Philadelphia Inquirer 3/28/1991

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Legislators Forum with Curry, Shapiro, Taylor, and Washington

This past Thursday (Jan. 25th) I attended a Legislative Forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters (Abington/Cheltenham/Jenkintown) and the Eastern Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce at the Abington Township building. This was one of my favorite type of events – a number of candidates or officials attended, it was free, and it was just off a main drag so I could find it.

These are my rough notes. In some places I just have a list of things they discussed. As always, I apologize for any misinterpretations or errors.

Legislators attending from the Pennsylvania House and Senate:

Rep. Larry Curry (D-154)
Rep. Josh Shapiro (D-153)
Rep. Rick Taylor (D-151)
Sen. Leanna Washington (D-04)

The format involved each legislator answering four questions that had been distributed in advance. In some cases the questions provided background information or statistics. If I did not include this data there is an “abridged” note on the question. The audience could submit questions on provided 3x5 cards which would be vetted for duplication, sense, etc. Some personal observations are given at the end.

Q1:The current system for drawing legislative and congressional districts has been described as a system by which representatives select their voters rather than one in which voters select their representatives. For any changes to take effect in time for redistricting after the 2010 census, the process for making the required changes in the Pennsylvania constitution must being in the 2007-08 legislative session. Would you support amending the PA constitution to create a nonpartisan independent redistrict in commission to redraw district lines? How do you think such a commission should be selected? What criteria should it use to draw district lines?

JS: Thanks sponsors and others and the township for hosting. This is one of many reforms needed. It is an exciting and necessary process. Supports a nonpartisan committee. Should be selected from a large pool of retired judges, political science professors, etc., with members randomly selected from this pool. District lines. Should be compact and concise. Respect municipal boundaries, one person one vote, equal number of voters in districts.

LC: [shows a map of the 13th congressional district] We need a commission to do congressional districts. There is a commission for PA House and Senate districts. One man one vote, keep minority communities together, keep communities together, some political input is okay

RT: Thanks emccc and lwv. Congratulates JS on being named deputy speaker of the house. Nothing more important than one person one vote. His district is very diverse. Upper Dublin has four state representatives. Try to make the process as nonpartisan as possible.

LW: Thanks lwv. important that minority votes protected. Nonpartisan bureau. Don’t draw lines to protect incumbents.

Q2: [abridged] Do you think voter verifiable paper audit trails should be required for all voting systems in Pennsylvania? Would you support measures recommended by the governor’s bipartisan Election Reform Task Force to remove barriers to voting including “no excuse necessary” absentee voting and extension of the deadline for returning absentee ballots? Data on voter turnout show greater participation in states that allow Election Day registration. Would you support legislation to allow citizens to register and vote on Election Day?

LC: Paper trail. Signed onto Rep. Dan Frankel’s bill in last legislative session. Even a paper trail may not be sufficient. After Ohio presidential voting problems he is ready to go back to paper ballots only, but can’t get away from computers. Absentee – okay. Need a way to get emergency absentee ballots. At present you can’t get an absentee ballot after the Friday before the Tuesday election. Registration to vote on election day – could support but must use a provisional ballot to avoid voting in a number of places. Also something to be said for the responsibility of the electorate.

JS: yes, yes, and yes. Co-sponsor with Curry on legislation for a paper trail. Absentee – make it easier for people to vote. Yes on registration but more [missed this], more poll workers, something similar to a provisional ballot

RT: Agree with LC and JS. Encourage people to vote. Need a paper trail. In 2004 he was called out of the country on business at the last minute, could not vote.

LW: paper trail and have an independent agency. Thanks voters.

Q3: [abridged] Will you give health care reform a high priority in the new legislative session?

LW: Over a million Pennsylvanians don’t have health insurance. Asked senate to form a commission to study the problem. Waiting list to get into CHIP and Adult BASIC [state programs]. Need for universal care. LW has worked for this since being in the senate. None of the panel has seen the governor’s proposal

LC: went to governor’s briefing on new proposal. Mentions problem of hospital infections. Underutilization of facilities. Do advance planning.

JS: clearly #1 priority in upcoming session. Business costs going into health care not back into the business. [something about companies with fewer than 50 employees]. The governors proposal would cost $130 or $140 per month per employee. Make sure people live healthier. Smoking ban. The governor’s proposal will require 47 bills.

RT: Such an important issue. Health care costs killing businesses. Excited about the governor’s proposal. 47 bills, difficult to pull together. Currently costs $227 per person or $681 per family to cover the costs of the uninsured.

Q4: [abridged] Do you support a dedicated source of funding for public transit in Pennsylvania? How should it be funded?

RT: Absolutely. Dedicated funding is very important. Pennsylvania sees public transportation as important but never put money in it. Loss of federal funding and block grants, stop gap measures. Transportation Reform Commission report – must restructure performance and funding. Streamline funding. Instead of municipal funding have funding system. Look at sales tax and personal income tax as funding sources.

LW: Served on House Transportation Committee. Need to also look at bridges and high volume traveled roads. Dedicated funding for mass transit. Requested Senate Transportation committee to continue working in the issue

LC: 30 years ago as a commissioner worked on this. Don’t put a tax on cigarettes because if people stop smoking we lose revenue. Must sell public transit as important to areas that do not depend on it it.

JS: $760 million shortfall on mass transit funding for state. PA the only state with a major metropolitan transit system without dedicated funding. Must go to the state every year to ask for money. Doesn’t believe in raising taxes. Lease turnpike, invest the money in a low risk account, use revenue to fund mass transit, roads and bridge.

Questions from the audience

Q: lawsuit abuse, money going to lawyers not plantiffs, tort reform

JS: stem frivolous lawsuits but protect workers, etc. supported Fair Share Act – if 20% at fault, pay 20%, if 80% at fault, pay 80%. Also protect businesses and doctors.

LW: frivolous lawsuit issue important but also look at victims

LC: At the governor’s health care briefing the governor said take care of other things first, ease burden on doctors. LC introduced an amendment to have a commission [committee?] review cases before going to court. The PA Health Association didn’t like it.

Q: malpractice attorneys and HMOs making money but doctors leaving the state

LW: tough issues. We are paying attention but a tough issue

Q: municipal / local police able to use rader?

LC: experimental program. 7 community police departments will have radar for 2 years. Volunteered Cheltenham and hopes they are one of departments chosen for the experiment.

JS: supports. Hears a lot about speeding through neighborhoods. Got a grant ($10K?) to help police stop speeding. Traffic tickets not intended to raise revenue

RT: State roads use radar. Local roads don’t. Supports local use.

Q: reduce gun violence

LW: 2 pieces of legislation introduced last year. 1 gun / month / buyer (so married couples could buy two a month). People from other states come here to buy guns. Also 1 handgun / month for 1st class cities [this would be Philadelphia], but other cities can buy in. Controlling guns not the complete answer but part of it.

LC: member of Dwight Evans’ gun control caucus. NRA and others misreading the 2nd amendment

JS: mentions the Inquirer’s homicide counter. Kudos to LW for her work. 16, 18 year old kids, drop outs not taught right and wrong. Why do they think it is okay to shoot? Where did that thought process start? Must stop it. Abington police have DARE program in elementary schools. Youth aid panels, CAPT [Citizens and Police Together], PAL [Police Athletic League] help along with parents. Anger = guns = killing. Try to make sure they don’t have guns. Enforce gun laws. #1 responsibility legislature is to make sure the homeland and homes are safe.

Q: Because of state restrictions on increases of school budgets, some schools may be forced to cut things like art and music

JS: dollars and cents, pay teachers, schools funded, onerous federal mandates. When Gov. Rendell took office, the state paid an average of $0.30 per child, it is now $0.45, but in Abington the state only pays $0.12 per child. Most of Montgomery, Bucks, and Delaware counties in a similar situation. He is working to make it more equitable. The rest of the money is coming from higher property taxes.

LC: Arts already being cut in some Philadelphia charter schools. PSSA – teaching to the test. Federal funding for special education is only 12% of what is needed. Growing cost.

Q: Statewide restaurant smoking ban

LW: supports PA being a smoke free state. People have a right to smoke in their own home.

LC: support

Q: Given the link between libraries and lifelong learning, do you support full funding for libraries?

JS: yes

LW: yes

RT: Libraries made a difference in his life, but still trying to learn the state budget
Q: lower greenhouse emissions

JS: legislation to catalog greenhouse gas emissions. Higher auto emission standards in PA. reduce mercury. Where gasses are coming from in PA.

RT: co-sponsored this legislation. Also improve at home. Walkable communities, public transit, biking, hiking

LC: co-sponsor of this bill, too. Both Gov. Rendell and Sec. McGinty worked on the mercury issue.

Q: legislative reforms

LW: Senate doesn’t have proxy [ghost] voting. New young leadership in the senate, GOP, but must work together

JS: co-chair of reform commission, LC also on commission. Do away with proxy voting. Let public see legislation before legislators vote on it. Empower rank and file legislators. Will offer new House rules in March.

RT: Ran on openness and transparency

LW: Discussion in Senate on reforms also

LC: David Steil wants to lesson control of Rules committee.

Q: lobbying and lobbyist budget disclosure

JS: passed into law in last session

Q: Democratic majority in house House but a Republican speaker

JS: [provides a history of how this happened. Blogger’s synopsis – D’s could not get enough votes on a D so Bill DeWeese, leading Democrat stepped aside and JS suggested Dennis O’Brien, a Republican representative from Philadelphia who did get elected]

LW: applauds JS for the job he did. A force to be watched

Closing statements

RT: Taking care of families. Affordable college. Property tax relief. Taking care of elderly parents. Environment.

LC: Early childhood education for kids with disabilities. Insurance for certain diseases. Transportation. Crime and violence

JS: Thanks everyone and LW for kind words. Able to come together, Republicans and Democrats, to accomplish things. Build bridges and bring people together. Tackle problems.

LW: Chair of Youth and Aging committee. Nurses, certified nursing assistants, nursing care facilities. Transportation. Wants to hear from voters.

Personal observations: I have seen all of these legislators speak at least one other time but this may have been the best performance that I have heard for all of them. Certainly Shapiro seemed very comfortable and statesmanlike. Of all four he seemed most knowledgeable on the issues. However, Shapiro saying he will be brief is like Rendell saying he will be on time; don’t count on it. The moderator prodded the timekeeper more than once to keep Shapiro within time limits. Fortunately Shapiro is informative and not simply long-winded. He provides good background and context for issues and situations. Taylor has only been in office for three weeks. He did not try to pretend experience he doesn’t have, but did speak up on issues and situations he had immediate knowledge of. Curry was referred to as the “dean” of the group. Washington is in her first full term in the senate. She won a special election to fill the remainder of Allyson Schwartz’s term when Schwartz was elected to the Congress. They all seemed genuinely pleased to be there and sincere in wanting to answer questions from the electorate.

Many thanks to the sponsoring organizations and the elected officials for having this type of event.

Friday, January 26, 2007

July House Journals

All issues of the Pennsylvania State House Journals for July have been released. The full House was in session on three days, July 1 (92 p.), July 2 (22 p.), and July 5 (3 p.). The issues for the 2nd and the 5th had no extensive discussion in them. The 92 pages of print for July 1 consisted primarily of the text of lengthy bills and amendments. However, there were a few interesting or noteworthy discussions therein. The pages numbers referenced are for the pdf versions available on the state house website (see link above) and not the printed page numbers.

pages 8-9 cost of cigarettes
pages 34-26 cost of prescription drugs
pages 42-28 architectural plans, construction regulations, and a brief discussion of the meanings of the words "may" and "shall"
pages 49-53 taxes in Philadelphia. noteworthy quote from Rep. Cohen on p. 51: "I remain unthrilled by the idea of socking people who drive through Philadelphia with more costs."
pages 72-73 tax code and business tax relief
pages 88-92 lobbying reform, some interesting statements but you should read that section yourself. Note where one of the representatives blames the difficulty of passing this legislation on the senate.

I will confess to not understanding much of what is presented. It jumps around a lot. These are just the things that stood out to me.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

NARAL Annual Dinner

From the inbox:

NARAL held it's annual dinner this evening. The program featured speakers Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA) representing the class of 2006.

weekly legislative update

Again, I'm a day early but the legislature is in recess until January 29th so I know there won't be any activity tomorrow, unless its another one of those items passed months ago and only now being announced. The Pennsylvania state legislature was in session a few days this week but no bills were passed. The senate shuffled a few off to committee. The senate also introduced and adopted a resolution naming next week Catholic Schools Week. There is a note attached saying see Senate Journal for remarks. I would love to, but the last issue of the Senate Journal that has been released is Oct. 18th. I think it would be wonderful if the rest of October would be released so I could write up the October Senate Journals post. The Senate often runs a few months behind so unless we can all try to remember, in late March, to look at the January 23rd issue for the remarks on Catholic Schools Week, those remarks will have been said solely for the benefit of those on the Senate floor or the visitors' gallery that day. And, of course, reproduced for any relevant campaign literature.

Even so, they are doing a much better job that the Pennsylvania House, whose Journals normally run SIX MONTHS behind. Have I complained about this before? I think I have. Every time I see a note on a House bill or resolution that says "see remarks in House Journal" it comes to mind that half a year will probably pass before I will see those remarks. They are doing a little better recently. The three issues for July were just released, as was the issue for Sept. 25th (there were apparently none in between). I will try to have the July House Journal post for you this weekend or early next week.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Even More on PA House Legislative Reform

Those intrepid chairs of the Pennsylvania House bipartisan committee on legislative reform say they are sincere in wanting citizen input. They’ve even set up an email for us to send our suggestions to: reform (at) Remember, don’t ramble, send concrete ideas, and be nice. We want to encourage this sort of thing.

Were that not enough both chairs, Josh Shapiro of Montgomery County (D-153) and David Steil of Bucks County (R-31) will be on the PCN Call-In Show on Tuesday, Jan. 29. It airs live at 7:00 p.m. and is usually re-broadcast a number of times throughout the next few days, as well as posted on the PCN site so you can watch it online a day or so later. I plan to watch one of the re-broadcasts (in my house adults don’t get control of the tv until 9) and take notes. Hopefully there will be time to clean them up a bit before posting. But if you want to call in and ask questions you have to do so during the 7 p.m. live broadcast. Phone number on the PCN website,

What is a County Controller?

Every four years those of us in the suburbs vote for county row offices and, by and large, we have no idea what these offices are or what the people in them do. In an effort to understand these offices myself, and also to present that information to interested readers, I will be looking at selected county row offices, how they are described in Bucks, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties, who holds those offices and if they are up for re-election this year.

Let's start with the county controller. Before looking at the job description, let me add that the county controller in all three counties has another job elsewhere, so it is likely that the controller's position is considered part-time.

In Bucks County, we find this general description on the county's website:

An elected row officer, the controller is the chief financial officer and chief auditor. He exercises general supervision and control over the county's financial affairs. He is authorized to examine the accounts and official acts of all officers or other persons who collect, receive, or disperse the county's money. The controller sits on the retirement board, salary board and prison oversight board. He is the final, independent check on the fiscal activities of the executive and legislative branches of county government as well as the independently elected officers and courts.

The Bucks County controller's office has a fuller description.

Delaware County's controller description is lengthy and detailed. If the topic interests you, please read through it. It includes a broad description, "responsible for overseeing and controlling the expenditure of county funds, ..." and goes into detail, including maintaining travel expense reimbursement records, develop and maintain time and leave reports for all employees, operate and maintain a central payroll system, conduct audits, timely payment of bills, encumbering of funds, retirement board duties, and petty cash funds. It is, of the three counties, the most specific.

Montgomery County's controller has, perhaps, the most general job description. In it's entirety it reads:

The Controller has general supervision over all fiscal affairs of the County and of the accounts of all officers collecting or disbursing County Funds. This includes maintaining payroll records of all Country employees and approving the payment of all invoices charged against the County, except those fees of jurors, witnesses, court criers and tipstaves. Complete records are maintained by the Controller's office detailing all fiscal operations of the County. In addition, the Controller conducts independent audits of County departments, Row Offices, tax collectors and hotels which generate fees and interest monies to the County government. The office maintains all accounting records for the Employees Retirement Fund and acts as a liaison between the County and the investment advisors for the Retirement Fund investment portfolio. The Controller is a member of the Salary Board, Depository Board, Investments Board and is Secretary of Employees' Retirement Board.

To me that sounds like a full-time job, but what do I know.

Currently, the controllers for all three counties are Republicans. Bucks County Controller Raymond F. McHugh is an attorney. Delaware County controller Cynthia Felzer Leitzell is a certified public accountant. Montgomery County controller Eric Kretschman (I could not find a bio on the county website so the link on his name goes to the county GOP bio) is a partner and vice president of acquisitions at a real estate and acquisitions firm. His educational background is in political science.

Only Montgomery County's Eric Kretschman is up for re-election this year.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

SOTU and 2 links

Like perhaps many of you I watched the State of the Union address this evening. Atrios made it much easier by posting the text of the president’s speech at 9:01 so I could read along as he spoke. People who are far more knowledgeable and informed than I am will be talking and writing about this for days if not weeks and I encourage you to pay attention to them; I have little to say about it. The things that caught my eye were that Sen. Barack Obama was sitting in front of Sen. Hillary Clinton and I think that was Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. next to her. Sens. John McCain and Arlen Specter were sitting near each other. Was it just me or did Condoleezza Rice look like she was doing an impression of Snoopy doing an impression of a vulture? As a personal note it was great to see Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi sitting behind the president.

For your amusement until blog posts resume tomorrow night I offer these two items:

The Politico, at, has been officially launched. If you want to follow the congress, the presidential race, DC political gossip, and the like, give it a looksee.

PoliticsPA has the text of Jonathan Newman’s testimony before the PA Senate’s Law and Justice Committee. Interesting stuff.

Monday, January 22, 2007

George Ballard for President?

You've heard that Hillary Clinton has announced, Bill Richardson has announced, Barack Obama is exploring the possibility. But have you heard of George Ballard? I ran across him recently; he was working the public location I happened to be. He says he is running for president, as a Democrat. He ran in 2004, too. Not familiar with him? He didn't do so well last time around, even in his home state of New Jersey. So far he doesn't have a website, and he doesn't google well so it is hard finding out anything about him. We had a lively discussion about a number of things; his speciality seems to be economics. He thinks the country is ready for an African American president but that it will be him and not Obama. I think Obama might be a little ahead of him in fundraising, but if Ballard wants to tilt at windmills, I say more power to him.

Legislative Reform Commission Members

From today's issue of the ever-informative Capitol Ideas, we find this:

New state House Speaker Dennis O'Brien, R-Philadelphia, has named his 24-member (got that? 24 freaking members.) of his Legislative Reform Commission. Here are the candidates for gridlock, by party.
For the GOP: Reps. David Argall, Kerry Benninghoff, Jim Cox, Craig Dally, Glen Grell, Jerry Nailor, Brad Roae, Sam Rohrer, Carole Rubley, Curt Schroder, David Steil and Michael Vereb.
For the Democrats: Reps. Mark Cohen, Bob Freeman, Tim Mahoney, Kathy Manderino, Phyllis Mundy, Chris Sainato, Josh Shapiro, Tom Tangretti, W. Curtis Thomas, Greg Vitali, Don Walko and Jewell Williams.
Shapiro and Steil will chair the commission.
Let the cat-herding begin.

So if one of these reps is yours, send your suggestions directly to him or her.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

A Clash of Titans?

The Montgomery County commissioners race could be the suburban political fight of the year. Bruce Castor, county District Attorney, has already announced his intention to run against the incumbent Republican commissioners in the primary. Now Democrats are trying to persuade former county commissioner and former congressionman Joe Hoeffel to join incumbent Democratic commissioner Ruth Damsker on the ballot. According to today's Inquirer ("Two Big Names in Montco May Vie," by Tom Infield):

"I have been telling them no, but I've been talking to them because they're friends of mine," Hoeffel said. "My position is I'm not running, but I don't want to speculate."

PA in the WSJ

Here again are the PA-related or otherwise interesting stories that jumped out at me from this week's Wall Street Journals. This isn't intended as a complete list, only those items I noticed.

PA Businesses

Uh-oh, Philadelphia’s Pepper Hamilton law firm plays center stage in the article entitled “Suit Alleges Big Law Firm Let a Ponzi Scheme Unfold,” by Paul Davies (1/18). This is the sort of publicity no one wants.

PA Politicians

Democrat John Murtha (PA-12) is in the news again. The last paragraph of “Groundwork for a War Debate,” by David Rogers (1/17) starts with this:

Thus, Rep. John Murtha (D, Pa.) who will manage the Iraq spending bill this spring, is convinced he can get bipartisan support even as he proposes to add restrictions that could impede the planned deployment of four more Army combat infantry brigades into Iraq. And rather than cutting into funds, lawmakers could add more money to defense bills, but then attach readiness requirements that must be met for it to be used.

It is only a mention but “Health-Insurance Gap Surges as Political Issue,” by Deborah Solomon and David Wessel (1/19) includes this sentence “On Wednesday, Pennsylvania’s governor became the latest to offer a way for cover the uninsured in his state.“

Other PA

I don’t normally read the letters section but Friday, the 18th, featured letters from two Pennsylvanians.

In the Saturday/Sunday issues (1/19) we find an article by Laura Meckler entitled “The High Price of Keeping Dad Alive” that recounts the story of a family in Cheltenham (Montgomery Co). A son donates half his liver to his father as one of a growing number of “living donors.” This is not a decision I think any young adult should have to make.

Non-PA but interesting

“An Immigration Raid Aids Blacks – For a Time,” by Even Perez and Corey Dade (1/17). This is an interesting look at what happened to the poultry processing plants (or at least one of them) that lost a large percentage of their workers after an IMS raid last September.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Off Topic: Renewing an Old Acquaintance

Tonight I sat down with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a couple of decades or more, the Laundromat. This evening I checked to see if the clothes needed more time in the dryer and found them still very damp. I pushed the “start” button and nothing happened. Tried it again. Nothing. Checked to make sure the door was closed, and the regular things you’d do in this situation. Nothing. So Mr. J got out the flashlight and our household appliances repair book and I took the wet sheets and socks and headed out for the local laundry. Unfortunately the closest one was closed so I hit the main drag and headed south. A few miles down the road I found another one that was open later. For the first four years of our married life Mr. J and I spent most Sunday afternoons with a roll of quarters and some reading or homework, listening to the hum and rumble of industrial strength washers and dryers. The elderly attendant loved us, well, Mr. J anyway. On the rare times when he wasn’t with me she always asked about him and told me how good he was to me. I hate to think what she told him on the rare times when I wasn’t there. I have happy memories of those Sunday afternoons. We could (and did) wash every item of clothing we owned in 2 or 3 loads. Somehow the addition of small people to our household has geometrically increased the amount of laundry.

So, into the Laundromat I went, with a full clothesbasket and a pocketful of quarters. There were a few other people there plus the attendant but it wasn’t as lively as I thought it might be on a Saturday night in an area with a lot of twenty-somethings living there. Aren’t laundries supposed to be pickup spots these days? Prices had gone up but not as much as I expected and I overpaid for time on the dryer. Forty minutes later I was back home. Mr. J might be able to fix our current dryer but chances are, given that it was in the house when we bought it 13 years ago, it will have to be replaced, and that will probably require an electrician. There are a number of factors that make this situation an inconvenience as opposed to a disaster. We have the money for a new dryer and the electrician if needed, as well as some flexibility in work schedules to be home for deliveries and so on. We had done most of the laundry for the household already. Maybe another half hour stop at the Laundromat tomorrow. We have a working vehicle so while the laundry within walking distance was closed I could easily get to another one. We keep a separate change basket for quarters so it was easy to come up with a few dollars worth. It is a two parent household so I didn’t have to take the kids with me or scrounge emergency child care. We have extra sheet sets so it wasn’t absolutely necessary that things be dried tonight. There are two or three neighbors we are certain would let us use their dryer if we wanted to, but that gets tricky because I’d need to monopolize it for several hours over a week.

Were I a single parent or if we didn’t have a car or some savings or any number other things, this would be devastating. It is important for those of us with numerous cushions in life to recognize this and think of how things are for those without. It is those personal safety nets that keep some afloat while others sink and having them is more luck than all of us would like to believe.

Friday, January 19, 2007

weekly legislative update

Not much happened in the state legislature this week, although a few resolutions were introduced and passed on the 17th. The only one in the house was this:

Resolution No. 8 By Representatives DeWEESE, McCALL and S. H. SMITH. Printer's No. 2. A Resolution adopting as temporary rules for the House of Representatives the Rules of the House of Representatives (2005-2006), further providing for standing committees and subcommittees and for voting; and making editorial changes.

However a few older things were reported and that always catches my eye. This bill was laid on the table and removed from the table back in July and October.

HB 1554 Printer's No. 3151. An Act amending the act of July 19, 1979 (P.L.130, No.48), known as the Health Care Facilities Act, prohibiting third-party guarantees of payment for admission; imposing powers and duties upon the Department of Health; and imposing penalties for violation.

The Senate passed a resolution on Jan. 2, naming some senators to a committee to make arrangements for the governor's inaugural. I was a little surprised at at least one of these names.

Introduced and adopted, Jan. 2, 2007
Senator Joseph B. Scarnati, III, Chairman
Senator Dominic F. Pileggi
Senator Robert D. Robbins
Senator Robert M. Tomlinson
Senator Michael L. Waugh
Senator Jane Clare Orie
Senator Robert C. Wonderling
Senator John R. Gordner
Senator Michael W. Brubaker
Senator Christine M. Tartaglione
Senator John N. Wozniak
Senator Lisa M. Boscola
Senator Sean F. Logan
Senator Jim Ferlo
Senator Wayne D. Fontana
Senator Andrew Dinniman

Maybe next week will be a little more active.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Gov. Rendell on the PCN Call-In Program

These are rough notes. The program is currently available on PCN's website ( and for those interested in more detail or wish to check something I have presented here should be sure to view the full program. As always, my apologies for any errors or misrepresentations. A number of items mentioned may not be familiar to readers so I have added in links where it seemed useful or a link was easy to find. These are my additions and do not necessarily reflect the governor's opinions.

PCN Call-In Program

January 17, 2007

Gov. Ed Rendell

Rosemary Greco, PA Health Care Reform Director

Host: Larry Kasper

[Opens with shot of First Lady and Federal Judge Midge Rendell singing with Jon Bon Jovi]

Q: How did Mrs. Rendell feel about that?

ER: She actually loved it. It was ER’sidea. I’ve known Bon Jovi since I was head of DNC. He’s a very compassionate guy. Active in Habitat for Humanity. Song "Who Says You Can’t Go Home," video filmed in Philly about Habitat for Humanity. ER says wife a great singer and asks if she can sing with bon Jovi. ER had to convince Midge to do it. She practiced for 6 weeks. Greco friend of Midge and can attest that Midge doesn’t do anything short of perfection. They hadn’t practiced because Bon Jovi’s plane late. But they sang together like clockwork.

Host: Tell us about some of the other acts

ER: Every performer other than Bon Jovi was homegrown PA talent. [He lists them.] So that was the theme of the entertainment. Had country and disco and rock.

Host: How were funds raised

ER: Ticket sales 5000 sold and corporate donations allowed since not a political event, inaugural committee a 501c4. [tape blipped out for a minute or two] Food network chef made 7000 hors d’oeuvres from 3 Pennsylvania products, venison, apples, and mushrooms. We are the #1 mushroom producing state in the country. Highlighted Pennsylvania products.

Host: You have highlighted health care waste

ER: We are joined by Rosemary Greco, since 2003 head of office of Pennsylvania Health Care Reform, former CEO of CoreStates Bank, then had her own company. The 1st component, reduce health care costs, since 2000 70% increase in insurance premiums. Crushes PA businesses, forces them to drop health care. Identified cost factors. One is hospital acquired infections. It costs rate payers 3.5 billion dollars to treat hospital acquired infections, over 2000 of these resulted in death. A few hospitals have pilot projects to reduce infections. Other countries have these. The 2nd component is to cover all Pennsylvanians. In fall ER signed “cover all kids” plan, which will provide coverage all kids in 3 years. That leaves 800,000 adults uninsured. Under the proposed plan small businesses can provide coverage for $135 / month / employee. Make health care available to those 800,000. 1) Increase cigarette tax by 10 cents a pack. 2) Extend taxes to smokeless tobacco and cigars 3) Access over half a billion dollars a year in federal funds for the poor 4) use existing lines move people to new health care program from smaller programs 5) larger companies can join for a larger amount.

Host: RG, what is your role

RG: About 3 years ago the Governor calls and says people all across the state says health care too expensive. Gov charged us to follow the money, where is cost, where is money, also ensure a healthy Pennsylvania for all Pennsylvanians. Saw several areas of inefficiency. Have some of the finest hospitals and health care providers in the world, but still have rising costs. This plan Prescription for Pennsylvania

Host: You will need legislative approval

ER: We may need as many as 47 pieces of legislation, plus regulations, etc. This is necessary for PA, especially businesses competing with foreign business paying nothing for health care. Every Pennsylvanian has a right to be covered with health insurance

Caller: next take a look at failure of electrical deregulation.

ER: as rate caps come off there is an increase in costs; we need to keep those down

Follow-up: health care. In Pittsburgh during campaign, ER said if the legislature would bring you a single payer bill you would sign it. Thinks single payer best way to get health care at least cost, why not lead on that

ER: He would sign if legislature brought him one. Single payer would not be the least expensive; in PA we might have to double the personal income tax to pay for it. Plus single payer does not address the cost factors that are built into the health care costs

RG: In PA over 92% of people are insured, so single payer not as efficient. The federal government needs to step up and solve problem for the country as a whole. It is difficult for one state to do single payer.

Caller: [a question about her son’s employment with Gamesa]

ER: Don’t know facts of case. Gamesa, a Spanish wind energy company, has created jobs and will create more. He asks the woman to send a fax to the station and they will get it to ER. Gamesa have been very responsive. They have unionized, represented by steel workers. [blogger note:]

Host: contact the governor directly, contact info at end of program

Caller: 2 questions. What is your reaction to Barack Obama’s potential presidential run. Do you have presidential ambitions or will you serve your full term?

ER: I made it clear during campaign that will be governor for 4 years. I’m not interested in being vice president, always been his own boss, not very good at working for anybody. Didn’t do a great job in 2000 as DNC chair because had to work for Gore campaign. After gubernatorial term in 2011 might consider other office or cabinet post. Barack Obama is extraordinarily bright and charismatic, but wish he had waited. He has only been a senator for a year. Needs more experience with domestic and foreign policy. Better prepared in the future. Man of great capabilities. Terrific personality. The idea of anAfrican American president may have been foreign 10 years ago but we have made a lot of progress.

Caller: great supporter of Leg Up Farm in York County, a program for horse riding for the disabled. Get off the ground this year?

ER: great program. We’ll consider it if the York reps and senators bring it up. [blogger's note:

Caller: state income tax and solution for health care . casinos and gaming coming. Are you aware that another state (Nevada) has no state income tax because of gaming? Can gaming revenue replace state tax? PA taxed up to the max

ER: ER couldn’t do that if he wanted. Legislation creating gaming said it will be devoted to property tax relief. Of the 42 states with income tax, PA has 41st lowest. You may be thinking of city wage tax which when combined with income tax is a lot. In Philly, gaming monies going to city wage tax instead of property tax.

Follow up: Solve health care crisis by having volunteer retired doctors and dentists provide health care to retired people. Caller has list of volunteers

ER: excellent idea, please send list

Caller: [Personal situation. Caller is a hard worker but very ill, diabetes, long list of illnesses. Earns $8 / hour. Too poor to pay health care, too rich for state program.]

ER: Probably eligible for adult basic health care but there is a long waiting list for it.

RG: Because of caller’s wage level he could apply for the proposed new program and pay as an individual. Currently he is probably eligible for significant discount, $10 or $20 for health care including prescriptions

Caller: Caller is a family practitioner and his wife is an obstetrician. Wife’s malpractice up to $100,000 /year. Any relief?

ER: He hopes the caller’s wife is getting MCARE abatement. Doctors must have private coverage, 500,000 but catastrophic 500,000 through state if in 4 most challenged specialities (obstetrics, neurosurgery, 2 others), get 100% reduction in MCARE costs. No other state given that kind of relief. Done here with help of legislation and judicial reforms

RG: the governor requests for 5 approvals for changes in court case, sooner rather than later, greatly encourage mediation, quicker relief cut legal costs. Mcare abatement makes a big difference for all physicians in the state. All physicians get 50% abatement.

ER: Physicians that take Medicaid patients get extra money from the state.

Host: ER mentioned prospect of smaller legislature

ER: The first step is the formation of a bipartisan committee to study what appropriate size of legislature is for PA. PA has more senators and representatives than California which has a larger population. Do this in line with redistricting and term limits, must amend constitution.

Host: Why bring up term limits in an inaugural speech

ER: We have some great legislators doing a great job, some mistakes such as pay raise, but we need citizen soldiers not those who view it as a career. People should vote their conscience and not worry about losing jobs. There is a tremendous problem with pension costs. If legislators only serve for 8 years then won’t need pension.

Host: reforming political process in general

ER: votes spoke loud and clear about need for reform in legislative process

Caller: [specific case]

ER: takes his name, will call inspector general and ask why complaint not followed

Caller: Will your plan differentiate between employers with bad or good programs? Health safety and welfare, [something about an ethanol plant in Lancaster County]

ER: will follow up

RG: respond to first question. Several things in Prescription for Pennsylvania that will address rising costs of health care insurance premiums. Give insurance commission power to review rates, and discriminatory factors, also health saving accounts, but they usually have high a deductible and not much info on how to spend money, transparency in quality of procedures needed

Caller: ethanol production plants, Can we use brownfields as sites of ethanol plants, keenow (?) township plants, maybe use bethelem steel site

ER: We don’t control where private industry decides build a plant. Encourages all businesses to go into brownfields. Haven’t had too much trouble siting ethanol plants. For example Clearfield County has a $250 Million capital investment with an ethanol plant. The big problem with ethanol plants is the smell. Most new developers say smell problem controlled and dealt with.

Host: what raw materials do we have here in PA that relate to renewable energy

ER: We import corn, trying to step up corn production. Cellulosic ethanol, wood chips, wood fiber, agricultural waste and saw chips. If that can be developed we can be the ethanol producing capital of the US. Wind energy, PA has the highest elevation of any state east of the Mississippi. Biodiesel. Soy a good stock for biodiesel. We have a lot of soy. Landfills. We have a lot of landfills. Landfill gases now being used to product energy. One landfill plant powering 45,000 homes

Caller: with casinos up and running, when is prop tax elimination up and running?

ER: If caller a senior and a retirement income less than $43,000 will get at end of current school year will get a rebate check. Only 3 out of 12 casinos up and running. Also curbs placed on school district budgets unless they are not responsible for increased costs (such as federal mandates).

Caller: personal health care situation

ER: programs available

RG: gives specific program information

Caller: malpractice. Capping lawsuits?

ER: caps in place in some states, in some of those insurance rates are lower, but Florida has caps and also has the highest insurance rates in nation. People can no longer chose venue of their case, also must have certificate of merit from physician before filing

Caller: property tax relief, will you increase sales tax to lower property tax

ER: current plan lowers property tax for seniors. Must do tax shifting, raise one tax and lower property tax. Sales tax most appropriate. Maybe raise the sales tax a full point

Caller: what are your political ambitions after your second term as governor is over?

ER: would love to be in a cabinet of a good pres, secretary of transportation or energy. No desire to run for president. Too hard to run for president

Caller: What is plan for PA to put high tech jobs in low income areas

ER: we need a whole mix of jobs. High incomes in high tech jobs. We can direct some of those jobs into low income areas.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Pennsylvania State House Journals for June

The Pennsylvania House was very busy in June. It was in session for 16 days. Here are the days for which a House Journal was produced and how many pages that issues was: June 5 (17), June 6 (55), June 7 (12), June 12 (32), June 13 (28), June 14 (193), June 15 (3), June 19 (18), June 20 (14), June 21 (71), June 22 (42), June 26 (45), June 27 (37), June 28 (68), June 29 (37), and June 30 (81). That’s a lot of pages taken all together. I don’t read but skim. Much of the page space is taken up by reproducing the text of bills or amendments being considered, some of these are quite lengthy, running tens of pages in a few cases. Since a list of bills introduced, shuffled, and passed are distributed in daily emails (and I compile the list of bills passed into the weekly legislative updates), what I look for is discussion or interesting things said. I won’t claim to even read all the discussion, often just looking at the subject of the bills being discussed.

Please note that the last of the House Journals for June wasn’t released until after the first of the year. That means it is taking SIX MONTHS to find out what is happening in the house and how representatives are voting. Page numbers are usually the page numbers of the pdf files on the House’s web site. In some of the individual quotes I am working from printed pages and those are numbered in one long stretch throughout the year or session and so don’t match up to the pdf page numbers, as those begin anew with each issue. It is hard to keep it all straight over the several days it takes to get through all the issues for a month. That being said there was only really anything to look at on these days and on these topics. I didn’t catch everything but this will provide some idea what the house was up to.

June 6, on pages 34-55 there is discussion of the defense of marriage act. A number of our elected officials felt a need to speak on this, with varying degrees of lucidity and sense, depending on your personal viewpoint.

June 12, on pages 13-22 find a pithy and thorough debate on executing the “mentally retarded.” A discussion of a bill on bullying took up pages 22-23, and the Praxis text for teachers on pages 27-32.

June 13, pages 20-24 a discussion on part-time work. On page 17 future speaker Dennis O’Brien makes an impassioned speech on protecting police officers.

June 14 – yes, 193 pages, much of it on property taxes. This is one of those very frustrating situations where the legislature discusses a topic, votes on some aspect of it, votes on something else, then goes back to the original topic, and repeats the process several times. It is maddening to try and keep track of what they are talking about. Property tax takes up around page 54, through 68, again on 96-102 (with lengthy bills in between)

June 21 – pages 11-19 voice over Internet protocol, pp. 35-37 museum funding, 61-63, money from the tobacco settlement, 65-69, back to voice over Internet protocol

June 22 – pages 6-8, the Municipalities Financial Recovery Act, pp. 11, then on and off through most of the rest of the issue, lobbyist reform. See some quotes below.

June 25, pp. 17-18 worksman’s compensation, pp. 25-27 scholarships, pp. 28-32 health care programs.

June 27, pp. 11 onward (did not catch ending page), public welfare code and medication, pp. 14-18, wine

June 28 – pp. 38-51 English as the official language. The discussion here got a little wild, pp. 56-61, Insurance law

June 29 – pp. 14-20 uniform trust act, pp. 21-26 cost of cigarettes, 31-35 tax and gaming and parks

June 30 – pp. 6-7 child support, 16-30? Health care insurance and auditing, pp. 45-48 and then off and on throughout, minimum wage.

One thing to consider when reviewing some of the discussion items below is what do we want the House Journals to be? Are they solely concerned with the legislative duties of the house? Should every word said be recorded? A lot of space is taken up with introducing guests, canned statements regarding items being commemorated, and personal notes like the following from June 13 (printed page 1222):

Mr. Speaker, my wife, Jane, and I have some joyous news. We were blessed with out fourth grandchild – I know I do not look that old – on Saturday, who arrived [I am excising information on the child’s name, parent’s name, other grandchildren’s names, weight, length, name of hospital, etc. for privacy considerations]. I will note that with this addition, I am still far behind Representative Micozzie, but I think I am ahead of my archrival, Tom Tangretti, and that is really what counts. So I would like to say to all four of my grandchildren, Pappy Fleagle loves you , and I will see you soon, babes.

This prompted a few other grandchildren announcements. Now, I had a grandfather who thought I was the neatest thing since sliced bread (never spoken, always understood) and left me with the firm belief that grandfathers, and mine in particular, are among the wonderful people in the world. No doubt “Pappy Fleagle” is devoted to his family and that is to his credit. But do these announcements need to be made on the House floor and preserved for all to read? I could do without.

Sometimes, though, there is an effort to stifle debate. On June 22, p. 1547 of the print version Mr. S Smith asks that debate on an amendment to lobbying reform be limited to leaders instead of to everyone. This is part of a suspension of the rules. The rules are suspended a lot and it seems to mean different things at different times. Also note this comment by Mr. Samuelson

A further parliamentary inquiry. The majority leader said this was distributed yesterday. Yesterday I got one that is 8343, and it is marked “preliminary draft.” The 8417 that is on the board right now, that was distributed about an hour ago, maybe 90 minutes ago. Is that the one we are going to be voting on, the one from today, not the one from yesterday?

On the next page we have this exchange:

Mr. Leach: There have been a number of questions asked, and then when the person who hass ked the question was called up to the podium, there was a private discussion, which the membership at large was not privy to, and I am very interested in what bills are in order or what amendments are in order and what amendments are not and why, so I am wondering as we debate the disclosure bill, if the Chair would disclose the answers to those questions

The Speaker pro tempore: Currently we are on the motion to suspend, but if anyone would like to come up the podium and have their questions answers, we will be more than glad to do so.

Mr. Leach: Mr. Speaker, I am asking if there is a method, by which the questions can be answered publicly on the record, on television, and so all the members can heard, not just the two or three who are invited up for a private conversation?

The Speaker pro tempore: Not at this time or right now, Mr. Leach.

On page 1549 Mr. Samuelson asks if he can repeat what he was told at the podium, to place it into the record and get confirmation that his information is correct. He is told he can. Mr. Vitali protests his microphone being turned off.

I understand that tempers can flare and it is good to have elected officials who are passionate about items like executions and minimum wage and property taxes, but can we hope for a little civility, such as not turning off each others microphones, and for open discussion and debate?

And, finally, I leave you with this from page 1334 of June 14, where Rep. Bill DeWeese says “To use the honorable gentleman from Upper St. Clair’s specific word ‘duplicative,’ which is a fancy way to say duplicate, God bless America, I think if we just go along with my friend’s effort, we are just going to have the same debate all over again.”

Do I read this correctly? Did Bill DeWeese just comment on someone using, possibly incorrectly, a polysyllabic word? Pot, call Kettle.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Deputy? Dawg!!!!!

PennLive has an article ("AP Interview: O'Brien reveals details of 'deal' over speakership," by Mark Scolforo) saying a few startling things. One is that new Speaker of the Pennsylvania House Dennis O'Brien agreed not to raise money for candidates from either party. The other involves Montco wunderkind Rep. Josh Shapiro:

Michael Piecuch, formerly a House Judiciary Committee attorney, is O'Brien's chief of staff, and a second-term Democrat from Montgomery County, Rep. Josh Shapiro, will fill the newly created post of deputy speaker, O'Brien said. Shapiro recruited O'Brien to run for speaker against Rep. John M. Perzel. O'Brien referred to Shapiro several times as "my new best friend" and said Shapiro will help him get input from rank-and-file members. He said numerous questions remain about the new power structure and that there will be a "sorting-out process."
What's next? Will he be leaping tall buildings in a single bound?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Bruce Almighty, Part V

It's official. Republicans Bruce Castor and Melissa Murphy Weber are tossing their hats into the ring and running as a team for Montgomery County Commissioner. This is no doubt less than welcoming news to incumbent Republican Montgomery County Commissioners Jim Mathews and Tom Ellis.

PoliticsPA has the letter Weber and Castor sent out to announce their formal intentions. The website isn't up yet but when it is the URL looks to be

Forum on Media Ownership

From the inbox

Media Tank is hosting a Public Forum on Media Ownership with FCC Commissioners Michael J. Copps and Jonathan S. Adelstein, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown, and additional panelists to discuss media diversity, ownership, and consolidation, moderated by Concetta M. Stewart, Dean of Temple University School of Communications and Theater.

And you can let the Commission know what you think! You are invited to to give public testimony to the FCC and elected officials on how media affects you and your community.

Temple University - Gladfelter Hall Room 13
1115 West Berks Street
(12th and Berks Streets)

January 18, 2007 - 6pm

More info on Media Tank's web site

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Bipartisan Reform Commission for PA House

A press release on legislative reform posted to PoliticsPA this past Friday:

HARRISBURG, Jan. 12, 2007 --- In his first official act as the newly elected Speaker, state Rep. Dennis O'Brien (R-169) today formed a bipartisan commission to study and recommend legislative reforms to the rules for operating the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

The commission will be co-chaired by Reps. David Steil (R-Bucks) and Josh Shapiro (D-Montgomery). The Democratic and Republican leaders each will recommend 12 members from their respective caucuses to serve on the panel.

"There is no doubt that I was elected by my colleagues because they recognize reform must begin with the head of the chamber," O'Brien said. "With more than 50 new representatives bringing an outsider's perspective and voters sending a clear message that business as usual is not acceptable, we have a unique opportunity to inject more openness and transparency into the legislative process."

The Speaker charged Steil and Shapiro to begin work next week and present recommendations within 45 days from Jan. 2, when temporary rules were adopted in the House. In accepting the assignment, Steil said: "Just a few days into a new legislative session and we're already seeing the House head in a new direction." Shapiro added: "Speaker O'Brien's election set the tone for bipartisanship, civility and openness, and this commission is the first major step toward that end."

Steil and Shapiro said they will use as the foundation for their final recommendations the work of the earlier Bipartisan Reform Task Force, and consider other past legislative reform initiatives introduced by House members. The Speaker's commission also will solicit input and suggestions from outside the General Assembly.

Speaker O'Brien named former Republican Majority Leader Robert J. Butera as special counsel to the commission. Butera served in the legislature in the 1970s, as House majority leader during the 1973-74 legislative session and minority leader from 1975 to 1977.

"I made clear from day one that reform would occur in a bipartisan manner, and I am pleased by the willingness of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to move this effort forward quickly," O'Brien concluded.

A few thoughts:

Both chairs are local boys.

Can you turn around in Harrisburg these days without tripping over Josh Shapiro?

They are on a short time frame -- they each pick committee members and make recommendations within 45 days. So, kids, if you have some thoughts on this, better start putting them down on paper so as soon as we see who is on the committee you can send them off pronto to the best person.

Do we hold the football for Lucy again or not?

Hope springs eternal ..... maybe this time ......

Saturday, January 13, 2007

PA Congressmen in the WSJ

Two Pennsylvania Congressmen showed up in the Wall Street Journal this week. There may have been others. If so, I missed them.

Rep. John Murtha (D-12) has an entire article to himself: “Murtha Seeks Limits on Plan to Increase Iraq Forces,” by David Rodgers (1/09). Here is one paragraph:

But Mr. Murtha believes the November election results show voters want Congress to be more of a check on Mr. Bush’s handling of Iraq. And as chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee charged with the Iraq funding bill, his goal is [to] build bipartisan support by making a public case and forcing a debate on whether increasing troop levels would be too much of a strain on the military.

The article discusses his strategy in some detail.

On Friday the 12th, another article on Iraq, “Bush Bets Congress Will Have to Back Plan,” by Yoshi J. Dreazen and Neil King, Jr., ends with these two paragraphs:

Indeed, several of the newly elected Democrats who had made the war a central part of their campaigns stopped short of placing restrictions on troop levels. Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa), chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, said such language could be part of future spending legislation, but some Democrats said they were not yet prepared to back such a measure.

“We’re not at that point yet,” said Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Pennsylvania Democrat and Iraq veteran.

PA Companies in the WSJ and Other Fun Stuff

PA Companies in the WSJ

Briefly noted (promotions, departures, changes in corporate structure)

Pavone (, marketing and communications, Harrisburg (“edgy” website, probably very effective, made me feel old) (1/08)

Take Care Health Systems (, care clinic operator based in Conshohocken (1/09)

Interesting Trivia

“How Pepsi Opened the Door to Diversity,” by Stephanie Capparell (1/09), a nice long article based on her book The Real Pepsi Challenge, discusses Pepsi’s efforts to target the African American market, including hiring a team of African Americans to spearhead the project, something unusual for the 1940’s. One of their first store displays showed a middle-class black family having a meal and a Pepsi. The 7 year old who played the role of the son was future Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown. (1/09)

Thursday, the 11th, there was an article on car sharing companies (“Wheels on Demand for City Dwellers,” by Jane Hodges) but it doesn’t mention Philly Car Share (hey!)

Friday, January 12, 2007

Allyson Schwartz's Victory Party

This evening I attended Allyson Schwartz’s Victory Party, though I was there for less than half of it. It was held at Finnigan’s Wake at 3rd and Spring Garden in Philadelphia. The crowd fit the room well. There were a number of people there but you could still move around easily. Her staff is crafty and writes out people’s nametags for them. This ensures that names are written legibly and large enough for people to read them. An artful dodger can still get in without acquiring a nametag or signing in but it takes a little more effort. I admire their well structured process.

The food line moved along at a good pace; the tables were arranged so that people could find a seat easily. A group I didn’t know saw that I was sitting alone and invited me to join them. I was almost finished or I would have taken them up on it. Their friendly offer was unexpected and very welcoming.

For the time I was there Congresswoman Schwartz stood in one general area and spoke to a number of people, who seemed to feel comfortable just wandering over to say hello or ask questions. I have spoken to her a few times at other events and she was very gracious this evening as she was on those earlier occasions. We spoke for just a minute or so but I felt that she listened to what I was saying. Of course I was complimenting her so listening might have been easier than if I had been complaining or taking issue.

The only other big name I saw while there was Congressman (and potential mayoral candidate) Bob Brady. This was the first time I had a chance to watch him talk with people or speak with him myself. The only other time I had seen him he was speaking to a large crowd and gave the impression of being a very forceful and outgoing. This evening he seemed, I swear, a little unsure of himself, very lowkey. He is a substantial person, but not as tall or broad as I was expecting. When I tapped him on the shoulder to say hello it was an easy reach. He was approachable and we exchanged a few words.

There was a podium set up but if there were speeches I missed them. Family obligations made my visit short.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

weekly legislative update

It's a day early but I'm going out on a limb here. Like the dog in the night the Pennsylvania state legislature did nothing this week, or, to be more accurate, no bills were introduced, shuffled, or passed. At least none were through this evening so I'll bet none will be tomorrow either.

Things may be slow over the weekend but to keep you coming back, here's a few posts in the works for next week or soon thereafter:

* a summary of the June house journals, now that all of June has been posted to the state's website

* a look at the three collar county's system of government, with a closer look at one or two row office jobs

* a few quirky odds and ends

For your entertainment between now and then, I offer these:

I will admit to having Star Trek "action figures" on my desk and it is possible there is a dusty phaser somewhere in my closet, but even I do not reach the peak of geekiness that Oregon Democrat David Wu does. Read the full story over at Pennsyltucky Politics. It is almost as bad as Santorum's Eye of Morder moment.

If you like Oprah and Dr. Phil, you will enjoy reading the full legal tawdriness of one county commissioner's personal problems. PAWatercooler has the details. It made me cringe.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Speaking Out on Jan. 11th

Democracy in Action is collecting a list of events to be held on Jan. 11th to voice oppostion to increasing the number of troops in Iraq. To find an event near you, click on this page and enter your zip code.

The Military Commissions Act and Pennsylvania's 8th Congressional District

Tomorrow evening, January 11th and again on January 24th, the Upper Bucks for Democracy and Coalition for Peace Action (Central Bucks) groups are hosting a discussion on the Military Commissions Act, with guest speakers who have recently been to Guantanamo. Conversation may or may not get around to local politics but this was one of the topics covered in at least some of the Inquirer editorial board's interviews with congressional candidates. (A list of interviews is still available on their website). Then candidate and now Representative Patrick Murphy is questioned about the MCA in an interview on October 3, 2006, because on September 30th he had been quoted in the paper as saying he supported that legislation. ("After protest, Specter toes the line," by Steve Goldstein)

I transcribed his comments for the curious. While I took far more care with this than with rough notes from debates and such, those who want absolute perfection should listen to the audio file themselves. Start at minute 21 and listen through minute 25. Spoken words have a lot more umms and uhs and start overs than do written words. I left out some of these when including them made the written transcript look like gibberish. Putting in punctuation was very hit or miss.

Here goes:

Q: We had the experience last week of Congress passing new rules on detainees and interrogation. When you were here, Mr. Murphy, in the spring you spoke movingly about experiences you had in Iraq as a military lawyer. I am surprised to read in our paper last week that you would have approved what moved through Congress last week. Could you care to explain that vote? I can’t square it with what you said last spring.

PM: The Military Commissions Act. We have over 400 detainees in Guantanamo Bay that have been put there. They have never had a right to see an attorney, they’ve never had a trial. They’re there 5 years later. People like John McCain have said that’s a disgrace. That we just put them there with no turning back That is why begrudgingly I said I would support the Military Commissions Act. It does several things

1) Gives them the authority, the Office of Military Commissions, under Gen. Altenburg, who’s overseeing it, the Army Judge Advocate, someone who will get the wheels moving so that they actually see the light of day, they actually have military tribunals , they actually have military commissions.

2) Right to counsel, an absolute right to counsel. This is very important.

3) Right to see the see the evidence. The top secret evidence, that was a compromise. They can’t see very top secret evidence but they can see an executive summary of it. This is a compromise good enough.

4) I have a problem with taking away the right of habeas corpus – that was completely unconstitutional. I said it, it didn’t go into the news reports. You can’t take away a constitutional right even if Congress wants to passes it. Just as if Mike says he wants to pass a law that says no flag burning, but that is unconstitutional according to the Supreme Court, that’s a first amendment right. That part of the Military Commissions Act is unconstitutional and that part will be struck down.

Will this get the ball rolling, will I support it, will I want to bring these terrorists to justice? I reluctantly said I agreed to it. That will get the ball rolling.

Q: You don’t think the agreement in regard to interrogation techniques undercut what the army just did with its manual for interrogation techniques?

PM: I believe it was more clear, when it talked about specifically how the United States of America will not conduct nor condone torture. It will not coerce evidence. The president did not want that. That was the compromise that came out, that will be implemented, that we cannot do that. We cannot have, as someone who has served in Al Rhasheed Baghdad, who sometimes worked side by side with CIA, who was responsible for detainee facilities, we can’t say we have two standards in America. Black ops can do this, regular forces can do that. They work hand in hand in those situations. We can’t have two different standards. We have to be very clear. The Military Commissions Act said we would abide by Geneva and Hague conventions and international law.

Q: That still leaves it up to the discretion of the president to interpret and how those conventions apply, which is how we got into this in the first place. Didn’t we go all around the corner and back where we began?

PM: My interpretation of the bill is different. We can interpret and change field manuals, which needed to be updated, but it was clear in saying we are not going to be in violation of Geneva and Hague conventions. Which are clear that we cannot torture combatants, either lawful or unlawful.

MLK on You Tube

There is a lot of garbage on the Internet and a lot of nonsense on You Tube. But I think it is all worth it. Since we are coming up on Martin Luther King's birthday and Black History Month, the little Janes have been working on school assignments about African Americans and the civil rights movement. Tonight one of them had a worksheet on Martin Luther King. I asked if they had heard his "I Have a Dream Speech." They had not. I found one on the web and played it for the family on the laptop. The youngest little Jane was restless but the rest of us just sat and listened. I had a sense of how families must have listened to the radio in pre-tv days. Call it corny, but to me it was a real touchstone moment. We talked a little bit afterward about the profound effect of nonviolent social change. You never know how much of this kind of thing sinks in, but if you don't do it, you are guaranteed that none of it does.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

News and Announcements

Just a few quick items this evening:

Irv Ackelsberg has announced his candidacy for the 8th district city council seat, that is Germantown, Mt Airy, Chestnut Hill and Nicetown. His website (up but not as detailed as it will be in coming days) is

DraftObama has set up a page for its Pennsylvania friends. For information on their first meeting (in Philly) take a look at there is also a PA discussion group.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Carrie Budoff Leaving the Inquirer

Brett over at Pennsyltucky Politics is reporting that Carrie Budoff, who covered the senate race for the Inquirer, is moving to Washington to work at a startup publication / website. [deep sigh] I always liked her writing and will miss it.

Fast Eddie on PCN 1/17

In every woman's life there is a man she loves to hate and hates to love. It might be a husband, boyfriend, or father. For me that man is Gov. Rendell. At times he inspires me, at times he infuriates me. He will show a pride in Philadelphia and the state at large that is clearly sincere. He loves public service and has a passion for it. He will keep a presidential hopeful waiting so he can honor Philadelphia high school students who rescued a woman from a fire. Then he does something boneheaded like appoint Joe Conti to the state's liquor board. (It's not Conti I object to, it is the process, or lack thereof). Or discourages someone from running for office that would be a great candidate. Or doesn't come out strong for a Democratic candidate that I think would do a great job. Or ... oh, gosh, the list is endless.

All of this came to mind when I checked PCN's schedule and saw that the governor is slated to be on the PCN Call-In Show on Wednesday, Jan. 17. The original show airs at 7:00 p.m. and is rebroadcast a few times after that, as well as made available on the station's website. So, put on your thinking caps and come up with some questions to call in and ask him. I hope to blog about it within a day or so of the program's airing. It may take longer than usual; I might have to watch it more than once to catch everything in between my own cheers and heckles, let alone what the callers have to say.