| Beaver County Times
You will be forgiven if a vote on the rules of procedure that governs the workings of the Harrisburg legislature doesn't frenzy you.
After all, it is not a fight to protect our children from something that tacitly attacks their brain and vital organs. Something like lead poisoning.
But wait a minute, guys.
In 2017 the legislature set up a task force on the dangers of lead poisoning. The Task Force's report, released in April 2019, highlighted the dangers faced by children in Pennsylvania and concluded that our current lead testing program was completely inadequate.
Universal blood tests for children were recommended in the report. mandatory lead tests of childcare facilities, schools and rental properties; a system to certify rental units as lead-free or lead-safe; and a nationwide online registration listing certified rental options.
In the 2019-20 legislative period, around a dozen bills were presented on the results of the task force. The bills would require lead testing at ages 1 and 2, increase the frequency of lead tests in water, mandate lead testing as part of the procedures for licensing daycare operators, and establish lead abatement, superfunds and emergency remediation funds.
What happened next is exactly why you should be interested in the scheduled January 5th General Assembly vote to pass rules of procedure for the 2021-22 session.
All but two of these bills died on committee. The others – House Bill 79 and House Bill 707 – emerged from committees but died on the table.
Among the victims was House Bill 930, which required public and private schools to test all outlets used for cooking and drinking for lead annually.
It was introduced by Republican MP Karen Boback, whose 117th Ward includes Wyoming County and parts of Lackawanna and Lucerne Counties. Though there were more than 50 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle, it didn't even get a vote on the Education Committee, chaired by Erie Republican Curt Sonney.
Under current rules of procedure, it doesn't matter how many co-sponsors a bill has or how many Pennsylvanians their representatives write, call, or petition to support it. What matters is who is responsible for the committee, because that is who decides which bills will be voted on. Because of this, the PA General Assembly adopts less than 7% of the bills introduced.
At the beginning of the last session, we endorsed a number of rules that give national bills a chance to fight, including through:
• Immediately add any bill with a majority of the House of Representatives listed as co-sponsors to the calendar for a full House vote, bypassing the committees;
• Ensure a bill with 20 co-sponsors from each party that a committee votes within three legislative days
• Provision of a "Priority Bill" for each individual house member per meeting, which guarantees a debate and a vote in committee.
Rules like these would prevent broad-supported bills from being tied or held up by committee chairs who do not endorse them.
This shouldn't be a partisan issue. The responsible party can use its power against bills proposed by its own ordinary members. It shouldn't be lost on anyone that in our example above, Boback and Sonney are both Republicans.
To steal a line from Fair Districts PA, "the ability of most lawmakers to represent their constituents is compromised on the first day of the session" when the first order of business is to pass a set of rules that transfers so much of their power – and that of the voters they voted for – committee chairs and majority leaders.
Instead, we are calling on lawmakers to pass a smart, sensible set of rules on January 5th.
A bold headline about it is unlikely to sell papers. But no other vote would restore power to the people of the Commonwealth so quickly and profoundly, and figuratively and literally help Harrisburg take the lead.