Fat chance Pennsylvania legislators will adopt reform
They claim they want to consign the presents to the past.
But will they? Let’s examine the chances of that and other unlikely possibilities in another installment of the periodic feature of this space I like to call “Rate the Reform Odds.”
Reform talk is as popular in Harrisburg right now as discussion of flood insurance typically is just as the water begins subsiding from the attic. At least a half-dozen lawmakers have proposed or are planning legislation that would severely curtail, or eliminate, the cash and other goodies that elected state officials can accept.
The reform floodgates opened because of a recent revelation that four Philadelphia-area lawmakers were caught on audiotape accepting cash payments from a friendly confidential informant posing as a lobbyist. However, state Attorney General Kathleen Kane decided against having them arrested, claiming she couldn’t have successfully prosecuted the money-grabbers.
Public outrage over the latest in the ceaseless series of scandals afflicting your greasy General Assembly prompted lawmakers to pledge they will take action. It probably won’t amount to much more than discussion that some sort of more definitive action be taken, but eventually, that sort of qualifies as action.
Now that the reform stage has been set, let’s see how far the curtain might be raised by:
• Competing gift restriction bills
One would ban cash gifts from people seeking to influence legislation. Another would cap cash gifts at $50. Yet another would ban cash gifts and cap campaign contributions. Another would – oh, what’s the point?
There are too many pieces of proposed legislation floating around for consensus to be reached on any of them. If you believe that might be intentional, consider yourself as cynical as a newspaper columnist.
Reform odds: Comparable to the odds of Gwyneth Paltrow accompanying Chris Martin on Coldplay’s upcoming tour.
• The House Ethics Committee
Theoretically, this long-dormant panel, which has been asked to investigate the four Philly lawmakers, could trigger better behavior in their misbehaving peers by occasionally censuring or otherwise disciplining them. But the panel meets in secrecy and isn’t required to acknowledge any investigation it undertakes.
Reform odds: Comparable to the odds of the zombies in Sunday’s season finale of “The Walking Dead” munching on nothing but granola bars and toast.
• Per diem accountability
Amid the reform discussion, state Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-Shaler, is reminding people that his bill requiring lawmakers to file receipts to collect reimbursements for work-related expenses has been collecting dust for years. Lawmakers can get away with submitting un-vouchered claims for as much as $159 a day for expenses supposedly incurred while they are in Harrisburg.
Reform odds: Comparable to the odds of the sun flaming out before you reach the end of this sentence.
Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or [email protected].