KING OF PRUSSIA, Jan. 31, 2012 – Speaker of the House Sam Smith and his Republican colleagues have frequently spoken about the need to end “frivolous lawsuits.” However, this disdain for meritless litigation apparently does not extend to Smith’s attempt to rescue his party’s ability to gerrymander legislative districts.
As many already know, we as a state are required to redraw the lines of our legislative districts every 10 years to ensure that all of the districts have about the same population.
Recently, Governor Corbett has endorsed legislation which would require every Pennsylvanian to present photo ID each time they voted, regardless of how long they had been voting at their poll. They could not vote without ID even if the poll workers knew them to be who they said they were. If a poll worker allowed someone to vote who was a close personal friend or neighbor and had been voting at that poll for 30 years, they would be committing a crime and risking a prison sentence.
When you follow politics closely, every election night comes with its exhilarating wins and heartbreaking losses. Some years there are more of one than the other, but every year is, to some extent, a mixed bag. This year, the toughest loss for me to watch was the decision by the voters of Maine to (albeit narrowly) overturn by referendum the legislature’s legalization of same-sex marriage.
Recently, Governor Corbett called for the repeal of a 100 year old common law doctrine known as “Joint and Several Liability”. Under this doctrine, if a person is injured because of the negligence of 2 or more parties, an injured victim may recover the full amount of the award against any one of the wrong-doers. This is true even if another wrong-doer is not insured sufficiently to cover their share of the damages, or has no assets, or is otherwise unable to pay.
Recently, there has been a lot of attention paid to Senate Bill 1, which would for the first time create a system of taxpayer-funded vouchers which parents could allegedly use to “choose” what school their child can go to if their current school is inadequate. This is certainly a bold idea. It creates a very expensive, new entitlement program in the midst of an unprecedented budget crisis. Given that, as a member of the Senate Education Committee, I feel it is important to subject this legislation to the scrutiny that any proposal this far-reaching deserves.
Recently, the Bonusgate Grand Jury issued a report which has received a great deal of media attention. This report had nothing to do with the criminal charges against specific individuals they investigated. This report was an extremely rare supplemental grand pronouncement on the state of our government, along with numerous recommendations for restructuring the entire legislature. Because I believe that the methodology, the conclusions and the recommendations of the report are, in many respects, dead wrong, I felt compelled to comment.
Recently, as the Pennsylvania budget crisis has droned on, there has been a good deal of attention paid to how we, as a state, spend money. One of the programs which is most frequently attacked and ridiculed in the media and blogosphere is what are called WAMs. There has been a great deal of self-righteous and sanctimonious denigrating of the WAM as a useless vestige of some undefined form of corruption. But is that really true? Well, like most things which are oversimplified on the internet, the reality is a bit more complicated.
Soon, I will be introducing legislation to abolish the Death Penalty in Pennsylvania. New Jersey and New Mexico have recently abolished their Death Penalty laws and other states are contemplating doing the same. Polls show a 15-20% drop in support for Capital Punishment nationwide and juries in state after state are increasingly reluctant to sentence defendants to death, imposing only 106 death sentences in 2009, down from a high of 328 in 1994.
I have recently introduced SB 935, a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania.
I do so now for several reasons. First, because many other states are moving to consider this issue, including Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Iowa and Washington D.C. which have recently passed legislation. New York and New Jersey soon will. Further, a bill banning same-sex marriage was recently introduced in the Pennsylvania Senate and it is important to provide the legislature with a timely pro-civil-rights, pro-family alternative.
The concept of “political reform” received a good deal of attention in the recent campaign. Certain reforms are clearly necessary and long-overdue. Campaign finance reform and legislative redistricting reform are two examples. However, some things being touted as reforms could actually have a pernicious effect. Two examples are the momentarily popular but actually terrible proposals to shrink the size of the legislature and impose term limits.
In my 7 years in the Pennsylvania legislature, I think I’ve learned a few basic truisms, one of which is: If you want to make a constituent mad, raise their taxes, but if you want to make a constituent furious, cut their services.
On November 24th I saw in the Times Herald an editorial by a Star Parker entitled “Sodom in the Nation’s Capital”. Intrigued by the unabashed offensiveness of the title, I read on. The article castigated the Washington DC City Council for its imminent decision to join the states that have legalized same-sex marriage. While I usually refrain from responding to this sort of diatribe, this is an issue I’ve been very involved in and I found the editorial so misguided that I felt compelled to respond.
As a member of the state House Judiciary Committee, I received a lot of e-mails urging me to vote against the gun control bills we considered last month. Many of these e-mails argued, in some form, that the governor’s proposals violated the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The writers seemed to feel that the Second Amendment prohibits any restrictions on gun ownership. However, that is simply not how the Second Amendment works.
I read your editorial this morning entitled “See no Dissent, Call it Science”. I don’t wish to debate the issue of global warming. But I do take some issue with your larger point. As I understand it, you are saying that anytime there is more than one view on a topic, all sides should be presented and treated with equal respect, regardless of the weight of opinion.
In the October 12 edition of the Times-Herald, there was a letter to the editor from a Mr. Robert Clifton attacking me. Obviously, Mr. Clifton has every right to do that, but I thought I’d share my perspective on his letter. Mr. Clifton is proudly a long-time very partisan Republican. That’s fine. But I fear that he sometimes lets his disdain for anyone who is not a Republican get the better of him.
After months of debate and deliberation, property tax reform comes to a head in the next few weeks. I and other legislators have to evaluate the various proposals, weigh the good versus bad in each and decide how we plan to vote. The issue of what property tax reductions go to whom and how they are paid for is extremely complicated. However, I want to focus on one aspect of this debate which is troubling me, and that is the so-called back-end referendum.
Since being elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 2002, I have learned that persistent rumor tends, over time, to become reality. One of the persistent rumors I hear these days is that various anti-gay amendments which have previously been considered and set aside will soon be resurrected. Hence, it is probably a propitious time to take stock of where we stand.
People can be for or against the recent legislative pay raise but the debate should be a fair one. Thus far, the press’s obsession with this issue has seemingly blinded them to their obligation to report the facts fairly and in context. Instead I feel they have been misleading in a number of material respects, and I am grateful for the opportunity to respond.
As the winds turn bitter off of the Susquehanna and we prepare to conclude perhaps the most desultory legislative session in modern history, there is one piece of proposed legislation that deserves more attention than it has received. I am speaking of what is known as “TABOR.” This is a radical proposal which, if passed, would dramatically change the way government works in Pennsylvania.