This article was las updated April 28th, 6:37pm
Harrisburg, PA- Fix Harrisburg (#Fixharrisburg) is an initiative designed to spread awareness and advocate for the revision of state congressional procedures to allow for more fair and balanced legislative proceedings and emphasize the passage of bipartisan legislation.
According to Fix Harrisburg, currently, at the beginning of each new legislative cycle (a process that begins every two years), the Pennsylvania State House and Senate vote on a set of procedural rules for the proposal, introduction, and passage of legislation. After this process, the “rules” decided upon determine who can schedule bills, choose committee chairs and members, hire staff, etc.
Guidelines for these rules are not outlined in either the Pennsylvania State Constitution or any other state law, so, as a result, they are ultimately decided by the majority leaders of each respective assembly.
In both the State House and State Senate, representatives are assigned/appointed to various legislative committees. These committees range from finance to energy, education, liquor control, etc., and they are tasked with reviewing and proposing legislation related to their committee’s focus.
Theoretically, the problem with the current model is that whichever political party holds a majority at the beginning of each new legislative cycle can exclusively appoint their own party’s members as the chairs of the committees. Moreover, they can institute restrictive rules that give party chairs ultimate legislative power.
In Pennsylvania, there are 50 State Senators and 203 State Representatives. But, according to the Fix Harrisburg initiative, because of these outdated laws, ultimate power is left to just a few powerful people.
The group says that this discourages bipartisan collaboration, limits the actual representation that Pennsylvania citizens have, and allows for abuse of power and corruption because Pennsylvania has no rules against lobbyists giving gifts to representatives.
Duncan MacLean, a doctor and member of this initiative, said that the group was founded as a result of the work of another initiative called Fair Districts PA (a group that works to ensure the creation of fair district lines and fights against partisan gerrymandering), which was initially sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania.
Maclean said that when Fair Districts PA started in 2016, the group received 100,000 signatures of support from Pennsylvania residents and had the majority of county commissioners’ commissions and local municipalities (24 county commissions and 365 other local governments, representing 70% of the state population) pass resolutions to advocate for the development of an independent redistricting commission (nonpartisan) to develop district lines.
The group also gained funding to conduct a Franklin and Marshall poll which indicated that roughly 73% of Pennsylvanians believed that political parties and candidates should be trying to find legislative initiatives that appeal to the broad base of state residents, even to the point of compromising some party ideals. [This is correct summary of F&M poll from March 2022, which was not sponsored by FDPA ( https://www.readingeagle.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/FMPoll_March2022.pdf – page 18 ); the FDPA sponsored poll was September 2019, showing 67% support for an independent non-partisan commission for redistricting ( https://www.fairdistrictspa.com/uploads/general/Survey-of-PA-Voter-Sentiment-September-2019-FINAL.pdf )
Additionally, the group received roughly 105 co-sponsorship pledges from members of both the PA State House and Senate to support a bill that would amend the PA State Constitution (99 bi-partisan co-sponsors in the House and 20 in the Senate, which was the most of any bill in the 2019 session – see https://docs.google.com/document/d/1MNldt4ROM9YqDuUTg342Ndj5TA1Ir7q1llx7TRt_oos/edit), establishing a redistricting commission. However, the group’s efforts were stopped by party leaders who used the procedural rules of the assembly to prevent the legislation from going to a vote.
According to the procedures passed at the beginning of the 2-year legislative session, Maclean said that six people ultimately have complete power over what legislation can be introduced to the Senate and House floors for a vote.
After the current procedures stopped the Fair Districts PA’s proposal from going to a vote, the group decided to begin the initiative of Fix Harrisburg.
Maclean said the two priorities of the Fix Harrisburg initiative are to educate voters on the procedures of our State Congress and also work to inform legislators themselves of the procedures so that when the time comes to establish a new set of session rules, they will vote to change the way the system currently works.
According to Fair Districts PA, In the 2019-2020 legislative session, approximately 4,199 bills were introduced to the Pennsylvania State Congress. Of those, 3,645 died on introduction to committee and were never brought on the chamber floor for a vote. Of the remaining bills that pass-through committee, 303 of them are laid on the table and do not receive a vote, and 327 of them die in the alternate chamber.
According to Fair Districts PA, in the 2019-2020 session, Governor Tom Wolf vetoed just 15 bills. Of the 4,199 bills that were introduced, just 285 (or 6.8%) became enacted into law.
In the short term, the group hopes that after this November’s election occurs, and the people of Pennsylvania choose their next representatives, they will go to Harrisburg with the intention of reforming the process to become more considerate of the people of Pennsylvania as a whole.
In the long term, an amendment to the Pennsylvania State Constitution fixing the legislative process would prevent political parties from continually changing the rules of procedure and establishing a more transparent system for citizens to follow.
To find more information about the initiative and sign the group’s petition, you can visit fixharrisburg.com