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Some Dems Declare Victory After Rules Change Debate, Others Wait and See

By Whitney Roper, Contributing Writer

Harrisburg Democrats aren’t sure how to react to the House GOP’s decision not to proceed with a few controversial rules changes. Some party leaders are celebrating a political win in a tough year, while others are waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“It’s a good way to start the year,” said one Democratic official. “No one gave us much of a chance to do anything this session, so to start off with a win is a big deal.”

Bill Patton, spokesman for House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, wasn’t as quick to declare victory.

“The Republican leader did not yet back away from this ill-advised scheme to undo a key reform made four years ago. He made it clear yesterday he still is considering pushing this rule change to allow any amendment to be tabled at the whim of a majority of the members, so that amendment disappears without a vote on its merits.”

Serious disagreement emerged between PA House Democrats and the GOP last week during the House Rules meeting when the Republican majority proposed rules changes.

GOP Majority Leader Mike Turzai charged that the proposal was an attempt to stop obstructionism to the legislative process that will “muck up the system.” He cited dozens of Democratic amendments to the reform measures as evidence of a lack of good faith.

The proposal would overturn a unanimous rule made four years ago that required all amendments to be heard or their associated bills would also have to be tabled. The Democrats called it ‘an abuse of power’ and an attempt to ‘stifle debate’ and believe that to maintain and encourage ‘openness and transparency in government,’ the House majority should back down from supporting it. Democrats also would have lost a seat on each House committee.

Democrats were so against the call for rules changes that they launched a 72 hour PR campaign as an effort to spark attention surrounding the issue.

The proposal was rumored to be the center of topic at this week’s session but Republican leaders did not call for a vote for the proposal. House GOP spokesman Stephen Misken said there are “no plans at this moment to bring it up.” He rejected the notion of a partisan victory. “It’s a victory for the House of Representatives as a whole, it doesn’t matter if they’re Republican or Democrat,” said Miskin.

Turzai’s main focus was on the five reform bills that were approved. Miskin called the reform measures which passed first consideration earlier this week “the strongest reform since the Thornburgh administration.”

Reforms that did pass include an expansion of ‘Right to Know,’ increased penalties for errant lobbyists, and bans to prevent lawmakers non-profit organizations from receiving state funds.

Although the House did not vote on the controversial rules changes, Democrats don’t believe they can rest easy. Sources in the House Democratic Caucus tell PoliticsPA that they aren’t declaring victory yet. They are concerned that Turzai will employ the controversial tactics at the first sign of dissent.

And Republicans’ reasoning for the shift seem to give credence to Democrats who are worried that the measure will reemerge.

“They withdrew 90% of their amendments,” explained Miskin, “including their leader amendments which were meant to muddy up the process and obstruct reform.”

“I hope that the Democrat leaders keep an open dialogue with our office,” Miskin said.

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