May 25, 2010 - Grand Jury Agrees: PA Needs a Constitution Convention
The grand jury that spent the past two years investigating the legislature has reached the same conclusion as 72% of our citizens, our leading political columnists and dozens of the state's newspapers: PA must have a Constitution convention because the legislature is "utterly incapable of reforming itself."
Click here to read the report and here for today's story by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette'sTracie Mauriello.
- Why hasn't Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett, who presented the evidence to the grand jury, reached the same conclusion?
- Will Allegheny County Executive and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato make a Constitution convention a central part of his campaign?
- What do your own representative and senator think of the grand jury's report? Do they agree or disagree with the grand jury?
- Will your representative and senator let the people decide by putting a referendum for a convention on the ballot in November?
Click here if you haven't already signed the petition for a referendum this fall.
The grand jury's recommendations are sweeping, in some cases going even beyond what integrity advocates have discussed since the Pay Raise of 2005. In addition to a Constitution convention, the grand jury recommends:
- Return to a part-time legislature with lower pay.
- Change the terms of representatives from two years to four years.
- Eliminate partisan caucuses.
- Reduce staff by eliminating incompetents and ghost employees. The grand jury found that one caucus could reduce its staff by more than 60% without affecting legitimate operations.
- Prohibit comp time for legislative staffers.
- Ban legislative workers from campaign offices during working hours.
- Prohibit staff from splitting time between legislative work and campaign work.
- Cut constituent services in district offices that duplicate services already being provided by other agencies of government.
- Prohibit campaign work on legislative time.
- Eliminate leadership accounts that are not for specific purposes.
- Limit lawmakers to one district office with satellites in public buildings.
- Stop per diem abuse.
To be clear, DR supports a convention to discuss improvements to more of state government than just the legislature. In our view, the executive and judicial branches need to be examined, as do issues such as qualifications for public office, local government reforms and the rights of independent and minor-party voters and candidates.
"Protect the Institution"
It's a phrase that newly elected lawmakers hear from the beginning of their service. No matter what else happens, they are expected to "protect the institution." The institution, they are told, has been around for hundreds of years. It is the job of lawmakers to make sure that nothing happens to change the fundamental character of the legislature.
New lawmakers are susceptible to this argument because they don't know that the fundamental character of the legislature has changed many times in the past. PA spent centuries with a part-time legislature before "professionalizing" into a full-time legislature in the 1970's. Our original 1776 Constitution, on the advice of former Speaker of the House Benjamin Franklin, also did not include a Senate. That wasn't added until 1790.
As the movement for a Constitution convention grows, lawmakers are hearing this phrase again and again from their leaders. Publicly, some lawmakers want citizens to fear "unintended consequences," but what they really mean is that lawmakers themselves fear the intended consequences that the grand jury proposes and that the phrase "protect the institution" intends to prevent.
"Protect the institution" means protecting it from citizens who want a better and different legislature. It means protecting the pay, perks and power of those who are content with one of the most expensive, secretive, staff-heavy, and criminally prosecuted legislatures in America.
Questions to ask your lawmakers:
- "Protect the institution" from whom? Citizens?
- "Protect the institution" for what? The status quo?
- How does bringing the General Assembly into the 21st Century on matters of public integrity jeopardize the institution?
- Whose institution is it, anyway?