(Lancaster) ----- “It paid for my cars, my house. It did a nice job.”
That's how Gary Lightman, an attorney for the Pennsylvania State Police Association, described the Commonwealth's arbitration law during his testimony before the state Senate and House of Representatives Local Government Committees Thursday.
State Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blake; Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-Dauphin; and Rep. Mindy Fee, R-Manheim; listen to testimony during a joint Local Government Committees hearing.
Lightman, who likened Act 111 to the Bible, and others in public safety camp say Act 111 shouldn't change.
While it hasn't been updated since its adoption in 1968, the law has become a "thing of beauty" regarded as a national model after refinements by case law and related regulations, Lightman says.
Some legislators seem to disagree, and want to modernize Act 111, while increasing transparency and force long-term financial considerations in the arbitration process by changing the law.
Senate Committee Chairman John Eichelberger says the contractual and pension costs stemming from these arbitration agreements can force municipalities to reduce the police on the street, putting the public and officers themselves at risk, he says.
But "the median income of most residents in most boroughs and most municipalities is being outstripped by the median income of public safety. (And) that's affecting the choices made by municipalities and municipal officials," according to labor attorney Michael McAuliffe Miller.
That might be limited in the future by one proposed amendment that would force arbitrators to document that they’ve thought about the long-term fiscal impacts of their decisions, lawmakers say.
Another would cut taxpayer contributions to arbitration costs to one half, down from the two-thirds share prescribed by the current version of Act 111.
The bills also suggest adding a public hearing to the process.
Lightman says that's a bad idea.
“One of the things I wouldn’t want to be talking about publicly, is how many troopers we have out in a county on a midnight. But if I don’t, I’ve failed in my mission to the state police to be able to show the danger that they're facing out there," Lightman says.
The public safety camp also says other state laws could be changed to yield similar results because Act 111 doesn't need to be reformed.
Ed Troxell, director of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Association of Boroughs, disputes that.
"Back in 1968, we had black and white TV. Nowadays, we're looking into more information more expansive information. It would be better if we had some way of knowing what these awards really meant through an analysis," Troxell says.
The bills also would require arbitrators to reference documented long-term financial projections in their decisions - which are binding.
Most public safety workers don't want contracts that overburden their neighbors, according to former police officer and state Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-Berks/Schuylkill.
But some lawmakers fear seeming disloyal to police and firefighters, making the Act 111 legislation harder to move than other pending local governance reforms, according to Eichelberger .
Eichelberger says he expects movement next week on Local Government Unit Debt Act amendments, which were prompted by the debt disaster that besieged Harrisburg's local government.
And the overhaul of Act 47 for distressed municipalities is moving quickly toward a full Senate vote, he says.
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