State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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House Rules still shroud committee actions from the sunlight

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Aug 13, 2014 9:05 PM

Photo by Mary Wilson / witf

What's wrong with a little more sunlight? Their ayes, their ayes!

The House and Senate rules are built to bend, not to break.

During the fast and furious budget season every year, bills can advance with little public notice because chamber rules don't absolutely require it.

Bills are voted on by committees, and those panels can call meetings at the last minute in both the House and Senate.

But in the House, a committee chairman can call a meeting on short notice without even saying what bill is about to be considered.

"I think the way (in) the House committees I've seen it phrased sometimes, is, 'any other business that comes before the committee,'" said Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi. "In the Senate, we don't do that... There is not in the Senate any ability to have catchall language."

The more permissive House rules allowed a couple of bills to advance earlier this year in last-minute committee meetings. The most notable example came in early July, when a committee meeting was called to send a public pension overhaul bill to the full House, where the measure has been ever since.

House Parliamentarian Clancy Myer said about half of the time, when such special meetings are called, there's no indication of what bill is about to be voted on.

Clancy said House practices have become more transparent over the last 15 years. Committee meetings used to be held on the House floor, perhaps at the majority leader's desk, with virtually no access for public or press.

These days, those House committee meetings are held in a separate room, which is announced as soon as the meeting is called. Though, during budget season, both the House and Senate often hold last-minute committee meetings in rooms without cameras to record proceedings for caucus archives or the Pennsylvania Cable Network.

Published in State House Sound Bites

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