The House this week showed once again its determination to surround every silver lining with a dark cloud.
The silver lining is that the House this week passed several bills dealing with important aspects of public integrity: lobbying control, blowing the whistle on wasteful and illegal spending, public access to information, government contracting, and legislative ethics. The bills, without the strengthening amendments, are expected to come up for final passage next Monday, Feb. 7.
The dark cloud is that House Republicans unanimously used a parliamentary maneuver called “germaneness” to defeat amendments that would have strengthened the bills. By using this gambit, which has no clear definition, Republican lawmakers can claim that they never voted against the strengthening ideas, only that the amendments didn’t pertain to the bills at hand. You be the judge.
To be clear, Democrats have done the same thing in the past. Neither party has clean hands. Many amendments were withdrawn, and not all amendments were vital to public integrity.
What got lost.
Here are the bills, the amendments that were defeated, and a link to the roll call votes so that you can see how your lawmakers voted.
House Bill 103 increases penalties substantially for violating the state’s lobbying control law. Defeated amendments would:
For two years, prohibit executive-level employees from working for a business that the employee regulated or licensed while working for the state. A120
For two years, prohibit former public officials from working for a business that received a government contract which the official was involved in awarding to the company. A158
Apply the law to persons who are, for many practical and legal purposes but without benefit of marriage, the husbands or wives of lawmakers. A157
Democrats withdrew 14 other amendments rather than taking the time to have them all voted not germane.
House Bill 104 adds employees of the General Assembly and its agencies to those covered by the Whistleblower Law, which protects employees from retaliation if they reveal wasteful or illegal activity to law enforcement. One amendment passed, increasing the fine for breaking the law from $500 to $10,000.
Three other amendments were withdrawn. They would have expanded the employers covered by the Whistleblower Law and extended the law to cover county contractors.
House Bill 105 also changes the Whistleblower Law. It increases fines from $500 to $10,000; permits a court to suspend someone who violates the law from holding public office for seven years (up from six months); and expands coverage to include government contractors.
Fifteen amendments were withdrawn.
House Bill 107 amends the law governing competitive bids for government contracts. It prohibits officials who were previously employed by a bidder from participating in contract decisions regarding that employer for two years. Amendments declared not germane would have:
Required all state offices to use competitive bidding for contracts with private collection agencies. A196
Required the Attorney General’s Office, when negotiating the collection of debts on behalf of other agencies, to justify collecting less than what is owed and to get permission of the agency for which it is negotiating. A198
Eight amendments were withdrawn.
They included amendments to expand public access to procurement information; to expand requirements for competitive bidding to include the General Assembly and the courts; and to prohibit government contracts with companies that have not disclosed, as part of bidding for contracts, campaign contributions to public officials and political action committees.
House Bill 108 amends the procurement law to require purchasing agencies, except in emergencies, to provide Internet notice of the proposed contract for five business days before executing the contract. Republicans and Democrats unanimously approved one amendment to require agencies to place “written determinations” about the contract on the Internet.
House Bill 109 amends the Legislative Code of Ethics to prohibit lawmakers from creating or maintaining non-profit organizations whose “primary purpose” is to receive state funds. One amendment was declared not germane. It would:
Apply the law to persons who are, for many practical and legal purposes but without benefit of marriage, the husbands or wives of lawmakers. A166
Other amendments that were withdrawn would have expanded the prohibition to organizations that received any state funds, not just those whose “primary purpose” was to receive state funds; defined “primary purpose” according to the percentage of state funds received; and required lawmakers to disclose the source and amount of any earned income above $1,300 per year.
No one during the consideration of these bills suggested that either the bills or the amendments would give PA the best laws of their kind in America.
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