At Last, a Lawmaker Willing to let the People Decide

Posted by By at 25 March, at 09 : 53 AM Print

(By Tim Potts, Democracy Rising)

Since our beginning, Democracy Rising PA has urged a Constitution convention so that citizens can have an open debate about what kind of government we want, then vote on recommendations that emerge from the debate.Click here for a list of issues citizens have suggested for a convention.

Now for the first time, Rep. Scott Conklin has introduced a bill, House Bill 763 , that incorporates what we believe to be the essential elements of a referendum this fall. Click on the bill number above for a list of those lawmakers who have co-sponsored Conklin‘s bill.

Two critical features: Delegates and Debates
In recent years, lawmakers have introduced several bills for a Constitution convention. HB 763 uniquely addresses the two most important aspects of a convention: how to choose delegates and what those delegates may debate.

Until HB 763, every proposal for a convention relied on electing delegates. This was how delegates were chosen for the “limited” Constitution convention in 1967-68. However, those elections prove the need for a better way.

Of the 163 delegates in 1967, only 11 were women; six were minorities; 44% were lawyers; 10 percent represented insurance and real estate; and 100 percent were either Republicans or Democrats. It does not denigrate their service to say that they did not accurately represent the citizenry of PA. The next convention must.

Fortunately, there are ways to insure accurate representation at a convention, and Rep. Conklin’s legislation provides for it. Instead of electing delegates, HB 763 requires the Department of State to issue requests for proposals from private companies to choose delegates and manage the convention. The only requirement for the selection process is that the body of delegates must accurately reflect our citizens geographically, demographically and economically. One model for this exists at Carnegie Mellon University’s Deliberative Democracy project.

Speaking of a limited convention, every proposal in previous sessions of the legislature included limits on what a convention could debate. Not surprisingly, different proposals had different limits. One would have prevented a convention from debating such popular issues as reducing the size of the legislature, reverting to a part-time legislature, imposing term limits, and many other aspects of how the legislature operates. Another would have limited the debate to seven specific sections among the scores of sections in the Constitution’s 11 Articles.

Only HB 763 lets the people decide what parts of the Constitution they want a convention to debate. In doing so, it begins the debate long before the referendum as people consider, for example, whether to include Article I, the Declaration of Rights, in a convention. While there is nearly unanimous agreement that a convention should steer clear of individual rights, the ultimate decision should be left to the citizens, not the insiders and those who study the inside game.

Now we need to convince our legislators to let the people decide. To encourage them, please sign the petition on our web site, if you have not done so already. And if you have, find a neighbor or friend who wants the chance to vote on this. Lawmakers will get the message.

Pay Freezes: A Modest Proposal

It is encouraging to see that school professionals and their unions are willing to consider freezing their salaries in response to state and local budget problems. If only our state leaders would do the same.

Gov. Tom Corbett asked others for freezes, but he’s paying his staff an average of 11% more than Gov. Rendell paid his staff. The legislature still sits on a surplus of $188.5 million. The judiciary still indulges in expensive perks. And lawmakers, the governor, cabinet officers, and judges get an automatic pay raise every December 1.

Gov. Corbett’s budget did not propose meaningful cuts for any of our aristocracy. So here’s a humble suggestion: Make the freeze for public employees contingent on the legislature repealing the automatic pay raise for the highest-paid people in state government and on the legislature returning all $188.5 million to the Treasury to use for better things than sitting in leaders’ slush funds.

Here’s how KDKA-TV’s Jon Delano reported on the issue: Lawmakers not asked to sacrifice in Corbett’s budget.

If the state’s leaders don’t lead by example, their arrogance, hypocrisy and selfishness will be on full display for next year’s elections.

(You can also sign the petition by going to the top of the Rock The Capital site.)

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