Government Transparency in Pennsylvania
A recent article by the Caucus compares Pennsylvania’s Open Records climate to the rest of the nation. “Not an open book: Pa lags behind other states when it comes to access to basic government data transparency.”
As expected, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania ranks near the bottom in government transparency. Where light has pierced the darkness for most of America, including our neighbors in Ohio and West Virginia, Pennsylvania remains in a state of darkness.
COVID-19 and Remote Work
Remote teleconferencing is a sound method for convening committee meetings, defraying costs, and sharing information. This week – in the midst of the corona virus – the Pennsylvania legislature changed the rules to allow remote voting.*
These measures must be temporary. Lurking on the border of this move is the potential for “ghost voting,” and the allure of hiding data from the public under the guise of a health crisis.
We must avoid the mistakes we made in the post-911 world. We must not allow government to operate secretly behind closed doors. There is is no excuse for locking the public out of decision making.
We must be mindful, balancing safety and security with the suspension of the rules of engagement.
Democracy can not operate under the cloak of a perpetual state of emergency.
COVID-19: Changing the Rules
* The Pennsylvania House of Representatives adopted temporary rules on March 16, 2019 that allow for members to vote remotely.
These rules would allow the members to submit a proxy to either the majority or minority whips’ office, similar to committee meeting procedures. However, the leaders and committee chairs would physically need to be in the building to move legislation through the process. House members will also be allowed to send mailers to constituents regarding COVID-19. As it stands right now, both the House and Senate remain on a 12-hour call.
* The Senate implemented new rules to allow the chamber to conduct business remotely on March 18, 2020.
Leaders of Pennsylvania’s state Senate pledged transparency and accountability as members passed a new rule that will let them deliberate and vote remotely on legislation.
The new rule, which lawmakers say they will only use to act on legislation related to the COVID-19 outbreak, passed with unanimous support from the 50-member Senate, even though only a skeleton crew of lawmakers attended the 20-minute session in the state Capitol.
Nearly half the senators were granted leave, allowing them to cast votes without appearing in the Capitol building.
Leaders said they hope they won’t have to use the new policy, but that it would be necessary as lawmakers respond to the COVID-19 outbreak, which has put Pennsylvania’s schools, retail outlets and public spaces on a shutdown that could last at least two weeks.