By Kate Giammarise / Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
Story originally published by the Post-Gazette, April 17, 2013
Pennsylvania should join the 35 other states that have some form of early voting in order to increase voter participation and turnout, a group of Democratic legislators contend.
"I think it's time for Pennsylvania to become the 36th state," said state Rep. Tony DeLuca, D-Penn Hills.
A bill put forth by Mr. DeLuca would require county boards of elections to establish an early voting site for 15 days prior to primary and general election days.
Several neighboring states, such as Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland, have early voting.
States with early voting consistently have higher voter turnout, said Barry Kauffman, executive director of the watchdog group Common Cause Pennsylvania, speaking at a press event Tuesday to promote the legislation.
Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, said while all the House members in attendance were Democrats, he believes the issue should not be a partisan one as Republican candidate Mitt Romney carried 20 of the 32 states that allowed early voting in November.
"Republicans are doing better in early-vote states than Democrats are," he said.
Added Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Philadelphia, "There have been no documented cases of voter fraud whatsoever" related to early voting.
Other bills put forth by House Democrats would allow same-day voter registration or allow early voting for 30 days prior to an election.
It appears unlikely such bills will get a vote in the Republican-controlled House, however.
"We want to protect the voting process," said Steve Miskin, a spokesman for House Republicans. "Our goal is to protect the integrity of the vote, not open it up for abuse."
A controversial voter ID measure which passed the Legislature last year without the support of Democrats was blocked from taking full effect for the November 2012 elections after a judge cited concerns about implementing the requirement. The issue is still in the courts, with a trial scheduled to begin July 15.
A bill with bipartisan support that would allow online voter registration could pass the Senate this week, then head to the House.
Last week, Democrats in the State House took to the house floor to speak out against Governor Tom Corbett and the House Republican's $250 million liquor store privatization scheme. House Republicans were able to pass the damaging bill even after members of both parties outlined how the plan would hurt Pennsylvanians by costing us money and jobs.
Here are some highlights from the day's debate:
Written by Keegan Gibson, Managing Editor of PoliticsPA
Story originally published by PoliticsPA, January 17, 2013
It looks like Republicans aren’t planning a full court press to pick up the seats of former state Reps. Eugene DePasquale and Matt Smith.
House Speaker Sam Smith announced today that the special elections for those seats will coincide with the municipal primary on May 21, rather than a separate scheduled day.
DePasquale was sworn in Tuesday as Pennsylvania’s Auditor General after serving three terms in his York-based district. Smith was sworn in Jan. 1 as a state Senator after three terms serving Mt. Lebanon in Allegheny County. Both are Democrats.
The path to victory for a Republican in either seat would have improved in a lower turnout special election because both districts offer Democrats a wide voter registration advantage.
The cost of a special state House race separate from the municipal primary would have been about $150,000 each based on estimates from previous elections.
Under constitutional guidelines, Smith could have scheduled a special election in HD-95 as early as March 19. Smith himself doesn’t have a history of picking special election dates that benefit his party, but it’s a fairly common practice in Harrisburg.
A few consultants who spoke with PoliticsPA agreed that it would cost the GOP around $250,000 to stand a serious chance of flipping each seat even in a March special. And while DePasquale’s York district would remain about the same under the currently proposed redistricting plan, Matt Smith’s would become significantly more Democratic.
The politicos agreed that the GOP’s money will be better spent protecting the party’s 111 to 92 state House majority in 2014.
All that said, municipal primaries are only relatively higher turnout affairs than special state house elections, so it’s not a done deal for the Dems. The caliber of the candidates and their campaigns (and in the Republicans’ case, their ability to support themselves financially) will determine how competitive the races are.
The official candidate selection process can begin now that the election dates have been set. But 3 of the four candidates, for practical purposes, are already chosen.
In HD-95 in York, Democrats are likely to nominate Kevin Schreiber, 32, who works for the York Redevelopment Authority. Republicans are poised to pick Bryan Tate, 45, the Vice President of Philanthropy at the York County Community Foundation.
In HD-42 in Allegheny County, Democrats are likely to nominate Dan Miller, 39, an attorney and former member of the Mt. Lebanon Board of Commissioners (and a Smith ally). Republicans don’t have their nominee yet. The two names we’re hearing are Mt. Lebanon School Board member Dan Remely and businessman John Schnatterly.
In any case, it will be a good trial run for Rep. Tim Briggs (D-Montco), the newly minted chair of the House Democratic Campaign Committee.
The House Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing on Monday in Erie, concerning the local impact of Gov. Corbett’s proposed state budget cuts. The hearing was requested by Reps. John Hornaman, Flo Fabrizio and Pat Harkins, all D-Erie. Rep. Harkins felt that “This was a great opportunity for the public to listen to and weigh in on some of the most important issues concerning the proposed Corbett budget cuts and how they will impact our area of the commonwealth. I was happy to bring the House Policy Committee to Erie for some spirited discussion of the issues of the day.”
Rep. Sturla, the House Democratic Policy Committee chair, stated that “Residents across the state will feel the harmful effects of Governor Corbett’s back-to-back budget cuts. It is no accident that his poll numbers drop when he balances his budgets on the backs of our seniors, students and most vulnerable neighbors.” Rep. Hornaman added “This was important to listen to those on the front lines about the human impact from this year’s proposed budget cuts. What does it really mean to those who are disabled, or those who need medical care? What does it mean when budget cuts become amputations and entire social and medical programs disappear?”
On Wednesday March 14th, Democrats unanimously voted against voter ID legislation proposed by the GOP. State Rep. Mike Hanna, (D-Clinton/Centre) stated, “Laws already exist requiring first-time voters to provide identification. This bill would disenfranchise citizens who are eligible and have the right to vote, especially racial and ethnic minorities, those with disabilities, the elderly, and the working poor.”
Democrats challenged Gov. Corbett’s statement that the legislation was “clear and simple” and doesn’t interfere with the legal right of a citizen to vote. Rep. Hanna added that "House Bill 934 would create an unfunded mandate, imposing significant costs on the state that are unnecessary and avoidable. Facing a $4 billion budget deficit for 2011-2012, these costs would be incurred unnecessarily. There are so many important issues facing our state and country right now, we should want people to be even more motivated to vote, not make the process more difficult.”
Gov. Tom Corbett wants to use nearly $60 million dedicated for two popular environmental programs, the Growing Greener and the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation funds, to fill holes in the state's 2012-13 budget. Details about the transfers emerged during two House Appropriations Committee budget hearings held Tuesday. Democrats quickly assailed the proposal. Rep. Greg Vitali, a member of the Appropriations Committee, stated, "This is nothing but a shell game. It's a way to use Growing Greener bond money for the General Fund. Using bond money for operating expenses is bad public policy."
This development is just the latest in a string of debate surrounding the safety and protection of PA's environment and land.
On Feb. 27th experts warned about the growing threat of air pollution from Marcellus Shale gas drilling. The experts testified at a House Democratic Policy Committee hearing at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church that was co-hosted by Vitali, (D-Delaware) and state Rep. Tim Briggs, (D-Montgomery) and attended by about 75 people. Communities across PA are worried about the negative consequences from unsafe drilling procedures.
Additionally, on Feb. 29th Rep. Jesse White, (D-Washington/Allegheny/Beaver) asked Marcellus Shale drillers to pledge their commitment to creating local jobs and protecting communities through a resolution he recently introduced in the House of Representatives. White's H.R. 593 would encourage Pennsylvania natural gas drilling companies to adopt the "Marcellus Shale Principles," which include providing family-sustaining jobs for local, Pennsylvania workers; being responsible stewards of the environment; and building open communications with the community on its actions.
During a House Democratic Policy Committee hearing, Chairman Mike Sturla (Lancaster) argued for the importance of basic education. “Education is the foundation on which our commonwealth builds the rest of its priorities,” said Sturla. “However, for two years Governor Corbett has demonstrated his lack of understanding that without adequate and equitable tools, our students are fighting an uphill battle to succeed. Our state will not fully recover economically if we continue to underfund education.”
The Governor’s proposed education cuts for the 2012-2013 fiscal year total $100 million. If these cuts were to take effect, it would mean that public education has lost close to $1 billion in funding since Governor Corbett has taken office.
Co-Chair Rep. Jim Roebuck, (Phila) strongly felt that the proposed budget, “… would not prepare our young people to succeed – it would cut off access to higher education for many families and burden others with more debt due to the steep tuition increases that will result if state funding is cut again. Ironically, the governor also said in his budget speech that businesses need well-trained workers, which is true -- but to achieve that goal, we need a good education system that is funded properly, not a second round of cuts."
Last Wednesday, the PA House passed Marcellus Shale legislation that will force hard-working Pennsylvanians to sacrifice. Democratic leaders quickly assailed the bill as an ill-conceived travesty for the people of Pennsylvania, arguing that the “local impact fee” is equivalent to letting big drilling companies off the hook.
Democratic Whip Mike Hanna was openly critical. "This bill is a sham. It’s nothing more than a sweetheart deal for the multi-billion-dollar oil and gas industry. It swindles Pennsylvania’s taxpayers and fails to make huge out-of-state corporations pay their fair share.” Furthering the idea that the people of Pennsylvania will ultimately pay, Hanna added that “This legislation privatizes the profits from the Marcellus Shale for the big oil and gas industry, and socializes the costs of environmental cleanup on the backs of the hardworking Pennsylvanians living in the Marcellus Shale region.”
This extreme right-wing mentality is seen by many Democrats as an effort to condone the exploitation of Pennsylvanians for the direct profit of big corporations. Democrats agree that a more ethical approach is to face this issue in an intelligent, reasonable way, that doesn’t endanger the people of Pennsylvania without their consent. “There is no greater issue facing the people of Pennsylvania than the responsible oversight of the booming natural gas drilling industry in the Marcellus Shale region. We should pass a real, fair and reasonable severance tax on the oil and gas drillers in the Marcellus Shale”, Rep. Hanna stated. “The people of Pennsylvania deserve more than half-measures crafted under the cover of darkness."
Gov. Tom Corbett lobbied for more devastating cuts to education in his budget address on Tuesday, drawing heavy criticism from House Democrats.
The Governor’s proposed education cuts include:
· A 20 percent cut in funding for state universities;
· Approximately a 30 percent cut for Penn State University, the University of Pittsburgh, and Temple University;
· A $100 million cut in accountability block grants to schools;
· And $8 million cut from community colleges.
If the proposed cuts are passed, Penn State would have half the funding it had in the 2010-2011 fiscal year, which was Gov. Ed Rendell's last budget.
In response to these proposed cuts, Rep. Mike Sturla, (D-Lancaster), Chairman of the House Democratic Policy Committee, questioned the effects they would have on students. “Governor Corbett remains steadfast on reversing the extraordinary academic progress our students made prior to his taking office by again underfunding public education at unprecedented levels. With 40 children in a classroom, less access to technological tools and less space available in afterschool programs how can Pennsylvania cultivate the next generation of innovators or even compete for jobs in today’s global economy?”
Many programs under the Department of Agriculture are also on the Corbett chopping block, including research and education initiatives, and grants for state fairs and other expositions. In response to reduced funding for programs many consider essential, Rep. Sturla added that, “The governor has spent too much time poking holes in the Commonwealth’s social safety net by eliminating and downsizing the programs that our states’ most vulnerable residents are increasingly depending on”.