Pa. House begins effort to reform the way it runs

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HARRISBURG -- The House Speaker's Rules Reform Commission held its first meeting today, discussing some possible changes to the way the House operates and setting up an e-mail address for the public to send in suggested rules changes.

The 24-member panel, half Democrats and half Republicans, was created by the new speaker, Rep. Dennis O'Brien, R-Philadelphia, to create House rules for the 2007-08 session. The panel is co-chaired by Rep. David Steil, R-Bucks County, and Rep. Josh Shapiro, D-Montgomery County.

Some potential new rules discussed today are: limiting House sessions to the hours of 8 a.m. and 11 p.m., in order to avoid voting past midnight when the public is asleep; increasing notification of members about votes on bills to either six hours or 24 hours, up from the current one hour; reducing the power of two leader-run committees, Rules and Appropriations, so they can no longer "make substantial amendments to a bill that has already gone through another committee;'' limiting a member to serving no more than four terms as chairman of the same committee; banning "ghost voting,'' where a member who is present in the chamber casts a vote for an absent member, but allowing a member to vote "by proxy'' if he or she must be out of the chamber for a short time.

The committee also includes Reps. Don Walko, D-North Side; Chris Sainato, D-Lawrence County, and newly elected Reps. Tim Mahoney, D-Fayette County, and Brad Roae, R-Butler County. Its goal is to complete its work on new rules by mid-February, but the full House won't vote on them until March 12. Mr. Shapiro said he hopes the 24-member panel can vote unanimously on its proposed rules so they have a better chance of getting the needed 102 votes in the 203-member House.

Mr. Shapiro said the public can suggest rules by e-mailing their ideas to reform@pahouse.net.

After the new rules are adopted, Mr. O'Brien wants the panel to move on to weightier reforms, such as term limits for legislators, reducing the size of the Legislature and campaign finance limits.



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