Pa. bill requires receipts for lawmaker expenses

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HARRISBURG -- A bill in the state Senate would reform the per diem payments some legislators currently receive and would require lawmakers to provide receipts in order to receive reimbursements from the state.

Existing rules allow legislators to collect up to $159 daily without submitting receipts; the payments are intended to cover costs incurred while they are in Harrisburg or performing legislative tasks outside of their districts.

Per diems are collected on top of the lawmakers' minimum base salary of $84,012.

The payments have long been a complaint of reformers and good-government groups. Lobbyists often wine and dine lawmakers on session days, meaning legislators do not necessarily pay for their meals while they are in Harrisburg. A 2010 Senate study on cutting costs in government recommended reforming the system for a potential cost savings.

A recent spate of alleged improprieties by legislators, such as allegations against a state senator that she used her staff for campaign work, and separate reports that four Philadelphia lawmakers accepted cash from a confidential informant posing as a lobbyist, may boost the efforts of reformers on the issue.

Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-Shaler, who tried to address the issue as a House member several years ago, said he is hopeful reforms can become law.

"My legislation would simply require legislators -- just like other state employees -- to submit their receipts in order to obtain reimbursement," the senator said in a statement.

Not all lawmakers take the per diems. Mr. Vulakovich said he submits receipts for his hotel costs while he is in Harrisburg, but does not ask for reimbursement for meals.

Per diem policies vary from state to state. Legislators in Ohio and New Jersey do not receive such payments, according to information from the National Conference of State Legislatures. New York lawmakers get $165 per full day and $61 per half day and those in Maryland get $101 per day for lodging and $42 daily for meals, according to the NCSL.

In Pennsylvania, legislators living within 50 miles of the Capitol are not eligible for per diems.

Kate Giammarise: 1-717-787-4254 or or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.

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