Jailed Pennsylvania lawmakers may be out of picture

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HARRISBURG -- Portraits of state lawmakers who went to prison for corruption continue to hang in the halls of the Capitol, and many in Harrisburg tend to regard them as a part of the building's history -- for better or worse.

But Pennsylvania's newest state senator, Scott Wagner, R-York, who recently took office following a special election, wants to sponsor a bill to take down the portraits -- at the very least, those in the Senate hallway.

"Act 140 of 1978 requires state lawmakers convicted of certain felonies to forfeit their pension benefit, yet we honor some of these same individuals with portraits in our state Capitol. While I recognize that many of these individuals have played critical roles in our Commonwealth's history and it is impractical to leave them out of that history, I believe that to revere them with portraits is a line that we should not cross," the senator said in a memo seeking co-sponsors for the proposed legislation.

The portraits have been there for years, and there's seemingly no organized movement to have them removed, apart from Mr. Wagner's resolution.

Among the former lawmakers who were convicted as lawbreakers: former House Speakers Democrat Bill DeWeese and Republican John Perzel; both were recently released from state prisons after serving time for their roles in the Bonusgate scandal.

Former Democratic House Speaker Herb Fineman, who left office in the 1970s after a conviction for obstruction of justice, is also memorialized with a portrait in the House hallway.

On the Senate side, there's a portrait of former Senate President Pro Tem Robert Mellow, who pled guilty in 2012 to mail fraud conspiracy and filing a fraudulent tax return. He is now serving a term in a federal prison, and, last year, was also charged in the Pennsylvania Turnpike "pay to play" scandal.

According to a grand jury presentment, Mellow was "actively involved in steering turnpike contracts to particular vendors," and under-reporting the value of gifts he received from would-be turnpike contractors.

Mr. Wagner's resolution would apply only to the Senate, not the House portraits, though his proposal would "urge our colleagues in the House of Representatives to resolve the same," according to his memo.

It's not clear if his proposal will get any support from his colleagues, but Mr. Wagner said he hoped a renewed focus in Harrisburg on good government -- in light of a recent spate of allegations of corruption among Philadelphia lawmakers -- could help his cause.

The portrait problem is discussed periodically, without any action to date. Last year, President Pro Tem Joseph Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, agreed to examine the issue, prompted by some colleagues.

Kate Giammarise: 1-717-787-4254 or kgiammarise@post-gazette.com or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.

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