Legislation that revamped six public welfare programs and eliminated another is unconstitutional and should be rescinded, attorneys argued Wednesday before the state Commonwealth Court.
The legislation, known as Act 80, passed last year in Pennsylvania and has been challenged by lawyers representing three individuals from the Philadelphia area who lost general assistance and seven statewide organizations.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs said Act 80 violates at least two provisions of the state Constitution, including the "single subject rule," which requires legislation to address only one issue at a time, as well as what they refer to as the "good government" rule, which requires pending legislation be considered on three separate days in both the Senate and the House before it can be voted on.
Attorneys for the state Department of Public Welfare dismiss the lawsuit, saying that the single subject in the bill is "public assistance programs established by the Public Welfare Code."
As for the question of consideration in the two chambers, DPW attorneys wrote in one court filing that under the plaintiff's view, Act 80 would have had to be addressed in seven different bills on three different days in both the House and the Senate.
"Such a result is not only absurd but would be impracticable and create a multiplicity of unnecessary complexity," they wrote.
During argument, DPW attorney Jason Manne told the seven-judge appellate court panel that funding among the programs is all interrelated.
"You pull on one of these programs, you affect the others," he said. "You cannot legislate human services one at a time."
But Gregory Heller, who argued for the plaintiffs, said the changes in the legislation do not all stem from the state's Public Welfare Code, but also are found in the Mental Health Code and Administrative Code.
Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt countered with: "Why doesn't this bill improve the efficiency of the delivery of human services? Here, we're talking about programs that help people in need. Isn't that a unifying subject?"
Michael Froehlich, an attorney with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, which represented the plaintiffs, said the DPW serves about 2.7 million people in the state and makes up about 40 percent of the Pennsylvania budget.
The elimination of the general assistance program, he said, affected about 60,000 people in the state who are unable to work or are disabled -- about 6,000 of those are in Allegheny County.
"At its core, this is a lawsuit about good government," Mr. Froehlich said "The Pennsylvania state Constitution requires thoughtful, deliberate consideration of bills. The way this legislation was enacted violated the state Constitution and denied the public the good government they're entitled to."
The judges will rule at some point in the future.
Paula Reed Ward: email@example.com or 412-263-2620.