The legislative majority in Harrisburg risks transforming our state constitution into a mere collection of failed statutory schemes, while blatantly abandoning the legislative norms of statesmanship and compromise. This damage, whether intentionally sought or unsought, will likely not stop until the people force the legislature to actually legislate by rejecting their endless barrage of poorly designed constitutional clickbait. The end-around partisan attack on the executive and judicial branches embedded in such efforts may have the byproduct of making the legislature itself a failed branch of government.
Constitutional amendments (whether state or federal) should be rare. They should also be well-crafted, thoroughly researched, and reflect the basic principle of what it means to be a citizen, defining limits of government authority and protecting individual rights. We must honor our shared responsibility to defend these documents not just for today, but for all time; not just as a light at home, but as a beacon to those far from home.
Unfortunately, the majority seems to hold a different view of our state constitution. While amending our constitution requires heightened legislative scrutiny compared to typical bills by mandating such resolutions pass two consecutive terms before moving to the ballot, the majority simply passes them with the same consideration in which they rename a bridge. Despite the inherent gravity of amending our governing document, almost all amendments proceed through the House without a public hearing and without any testimony from constitutional scholars as to their validity, impact, or appropriateness. Halfway through this term, the majority has already proposed more constitutional amendments than in the last two terms combined.
Two recent constitutional amendments advanced by the majority exemplify the problem. House Bill 38 seeks to gerrymander the courts by carving them into geographical regions drawn by legislators. House Bill 2207- introduced after the Legislative Reapportionment Commission proposed new state district maps- would end the LRC as currently constituted, removing the Supreme Court from the process and installing members appointed by county governments and the Commonwealth Court. Neither proposal, dripping with partisanship and disregard, was deemed important enough to warrant a public hearing before proceeding to the House chamber for a vote. Neither should pass the legislature.
At the very least, legislators owe it to the voters that when they receive a constitutional question it has been properly vetted and drafted. All amendments should have a public hearing each term before a vote. All amendments should be presented to the public in general elections, not primaries.
No doubt, colleagues on the other side would attempt to justify their overreliance on the constitutional amendment process on their inability to override governor vetoes. But the same constitution they seek to so haphazardly amend already provides the solution to their problem by requiring the legislature to work together in order to check the executive branch.
It is in these challenging times that both sides should make a stronger effort to seek compromise, not find new ways to avoid it. This means more than just scheduling a meeting where both sides can attend, but no real debate is allowed and the outcome has already been preordained. It means sitting down across the table and negotiating in good faith as equal members elected by the people of our commonwealth.
The continued erosion of our legislative process will only eliminate necessary checks and balances and may lead to the collapse of the legislature as an effective branch of government. Just as concerning, shoving more and more ill-conceived legislation into our constitution risks the adoption of something that cannot easily be undone and, whose effects- thanks to the lack of legislative due diligence- may only become more clear and dire over time.
The people, in order to resuscitate our legislative process and maintain our constitutional checks and balances, must reject the advancements of such amendments and push the legislature to actually legislate.
Rep. Dan Miller is a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, representing District 42.
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