Beware convening a PA Constitutional Convention ....
Discussion includes more from Russ Diamond who is sure to vie for a spot as a delegate. Wonder who will back Diamond
The spring of reform: Constitutional convention must gather speed today
Thursday, February 22, 2007
The great political ice jam that has blocked reform of the Pennsylvania General Assembly has started to thaw and crack,
thanks to the warm wind of voter anger that began to blow after the legislative pay grab in 2005. It needs to blow a little
longer and today brings a chance to move progress dramatically along.
At Duquesne University Law School today, the Pennsylvania Senate's State Government Committee will convene the first of
three hearings to consider holding the first constitutional convention since 1968. Such a convention is absolutely necessary
if the fundamentals of governance in this state are to be addressed.
Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, the Republican chairman of the panel, is right in wishing to restrict the convention's reach to a
few specific items that go to the core of how government functions in Pennsylvania. A constitutional convention is not the
forum to tackle hot-button questions such as gun control or abortion, which are much better dealt with in the usual political
As it is, the issues that Sen. Piccola believes should be tackled all hold great promise. Chief among them for the Post-Gazette
Reducing the size of the General Assembly from the current 203 House members and 50 senators. This is a chance to shed the
inglorious distinction of Pennsylvania having the nation's biggest and most expensive full-time Legislature.
Creating a nonpartisan citizens' commission to redraw the lines for the General Assembly and congressional districts after
the next census. Legislative leaders now gerrymander districts, a shameful subversion of the democratic process.
Adopting a merit selection system to choose judges. Voters should have a role in approving an appointed panel's selection
eventually, but they often don't bother to learn enough about the candidates to make an informed initial choice.
Giving Pennsylvanians the power of initiative and referendum. Amen to that -- this may be the most important way to give power
back to the people.
Today's meeting will be followed by ones in Harrisburg and Philadelphia. The voters would have to approve the calling of
a constitutional convention after legislators support legislation approving one. Let major reform start rolling today.
Pa. Legislature called 'obstacle' to reform
The Pennsylvania Legislature is "the biggest obstacle" to a constitutional convention, said a state senator
who will convene a series of hearings on the issue starting today at Duquesne University.
Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin, chairman of the Senate State Government Committee, said he'll use testimony from public
hearings in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Philadelphia to craft legislation for a referendum for voters to decide whether to
call a limited constitutional convention.
"Assuming there is support from the general public, the biggest obstacle is the Legislature," Piccola said. "As members
of the Legislature, we tend to be control freaks, and a convention would be outside our control once we set the process loose."
Legislative reform advocates began pushing for a constitutional convention to change state government after the abortive
2005 legislative pay raise.
Last fall, state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, introduced a bill seeking a referendum on a limited constitutional convention.
Piccola said Ferlo's bill was the impetus for the hearings.
Piccola said most proposals call for a limited constitutional convention to address no more than six to 10 items involving
the scope and operation of the Legislature, the judiciary, the movement of legislation and the executive branch.
Those invited to testify today include Ferlo; Duquesne University law professor and court reform advocate Bruce Ledewitz;
Pennsylvania Common Cause Chair Sara Steelman; economist Jake Haulk, of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy; Joel Fishman,
of the Duquesne University Center for Legal Information and the Allegheny County Law Library; and Lisa Krebs, of the Pennsylvania
Russ Diamond, of PA Clean Sweep, who met with Piccola several weeks ago, said he is surprised by the growing support for
a constitutional convention. An informal survey on his Web site attracted more than 800 responses that indicated overwhelming
Tim Potts, of Democracy Rising PA, a group that has advocated for a constitutional convention for more than a year, said
he's encouraged that voters are discussing reform and that the discussions are fueling bills to improve redistricting and
open records laws.
"But it's citizens and business leaders and others who understand the problem who are driving this, not us," he said.
Today's hearing will take place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Room 310 of Hanley Hall. Testimony is by invitation only, but
Piccola said anyone may submit a written statement or e-mail to the committee.
A spokesman for Piccola said comments may be mailed to the State Government Committee, Room 173 Main Capitol, Harrisburg,
PA 17120 or e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hearing may be major step toward state constitutional convention
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG -- Pennsylvania hasn't held a constitutional convention for almost 40 years.
But amid continuing voter anger over legislative pay raises, bonuses and late-night mischief, many citizen groups and legislators
are talking about a need to reform state government.
A major step in that process will be taken Thursday at Duquesne University Law School in Pittsburgh, as the state Senate's
State Government Committee holds the first of three hearings into whether the first constitutional convention since 1968 is
"A constitutional convention could address issues Pennsylvanians have been talking about since the 2005 pay raise, such
as changing the size of the Legislature, enacting term limits for legislators and setting new guidelines for redistricting"
after the 2010 census, said Russ Diamond, founder of PA Clean Sweep and one of those who raised the ruckus about the 2005
pay raise measure that led to its repeal.
Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin, chairman of the panel, said he is "leaning" toward introducing a bill that could lead
to one sometime in 2008.
"A constitutional convention has relevance for state government in this age of reform," he said last week. But first he
wants to hear from knowledgeable people from outside state government, like Duquesne law professor Bruce Ledewitz, an expert
on the state judiciary and one of those who will testify Thursday.
The hearing, from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., is open to the public, but only invited officials will testify. Other speakers will
be Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, who last year introduced a resolution calling for a convention; Jake Haulk of the Allegheny
Institute, a conservative think tank; Sara Steelman of Common Cause Pennsylvania; plus representatives from the American Civil
Liberties Union and the Allegheny County Bar Association.
Two more hearings will be held this spring in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, Mr. Piccola said. Former Gov. Dick Thornburgh,
who was a reform leader at the 1968 convention, is expected to speak at one of the hearings.
Mr. Piccola said that before he drafts a bill calling for a referendum on a constitutional convention, "I will wait to
see what the hearings produce. There is some opposition [to a convention] among some legislators" who like things the way
Mr. Piccola and other advocates think that to avoid an agenda that is too jumbled and chaotic, a constitutional convention
should be limited to certain specific issues. These might include:
Reducing the size of the 203-member House and 50-member Senate. Opponents of that idea say residents of many rural areas will
lose their legislators and thus suffer if the overall number goes down.
Limiting the number of two-year terms that a House member can serve, or the number of four-year terms a senator can have.
Changing the compensation for members of the legislative, judicial or executive branches.
Creating a nonpartisan citizens commission to redraw the lines for General Assembly and congressional districts after the
next census, rather than having legislative leaders "gerrymander" districts into strange shapes to protect their political
Changing to "merit selection" of judges, where they are appointed by the governor rather than being elected by the people
every 10 years.
Giving Pennsylvanians the power of "initiative and referendum," like California voters have, to gather signatures to initiate
new laws rather than waiting for state legislators to act.
Mr. Piccola said he favors an agenda limited to sections of the constitution dealing with the legislative, judicial and
executive branches of state government.
If things get too wide open -- for instance, changing gun control laws, or limiting gun purchases, or limiting legalized
abortions, or imposing caps on damages in medical liability lawsuits -- discussions could easily bog down and necessary government
reforms might not be discussed, he said.
Even after a bill is enacted for a convention, Pennsylvania residents would have to approve the idea, via a statewide referendum.
That could be held in November, if legislators agree this spring, Mr. Piccola said.
If the idea is approved by voters, a convention wouldn't be held until 2008. It would probably last about three months
and probably be in Harrisburg.
There were 150 elected delegates at the 1968 convention, meaning three from each of the 50 state Senate districts, plus
18 ex-officio members, mainly top legislative leaders.
Mr. Piccola said 150 seems like "a workable number. You want to have a broad spectrum of people." But he thinks the next
constitutional gathering should be "a citizens convention," without powerful incumbents on hand to try to preserve the status
HOW CAN THE CONSTITUTION BE REVISED?
It takes a constitutional convention, called for by law, enacted by the General Assembly and approved by the people.
Constitutional Convention of 1967-1968
The Constitutional Convention of 1967-1968 was initated by Governor Raymond
Shafer with the strong support of former Governors Scranton and Leader to revise the State Constitution of 1873. The convention
that met in Harrisburg on December 1, 1967 consisted of eighty-eight Republicans and seventy-five Democrats.
The articles proposed at this convention fixed the size of the House at 203 and the Senate at 50, provided for the
creation of federated municipal governments covering two or more jurisdictions in one urban area, and permitted the use of
of home rule charters. One amendment also required that a one-vote apportionment principle be employed in municipalities.
The Judiciary Article unified the judicial system under the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, permitted justices of the peace
to be replaced by a community court, reduced the number of justices of the peace, replaced the fee system with salaries for
justices of the peace, and required professional training for the office of justice of the peace. One article also permitted
voters to decide in 1969 whether to elect judges. The new articles were adopted on April 24, 1968.
When the concept of retention election was adopted by the delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1967-68, the
delegates did so in response to a widespread consensus upon the need to remove the judiciary from the partisan political process
- at least, hopefully, after they were judges.7 The electorate
subsequently approved the concept and the Constitution was amended to make the retention election process the law of the Commonwealth.8
See, for example, Delegate William Warren Scranton (Lackawanna): "I think the intention of this Convention
should be, and their objective should be, to take the judiciary out of politics all up and down the line." Debates of the
Constitutional Convention 1967 - 1968, Vol. II, p. 1032. See also, Address by Judge Burton R. Laub, former Common Pleas Judge
of Erie County, then Dean of Dickinson School of Law, Id.
at pp. 47 - 48 and Reference Manual No. 5, The Judiciary
prepared for the Delegates to the Constitutional Convention of Pennsylvania by the Preparatory Committee, §5.6.1.
8It merits mention that the retention election process does not extend to district justices. The program of Governor
Scranton - to take the judiciary out of politics "all up and down the line", see footnote 7, supra - would seem, therefore,
to have fallen somewhat short of this goal at the Constitutional Convention. The disparity seems, as well, somewhat anomalous
since the duties of a district justice bring the holder of that office into closer and more frequent contact with the electorate
than a judge of the common pleas or appellate courts. Thus, it might well serve the citizenry of the Commonwealth were the
legislature to visit this dissimilarity.
Sunday, February 12, 2006 Dimitri Vassilaros: PA Constitutional Convention Could Be A Catastrophe.
By Dimitri Vassilaros
Constitution does not need a makeover. The commonwealth does need new politicians -- governor, legislators and judges.
A constitutional convention -- called for in the name of good government
-- could be a catastrophe. Do Pennsylvanians really want to risk losing control of the convention to the same morally bankrupt
politicians who were responsible for the pay-raise/pay-repeal fiasco?
There is a much better reason why the state's citizens should not
be seduced by the temptation.
"What change in language would matter if the language is already
clear?" said Bruce Ledewitz, a law professor at Duquesne University and an expert on the Pennsylvania charter. Mr. Ledewitz is co-director of the law school's state Constitution Web site (paconstitution.duq.edu/).
It is a must-read for anyone who wants to learn about the text, history and meaning of the near-forgotten document.
The only thing wrong with the state Constitution is that so few
Pennsylvanians know much about it. If they did, they would discover a magnificent document that, if adhered to by the politicians
in Harrisburg, would be the definition of good government.
One of the arguments for a constitutional convention is that it
would be a simple way to reduce the size of the 253-person Legislature, plus their bloated staffs.
"The irony is the Legislature's size was increased on purpose to
prevent corruption," Ledewitz said about a series of good-government constitutional reforms in 1874. The thought was to have
so many representatives that bribing a critical mass of them would be almost impossible.
My, my, how times have changed.
If Pennsylvanians want fair taxation -- the government not playing
favorites with this special-interest group or that -- it's already codified in the Constitution.
"I say to my students that our whole tax system is in radical violation
of the state Constitution," Ledewitz said. Article 8, Section 1, mandates that all taxes shall be uniform on the same class
When Tom Murphy was mayor of Pittsburgh, he went to the Legislature
on behalf of a financial services company that had threatened to leave the city, Ledewitz said. The state created an exemption
to the Pittsburgh Business Privilege Tax for companies in the securities industry. "That is an obvious and complete violation
of the uniformity clause," Ledewitz said.
The mischievous machinations that led to last summer's pay-jacking
were another radical violation of the Constitution. Several actually.
The bill dealt with more than one subject. It was not considered
for three days by each chamber of the General Assembly. And it authorized an unconstitutional pay raise -- labeled as an "unvouchered
expense" -- for the legislators. To name a few of the violations.
Ledewitz can name more. Many, many more.
The more Pennsylvanians learn about their contract with the government,
the more they will realize that no fix is needed for something that is not broken.
Correction: Pennsylvania House Bill 2231
prohibits prosecution for defending yourself. An incorrect bill number was used in last Sunday's column.
At least Gov. Ed Rendell opposes a PA Constitutional Convention - though some don't like that fact. The article
may not have accurately stated the quotation. I'll have to check.
Because the state constitution specifies that taxes be levied uniformly, Rendell was asked if he would support a constitutional
convention to allow for a progressive income tax.
From time to time, Pennsylvania calls a convention to update its constitution; the current document is the state's fifth.
The last time it was rewritten, in 1967-68, what is known as the uniformity clause was debated but allowed to stand. It prohibits
the taxation of higher incomes at higher rates.
"I like the idea of a graduated income tax," Rendell said, "but a constitutional convention could do infinitely more harm
than good. Once you start ... you have no idea where it's going to wind up. They could throw in the kitchen sink. This is
not a great time in America to do that. There's so much anti-tax fervor.
"It's a wild card ... we could become a referendum state. That would be disastrous. Take a look at California."
Rendell said that one year, California voters approved a referendum that made it significantly harder to raise state taxes.
The next year, they voted to give every Californian a free college education.
"Now I would suggest to you that doesn't work ... people, left to their own devices, would vote to essentially make it
impossible to raise taxes, but maximize benefits and services.
"If I thought that a constitutional convention would be responsible and fix some of those things," the governor said he'd
support it. "But it would open Pandora's box."
By Jim Sachetti
It's important to understand how the 1967-68 convention altered the PA Constitution,
and what supporters of a 2007 convention propose as "reforms."
Interesting: Rep. Craig Dally - change the process, not the people.
Is anybody in the media noticing??
Friday, September 23, 2005 Rep. Craig Dally: Rewrite PA Constitution For Specific Ban On Unvouchered Expenses
Lehigh Valley lawmaker yesterday offered a new response to the public discontent over the pay raise bill sped to
passage in July: Change the process, not the people.
Rep. Craig Dally, R-Northampton, said a rewrite of the state
constitution is the best way to trigger real action on government reform.
Such constitutional conventions
must be endorsed by the voters, and Dally said he will introduce a bill next week that could put that question before voters
by next spring.
Russ Diamond, founder PA Clean Sweep, former Chairman who resigned according to himself, or was ousted, according to
Board of Directors who filed a lawsuit against Diamond and others.
Do you support convening a PA Constitutional Convention?
A: Absolutely. This has to be truly the ultimate goal. Problem in convening is the same people who
gave us pay raise would be involved... we have to do something about how to pick the delegates... set an agenda... should
not convene a convention until the process is fixed... (Russ Diamond, Pennsylvania Press Club, August 22, 2005 broadcast
Candidates supported by PA Clean Sweep who have publicly stated support for a PA Constitutional Convention
By Jeremy Boren
May 1, 2006
An angry band of challengers is attacking incumbent state Rep. Don Walko for keeping his
share of the state Legislature's much maligned pay raise.
Walko, D-North Side, faces three Democrats -- former Ross Commissioner Mark Purcell of Ross; insurance administrator Susan
Banahasky of Lawrenceville; and cleaning entrepreneur Chuck Geiger of the North Side -- in the May 16 primary.
Lumber broker Bill Stalter of Reserve changed his registration from Democrat to Republican this year to run against Walko,
who has been in office since 1995. Stalter is unopposed for the GOP nomination.
All of Walko's challengers for the District 20 state House seat said they're running as part of PACleanSweep, an anti-incumbency
political action committee spawned by voter outrage over the Legislature's July 7 vote to approve pay raises ranging from
16 percent to 54 percent.
Not only is the pay raise an issue, our state government is broken. It needs changed and it needs changed
," Purcell said.
The challengers favor calling a state constitutional convention to pass strict term limits, reduce the size of the Legislature
and require all future legislative pay raises to pass a voter referendum...
Organizations and people who support a PA Constitutional Convention:
Tom Cagle October 4, 2005
My concern is that this pay raise is symbolic of a much bigger problem. That we have a few very powerful leaders
who exercise near dictatorial control. That power is so great that even in the face of public outrage our local elected
officials are afraid to challenge the leaders. The notion that they represent us becomes a joke. Somehow,
we the people need to take back the initiative. We need to show all of our elected officials where real power resides.
The pay raise gave people a voice, now the challenge is to keep it going and use that outrage to bring about some reforms.
Maybe it is time that Pa for Democracy join the calls for a Constitutional Convention to change the way the PA legislature
is organized. Should we demand limits on the amount of time someone can spend in a leadership position?
Maybe we need term limits? Maybe we need to target those representatives like Perzel in next years' elections.
These ideas are just some food for thought. The point is right now people are paying attention and if we can't make
it happen now I fear the leaders will feel even more emboldened having faced down this grassroots outrage.
Tom Cagle (Crawford County For Change)
Tuesday, January 31, 2006 Political activist group Democracy Rising
is gearing up for a state constitutional convention...
Wednesday, January 25, 2006 REFORM, REFORM, REFORM ... Democracy Rising PA is pushing for the state to hold the first
general citizens’ constitutional convention since 1872-73
Tim Potts and Democracy Rising
Update May 30, 2006
The organizations proposing the "Roadmap to Reform" are:
Common Cause Pennsylvania;
Democracy Rising PA,
League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania,
Pennsylvania Citizens for Legislator Accountability,
Pennsylvania Council of Churches,
Rock the Capital,
Stop the Illegal Pay Raise Inc. and
Young Conservatives of Pennsylvania.
The "Roadmap to Reform" includes steps to make government transparent and elections more competitive, according to Tim
Potts, co-founder of Democracy Rising PA.
It also includes a call to convene the state’s first general constitutional
convention since 1873....
The following were asked Does Everyone Here support a PA Constitutional Convention by a reporter
during the January Integrity in Government conference in Harrisburg, PA at the Capitol. (PCN 1-2-06)
Eric Epstein Rock the Capitol
'reluctance about one now'
Barry Kaufman Common Cause
'similar reservations now... the devil is in the details'
Russ Diamond PA Clean Sweep
'Not yet, timing isn't right yet, should talk about it'
Elizabeth Mine League of Women's Voters
'support a limited convention'
Tim Potts Democracy Rising
'everyone has reservations about it, what's the agenda going to be, ask now so we can do
it in 2007'
Gene Stilp No Pay Raise Project
'need clearer definitions, start someplace and keep it going citizens have to take responsibility'
Check Allegheny Institute
Brad Bumstead columnist Tribune-Review
Info 1967-68 PA Convention Past Delegates and more...
The Convention drew a star-studded cast of delegates...