PA Legislation to Watch

March 18,2019
Coming to terms with term limits in Pennsylvania’s legislature | John Baer

Don’t shake your head and mutter “no way, no how, not here, not ever.” Consider this. Pennsylvania’s legislature is changing. There’s a new and different term-limits proposal. Together, that presents opportunity.

Term limits are among many reforms needed to make Pennsylvania’s governance, politics, and democracy better.

They’re easy to understand. Popular. We have them for presidents, governors, mayors. We should have them for lawmakers, at state and federal levels.

For now, let’s focus on Harrisburg.

And before you note that change never even visits Harrisburg, before you argue our lawmakers — historically greedy, rigid, reform-averse — would never vote to limit their time on the public dime, remember: Different legislature, different plan.

Lawmakers are younger, more diverse, less entrenched than ever before.

Of the 203 House members, more than half are in office six years or less: 113 of them, counting two recent special elections. And 48 are in their first term.

Why is this important?

Many ran on reforms. Most haven’t yet been sucked into the stay-for-life, protect-incumbency culture long dominant in America’s largest “full-time” legislature, which last year met for 47 voting days in the Senate, 43 in the House.

Plus, a term-limits plan offered last week by two freshman central Pennsylvania Republicans at a Capitol news conference is so forgiving it just might work.

It limits service to 12 consecutive years. Six House terms, three Senate terms.

Most important, it grandfathers current members, allowing them 12 more years after enactment.

Purists will say, hey, that’s not term limits, that’s a mini-career. But it’s better than what we have, which is pols hanging on for 25, 30, 40-plus years.

And its prime movers, Rep. Mike Jones (R., York) and Rep. Andrew Lewis (R, Dauphin), are no snowflakes.

Jones is the retired president of a York engineering firm. Lewis worked Army counterintelligence in South Korea, holds two master’s degrees, and helps run a family construction business.

“If ever there was a time we could get this done, it’s now,” Lewis tells me, noting the legislature’s changing makeup. “A lot of these people ran on term limits.”

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