Pennsylvania General Assembly

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The Pennsylvania General Assembly is Pennsylvania's state legislature, seated at the state's capital, Harrisburg. It has been a bicameral legislature since 1790.

Overview

The General Assembly has 253 members, making it the second-largest state legislature in the nation (behind New Hampshire) and the largest full-time legislature. It consists of a Senate with 50 members and a House of Representatives with 203 members.

The Pennsylvania general elections are held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November in every even-numbered year. A vacancy for a seat must be filled by special election. The presiding officer of the respective house sets the date for such elections.

Senators must be at least 25 years old and Representatives at least 21 years old. They must also be citizens and inhabitants of the state for a minimum of four years, living in their respective districts for at least one year. Individuals who have been convicted of various felonies including embezzlement bribery and perjury are ineligible for election. The Pennsylvania Constitution also adds the category of "other infamous crimes" which can be broadly interpreted by state courts. No one who has been previously expelled from the General Assembly may be elected in the future.

Legislative districts are drawn every 10 years following the U.S. Census. Districts are drawn by a five-member commission, of which four members are the majority and minority leaders of both houses (or their delegates). The fifth member (and chairperson of the committee) is appointed by the other four and may not be an elected or appointed official. If the leadership cannot decide upon a fifth member, the State Supreme Court may appoint the chairperson.

While in office, legislators cannot hold civil office. Even if a member resigns, the Pennsylvania Constitution states that the individual may not be appointed to civil office for the duration of the original term for which they were originally elected.

The General Assembly meets at noon on the first Tuesday of January and then regularly throughout the year. Both houses adjourn on November 30 in even numbered years when the terms of all members of the House and half the members of the Senate expire. Neither body can adjourn for more than three days without the consent of the other.

The Governor of Pennsylvania may call a special session in order to press for legislation on important issues. Most recently, a special session was called for the purpose of property tax reform.

The Assembly meets in the Pennsylvania State Capitol which was completed in 1906. Under the Pennsylvania Constitution, the Assembly must meet in the City of Harrisburg and can only move if given the consent of both chambers.

Senate

The Pennsylvania State Senate is the upper house of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Senators are elected for four years. Senators terms are staggered with only half of the Senate contested at each election.

It is made up of 50 members who are elected by district from around the Commonwealth. The President of the Senate is the Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania (currently Catherine Baker Knoll) who has no vote except in case of a tie.

In 2002, a State Senate district had an average population of 245,621 residents. The current party breakdown is 29 Republicans and 21 Democrats.

House of Representatives

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives is the lower house Pennsylvania General Assembly. There are 203 members, elected for two year terms from single member districts. Elections are held in November of even numbered years.

Following the 2006 elections the house consists of 101 Republicans and 102 Democrats, giving the Democrats control of the House for the first time since 1994. In a compromise vote, a Republican was elected to preside over the Democratic controlled chamber.

In 2002, a State Representative district had an average population of 60,498 residents.

2005 pay raise controversy

In the early morning hours of July 7, 2005, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed pay increases for state lawmakers, judges, and top executive-branch officials.[1]

The vote took place at 2 a.m. without public review or commentary and Governor Ed Rendell signed the bill into law. The raise increased legislators' base pay from 16% to 34% depending on position.[2]

Provisions

The pay raise included a provision allowing legislators to take their raises immediately in the form of "unvouchered expenses." This provision was included due to the Pennsylvania Constitution's clause prohibiting legislators from taking salary increases in the same term as which they are passed. State courts have ruled similar legislation to be constitutional on three separate occasions.

Reaction

Anger over the raise spawned several grass-roots movements, some geared toward voting out incumbents [1] and some seeking support for a Constitutional Convention or a reduction in the size of the legislature. [2] [3].

Political aftermath

The first victim of the public uproar was Supreme Court Justice Russell M. Nigro who became the first Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice to be denied retention. Nigro asserted that he had not taken part in the pay raise. However, critics noted that Chief Justice Ralph Cappy helped draft the bill and that prior Court opinions upheld such practices.

On November 16, 2005, Governor Rendell signed a repeal of the pay raise after a near unanimous vote for repeal; only House Minority Whip Mike Veon voted against the repeal.[3]

Despite the repeal, a total of 17 legislators were defeated in the 2006 primary elections including Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer and Senate Majority Leader David J. Brightbill. They were the first top-ranking Pennsylvania legislative leaders to lose a primary election since 1964.

The November 2006 General Election claimed several more members who supported the pay raise including Reps. Gene McGill, Mike Veon, Matt Wright, Tom Gannon and Matthew Good.[4] The defeats were attributed to anger over the pay raise.

References

  1. http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/billinfo/billinfo.cfm?syear=2005&sind=0&body=H&type=B&bn=1521
  2. http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/05320/607333.stm
  3. http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/cityregion/s_450776.html
  4. http://www.philly.com/mld/dailynews/news/local/14597854.htm

External links