The Pennsylvania Legislature's pay-raise debacle certainly fired up the voters. There's something about lawmakers sneaking through a salary increase for themselves in the dead of night -- without debate or public hearings. Amazingly, Pennsylvanians got the idea their Legislature was composed of self-serving opportunists. As a result, the pay raise was reversed and 15 lawmakers were defeated in the primary -- with others being targeted in the November election. Many voters may conclude their message was received, loud and clear. But if you look just below the surface, you will find that very little has changed in Harrisburg. Although assorted reforms have been introduced into the legislative process, nothing of consequence has happened. That was the theme of a demonstration in Harrisburg last week by organizations that have made the legislative pay-raise the poster child for political reform in Pennsylvania. These groups are an unusual assortment, ranging from Common Cause to the Pennsylvania Council of Churches. While the details of many reforms are debatable -- they should at least be debated. Some, such as calls to reduce the size of the Legislature, require time and constitutional amendments. Others, however, could be accomplished through internal changes of House and Senate rules. One of the most useful of these reforms proposes a waiting period between the time legislation is introduced and when it is voted on. Advocates offer the novel idea that lawmakers should have the opportunity to at least understand the measures they are expected to pass. And the public should be given a chance to offer input. A rule of this nature would have undoubtedly prevented the pay-raise mess lawmakers crafted for themselves. One of the longest-running reform efforts in Harrisburg involves passage of a lobbyist disclosure law. Efforts to craft rules of conduct for lobbyists -- and to allow the public to see how much is spent on the process of influencing legislators -- fell apart before the Legislature recessed for the summer. To be fair to lawmakers, they have tried. The commonwealth used to have a lobbyist disclosure law, but the state Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. Justices said the measure failed to make a distinction between lobbyists who are lawyers and those who are not. The court declared that rules regarding the conduct of lawyers can come only from the judicial branch of government. A replacement bill has yet to pass the Legislature, and most recently, competing versions in the House and Senate failed to garner necessary support. When it comes to crafting rules for lobbyists, the details count for everything. Lobbyist reform and other measures may not pack the emotional punch of the pay-raise fiasco. But voters must recognize these issues are crucial if Harrisburg politicians are to be accountable public servants. When lawmakers operate without sufficient public oversight, the people suffer. And eventually -- as was the case with the pay raise -- the politicians suffer as well.



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