What are the rules?

Both the Senate and House in the Pennsylvania General Assembly conduct their business according to procedural rules. These rules include:

  • Who puts bills on the schedule on the floor and in committees

  • Who chooses chairs and the members of each committee

  • Expectations of decorum

  • When official debate and discussion can occur

  • How and whether public hearings are conducted

  • Public notification requirements

  • The duties of staff and officials in the chamber

How are rules created?

Procedural rules that govern PA's legislative process are decided by legislative leaders, then put to a vote as a resolution on the first day of every session. These rules are not codified in Pennsylvania law, or in our state’s constitution; these are established norms that can be changed at any time, yet it rarely happens.

Caucus leaders work with their lawyers to draft rules for a new session between the election in November and the beginning of the session in January. They then present the draft of the rules to their caucus for informal amendments and changes. By the time the Procedural Rules Resolution makes it to the floor for a vote, it passes by a wide majority.

Who benefits?

The rules—as they’re currently written—give committee chairs all of the power to decide what bills are considered in their committee. The majority party leaders have total control over what bills get a vote on the floor, and who leads each committee.

Pennsylvania's General Assembly
is one of the
most inefficient in the nation. 

In recent sessions:

In recent sessions,

Less than 1 in 5 bills introduced is ever considered in committee.

Less than half the bills passed in one chamber are considered in the other.

Less than 7% of bills introduced in each session ever receive a final vote.

Why does it matter?

Citizen priorities are ignored

Current rules let one person elected by a few thousand voters in one district block priorities supported by millions of voters across the state.

Limited representation

When they vote on the rules, legislators surrender control to a few party leaders. That limits the ability of our legislators to represent us. Most legislators have no say in what bills are given a vote. As a result, voters often have no voice on issues they care about most.

Bipartisan collaboration is discouraged

The rules allow the majority party to ignore the minority party completely. Decisions are made without minority input and often without public hearings, testimony, or any opportunity for genuine debate.

Fewer bipartisan solutions are enacted

Many important bills with clear bipartisan support never get a vote. The PA General Assembly passes less than 7% of bills introduced each session. Less than 20% are considered in committee, and some that do pass from committee with bipartisan support are never given a vote on the floor. Over half of the bills passed in one chamber are blocked in the other. As a result, solutions promised in campaign speeches, session after session, are never given a final vote.

Ripe for corruption and abuse of power

The established rules consolidate power in the hands of a few members in each chamber who then decide the winners and losers of introduced legislation. The result is a full-time legislature that enacts far fewer bills than most part-time legislatures and that is consistently unresponsive to bills with strong bipartisan support.

Bill Progress in 2019-2020 Legislative Session

Data Visualization of Bills in the 2019-2020 Legislative Session in Pennsylvania

NOTES: Data in this visualization is from the 2019-2020 session, provided by the PA General Assembly, and includes only bills introduced. 68 bills may not be represented accurately due to specificity of data Bills are divided by party of the primary sponsor. 7 bills withdrawn by the primary sponsor are not represented in the visualizations.

Started with redistricting reform, but it’s impacted so much more

For the past six years, Fair Districts PA has been trying to push for a fair redistricting process that represents the residents of Pennsylvania, with broad, bipartisan support. Continuously, we have come up against the rules blocking any possibility of passage.

We are not alone.

Rules have been used to block bipartisan legislation addressing a wide array of critical issues. This list includes: broadband access, childhood lead exposure, equitable school funding, health care related concerns, legislator ethics and money, open primaries, property tax reform and more.

It doesn't have to be this way!

Pennsylvania has pressing problems that demand bipartisan collaboration and real solutions. We can no longer afford to have reasonable legislation die in committee session after session, or stall because majority leaders prefer not to schedule a vote.

It’s time for new rules that ensure good bills with broad bipartisan support are given a vote. And it’s time to make sure legislators from all parts of the state and across the political spectrum have a meaningful role in the legislative process. That’s an essential part of a government established of, by and for the people. 

How can you help fix Harrisburg?

As an Individual

In order for us to see results for bipartisan bills, we need to show legislators we want to see a fair process. You can help us!

As an Organzation

Unfair rules don't just impact any one organization, but many. Learn why it matters to your organization, and how you can join the campaign.