The Problem:
Current rules block bipartisan solutions

Not just redistricting reform

We have been asking the General Assembly for fair redistricting for years. We have worked to build strong support in cities and rural areas, from city governments and school boards, with scores of legislators no matter their party, and still have not made progress in changing our laws or constitution for lasting change to redistricting. 

 

We see procedural rules as the center of it, and know we’re not alone. Rules have been used to block bipartisan legislation addressing a wide array of critical issues. 

 

What issue matters to you? Our research has identified a long list of issues that are ignored year after year, including: broadband access, childhood lead exposure, equitable school funding, health care related concerns, legislator ethics and money, open primaries, property tax reform and more.

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

  • If and when official debate and discussion can occur

  • If and how public hearings are conducted

  • Public notification requirements

  • The duties of staff and officials in the chamber

How are rules created?

The rules governing PA's legislative process are decided by legislative leaders prior to the beginning of a new session—which happens every other year. Once decided, these rules are put to a vote in the General Assembly as a resolution, and pass with a broad majority. Because these rules are established in a resolution—not the constitution or PA code, changes to the rules may be put to a vote at any time. Such changes rarely happen.

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,

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.

Representation is limited

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 debate or collaboration in view of the public.

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. 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.

Power can be hoarded, not shared

The established rules consolidate power in the hands of a few members in each chamber who then decide decide whose legislation sees the light of day. One committee chair or one legislative leader can block a bill that has strong, bipartisan public support.The result is a full-time legislature that enacts far fewer bills than most part-time legislatures in the country.

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.

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. 

Dysfunction by Design

In December 2022, Fair Districts PA released a paper outlining the problems and solution to Legislative dysfunction. To take a deeper dive, view details, comparisons and data related to the Pennsylvania Legislature, please read it!