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PA House Democrats Destruct Democracy In The Dark

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While many Pennsylvanians were tuned into the dysfunction in Washington DC last week, Democrats in the state House were one-upping Congress and leading one of the most destructive assaults on democracy I have seen in my time in Harrisburg.

The week was full of shady last-minute legislation, the silencing of debate when anyone objected to their ideas, and passage of a bill that spends $800 million more of your tax dollars. But by far the worst and most concerning action happened while most Pennsylvanians were sleeping.

House Democrats bypassed a chamber rule that prevents voting after 11 p.m. and rammed through harmful changes to our election laws at midnight, with only a few minutes notice to Republicans.

The 11 p.m. session cut-off rule was put in place after the 2005 “midnight pay raise,” when lawmakers voted themselves a salary increase in the early morning hours after most of their constituents were in bed. Last week’s late committee meeting was held off until Capitol reporters left for the day, an obvious and appalling attempt at secrecy.

The bill, Senate Bill 224, was amended by House Democrats to make mail-in voting permanent – meaning that after you apply the first time, you never have to apply for it again. With documented inaccuracies in our voter rolls, this means deceased voters and those who move would continue to receive ballots. Additionally, the bill would have taken effect immediately, forcing county election officials to make drastic changes at the last minute, further eroding trust in our electoral process. While the bill did include a form of voter identification, it was laced with loopholes and measures that would ultimately render the identity check useless. House Appropriations Committee members were given 3 minutes prior to the vote in the dark of night to read the legislation, and the rest of my House colleagues and I were forced to take a vote on it less than 12 hours later.

Thankfully, we were able to defeat the harmful measure on the House floor. The bill was so bad, it only received 26 yes votes.

The midnight election law takeover was far from the only questionable action taken by House Democrats last week. My fellow PA Freedom Caucus members and I called out another late-night attempt to work around the state Constitution, which requires a two-thirds majority vote to send taxpayer funding to state-related universities such as the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania State University, and Temple University. The PA Freedom Caucus had previously worked to block this funding due to policy issues ranging from the prescription of puberty blockers to children to free speech on campus. Unfortunately, Democrats colluded with 19 Republicans to get enough votes to pass the over $800 million hike in spending.

These actions and others certainly happen on both sides of the aisle. As history shows us, corruption and back-room deals are non-partisan. However, there was no doubt that last week in Harrisburg PA House Democrats were leading the charge on forcing their extreme ideas, excessive government, and election schemes forward while attempting to avoid public scrutiny. The shady breaching of rules and attempts to deteriorate our elections demonstrate why voters do no trust politicians. While Republicans in the House are left without much legislative remedy to these practices in the minority, I will never stop exposing the corruption in Harrisburg.

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Aaron Bernstine (R)
8th Legislative District
Pennsylvania State Representative