Pennsylvania House session lasts just minutes after schedule shuffled over pope concerns

Government And Institutions Associated Press

Pennsylvania lawmakers held an unconventional House session Tuesday that lasted just minutes, was not broadcast as usual and did not include a roll call.

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The only business that occurred was to position two bills so that members can vote later this week on the pair of Republican stopgap budget bills that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has threatened to veto.

At least half the 203 members were present, which is the minimum quorum required to conduct business, House Parliamentarian Clancy Myer said. Because there was no roll call, he said, federal rules require members who want to be paid for attending the session to submit a statement saying they were in Harrisburg.

Leaders agreed to the abbreviated session to help members avoid heavy traffic expected because of Pope Francis' visit to Philadelphia this weekend. The final vote on the stopgap, which passed the Senate on party lines last week, is expected to occur Thursday.

"There was concern about the session at the end of the week preventing a number of members getting back to their districts in southeastern Pennsylvania because of traffic restrictions coming along with the pope," House Democratic spokesman Bill Patton said. "That was something both leaders talked about yesterday and made this decision."

Myer said the cameras on the House floor, which could have helped document who was actually there, were not turned on because of the shortness of the session. He said that when no one challenges that at least 102 members are on the floor, it's presumed that a quorum exists.

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Myer, who has been with the chamber for decades, said the last time he could recall a similar session was in the late 1980s, when he and two others were the only people present as the House moved bills into position for a conference committee.

House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin said attendance on Tuesday easily met the quorum standard.

Barry Kauffman, the director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said the process used Tuesday "raises cynicism among the public and doubt as to the propriety of the way the House is being operated."

People should know if their representative was on the floor and consented to positioning the bills, he said.

"What we're talking about is arguably the single most important bill that the Legislature works on in a given year, and the only bill that is constitutionally mandated to happen every year — the state budget," Kauffman said. "It certainly gives short shrift to a proper and accountable process."