Our heroes from Operation Clean Sweep, Democracy Rising and Rock the Capital have joined forces with local activist Gene Stilp of Stop the Pay Raise, Inc. in his court suit against the legislature and their activities around the pay raise, since repealed. Why is this still going forward, and gaining momentum and support as well, if it has been repealed? Because, there is still business to take care of, primarily to make sure it does not happen again, and to make moot the raise, and subsequent repeal, thereby erasing it entirely. This would force those who have (illegally stolen) money they still have not returned into a bind. They would be forced to repay all monies received under the pay raise. Further, the suit seeks to declare the use of “unvouchered expenses” unconstitutional.
Here is the press release on today’s event in Commonwealth Court:
THREE FILE COURT PAPERS AGAINST THE PAY RAISE
January 31, 2006
Three central Pennsylvania government reform advocates today filed court papers supporting lawsuits that seek to have the July 2005 pay raise and unvouchered expenses declared unconstitutional. The lawsuits were filed last year by another midstate activist, Gene Stilp.
Russ Diamond, chair of PA Clean Sweep; Eric Epstein, coordinator of Rock The Capital; and Tim Potts, a Carlisle activist, argue that lawmakers violated several provisions of the state Constitution.
“…[T]he secret drafting of major legislation behind closed doors and the ‘unveiling’ of such legislation at the last possible moment prevents legislators from even reading what they are voting on, let alone deliberating in the fashion contemplated by the drafters of the Constitution,” the three argue.
“Further, such a practice deprives citizens of their inherent right of participation in the lawmaking process that affects every aspect of their lives,” they said. “It is simply inconceivable that this debacle [the pay raise] could have or would have occurred had the public been given adequate notice of what became Act 44 and adequate opportunity to weigh in on its merits or demerits.”
Diamond, Epstein and Potts contend that the pay raise violated four parts of the Constitution by:
· Changing the subject of the original bill. The original proposal limited salaries in the executive branch while the final law increased pay for all three branches of state government.
· Failing to have the proposal considered by a committee. Although the final bill emerged from a conference committee, it received no hearings in the appropriate standing committees of the House and Senate.
· Including more than one subject. The law put pay raises for all three branches of government in the same proposal instead of dealing with each branch of government separately.
· Failing to give the proposal three days of consideration in each chamber. The conference committee removed all of the language of the original bill and substituted language that had received no consideration in either the House or the Senate before being brought up for final passage.
“These are some of the most fundamental building blocks of good legislation, no matter what the issue,” said Diamond.
“The failure to uphold these Constitutional protections will only give the people more bad legislation. The pay raise is only the most infamous example,” he added.
The brief filed today also asks the court to reverse previous rulings and declare unconstitutional the practice of giving lawmakers “unvouchered expenses.” Lawmakers have used the device to collect additional compensation prior to elections, despite a constitutional provision that appears to prohibit it.
The state Supreme Court upheld the practice in a 1986 ruling by then-Chief Justice Nix following another pay raise. The three activists join Stilp in asking the court to overturn the 1986 ruling as “an obvious circumvention of the Pennsylvania Constitution….”
“We’re simply asking the legislators to be true to what they put on paper. You cannot simultaneously uphold and break the law,” stated Eric Epstein, coordinator of RocktheCapital.org.
A ruling of unconstitutionality also would end the lawsuit by some state judges seeking to have their own pay raises reinstated.
Following the defeat of state Supreme Court Justice Russell Nigro for another 10-year term on the court, the legislature repealed the pay raise. However, some judges have filed their own lawsuit claiming that the repeal resulted in cutting judges’ salaries, which violates another provision in the Constitution.
The brief filed today argues that by ruling the pay raise was unconstitutional, the court can avoid the judges’ lawsuit since they would not have been entitled to the higher salaries in the first place.
“I hope the events of 2005 convince the Supreme Court that its previous rulings have allowed the legislature to go too far in distorting the intent and the plain language of our Constitution,” Potts said.
“To uphold the way the pay raise was passed will put the Supreme Court at odds with the Court of Common Sense and undermine public confidence in the entire judiciary for years to come,” he added.
In conclusion, I wish these gents luck, and note, they are fighting a battle in a court that is made up of judges who were part of the original pay raise deal (in fact, Chief Justice Ralph Cappy was complicit in the construction of the pay raise!), and several of whom have since filed suit to reinstate the raise – for themselves!
I guess there is no conflict of interest there, eh?
“Kick the hubris out of Harrisburg!” THE CENTRIST
"It is the duty of every citizen according to his best capacities to give validity to his convictions in political affairs. " Albert Einstein
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