February 22 – For anyone who has ever met with or heard Pennsylvania State Representative Paul Schemel speak, you know he’s a pretty cool character. He is typically very collected and logical and makes a lot of sense.
That was, until yesterday in Harrisburg, where he shouted at House Speaker Mark Rozzi, “Never once, Mr. Speaker, did we ever hear about rules for general session, which is what I was asked to assist with!”
After weeks of recess, the PA House reconvened yesterday in a special session where the group will work on passing legislation to open the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases. Speaker Mark Rozzi was sexually abused as a child, so this bill is a pet project of his.
The only rules the group created were for this special session, which will apparently include a full vote in the House tomorrow on the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse victims.
Attorney Clint Barkdoll said, “Paul’s frustration I think is well-grounded.”
Schemel was a part of the Speaker’s working group, which was supposed to be about drafting rules for the House. He was also part of a listening tour where he and other members of the House went around the state to ask citizens how they would like to see the House run.
Barkdoll said, “Overwhelmingly people that showed up at these events said we want more bipartisanship. We’re tired of all this partisan rancor where one side or the other just puts their thumb on the scales and just buffalos through everything. That’s then what we saw unfold yesterday on the House floor. The Democrats have this one-seat majority. They implemented all new rules. For now it’s only for the special session, which only runs through this week. Still not clear what the rules will be for the general session when it starts next week.”
Essentially what happened is the Democrats used their one-seat majority to pass rules that prevented Republicans from making amendments to anything coming up in the special session.
Barkdoll said, “I think what you’re hearing Paul point out there is wait a minute, this is completely contrary to what you, Speaker Rozzi, sent the six of us around the state to provide feedback on. That quickly seems like it has gone out the window.”
Schemel said, “Delay tactics, delay tactics. Then we had a listening tour and all these other things and what do you know we never got to the rules. Only the rules for special session, which only deal with one issue and never the rules for the general session. That means the rules that govern everything else we do – our committees, all the other things. We were definitely used as window dressing for nothing more than delaying until the Democrats could seize power and do whatever they wanted. You saw that fully unmasked yesterday, which sadly I started to assume that’s what would happen. I became incredulous that they wanted to drag those of us who were in the working group, trying to do the right thing all along in on their own charade. I became animated yesterday. I still am.”
Michele Jansen of NewsTalk 103.7FM pointed out, “The fact that Paul doesn’t do this on a regular basis should tell, and people who know Paul, very principled gentleman. High integrity and so for him to get that upset means there is something to be upset about. I, too, share your outrage because people tried to give the benefit of the doubt to Rozzi. Maybe he really does care. Even though I felt skeptical, maybe he really cares that there may be some things about the way things are done that keeps the minority less able to have an impact for their constituents and I think there’s some fair criticism there, but it doesn’t seem like the Democrats have any intention of changing the rules now that they have a slim majority.”
Schemel said, “And this isn’t Rozzi so much. I’ve had many conversations with him over time. This is the Democratic Party that has the majority of one person. They have a majority of one and they’re using that to exercise their will to do whatever they want. They will use other people. They will use Speaker Mark Rozzi. They’ll use the working group. They’ll use whoever they want to obtain their objective surreptitiously, which is what we saw happen yesterday, and I guess that’s what we have to expect for the next two years.”
Jansen wondered, “If he doesn’t get what he wants, and he created a little committee to work on this and pass it, he is the creator of these bills, you’re going to come out with pieces of legislation that are only going to concentrate on getting what he wants, singular, by itself. If he doesn’t get what he wants from the Senate, will they continue to hold you guys hostage? Can he do that?”
Schemel said, “We don’t know what he’ll do. This is the passion issue for Mark Rozzi. He’s always wanted statute of limitation reform. He proports to have been abused himself as a child, wants to bring a claim, I presume.
The PA Senate sent a bill over that had statute of limitation reform, but it also included a bill on voter ID and regulatory reform.
Barkdoll said, “There’s a real scenario here the Senate may reject both of these pieces of legislation and then it’s not clear where this goes. Does Rozzi just keep saying we’re going to stay in special session until we get something done?”
Jansen said, “That’s holding a gun to the people of Pennsylvania to do exactly what one person wants. This is an outrage. It should be not allowed.”
Schemel said, “On the regulatory reform, I think a lot of parties were willing to give. They could have stripped that out and then sent Senate Bill 1 back to the Senate and this would have been done long ago. This would have now been on the primary ballot in May, but it’s not going to be because they speaker intentionally wanted to wait.”
Jansen asked, “Is it also possible now general assembly rules will be very slanted towards the majority, maybe even more so than they’ve been in the past?”
Schemel said, “We have no idea what the quote Rozzi rules will be because he’s been silent on them. Again, at the very beginning of January, on the day he took office, and made those requests and appointments, including myself and two other Republicans to be on the working group, he specifically asked me, I want you to help me create the rules for general session so that we have a smooth general session. We’ve never done that. We’ve actually never talked about rules for general session which is the reason that we were ostensibly to be on that group.”