Republicans in the state House have released plans aimed at restoring the public trust and tackling corruption in Harrisburg.

But, Democrats say the real test of whether Republicans are serious about reform is if they provide “proper oversight” of the Corbett Administration.


Republicans in the state House have released plans aimed at restoring the public trust and tackling corruption in Harrisburg.

But, Democrats say the real test of whether Republicans are serious about reform is if they provide “proper oversight” of the Corbett Administration.

House Majority Leader Rep. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) said corruption, pay-to-play, nepotism and ignorance among legislators has caused Pennsylvanians to lose faith in their government.

Democratic Party spokesman Mark Nicastre said reform should start with Gov. Tom Corbett’s Administration.

“Already, Tom Corbett has raised serious questions by naming major donors and lobbyists for corporate special interests to his Cabinet and his transition team,” said Nicastre. “For all the calls for reform, Republicans’ actions, led by Tom Corbett, have fallen very short of their rhetoric.”

On Jan. 24, Republican legislators will introduce six bills that, if passed, could change the way Harrisburg does business with the taxpayers’ money.

The Pennsylvania Agenda for Trust in Harrisburg (PATH) legislation package is directed at making government contracts more open to the public, said Rep. Mike Peifer (R-Monroe/Pike/Wayne), who sits on the Finance and Appropriations committees.

“Transparency,” Peifer said. “We need to be open in government and the best place to start is the financial side.”

The PATH package aims to reform the procurement process, ban legislator-owned, publicly-funded organizations, and strengthen whistleblower protection for state employees and contractors. A major piece of legislation, called PennWATCH, would create a searchable database for all state spending, Turzai said.

House Bill 15, introduced by Rep. Jim Christiana (R-Beaver), would make all state expenditures available through one website, and would include vendor information and lists of contract awards including recipients, purpose and status reports.

Nicastre said it’s about time.

“It is refreshing to see some Republicans finally hearing the taxpayers’ calls for government reform,” he said.

“The House and Senate Democrats have been working on numerous pieces of meaningful reform legislation for some time now, and Democrats look forward to working with Republicans to create meaningful transparency, good government for all Pennsylvanians, and proper oversight of the Corbett Administration,” he added.

Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause PA, a nonprofit government watchdog group, said his organization is pleased with the PennWATCH legislation, although Republicans need to further define “searchable.”

“Many agencies will contend that they have ‘searchable’ data. However, those databases are NOT ‘fully searchable,’ nor at their search functions in any sense ‘user-friendly,’” Kauffman stated in a letter — obtained by The Wayne Independent — to Rep. Josh Shapiro (D-Montgomery) of the House State Government Committee.

Nicastre said Democrats presented serious reform legislation during the 09-10 session. House Democrats passed legislation for a searchable database for state expenditures called PennGAP. Democrats also proposed whistleblower-protection and pension reform legislation and strengthened the Sunshine Act.

Peifer said with the new House members, new leadership and a new caucus, it takes a little time to get something going.

“We have to crawl before we walk, and walk before we run,” Peifer said.

Reform bills to be introduced:

• State Contract Review Reform — Amends Procurement Code provisions to competitively sealed proposals. No individual who has been employed by an offeror within the last two years may participate in the evaluation of the proposals.

• Public Review of Contracts — Makes Right-To-Know applicable to public procurement contracts and provides for public inspection of non-competitively awarded contracts prior to execution of the agreement.

• No Start-Ups — Amends the Legislative Code of Ethic to essentially include the provisions of House Rule 47, which prohibits members of the General Assembly from creating or maintaining non-profits which receive public funds.

• PennWATCH — Creates a searchable database for all state spending. All state departmental and agency budget expenditures would be available online through one website. The site would list vendor information and lists of state contract awards including recipients, purpose and status reports.

• Actual lobbying only — Increases the penalties for lobbyists engaging in prohibited activities.

• Whistleblower protection — Extends Whistleblower protection to employees of nonprofits/private sectors companies who report waste of public monies obtained by their employer for services or work. Also provides similar protections to legislative employees.