Friday, March 04, 2011

Next week at the state capitol

Next week will be a big week at the state capitol as Governor Corbett gives his first budget address, a proposal that his budget secretary has suggested would be a "day of reckoning."

But on the civil liberties front, it appears all should be relatively quiet, for a change. Several bills in which we have an interest have been re-referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee, including Senate Bill 3, banning insurance coverage for abortion in the insurance exchanges created by healthcare reform, and Senate Bill 9, requiring government-issued ID for public aid. Bills expanding the controlled substances law are currently on the tabled calendar, and SB 1, the school vouchers bill, is expected to go to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Though the legislature is always full of surprises, no committees are scheduled to vote on civil liberties-related bills.

The biggest potential threat this week is House Bill 317, which adds two new aggravating circumstances for capital cases. It would bring the total number of aggravating circumstances, i.e. circumstances in a homicide that could lead to the death penalty, to 20. At a time when Illinois and Montana are considering repeal of the death penalty, followed on the heels of repeal by New York, New Jersey, and New Mexico, this bill actually expands the death penalty here in PA.

It's possible that HB 317 could get a vote next week. One would think it would go to the House Appropriations Committee before getting a floor vote since the death penalty has proven to be a very expensive government program. But one never knows at the capitol.

After next week, the legislature breaks for several weeks for budget hearings. (Yes, I'm already thinking about the days off I'll be taking this month.) Ah, but civil liberties will still be on the docket this month, as the House Democratic Policy Committee will hold several hearings on school vouchers and the House State Government Committee will hold hearings on ID to vote (on March 21) and on a resolution asking the federal government to address concerns raised over TSA airport searches (on March 30).

In between, I'll be getting some rest. It will really crank up in April.

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