Reporting Jon Delano
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Pennsylvania has the largest full-time state legislature in the nation — the second highest paid in the country — and here’s another distinction — it takes one of the longest legislative breaks every summer.
“I don’t know of another legislature that has such a long summer work period,” says Prof. Kristin Kanthak in the University of Pittsburgh’s political science department.
From July 1st until September 24th — 12 weeks altogether — Pennsylvania’s legislature will not meet in Harrisburg.
Local legislators insist they’re not on vacation.
“If we are on break, it’s not like we’re out of country on vacation,” says PA Rep. Jim Marshall, R-Big Beaver. “We’re back in our districts working for the people that elected us.”
House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, a Republican, says work is being done over the summer.
“You don’t have to be in legislative session to consider an issue. That’s why you have committee meetings, and hearings, and discussions.”
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, a Democrat, agrees.
“Well, I wouldn’t call it a 12-week break,” says Costa. “I would suggest to you that there’s work that’s being done daily in the legislative offices, other events are going on in the communities that we are participating in, working on.”
But many legislators admit they use the break to campaign for reelection.
“We’re here in our districts working hard,” notes PA Sen. Elder Vogel, R-New Sewickley. “With election year coming up, everybody’s out campaigning as well. So you throw that in with all your other legislative duties, we stay busy.”
With so much unfinished business in Harrisburg, some say Pennsylvania should take the lead from Washington.
“I think we should adopt something similar to what Congress does,” notes PA Rep. Rob Matzie, D-Ambridge. “Eleven months and then use August for the time for vacation and time back in your district.”
Costa says if people are upset about the legislative schedule, blame those in charge – Republicans.
“The calendar in both the House and the Senate is controlled by the majority party. They decide how many days we’re going to work and how many days we’re not going to work in terms of Harrisburg legislative days,” he adds.
Republican Turzai says the House might come back earlier, but in any case, “all of the bills that get teed up in September and October come out of committee in the summer.”
Turzai is right that some legislative committees do conduct business over the summer, and legislators that go to Harrisburg get that extra $159 per day in per diem.
While no law prevents legislators from taking all 12 weeks off as a paid vacation, most do stick around their districts.
But, right now, when legislators return to work in session on September 24th, leaders have scheduled only eight legislative days to work.
Then — you guessed it — they’re off on another 10 to 12 week break to run for reelection and celebrate the holidays.