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Gift Regulation Supporters Try Rarely-Successful Process To Move Legislation

Matt Rourke
An officer stands guard in front of House State Government Committee Chairman Daryl Metcalfe's office as demonstrators seeking a ban on gifts to lawmakers protest in the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, May 23, 2017.

Activists across the commonwealth are urging state lawmakers to take an uncommon step in order to move a bill that would place limits on the gifts elected officials can accept.

They’re putting together discharge petition—a measure that’s not often used, and even less often used successfully.

Such a petition can force a bill to move out of a committee to a floor vote if the committee refuses to act on it.

The legislation in question is House Bill 39, which would ban lawmakers from accepting most gifts. It has spent the session sitting in the House State Government Committee, which is chaired by Republican Daryl Metcalfe of Butler County.

Similar proposals have met the same fate over the years.

Madeline Whitehill, legislative director for March on Harrisburg, said the group sees Metcalfe as the root of the problem.

“Given the extraordinary obstructionism, [the discharge petition] is really the only opportunity that we have at this point,” she said.

The petition requires at least 25 signatures from lawmakers. Whitehill said weeks of work have so far earned about a dozen.

"Through this process we’ve really realized, just, the extent of power that party leaders have over rank and file legislators,” she said. “We’ve had legislators become emotional and say that if they were to put their name out there as a legislator supporting this bill, that they would lose their career.”

Metcalfe didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Current state law doesn’t limit gifts of any size. It requires lawmakers report certain gifts, but reporting standards are notoriously lax.

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