Pennsylvania Leaders Squabble Over Stalking Bill

State House and Senate GOP leaders are again providing fodder for advocates of re-instituting a unicameral legislature in Pennsylvania, this time with a picayune spat over no-brainer legislation (HB 1154) that would end labor unions’ exemption from prosecution for stalking, harassment, and threats to use weapons of mass destruction.

Following the February 18 federal indictment of members of a Philadelphia-area ironworkers union for racketeering and arson, HB 1154 sailed through the lower chamber by a vote of 115-74 on March 12. On April 7, the Senate passed the bill 48-0, but not before tweaking it with language specifying that a shield of immunity should be placed around activity explicitly protected by “federal law”.

A drafting attorney with the legislature informed Media Trackers that the amendment was crafted with guidance from Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi’s office. When asked to identify what federal law Senator Pileggi was concerned about running afoul of, the lawyer clammed up.

Pileggi’s change has no impact on the bill’s purpose, as the U.S. Supreme Court established a precedent in United States v. Enmons that acts of violence by union members – while not a federal crime under the Hobbs Act – are prosecutable by the states. Yet the modification was enough to raise the hackles of the bill’s author, Rep. Ron Miller, and several House co-sponsors.

A source told Media Trackers that the House Rules Committee is pondering a restoration of HB 1154 to its original language, which could escalate friction between the chambers in what should have been a facile legislative task, particularly with the iron workers’ alleged heinous crimes serving as an emotional fulcrum.

Even though Republicans have commanding bicameral control of the General Assembly, the spat over HB 1154 is far from their first major disagreement. Shortly after Pennsylvanians gave the GOP a historic mandate in 2010 with dominant control of the elected branches of state government, the Senate passed a watered-down school vouchers proposal that was killed by House Majority Leader Mike Turzai. Pileggi and the upper chamber returned the favor by scuttling Turzai’s proposal to privatize the state liquor stores.

The common theme among stalemated GOP bills seems to be that they are offensive to organized labor, which leads cynics to speculate as to whether the machismo by Pileggi and Turzai is – like professional wrestling – contrived. Regardless, Ben Franklin perhaps appears now to have been a sage.

The only founding father to have signed all three documents that gave birth to the nation (the Declaration of Independence, The Treaty of Paris, and the United States Constitution), Franklin presided over the Pennsylvania Convention of 1776 and co-authored the commonwealth’s first post-Declaration of Independence constitution, which established a unicameral legislature. He likened a bicameral legislature to “putting one horse before a cart and another behind it, both pulling in opposite directions.”