Wednesday, 17 November 2004

Observers question need for lame duck session

by Damon Boughamer
Public Radio Capitol News, serving Pennsylvania

Harrisburg, Penna. (PRCN, 16 November 2004) -- It’s a biennial tradition in Pennsylvania: legislators rush important decisions and pass potentially unpopular laws during a “lame duck” November session, after voters can hold them accountable.

It’s not a tradition in every state, but it’s probably one that will endure here.

The leaders of groups ranging from the liberal Common Cause to the conservative Commonwealth Foundation are critical of post-election lawmaking.

They note that only eleven states have “lame duck” sessions.

But Brenda Erickson – a research analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures – says that’s because not many legislatures are full-time.

Erickson says where there are full-time lawmakers – from California and Wisconsin to New Jersey and Pennsylvania – they generally find ways to fill up the calendar.

“The states that are full-time have been full-time for many years. My feeling is that they will probably follow the same tradition – that it *is* a tradition in those states,” Erickson says.

And state lawmakers are not alone.

Congress, for example, is required to pass 13 spending bills every year to keep the government running. So far they’ve passed four.

Tuesday, 16 November 2004

Advocates push for affordable housing

by Damon Boughamer
Public Radio Capitol News, serving Pennsylvania

Harrisburg, Penna. (PRCN, 16 November 2004) -- For state lawmakers, the 2004 session is wrapping up.

Advocacy groups are already thinking about 2005, and one coalition wants to make sure affordable housing is a top priority next year.

The Keystone State’s home ownership rate is 72 percent. Advocates say that’s good – in fact, it’s significantly higher than the national average. What’s bad, according to Liz Hersh with the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, is that lots of people are still priced out.

“People are really struggling," Hersh says. "Working people can’t afford places to live that are safe and decent in which their kids can get an education. We don’t have places for people to go when they graduate from college. We don’t have places to go for people when they retire. I mean, this is really a problem.”

Hersh’s group has four suggestions for state lawmakers.

First, encourage the construction of more multi-family homes. Pennsylvania’s fourth-to-worst nationally in multi-family home starts.

Second, generate maintenance and repair policies suitable for the state’s older housing stock.
Third, create tax credits for potential homeowners.

Fourth, protect and preserve existing affordable housing.

Hersh says working with local governments and developers will be key – since they’re the ones who actually approve housing plans and build the homes.