Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Three Crucial Days for SB 628

"I understand the large heart of heroes,
The courage of present times and all times,
How the skipper saw the crowded and rudderless wreck
of the steam-ship,
and Death chasing it up and down the storm,

How he knuckled tight and gave not back an inch
and was faithful of days and faithful of nights,
And chalked in large letters on a board,
Be of good cheer, we will not desert you; . . .

In just three session days, Senate Bill 628 (discussed in my prior posts here and here) could pass the House and become law. But, if only considered on two session days, it would die in this legislative session.

If it dies, then the citizens of the Commonwealth -- along with their doctors, lawyers, caretakers, clerics, and insurers -- would be left, once again:

  • with no statutory guidance for health care powers of attorney
  • with no statutory authorization for non-appointed family members to direct health care of a patient
  • with the existing, less effective statute for "living wills"
  • with no statutory authorization for end-of-life decisions for those who have not executed a living will.
SB 628 is in a form that the House could adopt "as is" from the Senate, if considered strictly on its merits. In its present form in the House, it already incorporates and answers the concerns of its "stakeholders" -- physicians, lawyers, clerics, advocates for the disabled, end-of-life caretakers, and others -- since those negotiations were completed before its adoption by the Senate and referral to the House.

Now, can the House adopt SB 628 "as is" in this Legislative Session so that it could be presented to the Governor for signature into law?

In the House Judiciary Committee on Monday afternoon, October 23rd, around 2:30 pm, SB 628 received its "first consideration" by the House. It was then immediately referred to the House Appropriations Committee. It can receive its "second consideration" on Tuesday, October 24th during the House Appropriations Committee meeting. But then, the House will adjourn for the election, without a "third consideration" of SB 628. Further House session days are not presently scheduled, since the Legislature would be in a "lame duck" session, when, historically, new legislation generally is not adopted.

But could the House call a session of at least one more day after the election to give an approving third consideration to SB 628? It should. And it could if enough pressure is applied by constituents and interest groups, it would.

This scenario was discussed in an exchange of email messages between me and
State Representative Steve Maitland on Monday afternoon, October 23rd:
  • [SM:] Neil, this bill [SB 628] will be passed out of committee sometime today, but the clock is going to run out on it this session. The Senate has announced that it will not be doing anything substantive after the general election in the "lame duck" session, so today and tomorrow are it. Not enough time, alas, to get this bill to the Governor. - Steve
  • [NH:] Why do Senate sessions affect House consideration, if there would not be any change in the bill?
  • [SM:] A bill requires 3 days consideration in each chamber. Today will be "First Consideration" in the Judiciary Committee. Tomorrow will be "Second Consideration" in Appropriations. Floor voting is "Third Consideration" and the bill could go to the Governor if unamended, but we do not have a session day planned for the necessary Third Consideration. It may be, though, that a bill in that posture would still be taken up in the lame duck session...especially if the affected community really clamors for it... And yes, feel free to share my comments. - Steve
So, let's clamor! Contact your House Representative requesting a third session day post-election for approval of SB 628. If that would occur, then SB 628 could go to the Governor, and would be signed into law.

Pennsylvania would be a far better place to live -- or to get sick, and even to die.

. . . How he follow'd with them and tack'd with them
three days and would not give it up,

How he saved the drifting company at last..."

--Walt Whitman (1819-1892), "Song of myself"

[Lines 822-827, found here.]

Update on 10/24/06:

I received feedback on two points in the posting above.

First, SB 628 was not referred to the House Appropriations Committee for consideration on Tuesday, October 24th. Instead, according to the History of SB 628 found here, it was "laid on the table".

Second, I was advised that, historically, post-election "lame duck" sessions have been very active, with much legislation passing, and that not having a post-election session would be unusual.

The second correction provides hope that the House may indeed hold a post-election session for consideration of business, including SB 628. If so, contact now with Representatives becomes all the more important.

Update on 11/20/06:

SB 628 was adopted by the House 191-0. See: House Passes SB 628!