Monday, August 26, 2013

Joint State's Amazing Record and Report

On August 1, 2013, the Pennsylvania Joint State Government Commission posted a Report, dated August, 2013 (PDF, 4.7 MB), entitled The Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code and Orphans' Court Matters: Legislation Recommended by the Advisory Committee on Decedents' Estates Laws, which encapsulates -- in 291 pages of history, descriptions, summaries, lists, and tables -- the amazing impact of that organization upon probate, estate, fiduciary, and related statutes, and upon Orphans' Court matters generally, since 1945 in this Commonwealth.

The Joint State Government Commission itself was established on July 1, 1937, to serve as "the primary and central non-partisan, bicameral research and policy development agency for the General Assembly of Pennsylvania."  

Its first appointed advisory committee -- the Advisory Committee on Decedents Estates Laws. (ACDEL) -- was established in 1945.  Since then, the "Advisory Committee has generated more than 40 reports that have served as the basis for legislation introduced during numerous legislative sessions of the General Assembly", which have improved Pennsylvania law in Title 20 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes (the Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code -- "PEF Code") and related statutes.  

The Report provides not only a history of ACDEL, but also a compiled reference of its work products, developed by various JSGC ad hoc study groups, legislative resolution task forces, and the standing ACDEL.  Such groups have analyzed, drafted, reviewed, revised, and recommended statutory law in the Commonwealth for the past sixty-eight years.
This report first recounts the purpose of 1945 Senate Resolution No. 46, which authorized the Joint State Government Commission to form a legislative task force and advisory committee to review decedents’ estates laws.
This is the Report's Summary of its contents:
The section titled The Task Force and Advisory Committee on Decedents’ Estates Laws also discusses the membership and leadership of the Task Force and Advisory Committee and outlines the process used to develop statutory recommendations.  Finally, that section summarizes the projects of the Advisory Committee from 1945 to 1972, the codification of the PEF Code (including the original chapter organization of the PEF Code), and proposed legislation since 1972.

The next section, Advisory Committee Reports, lists all 43 published reports of the Advisory Committee since its creation.  Numerous reports published after the 1972 codification contain proposed omnibus amendments to the PEF Code and, in some instances, to other titles of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes.  Other reports focus on one particular topic, such as guardianships, powers of attorney, or trusts.

The list of Advisory Committee reports is followed by Proposed Legislation Organized by Advisory Committee Report.  This section details the contents of each report and provides the specific section and subsection that is the subject of the proposed amendment or repeal or that is newly proposed.  The reports are listed in reverse chronological order.

The next section, Proposed Legislation Organized by Statutory Section, comprehensively lists each specific section and subsection to which the Advisory Committee has made a recommendation.  It then summarizes the nature of the recommendation (proposed amendment, repeal or addition) and the report containing the recommendation.  Of note is that, in a number of instances, the Advisory Committee has revisited the same provision over the years, and several reports capture the multiple or recurring recommendations.

The section that then follows is Proposed Legislation Organized by Legislative Session.  Listed here are each bill introduced that is based on the recommendations of the Advisory Committee, along with the relevant provisions included in the bill and a summary of the disposition of the bill.  If the bill was enacted, the act number and enactment date is provided.  In two instances, a bill containing the Advisory Committee’s recommendations was vetoed by the Governor, despite having passed both chambers of the General Assembly unanimously.

The next section of this report provides a detailed table of contents for the PEF Code, as it was enacted in 1972.

Finally, this report contains a list of the Advisory Committee Chairs and Advisory Committee members, with dates of service and county of practice.
The Report itself is impressive in its sweep and detail.  But the story of passion and perseverance that it implies -- if you can read between the lines (because this is not pulp fiction) -- is even more impressive.

Consider that, since 1945, only 110 volunteer experts spread over 68 years -- many devoted until only death ceased their efforts -- donated their time, expertise, experiences, intellect, skills, and visions to suggest statutory frameworks that still evolve today.  Presently, the ACDEL has 34 members appointed by the Legislature, in roles either as lawyers or judges, serving pro bono.

Their work addressed the most difficult issues in human experience and the most fundamental laws affecting everyone -- disability, incapacity, death, reproductive technology, surrogate health care management, fiduciary administrations, and end-of-life decisions.

The most recent JSGC-ACDEL comprehensive report was issued in October, 2012, regarding reform of Pennsylvania guardianship law, contained in Chapter 55 of the PEF Code. See: Guardianship Law: Proposed Amendments to the Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code, which presently is embodied in Senate Bill 117 of the 2012-13 Session, as reviewed in a Legislative Analysis, dated February 12, 2013.

If that is not enough to impress you, check out the companion report also posted on August 1st -- Domestic Relations Law: Legislation Recommended by the Advisory Committee on Domestic Relations Law 1993-2010 (PDF, 218 pages).

The current supervising Legislative members of JSGC are listed.  All volunteer members of the ACDEL since 1945 were named.  The current supporting staff are listed, but past staff are not.  All were devoted to their craft.

JSGC-ACDEL produces studies and makes recommendations that are non-political, independent, expert, comprehensive, and reliable, in a cost-effective process. In this time of reduced funding and personnel, this organization is beyond special -- it is amazing.

The Joint State Government Commission is a one-of-a-kind blessing to this Commonwealth that, hopefully, will continue its work long into the future.