Once in a lifetime experience

Article posted on April 30, 2007

I had the privilege of viewing the state’s rare book collection this morning.  I got up at 5:30 to drive to the state library by 9:00 so that I could see the entire collection before it is put into the new state-of-the-art vaults just completed for these books and several thousand others in the Pennsylvania collection.  The story behind the books is as fascinating as the books themselves.  The Lt. Governor joined Senator Mike Brubaker and I, along with some staff for the tour.  The librarian pulled several books for us to take a closer look at including one from 1492, that’s 1492, I didn’t transpose a number.  Benjamin Franklin, started to purchase books for the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 1745 with the intent of educating the founding fathers about the laws and cultures of the world in order to prepare them to craft the framework for our new order in the colonies.  This original collection of 425 books contains phrases used in the Declaration of Independence and other critical documents of that era.  To save the books, the collection was moved at least 10 times over the years, several during the Revolutionary War and once when the state capitol burned.  Today, 422 of the original collection are at the state library and one is in Philadelphia at the Constitution Center, only 2 books are missing.  I could go on for hours about the once in a lifetime experience I had this morning but need to head out to dinner with Brian Turk, my Chief of Staff to review a number of issues.  Enjoy the weather! 

– John

Keep The Five Alive!

Article posted on April 30, 2007

An Op-Ed submitted by Senator John H. Eichelberger, Jr., 30th District

On April 26 I introduced my first piece of legislation, SB 814.  This Constitutional Amendment would limit the terms of members of the General Assembly to eight years in the House of Representatives and eight years in the Senate over the course of a lifetime.  This is one of many fundamental changes that have been discussed in light of the newfound passion for reform among many in the electorate.  Unfortunately, some are already declaring my bill dead on arrival.  Calls for a Constitutional Convention crescendo as public opinion sours on the General Assembly’s ability to get any Constitutional reforms passed.  The first real test for this reform is upon us and we must act decisively.

On Tuesday, May 8, the Senate State Government committee is expected to take up the following five Constitutional Amendments: reapportionment by a citizen panel, initiative and referendum public ballot access, reducing the size of the legislature, eliminating sine die sessions of the General Assembly, and term limits for the General Assembly.  While I don’t agree with every one of these proposals, I do feel that it is time that the people of
Pennsylvania found out where their State Senators stand by having a floor vote on each bill.

Some progress has been made, but we have yet to see a floor vote on a substantive reform issue by the Senate.  Senator Jeffrey Piccola, as chair of the State Government Committee, is taking the correct step by scheduling these five bills for a committee vote.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t guarantee them a vote by the full Senate.  The eleven members of the State Government committee need to vote yes on each of these measures, whether they agree with them individually or not, so that we can have a full debate on the Senate floor and force members to go on the record for the first time with these issues.

The people of Pennsylvania today wonder how serious the General Assembly is about reform.  Rule changes and commitments are great first steps, but these five Constitutional Amendments are the “red meat” of serious, fundamental reform.  While every Senator may not agree with every bill and amendments may be offered to hone an acceptable resolution, the public floor debate needs to happen and it needs to happen right now.  The Senate needs to tell
Pennsylvania how serious it is about Constitutional reform and help frame the debate concerning a Constitutional Convention.

Some, myself included, feel that calls for a Constitutional Convention may be premature, that the reform movement is coming off huge electoral victories and making progress in small steps and that a Convention is a measure of last resort.  However, if an eleven member committee is unwilling to allow fundamental issues to the floor, a Convention may be our only hope.

We must have an all inclusive vote from the committee; we must “Keep the Five Alive” to advance the bills to the proper public forum.  ‘Keep the Five Alive’ must be the rallying call for the reform movement for as long as it takes to move these bills through the process.  If a bill falls on its own merit, so be it, but there must be a debate, and we must all join the chorus to “Keep the Five Alive.”

Never Enough Time

Article posted on April 29, 2007

Here it is, Sunday evening after 8:00 and I’m still at my insurance office working on Senate work, insurance work and personal items like bills and invitations.  I started early this morning with a 6 mile run then went to church, to the office, then to an Eagle Scout Ceremony in Bedford (very nice ceremony with a great scout and his great family) then home to change and eat lunch then back to the office.  I have to stop by the Senate office on my way home to drop off work for staff to do on Monday and then grab some home- made bean-less steak chili that Charlotte has been making all day in the crock pot.  I wish I had a few more hours to work but I’d better get home to pack and get settled for the night.  I have to get started early tomorrow to be in Harrisburg by 9:00 (which means getting up at 5:30).  My week ahead looks less busy than last week’s so maybe I can get caught up a little.  Lucky for me that I like to stay busy. 

– John

Another busy Saturday

Article posted on April 28, 2007

It was another busy Saturday.  I started at my usual men’s fellowship meeting at 7:00 then went to the Altoona Kiwanis’ Annual Pancake Breakfast then went home to run 4 miles then went to Huntingdon with Charlotte for “Mayfest” then to a Loyalty Day service at the VA Hospital in Altoona then to the insurance office for an hour and a half then to the Blair County NAACP Annual Dinner.  I, of course talked issues with people everywhere I went and answered emails all day and spoke at two of the events today.  And some people think that legislators only work when they are in Harrisburg!

– John

William Penn Leadership Program

Article posted on April 27, 2007

What a great program we had today at Penn State Altoona with about 100 kids.  Jeff Coleman from Churchill Strategies, Corey Graham, web and graphics designer,  Steve Clark, local radio talk show host and media guru,  and Representative Dave Reed made the day a huge success.  This program was done almost entirely by my staff with some help by Jeff Coleman, they really out did themselves.  The kids were juniors from 15 school districts in the 30th District.  They were bright, articulate and seemed very engaged in the program, I couldn’t have enjoyed them more.  If our future leaders were in that room, we’re in good shape.

– John

The Taxpayer Protection Act

Article posted on April 26, 2007

I was in a unique situation today, as a member of the Policy Committee, I attended a committee meeting as a member, listening to people testify, I also offered testimony.  The hearing was on The Tax.payer Protection Act or TPA.  I am a co-sponsor on the two bills introduced and am offering an amendment to protect local government by prohibiting the state from making cuts in mandated services provided by local governments, to balance the budget and make it under any spending cap.  The testimony from two of the other testifiers also recommended my amendment (and I didn’t tell them to).  Things went well for the TPA and for my amendment, these are a big step in getting the state’s economy turned around.

– John

We passed the first test

Article posted on April 25, 2007

Today was the first test of the new Republican Senate caucus and leadership.  We were up against the Governor on two cabinent member confirmations.  Questions have recently been raised concerning the Secretaries of DEP and DCNR.  Their Departments gave grant money to entities where their spouses either worked or had a contract for services.  All we asked for in the Senate was an opinion from the State Ethics Commission about their conduct, the Administration said no.  We said that if we didn’t get it, we would vote down the nominees.  After 5  plus hours of back and forth, the Governor blinked, we will have an opinion from the Commission.  Today’s events will set the tone for the future, in particular, the budget process. 

– John

Senator pays own way, annoys colleagues

Article posted on April 25, 2007

Four months on the job, Sen. John Eichelberger remains a pariah.

“They treat me well for the most part, but there’s not a lot of trust there, I think, and that goes both ways,” Eichelberger said of his colleagues and the staff in the state Senate.

It’s no wonder.

Eichelberger hasn’t exactly tried to fit in since defeating former Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer, R-Blair.

Even worse, he’s a constant reminder to colleagues of voters’ calls for doing away with excessive taxpayer-subsidized benefits.

He won’t take the $148 per day per diem and passed up the taxpayer-funded calendars colleagues hand out like candy. Don’t even get him started on glossy newsletters most members send out.

Read the full Tribune-Review story here.

Busiest Day?

Article posted on April 24, 2007

It’s 10:30 and I’m back at the capitol after meeting Representative Stan Saylor from York County for dinner.  The capitol is a different place at night.  Not many people in this very large structure except for security and cleaning staff.  Security always checks in on me when I’m here late and the cleaning staff will be in any time now.  Today was probably the busiest day I have had at the capital and I heard that from several long term members.  There were a lot of people here including several groups for conferences and a number of meetings and hearings this morning.  We had a lengthy caucus meeting again today and to top it all off, the fire alarms went off at 12:50 and the building was evacuated for about 20 minutes.  I have some more reading to do for a Finance Committee meeting in the morning and have three breakfasts starting at 7:30, I had five this morning, a personal best.

– John

A LONG Caucus

Article posted on April 23, 2007

It’s after 5:00 and I am still at a caucus meeting. We went into session at 1:00 then went to caucus to interview cabinet secretaries. This is an interesting process and some of the interviews today have been very interesting. Several of the Secretaries have problems that have recently come to light, as recently as this weekend. The Secretaries of DEP and General Services have become embroilled in ethics questions following a newspaper story revealing that their spouses were part of entities that received grants in excess of 1.5 million dollars. The Secretary of Agriculture is in the midst of a property tax dispute in his home county, the propram he is using as an exemption is overseen by his department. The Senate must vote on the cabinent nominees by Wednesday, we shall see how things go. I have several receptions and a dinner tonight, if I get out of here?

– John