Virtually Empty Pennsylvania House Takes Voice Votes
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) _ The usually boisterous state House chamber was quiet, except for a lone lawmaker who led a chamber of empty chairs through voice votes on nine bills.
In a bizarre procedural maneuver to help set the stage for passage of the $18.2 billion state budget - and allow legislators to leave for the weekend - Rep. Lester Fryer stood at the House speaker’s podium Friday to lead the session devoid of other lawmakers.
″The yeas and nays will now be taken. ... All the members will proceed to vote,″ Fryer called out to the empty seats.
The lack of legislators didn’t hinder passage of eight bills, while one was sent back to the Senate because the House refused to concur in amendments. The eight approved bills also must return to the Senate because of amendments added earlier by the House.
The empty floor session was agreed to earlier in the week by the leaders and the respective caucuses, Fryer said. ″The idea is to have it set up so they were all related to the budget,″ he added.
Such token sessions have been used in the past to move up bills within the House, but this is the first time lawmakers could recall using the maneuver to pass bills. It was done to get the measures over to the Senate by Monday, in order to expedite the budget process.
Since no roll call was taken, lawmakers wouldn’t be allowed to collect a $75 per diem from their expense accounts for the day’s session, said Tony Barbush, an aide to House Majority Leader James Manderino.
Fryer, a Democrat, was substituting for Speaker K. Leroy Irvis in the Democratic-controlled House session. A few other House employees, such as the parliamentarian, were present to record the votes.
Friday’s action was based on voice votes, after which the speaker must decide whether the number of ″yes″ votes outweighed the ″no″ votes for the bills to pass.
When asked if he heard any votes from the lawmakerless chamber, Fryer laughed and said, ″You ought to have more acute hearing.″
″The vote was taken and the yeas and nays were taken and the yeas were on top,″ House parliamentarian Clarence Myer said.
The bills, related to appropriations measures, will be used as vehicles to allow for speedier procedural action on a new state budget expected next week, said Barbush.
Leaders from both parties are in the midst of negotiating a compromise on the new state budget.