How State Republicans Blocked an Investigation into Gov. Corbett’s Handling of Sandusky

On Monday, state House Republicans pulled a ridiculous parliamentary parlor trick in order to defeat a resolution calling for an investigation into Gov. Corbett’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky investigation while he was state attorney general. Since the resolution was blocked, House Democrats are now calling on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder directly to open an inquiry in order to confirm—or clear—allegations that Corbett slow-walked the investigation for political gain.

Some background: The resolution (HR 520) calling for an investigation was introduced by Rep. Anthony DeLuca (D-Allegheny) back in December 2011, then referred to the Rules Committee. Unsurprisingly, Republican Rep. Mike Turzai, House Majority Leader and chair of the Rules Committee, let the resolution sit and never called it to the floor. (It’s the preferred passive-aggressive method to kill legislation in Harrisburg, especially when it is feared that said legislation may pass a vote.)

However, a parliamentary maneuver, a “discharge petition,” exists to be used for just such an occasion. A discharge petition requires 25 signatures and is designed to crowbar a resolution or bill out of the committee chair and down to the floor after it has been sitting for a designated period of time. So in June, Rep. Brandon Neuman (D-Washington) filed the discharge petition to pry HR 520 out from under Turzai’s chair. There have only been a few voting session days since June, and so as the world watched Sandusky get sentenced to dying in prison, Pennsylvania legislators wondered if we’d ever know if he could have been stopped earlier.

In the wake of Sandusky’s arrest, it became more and more apparent that Penn State is a stronghold of power and money in Pennsylvania politics. It’s certainly not a community a politician would want to disenfranchise while mounting a gubernatorial campaign. And as reported by Deadspin last year, former and then-current board members of Second Mile donated $201,783.64 to Corbett’s 2010 campaign.

Back to the House: As reported by PW, Rep. Tim Briggs (D-Montgomery County), new enough to the game of politics in Pennsylvania to perhaps either not know or care about the political repercussions of his actions, called for the discharge petition while he was at the microphone on Oct. 3.

That’s when all hell broke loose.

Speaker of the House Rep. Sam Smith (R-Punxsutawney) banged the gavel and declared Briggs was out of order. Then, the Republicans called for a temporary recess and turned out the lights. Though sources on the scene say the session was expected to go until 11 p.m., they never reconvened.

“The reaction was—it’s hard to explain,” explains Briggs to PW after the episode. Briggs says that after signing the discharge petition, any of the signers can call for it. “It’s not like we rope-a-doped or misled anyone.”

And so the issue remained unresolved until yesterday, the first day the House was back in session since that episode. This time, instead of turning out the lights and playing possum, House Republicans craftily manipulated a letter of the law in order to defeat the spirit of its intention. When the discharge resolution was called up, House Republicans called for House Rule 53.

See, according to House Rule 53, a discharge petition can’t happen if addressed within the last six days left in the legislative session—it has to be addressed before that. It shouldn’t have been a problem, because as of yesterday morning, there were seven days left before the current session expires.

So what happened?

Twenty minutes before the session began at 1 p.m., House Republicans issued a memo canceling sessions scheduled for Nov. 19 and Nov. 20—days that would have been the last two voting days of the year. Voila! By the time the discharge resolution was brought up yesterday afternoon, there suddenly were only five days left.

A procedural vote was held on whether or not to suspend House Rule 53. Turzai said the resolution should have been addressed earlier but, of course, he’s the one who blocked it. Then he urged everyone to vote against suspending Rule 53.

Lawmakers hoping to vote on the resolution didn’t get the two-thirds majority  necessary (they needed 19 more votes) to suspend the rule, to hear the petition, to vote on the resolution–because of a technicality completed manufactured by House Republicans 20 minutes before the session.

“I suspect they would have found another reason not to, but by canceling those two days, it was a simple way for them to claim the discharge was out of order,” says House Democratic spokesman Bill Patton. “They made it clear on October 3 that they had no stomach for this and we saw that again today.”

“I was disappointed we didn’t get a vote,” says Neuman. “I think if we would have had a vote, it would have passed.”

The effort to investigate the efficiency of the Sandusky investigation hasn’t always been strictly partisan, but is appears to have devolved into a hot potato. The three Republican co-sponsors of the original resolution have all recently disavow anything to do with it. According to his office, Rep. Mario Scavello (R-Monroe) removed himself as sponsor in August. The office of Rep. Mark Keller (R-Perry) told PW his initial sponsorship was a typo—which is interesting, because that’s exactly what the office of Rep. Gary Day (R-Lehigh/Berks) told PW, too. And Keller and Day both happened to have noticed the typo about two weeks ago: Presumably right after it was brought up on Oct. 3, and everyone ran out of the room.

“The reaction of the majority party … makes me think we probably really do need it,” Briggs told PW. “It was kind of shocking to me that that was how to deal with a concern that has been raised across Pennsylvania.”

The resolution may be dead, but House Democrats intend to pursue the matter independently: They’ve already drafted a letter to send to the U.S. attorney general’s office, requesting an investigation.

House Democrats are determined to see Corbett investigated on the matter. Neuman told PW that if the letter isn’t enough to spark an investigation, they’ll re-introduce a new resolution next year. Pennsylvania House Republicans can’t keep the lights off forever.

5 Responses to “ How State Republicans Blocked an Investigation into Gov. Corbett’s Handling of Sandusky ”

  1. Stephen says:

    The PA GOP gets more shady and under-handed every day. Steamrolling the rights of private property owners to coddle the natural gas industry, implementing racist “Voter ID” law to disenfranchise the poor & minorities, and now trying to protect Corbett from his slow prosecution of Sandusky.

  2. Jane says:

    Pathetically, anyone listening to Tom Corbett yuk it up with the other failed school teacher on 1210’s Let Me Talk Radio show knows what a coward Tom Corbett is,,,,,as the Talking Stepford Host uses him on his never-ending path to releance, they serve each other beautifully.

  3. electedface says:

    As Attorney General, Tom Corbett received over $647,000 in campaign contributions from members of the Second Mile Foundation, while only assigning one investigator to the case.

    Meanwhile, at the same time, he assigned 14 investigators to Bill Deweese, who spent more than 5 years trying to get him.

    It is difficult to believe these campaign contributions did not improperly influence his decision to not file charges against Jerry Sandusky.

    The state police trooper who initially handled the Clinton County case against Jerry Sandusky believed there was enough evidence from a teenage boy — now known as Victim One– to charge Sandusky with indecent assault.

  4. john says:

    corbett knew what was going on he eccepted money from this sicko sandusky and turned his head,he could have stopped this monster from molesting alot of young boys and didnt.he was quick to run to penn state and force them to get rid of joe pa for “not doing the right thing” but yet he did the same thing and keeps on going like he did nothing wrong, i feel that corbett is more to blame than sandusky because he knew sandusky was sick and would keep on going,he let him keep on going hurting these young boys,all because sandusky paid him off.i say throw corbetts ass in jail along side sandusky and throw away the can we let this happen,there should be an investagation into this matter as i believe alot more info will be uncovered.he sure sent a message if you want to do wrong just give me a few hundred thousand and ill let you do whatever untill someone else finds out about belief is that the DA was going to press charges but went missing,murdered what have you,all the documents from the case stolen,i mean how does all that sound,then the brother of the DA went missing,murdered? or whatever its all one crazy sad story,alot of young boys got molested that shouldnt have been,if one man would have stood up to him instead of taking his money and turning his head.let the investigations begin

  5. Ann says:

    WOW, politics in PA stink to high heaven! This is outrageous and absurd. While this should not have devolved into partician politics as child molestation isn’t a partician issue, it would appear that this has turned into just that. I would hope that ALL who want to protect children instead of protect politics would join in this effort to investigate Corbett’s actions or inactions. If only the Dems want to take this on then I am all for their efforts. Just know, however, that those who choose to block any investigation are clearly stating that they are FOR pedophiles and AGAINST children and will be judged as such.

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