It’s that time of year, and Republicans in the Pennsylvania House say they have spring cleaning on their minds.
In this case, they want to clean out the legislative closets during the next few weeks. Eleven bills that would repeal old laws — some unenforced, such as one banning baseball and football games before 2 p.m. and after 6 p.m. on Sundays — are up for votes Wednesday as part of a “designed and scheduled effort” to get rid of "red tape and other out-of-date policies that are slowing down all kinds of different industries and ideas,” said Mike Straub, spokesperson for House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler.
A few of the targeted statutes fall under “Sunday trading laws,” commonly called “blue laws,” which began in the 17th century and lay out what people can and can’t do on Sundays.
The House on Tuesday voted down an effort by Rep. Kate Klunk (R., York) and fellow Republicans to create an Independent Office of the Repealer, which would review the state’s laws annually and recommend statutes for repeal so lawmakers don’t have to draft bills in a piecemeal way. State Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R., York), who introduced the bill that passed the House last session, is sponsoring a companion bill in the upper chamber.
Democrats balked at spending hundreds of thousands of dollars per year on creating a new level of bureaucracy and said the office was unnecessary, since it would still be up to lawmakers to pass bills repealing regulations. Rep. Matthew Bradford (D., Montgomery) called the effort a “political stunt.”
Rep. Jordan Harris (D., Phila.), the Democratic whip, said the current way is the best way to repeal outdated regulations and supports getting Sunday laws off the books, so there’s no chance they’re enforced.
“I’d much rather police worry about gun violence in Philadelphia than a car dealership being open on Sundays or who’s playing football at a certain time on Sundays,” he said.
At one time, Pennsylvania regulated when residents could play pool and polo, and perform in plays and ice shows. The state banned boxing and wrestling matches and certain types of horse racing on Sundays.
Pennsylvania lawmakers have carved out exceptions to such laws through the decades.
In 1978, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that Sunday trading laws were unconstitutional and directed the state not to enforce them.
State courts throughout the country have found Sunday trading laws to be unconstitutional in whole or in part.
“Getting rid of these laws equates to cleaning out the closet” and “makes good government sense,” said Rep. Jonathan Fritz (R., Susquehanna), who introduced the bills to repeal the music and movie laws. “Government is cumbersome, and if we can help pare things down and simplify things and get rid of paperwork, that makes it easier to conduct our business.”
Rep. Matthew Dowling (R., Fayette-Somerset) “definitely” has attended sporting events during times banned by state law — a restriction he didn’t know was still on the books, he said. He introduced the bill repealing that law to “simplify government."
“It’s important that the laws we do have on the books are actually being enforced, and that we remove any laws that are no longer being enforced," he said. “So the average Pennsylvanian doesn’t have any confusion which laws in Pennsylvania are being enforced and which are not.”
Dowling said a majority of his colleagues have said that “this is a no-brainer that we have to clean these things off the books.” A few lawmakers “with more evangelical backgrounds” think the laws should stay in place, he said. That’s when he reminds them the state doesn’t enforce the laws.