NO DOUBT YOU'LL not be surprised to learn that your Legislature's on break this week because, y'know, Easter's coming and folks need time to buy marshmallow peeps, Cadbury eggs and plastic, colored straws.

And, hey, who doesn't get a week-plus break before and after a holiday that falls on a Sunday?

But worry not. The gang of 253 - the nation's largest full-time legislature - is back at it next Tuesday, keeping the state safe for gun owners and gas drillers and free from pesky safety laws.

Let's look at what they've been up to; sort of a first-quarter report.

The House just voted overwhelmingly to extend gun rights to let people packing blast away at perceived threats.

Proponents say, "Make my day." Opponents argue, "Just shoot me." A journalist colleague dubbed the debate a threat to sanity and considered shooting himself.

Speaking of sanity, legislative bosses continue to avoid it by not taxing Marcellus Shale. But what would we do with more money anyway?

And the one and only bill so far passed and sent to the Guv repeals a law requiring sprinkler systems in new homes.

I guess in addition to Fire When Ready and Drill, Baby, Drill we'll add Burn, Baby, Burn to any contest for a new state slogan.

(Our current slogan is State of Independence, which we stole some years back from a Saab auto ad. Creative thinking is not a Pennsylvania strong suit.)

But is that all our over-perked public servants are doing on our dime?

Oh, no, my friends. Not by a long shot.

Democrats argue against budget cuts. Republicans push their own stuff. And both sides laser-focus on issues of greatest concern.

Weren't they handed mandates for fewer sprinklers and more gunfire?

Meanwhile, top GOP issues - school vouchers and tort reform, stall. The Senate put off a voucher vote for lack of support. And House-passed tort stuff isn't certain in the Senate and likely faces legal challenge.

(Not sure what sprinklers, guns, vouchers and torts have to do with creating jobs and passing a budget; but maybe that's just me.)

Stand by, though: At least State Government Committee Chairman Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, is aggressively addressing one real issue.

He's offering legislation requiring that candidates for president and vice president prove they're "a natural born citizen."

This will, says Daryl, a/k/a The Daryl, "Send the message that even those candidates who are running for our nation's highest office are not above the law."

It sends a message all right.

There are bills moving to crack down on welfare fraud, make state spending more transparent and prohibit lawmakers from running nonprofits with state funds. You know, common-sense stuff that coulda/shoulda been done years ago.

Then there's Chester County Republican Curt Schroder's ban on simulcasting greyhound races. I didn't even know that buses raced.

And the budget? Oooh, baby. Democrats are all up in arms pretending they have some say in the GOP-controlled Capitol.

But hold on. Philly Democrat W. Curtis Thomas, who canceled his news conference last Tuesday responding to Gov. Corbett's budget (offered six weeks ago), rescheduled it for April 27. That oughta turn the tide.

Speaking of turning, there might be a slow turn against the Greed-head Caucus. As anger grows over education cuts, salary cuts/freezes for public employees and cuts in human services (all while lawmakers continue getting raises and primo bennies), a few are separating themselves from legislative avarice, thereby underscoring its presence.

Arguing against broad-brush criticism of lawmakers' pay, free or near-free health care, per diems, bloated staffs, fat pensions and other perks, GOP Sen. Mike Folmer and GOP Rep. RoseMarie Swanger, both of Lebanon, separately penned pieces for the Harrisburg Patriot-News. Both pointed out they don't take per diems, health care, raises, cars, pensions, etc.

I like this: shaming the shameless from within.

Other lawmakers who avoid the trough should come forward, too. Be nice to do so during Easter break; might resurrect some public respect.

Send email to baerj@phillynews.com.

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