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John Baer: You are getting very sleepy. Now, reform

GOOD NEWS. A resolution passed the state House yesterday naming Jan. 4 "World Hypnotism Day" in Pennsylvania. I, for one, couldn't be happier.

GOOD NEWS. A resolution passed the state House yesterday naming Jan. 4 "World Hypnotism Day" in Pennsylvania.

I, for one, couldn't be happier.

Now we can hypnotize our Legislature, get it to clean up its act and cut its size and cost.

Such a course might be our only hope.

Yes, there are some reforms and there are reform bills out the wazoo sitting in various committees. They'd punish lawmakers for late state budgets, stop annual undeserved pay raises and force a sensible realignment of districts to better ensure electoral competition. And that's all good.

But it appears that there's no top-down interest in passing such significant reforms, and no push to change those at the top - other than through perp walks en route to prison.

The institution is in crisis, caught in a spreading corruption probe that's crippling its agenda and threatening its leaders.

So does it wait it out? Aggressively act to alter its image? If I were you, I'd bet on the former.

Too many "reform" candidates elected in 2006 and 2008 turned into institutional toadies, going along to get along. And there's a prevailing school of thought among those long in power that turmoil is cyclical and passing, that significant reforms enacted now will later weaken leaders.

There's no service like self service. Here are examples.

Rep. Glen Grell, R-Cumberland County, this week introduced legislation creating a bi-partisan budgetary-reform commission to establish deadlines with consequences. He wants to prevent further "embarrassment to the institution" such as this year's 101-day delayed budget.

He did this after giving Democratic House Speaker Keith McCall two months to respond to a request for such a commission. And only after Grell informed the Speaker's office last week that he was going public did he get any response - a letter from McCall saying, essentially, there's only so much the House can do.

It's unclear why this took two months. It's crystal clear that budget timelines could loosen leadership's grip on the process.

Grell went ahead and announced his proposal and now says that he'll offer another to include the Senate. "This is a way for the institution to save face," Grell says.

Good luck with that.

Rep. Josh Shapiro, D-Montgomery, Monday chaired a House Subcommittee on Courts hearing on merit selection of judges. We're one of only a few states electing judges at all levels. And we just saw a state Supreme Court race set records for fundraising, largely from lawyers and special interests who then appear before the judges they help elect.

Progressives for years sought to change this public confidence-draining system. Shapiro is a leading reform advocate who sponsored a merit-selection bill last session, so I ask him what are the chances now.

"It's one of the reforms, if we get refocused on a reform agenda, that's in the mix," he says. I ask what makes him think that the legislature will get refocused on reform.

He says, "I didn't say that it would."

Well, maybe after it gets done screwing up table games to finally finish the budget.

And yesterday? The House passed a bill to make all state spending, including the legislature's, available online. This is something that could have and should have been done years ago. Just before passage, Democratic Whip Bill DeWeese, himself entangled in the corruption probe, offered brief floor remarks.

"This chamber, and in fact this entire [Capitol] hill, has suffered many challenges and travails in the last several years," he said. "If this bill had been enacted five or 10 years ago, our circumstances would be profoundly different."

Yeah, see, but it wasn't. And they aren't.

Which is why, I say, watch the watch. *

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