HARRISBURG - Every other fall, the month that follows legislative elections traditionally has been a period when Pennsylvania lawmakers get a lot of work done.
Voters have spoken and won't be heard from again for a couple of years. Retiring or defeated incumbents, with little on the line, can be easier to persuade. The deadline pressure helps, too.
This year, however, it appears things will be different. The Senate's Republican leadership announced a few days ago that there will be no lame-duck period in November.
"A lot of bills get passed, and a lot of mischief has always taken place," Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati (R., Jefferson) said. "It's time to, in my opinion, try to restore some trust and faith in the legislature."
Recent lame-duck sessions have delved into whether to raise lawmakers' pay, spend tax dollars for sports stadiums, allow liquor sales on Sundays, or take control of the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
The 2006 version brought a toughening of the state's child-sex-abuse law in response to the Catholic Church's pedophilia scandal, and a green light for casinos to ply gamblers with free drinks.
During the postelection period, the General Assembly's normally languid pace shifts into overdrive. Lame-duck sessions accounted for 30 percent of all non-appropriations bills signed into law during an eight-year period in the 1990s, according to a study by Common Cause of Pennsylvania.
Most states do not normally allow lame-duck sessions, and very few have enshrined them every two years, as Pennsylvania had.
The decision to cancel this year's session is only a temporary solution, said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause of Pennsylvania.
"This commitment only lasts as long as this session, and only with this leadership team, so it could vanish next year," he said.
Banning lame-duck sessions permanently, as Kauffman's organization advocates, would require amending the state constitution - a long process that involves legislative and voter approval. House and Senate bills to do that are pending.
The Senate Republicans' decision means the legislature's business will effectively be finished this year once the budget passes in June or July, House Minority Leader Sam Smith (R., Jefferson) said.
"If the Senate's not here, the House really can't do much," he said. "And historically the legislative activity in the month or so leading up to a general election is modest."