A House lawmaker's anger over the Senate's failure to pass an animal-cruelty bill is threatening to hold up all law-and-order bills in the lower chamber.
Rep. Thomas Caltagirone (D., Berks), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he would not move Senate bills that cross his transom until the Senate acts on bills referred by his committee.
"I haven't run any Senate bills and won't, not until they come to their senses and start moving our bills," Caltagirone said.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) denied that there was any effort to stall House Judiciary bills.
Caltagirone blames the Senate Republican leadership for the turtle's pace of an animal-cruelty bill that he sponsored and that passed the House unanimously in March.
"They are playing games with me. They're impounding my dog bill," Caltagirone said. The bill, which would bar anyone except veterinarians from performing certain surgical procedures on dogs, should have been on Gov. Rendell's desk by now, he said.
The bill (H.B. 39) lingered in the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee for three months before being approved June 10. It was then referred to the Judiciary Committee, which Caltagirone contended was a further stalling tactic.
The committee's chairman, Sen. Stewart Greenleaf of Montgomery County, said he was surprised by the allegation and pointed to two House-Democrat-sponsored bills he moved last week.
Greenleaf received the animal-cruelty legislation a week ago, he said, and needed time to review it, as his committee does for hundreds of bills each year.
"Obviously, there are always negotiations on bills. It's a give and take," Greenleaf said.
Caltagirone said his dog bill symbolizes a larger problem: House bills go to the Senate to die or be resurrected with Senate sponsorship, he said.
"They're stealing our bills," he said, citing two identical prison-policy bills in the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. "We sent him mine, and he wants me to run his."
Caltagirone said he had had enough and has no intention to move any more Senate bills.
There are 16 Senate bills (both Democratic and Republican) before the House Judiciary Committee, among them a package of bills to increase penalties for operating a methamphetamine lab, one to raise penalties for bringing weapons into prisons, and one that would allow elderly or infirm prisoners to be transferred to nursing facilities and nonprison alternatives for nonviolent offenders, according to legislative records.
Senate statistics show a roughly equal number of House bills moving through Senate committees as of Senate bills being voted out of House committees.
Caltagirone's declaration of committee war came amid growing tensions over the budget standoff, as leaders in both chambers are trying to work every diplomatic angle before firing heavy verbal artillery.
"We do not believe the Senate has been holding House bills hostage in committees. And we certainly have not been bottling up Senate bills in House committees," said Brett Marcy, spokesman for House Majority Leader Todd Eachus (D., Luzerne). Every bipartisan effort is being made, he said.
For example, Marcy wrote in an e-mail, the governor last week signed four health care bills into law - two House bills and two Senate bills. They were key components of health-care packages of House Democrats and Senate Republicans.
But Caltagirone said that for now, Senate bills referred to his committee will sit until his dog bill is unleashed from committee. "There's no reason why this shouldn't pass quickly," he said. "I want to see it on the calendar, ready for a vote."