HARRISBURG - The House on Tuesday made it possible to more quickly expel members convicted of certain crimes, acting on the same day a Philadelphia Democrat finally gave up her seat, months after she secretly pleaded guilty to corruption charges.
The change in rules came as many legislators were sworn in for a new two-year session. And it seemed designed to make it harder for any other legislator to do what Rep. Leslie Acosta did.
In March, the North Philadelphia representative secretly pleaded guilty to a federal embezzlement charge, a plea that remained unknown until it was reported in September by the Inquirer.
But Acosta stayed in office and, unopposed, won reelection. Her lawyer maintained Acosta had a right to keep her $85,000-a-year job because she had not yet been sentenced, and the state constitution says public officials charged with felonies are barred from office only after a conviction is complete, which includes sentencing.
Though still awaiting sentencing, Acosta had her resignation take effect Tuesday. Her seat will remain vacant until a special election is held.
Under the new rules, if a House member pleads guilty or no contest, or is found guilty of a crime related to the office or a crime that renders a legislator constitutionally ineligible, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Ethics Committee would be authorized to request a resolution of expulsion that would appear on the voting calendar for the next session day.
"If a member has pled guilty or no contest or is convicted by a court of law and a jury, then there can be a vote to expel them immediately, as opposed to waiting until they are sentenced," House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin said. "This streamlines it and gives the committee a little extra oomph to be able to do it."
The changes to House rules, which were voted on as a group, were negotiated by leaders of both parties and approved by the House, 167-32.
The new rules also strengthen the ability of the Ethics Committee to hire outside counsel and issue subpoenas, Miskin said.