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Legislature takes steps toward Corbett reform plan

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Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011

HARRISBURG — After breakfast with his family Wednesday morning, Gov. Tom Corbett spent his first full day in office meeting with senior staff on a range of topics including "getting government up and running," a spokesman said.

The Shaler Republican was sworn in as the state's 46th governor on Tuesday. One of Corbett's campaign promises — to issue a legislative reform plan during his first week in office — may or may not come through because an effort already is under way in the Legislature to change some of its practices, said spokesman Kevin Harley.

During his campaign Corbett called for eliminating legislative discretionary grants; changing the unvouchered per diem system for legislative expenses; and reducing the $180 million legislative surplus as the state faces a $4 billion deficit.

House leaders have been meeting on a plan to require documentation for per diems issued to lawmakers for trips to Harrisburg and to require them to contribute toward their health insurance. The Senate requires a contribution to health insurance, but does not require a separate document from members regarding overnight stays.

The House next week will consider a bill establishing a searchable online database of all state spending, a proposal Corbett advanced during the campaign, Harley said.

So-called "walking around money" for lawmakers' districts and the legislative surplus are issues that will be discussed during the budget process, which begins in March after Corbett's address to a joint session of the General Assembly, Harley added.

Corbett's meetings at the governor's mansion and the Capitol dealt with budget matters and filling staff positions and remaining Cabinet posts, said Harley.

The House State Government Committee yesterday gave members a preview of bills to be considered for a vote next week, including H.B. 15 by Rep. Jim Christiana, R-Beaver County, that would establish a website called "PennWATCH" to help taxpayers track state expenditures. The Treasurer's Office would maintain it.

The legislation could be among the first bills the Republican-controlled House considers. Republicans took control of the chamber in November for the first time since 2006.

Christiana's bill won House support last session but didn't make it through the Senate.

Other pending bills deal with state contracting changes and stiffer fines for lobbyists who violate the lobbying disclosure act by failing to register or omitting information. Another measure would prevent legislators from forming nonprofit organizations.

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