On last day of lawmaking: ‘If you thrive on chaos, you enjoy this time of year.’

Behind the scenes, there was likely lot of horse-trading going on as lawmakers and legislative leaders tried to deliver on legislative promises they made.

  • Jan Murphy, PennLive

There’s nothing like what is likely the last day of a two-year legislative session to see Pennsylvania’s government in action at the state Capitol.

Such was the case on Wednesday as state lawmakers tried to squeeze in final action on dozens of bills to get them on Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk — and avoid having to start over again in the next session, which begins in January.

Lobbyists were out in force through the morning and afternoon, making a last push for legislation that hadn’t yet made it across the finish line – everything from some liquor reforms to allowing 50/50 raffles at college athletic events and so much more.

Legislators popped in and out of closed-door caucus meetings and headed back to their offices when not on the House or Senate floor, avoiding people they didn’t want to see while getting the attention of those they did.

Reporters roamed the halls trying to dig up information on what the Senate was doing with the controversial child sex crimes bill as well as what other bills that would or wouldn’t see action before the day ended. Staffers were in overdrive, running around carrying piles of papers from one office to another.

And that is only what was visible in the hallways. Behind the scenes, no doubt, there was a lot of horse-trading going on as lawmakers and legislative leaders tried to deliver on legislative promises they made.

“If you thrive on chaos, you enjoy this time of year,” said Roy Afflerbach, who served in the House from 1983 to 1986 and Senate from 1987 to 1998 and is now a lobbyist. “People are coming in the office non-stop. There are rumors of rumors and you try to track down what might have some grain of fact to it.”

Dave Thomas, a former top House staffer who now owns his own lobbying outfit called the DT Firm of Lemoyne, said his day was spent “putting out real and fake fires. You got to chase every rumor down and confirm it’s just that. I think some people just do it for sport. They create mischief on the last days to cause other people headaches.”

He added with a sarcastic laugh, “I never did that though.”

One of the rumors rumbling through the Capitol on Wednesday was whether the Legislature would return after the Nov. 6 election and conduct more legislative business beyond electing new caucus leaders before the session officially ends on Nov. 30.

Tim Lambert / WITF

The state Capitol in Harrisburg (Tim Lambert/WITF)

But lobbyists and other special interests seemed to operate on the premise that would not be the case. They were not taking their foot off the gas pedal as they tried to get lawmakers to finish up business on various bills before they left town.

Kristen Tullo, Pennsylvania State Director of the Humane Society of the United States, was hanging out in a hallway outside the room where Senate Republicans were huddled in a private meeting, keeping her fingers crossed an animal welfare bill she was pushing would cross the finish line.

“This is where you realize, anyone advocating in Harrisburg, for a cause whether your resilience continues to move the needle forward for the issues that you care about,” she said.

And if it doesn’t, she said the progress that was made during this session provides a foundation of support and awareness of an issue to build off of when it comes time to start over in the next legislative session.

Steve Crawford, president of Wojdak Government Relations, one of the state’s largest and most powerful lobbying firms with an office in Harrisburg, described the final legislative session day as similar to being a passenger on the Titanic where your fate was either be saved or be sunk.

“In some respects, it’s two years’ worth of work that either advances or prevents an issue overlaid with the looming election,” he said. “It’s a pretty intense time.”

Sen. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe County, said he had no more time for lobbyists. He had his own legislation he was working to get across the finish line.

“I amended a couple of bills to get my language in because you know there’s no second chance,” he said. “So I’ve been running back and forth so either myself or a [House member] will add my amendment. Of course, I do the same for the representative in the House. It’s worked out real well.”

Longtime lobbyist Dennis Walsh of the Bravo Group, another Harrisburg lobbying and communications firm, said what makes days like this so hard are the shifting sands. One minute, a vote on a bill can look like a go and then the next, it hits a roadblock because something unrelated went awry.

“So we’re in the funnel and the funnel gets crowded,” he said. “What pops out at the end of the funnel is hard to guess.”

Talking about what might emerge from that legislative funnel is what kept lobbyists and other interested parties occupied as they waited around to see what the final hours of lawmaking in  the 2017-18 session might produce.

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