I represent the bluest legislative district in — until very recently — one of the most gerrymandered states in the country, where Republicans have held the majority in our state …
I represent the bluest legislative district in — until very recently — one of the most gerrymandered states in the country, where Republicans have held the majority in our state legislature for the better part of 30 years.
Nevertheless, I’ve been fortunate enough to have gotten four substantive bills and two amendments passed into law since 2017 as a progressive Democrat from Philadelphia.
How exactly did that happen?
The short answer is: I’ve had to give away my work product to Republicans — or let them steal it.
None of my four bills that are now statutes bear my name (which simply enrages my dear mother).
My first bill to be enacted into law within my first six months in office went nowhere despite bipartisan support. The good news was that the content of my bill was snuck into a massive senate bill that few lawmakers actually read in full during the extended 2017 budget season. So, my fingerprints were wiped clean by the time the much larger piece of legislation was successfully adopted.
My second bill was part of the first-ever Pennsylvania Farm Bill legislative package. That bill passed unanimously in the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee on which I serve, then passed unanimously on the House floor. But when it reached the senate, a Republican senator liked it so much, she swapped out my name and put her own on it and sent it back to the House, where I had to vote on my own bill with the plagiarist’s imprimatur on it. It was so brazen, even my Republican colleagues in the House consoled me.
My third bill languished in the Judiciary Committee for years. But after helping organize a nonviolent protest in the state House of Representatives the summer of 2020, when a handful of my colleagues and I demanded immediate legislative action on police accountability, the Republican majority allowed four out of 199 relevant Democratic bills to be condensed into two separate pieces of legislation, which eventually were voted out of the House unanimously.
One of those two final bills was based overwhelmingly on my original legislation to create a statewide interdepartmental law enforcement misconduct database. However, as an unsolicited parting gift to an outgoing conservative Democratic colleague, Republicans chose to incorporate my work into his bill as punishment for my Black Lives Matter-inspired rabble-rousing.
My fourth bill, which prohibited law enforcement officers from engaging in sexual activity with people in custody, was repurposed as an amendment to a Republican bill that was so awful, I refused to file the amendment in my name because I couldn’t support the underlying legislation. So, I literally voted against a bill that contained the content of legislation I had authored years prior, but never saw the light of day as a stand-alone bill.
The Harrisburg way has no resemblance to what I learned on “Schoolhouse Rock!” in the 1980s. The good news though is that if Democratic legislators are sufficiently creative, collaborative and vigilant, good work can be done in spite of having to toil in the minority — at the cost of disappointing their mothers.
State Rep. Chris Rabb