HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Republicans used a legislative bill-shuffling strategy Monday to voluntarily relinquish a Pennsylvania House committee’s control over four bills that address gun violence.
The Judiciary Committee’s action led the speaker to have another panel take over the bills after Democrats tried to force consideration of the proposals.
The vote, after a testy exchange between the two parties during a Judiciary Committee meeting, concerned proposals regarding safe gun storage, an assault weapons ban, a red flag bill and a measure to give local governments power to enact their own protections.
“The most appropriate motion for us today is to have this conversation at a later date,” said Rep. John Hershey (R-Juniata/Franklin/Mifflin).
“To send it to the local government committee is a dereliction of our duty,” responded the committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Tim Briggs (D-Montgomery). “If something happens between now and whenever the local government committee convenes, blood is on your hands.”
The chair, Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin, responded that “the blood is on the hands of the criminals” using the guns to hurt people.
All Republicans and about half of the Democrats voted to send the bill package back to Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, with a recommendation that he pass them over to the Local Government Committee. A subsequent House floor vote on Cutler’s “re-referral” broke down nearly on partisan lines, with only Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery, voting with the other party.
Democrats who voted with the GOP said they did so in hopes the proposals might somehow advance in the Local Government Committee, believing there is no hope for action on the bills in Judiciary.
“These are efforts that are supported by 80%, 90% of our citizens,” said Briggs. “And we’re going to punt.”
“I can’t do is sit there and pretend this is anything more than efforts to bury these bills,” said Rep. Mike Zabel (D-Delaware). “That’s what this is, let’s be honest. This isn’t moving the ball forward, this is kicking it under the bleachers.”
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf called the parliamentary maneuver “shameful.”
“Instead of taking a vote to advance these bills, they are just delaying debate on this legislation,” Wolf said in a statement. “Gun violence won’t delay. Every day the Republicans stall, more people are at risk.”
Across the Capitol, Democrats in the Senate forced a procedural vote to try to bring red flag legislation to the Senate floor and out of committee where Republicans have kept it bottled up.
“If we prevent one murder with this legislation, isn’t it worth it? I think it is,” said Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Allegheny. Republicans voted it down in a party-line vote after accusing Fontana of violating chamber rules by discussing details of the bill during his floor remarks seeking a procedural vote.