HARRISBURG — With the commonwealth and nation on virtual lockdown over Coronavirus, Pennsylvanians should be aware their legislators were scheduled, as of late Sunday, to convene today for NOTHING!!

Not a single item on the legislative agenda requires immediate attention. That applies to both the state House of Representatives and Senate.

With all of Pennsylvania’s schools closed, religious worship suspended and most public gatherings banned, state lawmakers are setting a bad example.

Legislative staffers in both parties, meanwhile were scrambling for childcare and sick elderly sitting so they can cater to Republican and Democratic legislators who seem to be convening only to collect a $177 per diem, plus mileage paid to each of the Keystone State’s legislators. The collective cost to state taxpayers is estimated at $50,000 per day. The mileage allowance is paid even though all legislators have vehicles leased at state expense plus an $89,000 annual salary. It’s nice work, if one can get it.

If lawmakers are in session for the usual three-days this week, the per diem and mileage costs could exceed $200,000, some insiders said.

Republican and Democratic legislative conferred with Gov. Tom Wolf before noon Saturday on reconvening the Legislature. Reliable sources claimed Wolf advised against lawmakers returning.

Administration spokeswoman Lyndsay Kensinger declined to comment on those reports. She referred all inquiries back to the legislative leaders.

Democratic and Republican legislative leaders did not respond to the Times’ weekend requests for comment.

Legislative staffers and administration officials are negotiating details of a $36 billion state budget for the fiscal year that opens July 1. Sources claim those talks are going smoothly. Thus, neither legislative leaders of either party or rank-and-file lawmakers need to be in Harrisburg, collecting per diem and mileage allowances while their respective constituents are inconvenienced or suffer.

Those responsible for this decision would include state House Speaker Mike Turzai of Bradford Woods, Allegheny County; state Senate President Pro Tempore John Scarnati, of Brockway, Jefferson County. Both are Republicans.

Sharing the blame are state House Majority Leader Bruce Cutler, a Lancaster County Republican and his state Senate Counterpart Jake Corman of Centre County.

Democrats aren’t innocent in this situation. If state House Minority Leader Frank Dermody of Allegheny and Westmore Counties and his state Senate Counterpart Jay Costa of Penn Hills instruct their respective caucus members to stay home, there would be no quorum — the minimum number of lawmakers needed to do official business.

With no crucial item on the official agenda, why reconvene?

State Senate Republican Caucus Spokeswoman Jennifer Kockler defended the legislative reconvenement. She cited adjusting the legal requirement for a 180-instructional day school year as a priority.

"Many school districts are worried about that," she said.

Kockler also said the state must come into compliance with new enacted federal legislation on unemployment benefits.

The question recurrs: Why can't any of this wait for at least another week?

Extra time would would broaden the prospective on an issue the an anxious public in gas station, grocery store anf pharmacy lines are beginning question.

Dennis Barbagello covers the Pennsylvania Capitol for the Gettysburg Times.

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