The Pennsylvania senate is making a big push for more government transparency. Law makers passed three bills focused on providing more government information to the public. Bills improving access to lobbying disclosure and campaign finance data, and creating an online voter registration system, were unanimously approved.
The bills, sponsored by President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-25), Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-9) and State Government Committee Chairman Lloyd Smucker (R-13), now move to the House for consideration.
The first bill, Senate Bill 308 will require lobbyists and principals to register and report expenditures electronically, making this information available quicker and more accurately. Many reports are still filed on paper; those reports must be entered manually. SB 308 also requires the Department of State to post the information on its public website within a week.
The second bill Senate Bill 120, requires all campaign finance reports filed with the Department of State to be submitted electronically. Only about 35% of reports are currently filed electronically. SB 120 also requires any candidate committee or PAC which raises or spends $10,000 or more in a calendar year to file additional reports. Fees for late filing are increased from a maximum of $250 to a maximum of $500.
The final bill, Senate Bill 37 will allow residents to register to vote online through a system developed by the Department of State. About 16 other states now provide online voter registration as an option. Most have reported significant cost savings as a result.
The Department of State has been working on an online voting system for more than a year, despite Pennsylvania’s recent checkered efforts around voter identification in the lead up to the 2012 presidential election. The bills were largely supported by Republicans in the Senate, although it remains unclear whether Republicans in the House will follow suit.