Democracy in action

If you are a fan of architecture and politics, one of the places you have to visit is the state Capitol building in Harrisburg.

The 1906 building has to be one of the most ornate structures in the commonwealth. On Tuesday I had the opportunity to visit with state Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar, R-Allegheny Townwship, in his Harrisburg office.

It was an eye-opening experience to walk through the halls of the building where state regulations are discussed and approved as laws. The main rooms and rotunda areas have the most elabaorate architectural features, including gold trim and paintings from various parts of history. Carved into the ceiling is the saying, "And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free."

As I sat in the guest area of the floor of the House of Representatives, it was humbling to see the members' respect for individual rights and goals for the commonwealth and country.

The topics for the day varied between legislation that some felt was spot tax assessments for properties to regulating how minors use indoor tanning beds to regulations for vehicle titles for cars in salvage yards, to increasing the fines for those accused of public drunkenness.

Metzgar was able to comment against legislation that would have allowed law enforcement officials to collect DNA from suspects at the time of their arrest as opposed to the current procedure of needing a warrant. The legislation wasn't approved and it was a good victory for personal rights.

Those elected to these offices have a tremendous responsibility in looking out for the rights of individuals and municipal governments. Having too many regulations will stifle growth and creativity. At the same time, constituents need the laws that we take for granted regarding our food supply and transportation system.

In addition to legislating, the representatives are elected to serve their communities in a variety of ways. For example, Metzgar had to pick up forms for vehicle license registration and birth certificates at his Somerset office to take to Harrisburg for quick approval.

We had the opportunity to visit with several other local legislators, including Sen. Richard Kasunic and  state Reps. Mike Reese of Mount Pleasant and Frank Burns, who serves in Windber and Cambria County.

With the redistricting proposals still in the works, the legislators may be dealing with slightly different communities in coming years.

Another stop in the Capitol building involved a press  conference in the large rotunda with people opposed to the current federal administration's regulations on coal mining.

The legislators met with the mining officials and families to hear their concerns about this important part of our economy.

With the current session winding to a close, some members are retiring. Rep. Tom Creighton of the 37th District is leaving after 12 years of service and spoke about some of the people he enjoyed meeting over the years. Many of the residents explained their problems and sought his advice and help in solving their problems. It's definitely a job designed to serve others.

The representatives face the difficult task of making decisions that impact others. For example, they debated and tabled a request to make police officers in municipalities like Pittsburgh be required to live in the municipality where they work. Some mentioned the ability to live where the employee desires versus the needs of the municipality of having officers nearby for emergencies and keeping the employees' income in the local tax base.

For those who don't believe the legislators take their jobs seriously, they should take a day and listen to one of their sessions. It's definitely an opportunity to see democracy in action.

(Brian Whipkey is the Daily American's editor. He can be reached at brianw@dailyamerican.com.)



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