Friday, March 15, 2013

Pennsylvania Constitution - single subject - Article III, sec. 3

Pa. State Assn. of Jury Commissioners v. Commonwealth - Supreme Court – March 14, 2013

Statute held to violate single subject rule mandated by Article III, sec. 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which says that "No bill shall be passed containing more than one subject, which shall be clearly expressed in its title, except a general appropriation bill or a bill codifying or compiling the law or a part thereof."

The law in question had two major provisions, both of which came under the County Code.  One provision dealt with holding auction sales of surplus farm products and personal property via online and electronic forums.  The other provision dealt with ensuring that lists of potential jurors included a representative cross-section of the community.

The single subject rule limits the practice of “logrolling,” defined as the ability for legislators to put in “distinct and independent subjects of legislation” as a means of disguising the primary purpose of the bill. Prior to the inclusion of Article III, Section 3 in the constitution, logrolling frequently occurred as a means to obtain the assent of the legislature for passage of a bill, when, if the distinct subjects contained within the omnibus legislation had been proposed for passage separately, the likelihood of individual passage was slight.   Thus, Article III, Section 3 serves the dual purposes of preventing the enactment of laws that otherwise would not be passed, and promoting the enhanced scrutiny of single topic bills.

When the Article III provisions regulating legislative procedures were included in the Constitution of 1874 (commonly referred to as the “Reform Constitution”), the practices of “[l]ast-minute consideration of important measures, logrolling, mixing substantive provisions in omnibus bills, low visibility and hasty enactment of important, and sometimes corrupt, legislation, and the attachment of unrelated provisions to bills in the amendment process” were common in the legislature. Id. at 589 (quoting Robert F. Williams, State Constitutional Limits on Legislative  Procedure: Legislative Compliance and Judicial Enforcement, 48 U. PITT L.REV., 797, 798 (1987)).

The court in  City of Phila. v. Commonwealth, 838 A.2d 566, 587 (Pa. 2003) noted that compliance with the single subject rule is two-fold. First, the title of the bill must clearly express the substance of the proposed law. Second, the differing topics within the bill must be “germane” to each other, although what this Court has considered “germane” and “not germane” has fluctuated throughout the years. No party to this case  disputes that the title of the revised H.B. 1644/Act 108 sufficiently states the contents of the bill. Thus, the only contention before this Court concerns the second prong of a single subject analysis: whether the topics contained within the body of the bill are sufficiently germane to each other.

The Court struck down the law, holding that

            - there was no "common focus" between the two subjects of the bill (juror pool and sales of property)
            - the dual governmental functions of county government (legislative and executive) militate against finding the law to be in concert with a single subject
            - the law amended two separate article of a chapter of the county code, one dealing with county officer, the other with contracts

Recent single-subject cases announce a standard of “whether the court can fashion a single, over-arching topic to loosely relate the various subjects included in the statute under review.” City of Phila., 838 A.2d at 587. Nevertheless, the court cautioned that it should be careful not to render Section 3 “impotent to guard against the evils that it was designed to curtail” by fashioning a theme that is all-encompassing in its broadness. . . . See case finding the theme “business of the courts” too encompassing to uphold a law regulating DNA records and apportioning negligence liability); and case holding that the topic of “economic  well-being of the Commonwealth” would turn the germaneness requirement into a nullity).

Note:  The single-subject mandate is one of the issues being litigated in Washington v. DPW, the challenge to Act 80, which terminated the General Assistance program and affected many other programs of the Dept. of Public Welfare.  Oral argument on the merits in Washington has been set for April, 2013, in Commonwealth Court, which denied a preliminary injunction in the case .   The denial of an injunction was appealed to the Supreme Court, where that issue is now (March 2013) pending.