EXPLORING PENNSYLVANIA STATE GOVERNMENT FROM THE INSIDE-OUT
This blog is maintained by our PA House Fellows. Here, they will share with you their experiences in State Government during their time at the Pennsylvania Capitol. Their perspectives are unique and their stories should be shared.
Nov 30, 2017
Over the past few weeks, it has been a busy time for the fellows as their tenure at the Capitol is coming to a close. They are wrapping up their individual pieces of legislation that they present next Friday and they are meeting with so many different people along the way.
The Fellows meeting with Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf
The Fellows meeting with Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro
The Fellows meeting with Commonwealth Court Judge P. Kevin Brobson
Former Fellows Workshop
Written by: Sheryl Thomas
Nov 13, 2017
A Summary of PA’s Response to the Equifax Security Breach
As a fellow for the Republican Commerce Committee, I have become increasingly familiar with the Equifax security breach, the PA laws surrounding breaches and credit reporting agencies, and the bill drafting process. As a young person whose main influence on my credit score is my abundance of student loans, I did not realize how much was truly at stake when your personal information is accessed. I always thought to myself, “I don’t have any assets and no one wants to take on my student loan debt. I don’t need to worry about someone stealing my identity.” Oh, was I wrong.
With security breaches like this one, an individual does not have to have a long list of high-valued assets or tons of money in their account- they just need to be an American citizen. If a hacker can obtain a social security number and use that in conjunction with another variety of personal information, they can begin to open new accounts under your name.
Personal information, as I mentioned above, has been a topic of debate in light of the Equifax breach. What is truly personal anymore, when we all have social media accounts and personal cell phones and computers? This was a question for the Commerce Committee to answer.
I have sat in on meetings between the Committee and various stakeholders. The Committee has listened to industry representatives from companies like Amazon and Verizon, in addition to working closely with the PA Attorney General’s Office. In these meetings, a variety of aspects of HB 1846 were debated, but especially the definition for personal information.
The definition for ‘personal information’ now includes things like one’s SSN, driver’s license number, passport number, and taxpayer, patient, insurance, and employee identification numbers. As we advance technologically as a society, this definition also includes identifies such as fingerprints, facial scans, retina and iris images, voice signatures, and any other biometric data. Identifiers that are not covered in the definition of personal information are maiden names, IP addresses, routing codes, or vehicle registration and titles numbers. I learned a lot about bill drafting by listening to the debates on what should and should not be included in the definition of personal information.
Handling the Equifax security breach went further than amending bills, though this was a major consequence of the breach. I was also tasked with responding to constituent concerns. If a constituent had a question or comment, I addressed it. Most of the comments I responded to pointed out the flaw in out system- individuals that had a breach of data through no fault of their own now had to pay the company responsible for the breach in order to freeze and protect their credit. Everyone could easily see how this violated consumer protections. HB 1847, introduced by Representative Driscoll, addresses this concern, by amending a section to reduce the fee for a credit freeze from up to $10 to up to $5. Additionally, it prohibits the consumer reporting agency that has been subject to a breach from imposing a charge on any customer for placing a freeze on a consumer report.
In addition, Chairman Ellis of the Commerce Committee, Representative Driscoll, and Attorney General Josh Shapiro held a press conference to discuss an action plan to protect Pennsylvania citizens from corporate harm due to breaches of security. I was able to witness all that goes into a press conference- time, date, location, press release, talking points, contacting media outlets, etc. I found it to be exciting how quickly and carefully the state government was responding to this constituent matter.
When I started this fellowship, I had no idea how important my identity truly is. And now, through governmental processes, I have learned how vital my personal information and cyber security features are in everyday life. I now have tangible experience with many aspects of state government, and it was rewarding to witness this bipartisan effort to protect consumers first-hand. Interning through this fellowship gave me hands-on experience is fixing a problem that affected millions of Americans, while learning a lot about myself in the process.
Written by: Becca
Nov 2, 2017
The moment to moment experience that this Fellowship offers is unlike anything I have ever done. Be it from sitting in on lobbyist meetings to being able to walk up stairs and see live debate on the House floor. This Fellowship offers a full experience and one that I would say is unmatched in many ways. I feel that the biggest reason for my enjoyment and how it is unmatched comes from the office that I work in.
Working under Rep. Mike Carrol, the Democrat Chairman of Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, Richard Fox, the Executive Director of the committee, and Sandy Mutzabaugh, the legislative assistant have made this experience memorable. All three of them have taken an interest in helping me absorb an excessive amount of knowledge in the legislative process. Rep. Carroll has been a Member for almost a little over ten years now, while Richard and Sandy have been working in government for over 31 years and 28 years respectfully. The work environment they provide allows me to ask constant questions and get direct answers. My team is a big part of why I enjoy what I am doing. Be it from us laughing about what we did this weekend to discussing why a representative voted a certain way. They as a group make it a thrill to come to work and help make this Fellowship a great experience.
I think other blog posts have echoed the sentiment that this Fellowship offers more than a class room setting, but I also wanted to share my experience of working with a great group of people who care a great deal. They want a better Pennsylvania and have shown me that through their job. The Fellowship permits you to ask tough questions while giving you the people and resources to find answers. As I was typing this, I turned and asked Sandy several questions relating to the change in governors and enjoyed every second of our discussion and that is what the Fellowship offers the most.
City life: A mural that I walk by to work everyday
Written by: Isaac
Nov 1, 2017
Luncheon at work with the Philadelphia Eagles
After getting accepted into the fellowship program I was full of excitement! Prior to my acceptance, I had no luck in finding an internship relevant to Political Science. The Pennsylvania Fellowship Program gave me an opportunity to learn and gain an experience in the professional world. Going into the fellowship, I knew I had a basic and solid understanding of government and politics. But, what I studied and read in books does not compare to the actual hands-on involvement encountered within my committee and fellowship.
Currently, I am seven weeks into my internship and I feel like I have learned so much within that short time frame. As an intern for the Judiciary Committee, I have researched bills, drafted memos, and actively participated in constituent relations. Each of these variety of tasks contribute to a larger development of increasing my communication and analytical skills. As a future law student, I found that I was susceptible to the many preconceived notions about the judicial system and its inherent legal nature. But, what I have learned is that the passage of bills and legal process takes a much more unwavering and systematic approach in order to achieve its full intent.
Aside from my committee duties, the fellowship challenges me in more ways than I could possibly imagine. The idea that I have the opportunity to draft my own piece of legislation is a huge accomplishment within itself. The coordinators of the fellowship have created the program for students to excel in various aspects of the political spectrum, in addition to molding me into becoming a much more well-rounded professional. Thus far, I have met many professionals and acquired great networking skills. Because of this, I feel that I have made connections with the right people.
This fellowship is a great stepping stone for what is to come in the future for the ultimate success in life that most people seek to attain. I know that what I have learned from this fellowship will prepare me for the working world. A wise woman told me that, fellows are no longer young professionals, but that we are business professionals-Sheryl. Which means we will experience the same trials and tribulations as every other person in the Capital. This saying stuck with me because I don’t see myself as just an ‘intern’, but rather another business professional working towards the same goal.
If there was something I can take away from this fellowship it would be that “No one owes you anything.” You must work hard to achieve the ultimate satisfactory attainment level, and the fellowship has prepared me to want to achieve more. The PA House Fellowship Program has challenged me to develop a strong work ethic. And this strong work ethic is one that I will take with me into law school and into my future profession.
Written by: Alex
Oct 31, 2017
The biggest struggle I encountered during my first couple of weeks in the fellowship was acclimating to the bureaucratic environment of state government. There’s a learning curve when it comes to understanding the procedures and norms of both, the committee that your placed on, and the legislature as a whole. Like any professional in a new work environment, you have to figure out how your committee functions, and the role that you play in its administration. The key to being successful during your time in the fellowship, is understanding how to best service the needs of your committee staff. Every staff member has different preferences and modes of conducting business. It’s your job to figure out how your superiors operate. For example, your Executive Director might prefer to be updated throughout the course of your assignment, or they might need to see a finished product before they can offer recommendations. It’s about determining how you can best be utilized by the committee staff.
Getting into this mode of thinking, “how can I best service the needs of those around me?“, can be quite difficult. Everything you’ve experienced thus far, in public school and in higher education, has been focused towards servicing your needs. Whether it be career services or faculty advising, higher education is designed around providing services for your benefit. However, when you’re dropped into your placement, it’s on you to develop the social skills to anticipate the needs of your colleagues. Think, how can I help them?, not how can they help me?. The professionals who are the best at anticipating the needs of those around them, (their representatives, stakeholders, constituents, and staff), are the ones that are most successful in the legislature. It’s not all about networking or being the most knowledgeable person in the room, although, those aspects are important too.
One of the many fortunes of the fellowship is being able to participate in the legislative process. To work on my legislation, I’ve been given all the resources that a regular staff member would have access to, such as legislative services, legal counsel, and contacts. I’ve also been fortunate enough to meet with the various interests concerned with the subject area of my legislation. These interests include, state agency employees, lobbyists, non-profits, and representatives. Coordinating with these different parties can sometimes be a balancing act. You have to consider the desires of the stakeholders, the expertise of the agency employees, and the reality of needing sponsorship from a representative. However, the opportunity to have such a hands on experience in the legislative process as an undergrad is unparalleled. I’ve been thanking my lucky stars every day that I’ve been privileged with such an amazing experience.
Written by: Nathan
Oct 30, 2017
It is incredibly rare to have an internship alter fundamental perceptions of purpose, politics, and personal philosophy. My experience with the House Fellowship Program has already substantively challenged all three of those basic parts of my identity.(…and I’ve only been here seven weeks!)
As a senior in college preparing for the next chapter of my life, my worldview, personal philosophy, and values are currently evolving. This fellowship has proven to be well-timed, not only for the incredible opportunities for professional development and immersion in policy making, but also for the impact this fellowship has had on my perspective at such a pivotal point of my life. I have long fostered an idealistic commitment to social justice and respect for all humans, and this fellowship has introduced me to a healthy way to combine this ideological purity with realism and practicality.
Prior to serving as a legislative fellow here in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, I was firmly situated within two worlds: the ivory tower of academia and the idealistic bubble of activism and the non-profit sector. In both of those settings, I spent a lot of time and energy thinking about systems of injustice in the abstract and advocating for the victims of those unjust systems. Throughout this process, I would often come across what I perceived to be an obstacle to progress: The Pennsylvania State Government. Often the idealism and purity of ideas formed within the bubbles of academia and activism appeared to be incompatible with the practicality inherent to state government, and before serving as a fellow here, I found that practicality to be frustrating. After less than two months working full-time in the State Capitol, I have come to understand that idealism and practicality need not be oppositional, and can instead supplement and strengthen each other.
The legislative process, when done correctly, distills pure, ideal values about what is just and fair into manageable pieces of pragmatism that tangibly improves the lives of Pennsylvanians. It’s a fascinating process that I have had the privilege to witness firsthand and participate in over the course of the past few weeks. By immersing myself in the daily functions and processes of the State government and meeting key players in those functions and processes, my deepened comprehension of how value-driven principles – often formed in the bubbles of academia and activism – evolve into practical implications for Pennsylvanians has fundamentally transformed my approach to my ultimate goal of strengthening and protecting justice and equality. I have come to understand that an idealist notion of how systems ought to be requires an understanding of how systems are.
The Pennsylvania State Government is not an obstacle to progressing toward a more just world, but it is rather a powerful vehicle that anyone invested in working toward a kinder future must understand and harness. This fellowship has given me unparalleled access to the many moving parts, systems, and processes of the State Government, and I know that this fellowship has provided with me the tools that I will take with me and continue to tap into throughout the next stages of my life.
Written by: Madison
Oct 23, 2017
Coming into this fellowship, I knew I had a well-rounded education in the field of politics and government, but what I didn’t know was just how differently things work in the real world. As a student, you can read every single book on government, history, political theory, public policy, etc. However, there is no substitute for hands on learning in government. Almost every person that went to school has seen the famous animated video on how a bill becomes a law from School House Rock. If only the process was as simple as the video made it out to be.
People become easily frustrated with how long it takes our legislature to get something done, especially with the unresolved budget. I have come to understand that the reason everything takes so long is because bills are scrutinized in every way possible. Is this always a great thing? No, it can be so irritating. However, it is necessary to make sure that there isn’t legislation getting passed that negatively impacts the citizens of the Commonwealth. As a result, I have a newfound respect for the entire legislative process.
As a fellow for the Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, I have had a terrific experience. The members of my staff have made me feel like I am a member of the team and not just some intern. They assign me legitimate work such as bill analyses, cosponsor memos, resolutions, and even bill topics. They will assign me the work and I know if I ever have any questions, they are always more than willing to help me in any way possible.
I have had the opportunity to be hands on in the policy making process on this committee, and it has been eye opening. One of the most effective ways to learn, is to apply your skills and actually do it. This fellowship has afforded me the opportunity to test my skills in a real world setting. Therefore, not only do I feel like I know more about the process, but more importantly I know that my skills are applicable in a professional capacity. I am going into my 7th week here at the Capitol, but it feels like I just started due to how engaged I have been with the process as well as members of staff.
Every college student has always been told how important it is to network. Early in college I would always take that advice very lightly. Since I have started here, I now understand why every professor I have had has given me that same advice. Networking is essential to succeed in this field, and I am finally able to do that every day when I walk into this building. Each day brings a new story, new faces, and new challenges. Each challenge is different from the last, and I learn a new lesson every day. This is truly something that you don’t regularly get in a classroom environment, and I would not trade it for anything in the world.
Written by: Matt
Sep 25, 2017
It has been two weeks since our fall fellows have started their fellowship here at the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and they are already off to a great start!
- Madison attends Temple University and is placed with the Commerce Committee.
- Alejandra attends Neumann University and is placed with the Judiciary Committee.
- Matthew attends Elizabethtown College and is placed with the Veterans Affairs & Emergency preparedness Committee.
- Isaac attends Susquehanna University and is placed with the Environmental Resources & Energy Committee.
- Nathaniel attends Elizabethtown College and is placed with the Urban Affairs Committee.
- Rebecca attends Lebanon Valley College and is placed with the Commerce Committee.
…We are excited to see how the remainder of their time here in the House unravels!
Written by: Sheryl Thomas
Aug 16, 2017
We are very proud of our graduate and law school Summer 2017 fellows. Each one successfully researched, drafted, and presented their original legislations. During their 13-week tenure at the Capitol, they comprehensively learned about the multifaceted nature of State Government. We anticipate only the best for their future endeavors.
Best of luck and well wishes Erin, Emma, Bill, Stephanie, Dan, and Sarah!
Written by: Sheryl Thomas
Jul 12, 2017
If you read my last blog post, you know that the process of finding, applying to, and securing my internship with the PA House Fellowship program was driven by anxiety and fueled by a contradictory mix of low expectations and high standards. This process was in and of itself a major learning experience, one that I kept in mind when it came time to start my internship. Although I was not as nervous for my first day with the House Fellowship program as I had expected, I remained apprehensive about meeting my future coworkers. Upon being introduced to my supervisor, I realized I had no reason to be concerned. To every person which we encountered during the next several weeks, my supervisor made sure I was introduced – not just by name, but by background. This was especially helpful during our first Committee dinner, attended by Representatives from both caucuses as well as their staff. Even on days with little opportunity for outside interactions, my supervisor has ensured that I am feeling comfortable in my office, yet busy enough to feel challenged by my assignments. She has repeatedly emphasized my ability to maintain a flexible schedule, in terms of balancing Committee responsibilities with Fellowship obligations, as well as taking advantage of every other opportunity presented to me throughout my time in the House.
The importance of building and maintaining a strong relationship with one’s supervisor cannot be over-emphasized. During an internship I completed years ago, my supervisor was welcoming enough. However, due to her high position within our office and busy schedule, she rarely made time for me. While I understood the circumstances of that supervisor-intern relationship, I was nonetheless made to feel as an afterthought or burden on several occasions. My relationship with my current supervisor could not be further from that experience. Despite her large number of responsibilities, my supervisor is always sure to check in with me daily, even if it is just to chat for five minutes. This has made all the difference in my internship, as she has helped me to make a number of connections within and outside of the Capitol. My supervisor joked during my first day with the Committee that she was happy to finally have another woman in the office, as the rest of the staff are men. Although this was just an off-handed remark, it has stuck with me throughout my internship as a reminder that women continue to be drastically underrepresented in politics, especially within the state of Pennsylvania. Having such an experienced Executive Director as my supervisor has reinforced the importance of ensuring women’s places at the table, and her direction has encouraged me to find my own place in state government.
Written by: Erin
Jul 11, 2017
How does that old saying go? I believe it is something along the lines of “time flies when you’re having fun.” This saying came to mind when someone in the office asked me how many more weeks remained in the Fellowship Program. I had to pause for a moment to come to terms with the reality that I had just wrapped up my eighth week working for the Democratic Office of Chief Counsel. It is mind boggling to me that two months can fly by in what seemed like the blink of an eye. But as the old saying goes, this is what happens when you are busy, engaged, and having fun with the work you are given.
The month of June here at Pennsylvania’s Capitol has been nothing short of organized chaos. During one moment you are attending the bill signing of “Libre’s Law”, which enhances the criminal penalties attached to an individual convicted of animal abuse, and in the next moment you are researching recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decisions that could potentially affect current legislative proposals. As a law student who just completed my first year, it was fascinating to see the Judicial and Legislative Branches of government at work with some of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decisions handed down on June 20th. All of this along with the hustle and bustle of a hectic budget season and the daily duties of being a BMC Fellow has made for an exhilarating month. The excitement of not knowing what each day will bring is something that I have been looking forward to since the first day of the Fellowship Program.
The month of June has even presented me with the opportunity to expand my understanding of Turkish culture. This opportunity arose during a celebration of Turkish dance, music, and food which took place in the main rotunda. This celebration was accompanied by members of the General Assembly who spoke on the importance of embracing everyone no matter their cultural background. The festivity was well-attended by various individuals from all different backgrounds, and the food was absolutely delectable.
The Fellowship Program has energized me by always staying engaged, being given meaningful projects to work on, and constantly moving around the Capitol attending various functions. During the past eight weeks, I have never said to myself, “I’m bored.” The program is the polar opposite of boring. It is engaging, meaningful, and there is never a dull moment if you do it right.
Written by: Dan
Jul 7, 2017
As a recent grad, I am incredibly thankful to have found an enriching program to participate in. Fresh from the classroom, I am curious as to where my degree can take me. I am also curious to see if there are any other former colonels (Wilkes Alum) working in the capitol. This summer I’ve had the opportunity to meet alumni in Harrisburg. As a fellow I am required to interview legislators to discuss what life is really like in state government. I used this opportunity to interview a fellow Wilkes University alum, Representative Eddie Day Pashinski.
I recognized Representative Pashinski, for he’s so involved with Wilkes University. Representative Pashinski has a unique background and great story. His career began at Wilkes, where he received his MS in Music. After graduating he became a music teacher and choral director in Nanticoke, PA. During his time as a music teacher Rep. Pashinski became dedicated to the Teachers Unions and meeting with legislators to discuss public education issues. One particular meeting began Eddie Pashinski’s path to politics. He was meeting with former Representative Kevin Blaum of the 121st District. The purpose of their meeting was to discuss the health care issue. The incredible cost of health care worries Pashinski and he’s incredibly passionate about the issue. This was evident in his meeting with former Rep. Blaum, who encouraged him to run for office and to take his seat in the 121st District. Representative Pashinski distinctly remembers this meeting and Rep. Blaum handing him a packet telling him to run for office….and he did.
Representative Pashinski was a dedicated teacher, and it is evident that he has directed that passion to legislation. When I asked him, “what is it like serving the district of your Alma matter?” He smiled and said. “It is a great honor and privilege. The greatest gratification is when I can make lives better”. Representative Pashinski was great to interview. He is clearly passionate and as a former teacher interested in students. We discussed issues in Wilkes-Barre, his work, and the health care issue. It was a unique learning experience, and an enjoyable meeting. I concluded the interview with one final question, “What advice to you have for any future colonels or any student interested, who wishes to pursue a career in politics?” He responded,
“You need to possess two things, 1) you need alligator skin, because people can be tuff and 2) You have to have the desire to help people. I recommend anyone who has a desire to help people get involved at any level of government”.
Written by: Emma
Jul 6, 2017
Panoramic Photograph taken by Sarah during the Dome Tour
When interviewing as a candidate for a prospective position, there is always the “on paper” description, the interaction between yourself and the interviewer, but there also exists an acceptance of the unknown. As the interviewee, you do your best to research the position, previous employees, Glassdoor reviews, LinkedIn connections, and the like. As the interviewer, you walk a fine line between overly enticing the potential candidate and scaring her away, all the while trying to articulate something that is difficult to put into words. On either side, there is risk in whether the more intangible details will mesh.
So, in this blog post, I would like to elaborate on what the initially unknown aspect has entailed for myself while providing tips to make the most of the fellowship experience. I will discuss what the day to day has been like, rather than merely providing the broad strokes.
Starting from the top, fellows are hired through the Bipartisan Management Committee. The program coordinator, Sheryl Thomas, is the go to for all things fellowship related.
Tip 1: know your various roles. There are two hats that fellows wear during their time at the capitol: (1) a part of the fellowship program, reporting to Sheryl and (2) a part of a committee, reporting to the executive director of said committee, and there are also experiences that are unique to each role.
Tip 2: Master your calendar. Fellows receive a calendar that maps out, roughly, the following: workshops (like Communications, Women in the House, and Lobbyists), tours, assignment deadlines, and the general schedule for session and holidays. It is critical to stay on top of the many moving parts by keeping an organized calendar.
Tip 3: Patience is a virtue. As a part of the fellowship duties, we must interview at least one representative. This may seem straight forward, but it can quickly get away from you. Representatives’ schedules are constantly evolving, and it is hard to predict what might arise. I benefited greatly from being flexible, patient and persistent in this process. Only one of my three interviews has gone according to plan. Though, I enjoyed the different circumstances from the “on the go” style interview to the delays which allowed me to interact with other staff members.
Tip 4: Find balance. We must balance the fellowship duties and the duties associated with our committee. Within my committee assignment thus far, I have worked on various bill analyses, constituent letters, and co-sponsorship memoranda. I have also attended bill hearings, committee voting meetings, and everything in between. There are times when commitments will overlap, and you will need to prioritize to maximize your experience here.
Tip 5: Set goals. In addition to the aforementioned new experiences, I am hitting the ground running on my big project, which will culminate my time spent in the fellowship program. Fellows create their own unique piece of legislation and go through the entire process from drafting to presenting their bill to an audience. While we are given guidance on when certain portions of the project are due, it is critical to be on top of your own timeline.
Lastly, Tip 6: You get what you give. As with most things in life, you are liable to get out of this program as much as you put in. It is important to ask questions, try new things, reach out to people you do not know, and do not forget to simply do what is expected of you. People are likely to notice even the “little” things you do (or fail to do).
Written by: Sarah
Jul 5, 2017
This is not a typical internship. Each fellow is placed in a committee or leadership office for the summer and aids their office in anyway necessary. On top of committee meetings, research projects, and writing language for bills and amendments, we have weekly meetings and assignments for the fellowship program.
Our final project for the program is one we have been working on since day one. We are to create our own piece of legislation. With only 13 weeks to do this, on top of weekly committee and fellowship assignments, it has been challenging so far. The first step in this project was coming up with an idea—not as easy as some would think. I have had to specialize my idea over the weeks. Originally, my legislation was going to establish a business district revitalization fund, but I quickly found that this was entirely too broad.
Today, my proposed legislation is to establish a fund or grant program that would help municipalities pay for projects that would create pedestrian-/cyclist-friendly areas. It took me three weeks to have a concrete idea for legislation. I have been researching every day for the past three weeks since this idea was formed for how to implement such a program.
Earlier this week, after a month and a half of working on this legislation, I met with a lawyer of the Legislative Reference Bureau about the next step in the process: turning this idea into a bill. During the hour-long meeting, we discussed whether any such program exists, which it does not at the state level. We also further looked into existing statutes to find possible acts in which this may be added to. It was then decided that after two more weeks of research and working on this legislation, I would come back with proposed language for the bill. This will be two months’ work for a single rough draft.
The point of my blog this week is that taking an idea and turning it into a proposed bill is a long and complex process. Many people, including myself before this internship, do not fully understand why it takes so long to create a new law. It will take me two months to have a rough draft of my legislation, another week or two for a final draft. If this was a representative’s bill, a co-sponsorship it would then have to be considered by both parties and debated. The amount of time this could take is unpredictable. Should it pass the House, it would then have to be discussed and debated in the Senate. Again, the time for this to happen is unpredictable. If the Senate makes any changes to the bill, it must go back to the House to be agreed upon. Then, it would finally go to the Governor. (That is a very simplified version of the process).
I hope that those reading this blog will not only have better knowledge of this process, but will understand that it is no easy task.
Written by: Stephanie
Jun 28, 2017
Hi Y’all! I am back and ready to recap my experience thus far in the program. I have encountered shear excitement since the beginning of June. Our committee had a limited number of bills on the floor when I arrived; however, we have had ample action since! I joined my Executive Director on the floor numerous times to witness from the front row, how things get done in Government. It is exciting to see so many interests being represented down on the floor.
I have become completely immersed in Finance Committee issues. As legislation passes and fails, the constituent requests continue to pour in to the research staff. Everyone wants their voices heard, and their inquiries met. Responding to these requests can be daunting at times, but upon completion of a response I feel fulfilled in knowing that my work is helping people all around Pennsylvania get their questions answered. This program has absolutely buzzed with activity, and I feel as if I have grown immensely during my time at the House of Representatives.
Among our great projects and assignments, the Fellows are constantly networking and meeting key decision makers within Pennsylvania State Government. To date we have met the Parliamentarian; Legislative professionals; Lobbyists; Members of the House; and, two highly respected women from the House also shared their time and experiences with us. A few of our upcoming engagements include meeting the Auditor General, Lieutenant Governor, Judiciary Committee Chairmen, and Chief Justice Thomas Saylor.
This program has encouraged me to review my future career plans. Because of this review and in consultation with my Executive Director, I have organized my school schedule to expand upon my experiences this summer by complimenting them with academic coursework. This program has opened my eyes to the broader opportunities State Government has to offer, and I have no doubt my past commitment to government in conjunction with my experiences this summer will help guide my future career.
“Death comes to all, but great achievements build a monument which shall endure until the sun grows cold.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Written by: Bill
Jun 27, 2017
I’m what my mom calls a “list person.” Whether I’m going grocery shopping, packing for a vacation, or moving into a new apartment, a detailed, often color-coordinated list can be found on my person at all times. I’m an organizational freak by nature, but my list-keeping obsession has transcended helpfulness all the way to becoming necessary for my functionality. Imagine my horror, then, upon encountering any form of spontaneity – unplanned weekend trips, unanticipated head-colds, unexpected bills. My life has, until quite recently, centered on one basic philosophy: Learn what to expect and plan accordingly.
When it came time to start grad school last August, my thoughts started with what I would consider normal concerns by the average person’s standards: moving into my apartment, finding my way around a new campus, and adjusting from undergraduate to graduate academic life. But the thoughts did not end there. Instead, they began to concern the rest of the fall semester. And winter break. And spring semester. And summer. Well, my year-long lease was signed in August, bestowing on me the responsibility of paying rent for not only the fall and spring semesters, but for the following summer, as well. The question that lodged itself in the back of my mind was three-fold: What was I going to do the following summer to A) ensure my rent was paid, B) satisfy my master’s program’s requirement to complete an internship before my completion of the program, and C) gain rewarding experience in my intended career field? The answer, of course, was find the perfect internship. Yeah. Right.
And thus my first (profoundly negative) expectation was established. Despite my best efforts to convince myself that the perfect internship did not exist, I refused to let my pessimism get the best of me. So the list-making began. When I met a woman named Sheryl Thomas at a campus career and internship fair during October of my first semester of grad school, I was surprised to learn that she represented a program through the PA House of Representatives that seemed to satisfy all of my concerns with planning my following summer: a stipend, credits, and the ability to spend 13 weeks interning with a House committee while developing my own piece of legislation. I was sold.
My list of opportunities became significantly shorter (read: I crossed out every other option) and I wrote a new list – this time, it contained all of the application materials needed for the PA House Fellowship Program. As the end of the fall semester approached, I began discussing my plans to apply to the program with my classmates. One after another, I learned that they had previously participated in the program. Every person I came across sang such high praises of the program that my curious interest became unrelenting desire. With that unrelenting desire came familiar pessimism. If the program was truly as awesome as my colleagues were saying, I had a snowball’s chance in hell of competing with other applicants.
This feeling of inadequacy continued until I was invited to interview for the program with Sheryl, and did not dissipate until the fateful day that I got my acceptance email. In the following days, as I celebrated with friends and family, I was forced to come to terms with an unfortunate realization. Despite holding myself to an incredibly high standard, I tended to expect the worst out of every situation. This pessimism could not be remedied by any amount of self-encouragement, and the process by which I obtained my dream internship could not have been further from what I expected.
I would quickly learn in the following weeks that my love of lists did not only fail to prepare me for getting the internship. It also failed to prepare me for the whirlwind of experiences I would encounter during my time in the House. Over the past several weeks, I have realized that much of what happens within the Capitol cannot be anticipated. Although members of the General Assembly and their staff coordinate much of their respective schedules on thinking they know what is going to come next, the truth is that anything could happen at any moment. Bills could unexpectedly pass or fail, advocacy groups could make surprise visits to the offices of Committee Chairmen, or the budget could actually pass right on schedule (fingers crossed!).
In my office in particular, much of the adjustment toward unexpectedness has centered on office dynamics. When you never know what kind of moods your coworkers are going to be in upon their arrival, it makes for an interesting morning – every morning. Although I know what I can expect from myself, it is impossible to know what you can truly expect from other people, especially in a political environment. Luckily, I have come to realize that state government employees show up every day, ready to do their jobs, regardless of what comes their way. More importantly, I have learned a few valuable lessons that can be useful to anyone entering a new work environment: Have faith in yourself. Trust in the opportunities presented to you. And, most of all, expect the unexpected.
Written by: Erin
Jun 23, 2017
Meeting with Speaker Mike Turzai
(Left to Right) Speaker Turzai, Dan, Emma, Sarah, Stephanie, Erin, and Bill
Written by: Sheryl Thomas
Jun 20, 2017
On May 20th, I graduated from Wilkes University with a Bachelors in Political Science and minors in policy studies and International studies. The bittersweet moment of receiving my diploma was the final farewell to the place I’ve called home these past four years. The next day I was moving into my new apartment in Harrisburg to start my next journey. Prior to graduation I accepted a position as a PA House of Representatives Fellow in the Republican Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee. I was given the opportunity to apply what I have learned at Wilkes to real legislation. I have had multiple classes on congress, but I have never applied this knowledge to work. My background is far from state government, which is what drew me to the program. I applied to learn, to experience PA politics, and so far, I am pretty happy with my choice.
On my first “real” day of work, I was called down to my supervisors office. To my surprise we were making a trip to the Governor’s office for a bill signing. Seeing the final outcome of legislation is a unique experience. I had the opportunity to meet Senators and Representatives, all very happy over their victory. My favorite part of the bill signing is seeing the staff’s reaction. All the countless hours of hard work paid off, and their product was being signed by the Governor. Seeing this only two days after graduation is something I’ll never forget.
Walking into the Governor’s office is a bit intimidating. The Governor’s office is beautiful, and probably one of my favorite rooms in the Capitol. Everywhere you look is a part of history. It’s also hectic, and on signing days there are people running all over the place. Often guests attend the signing, especially people, or special interest groups who’ve helped inspire or work on the legislation. I’ve met firefighters, members of the military, veterans, and paramedics. I met all of these people in one day, and in one office. It is a whirl wind of handshakes, smiles, and photos. There are at least three different photographers taking multiple pictures.
I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the governor at the end of the signing. I explained my position, the program, and what school I am attending. It was a great experience meeting the governor, for he was truly interested in what I was doing at the capitol. Every day I meet someone new, and each day is filled with another adventure. I have visited the Governor’s office for six different Bill signings, all of which have produced a smile on the crowd of people witnessing the event. The Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee is always busy, but the committee produces legislation. Seeing the legislative process from start to finish is truly a rewarding experience, and a great way to spend my summer!
Written by: Emma
Jun 19, 2017
For as long as I can remember, I knew that I wanted my career to be in either law or government. It was only within the past two years that the light bulb finally went off and began to show me that my career aspirations could fuse and be in both law and government. This realization occurred to me after I had finished my first internship with the Pennsylvania House of Representatives while working in Representative Michael K. Hanna’s Office, Democratic Whip. This experience truly opened my eyes to the opportunities available for me to pursue my passion of law and government. I completed that internship during the fall semester of my senior year at Kutztown University, and from that point forward my focus was on applying to law school.
After choosing to come back to Harrisburg to attend Widener Law Commonwealth, I remember pondering what opportunities would present themselves to get back into state government. Then, during the fall semester before one of my civil procedure classes, the Director of the Law and Government Institute at Widener, Professor Jill Family, passed around a flyer for the Fellowship Program. When she told us that this was the first time the Fellowship was being offered to law students, I took it as a sign and knew I had to apply.
I was ecstatic to learn that not only was I selected to participate in the Fellowship Program, but also that I was placed in the Democratic Office of Chief Counsel. My experiences in the Chief Counsel’s Office have included attending various committee meetings, tracking specific bills, attending Democratic Caucus, learning the tailored roles of attorneys within a governmental setting, and working on issues directly affecting the House. Thus far, I have gained more of an understanding on the interplay of law and government in a month than a year in a classroom would teach me. I feel as if that is the beauty of the Fellowship Program. The type of access you have to learn and network, while familiarizing yourself with the legislative process is second to none.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been selected to participate in the Fellowship Program, and have been embracing everything this program has had to offer during the past month. I plan to continue to take full advantage of this rare opportunity to enhance my understanding of the intricacies of law and government.
Written by: Dan
Jun 9, 2017
Have you ever faced a difficult decision and wavered between following your heart or taking a safer path? For me, I faced this dilemma and chose the latter at numerous critical points in my life. I remained pleasantly unaware of this tendency until I found myself at a painful crossroads in my career. To be dissatisfied in the direction of my work life so early on was disheartening, and it was evident that something needed to give. As it turns out, that something was me.
To summarize how I arrived at that point, I stifled an initial interest in government and the political realm to pursue a degree in Business Administration. This choice was a result of my perception that a business degree offers a greater chance of a high paying and fast paced career in a relatively quick amount of time post-graduation. In short, I viewed it as a safe bet for my future.
Through this lapse in judgment, I was afforded the opportunity to join the fulltime workforce. For the past five years, my mobility through different roles and organizations kept me motivated. I formed strong relationships with co-workers and learned a great deal about leadership, patience, and customer service in its broadest form. However, after a certain career-related decision resulted in regret, I was determined to leave my comfort zone. I realized that to effectively serve others, I must first take steps to serve myself. My first step was switching gears from a career in logistics to returning to law school.
My complete shift in focus from business management to law school may have seemed abrupt from an outside perspective, and I was all too aware of the potential judgment. This was compounded by the all too often negative rhetoric surrounding the attorney career path, but I knew I had to push on. The past pressures I felt to go with the status quo had somehow lifted.
I have since found myself uttering something similar to the cliché that once you start to follow your gut things begin to fall into place. A year ago I was drudging away in a position that I did not see a future in. Now I have successfully completed my first year of law school and landed an internship in state government – an arena I timidly hoped to get into for years.
Now this brings me to my current challenge. I am fortunate to be a part of the PA House Fellowship Program, and I do not take this privilege lightly. I plan to take advantage of every opportunity to grow and get out of my comfort zone. There is no shortage of staff ready and willing to assist, and the wealth of knowledge I encountered in just the first four weeks is staggering.
I was reminded during the initial interview process that the summer program takes place during budget season and therefore may be busier than other times of the year. This news was exciting to me rather than daunting as I am always up for a challenge. As a fellow, there is no shortage of work to occupy my time. There is always something to be done, and the access we are afforded as fellows is remarkable. From events and workshops like behind the scenes tours of the capitol dome to performing duties through my committee assignment, I feel thankful for this experience every day.
I am fortunate over the past year to have returned to school to pursue a law degree and now I am taking part in a fellowship that I know will open many doors for me. I hope touching on this in my blog allows insight into how people with drastically different paths can end up sharing common interests and goals. Reflecting on my story serves as a reminder to myself to not let fear control my decisions. My small leap of faith has served me tremendously in the past year, and I can only hope that I will continue to embody this spirit going forward.
Written by: Sarah
Jun 7, 2017
If you would have asked me just two years ago if I would be in the position I am today, I would have told you, “Absolutely NOT!”
Two years ago I was preparing for my senior year at Washington and Jefferson College as an economics major, planning to enter the workforce immediately after graduation. Certain events and conversations with past mentors led me to search for graduate programs. I quickly found the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs where I am now studying International Political Economy.
For the summer, I am the House Aging and Older Adult Services Committee intern. There has been one topic of constant importance to the committee—unification. Governor Wolf has proposed the unification of four state departments—Departments of Aging, Drug & Alcohol Abuse, Health, and Human Services—into a new Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Governor Wolf announced his proposed Secretary for the new department, Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller, shortly after I started my internship.
Thanks to the fellowship program, I was able to attend the House Democratic Policy Committee’s hearing on the new DHHS that took place on June 5th. Secretary Designee, Teresa Miller, along with members of the Governor’s Office and the Office of the Budget, created the panel who were questioned by the Policy Committee. Secretary Miller focused largely on efficiency throughout the hearing and expressed her intention of keeping open communication with legislators, stakeholders, and employees during the transition period should this unification take place.
Efficiency is what she plans to strive for should she become the first Secretary of the Department of Human Health Services. It’s easy to talk about improving efficiency, but a completely other thing to actually improve it. As Insurance Commissioner, Teresa Miller keeps in contact and encourages feedback from her employees so as to better understand the needs and issues of those needing the services offered. She plans to encourage this practice should she be appointed Secretary of DHHS, as well as have open communication with legislators and stakeholders.
It is an interesting time to be working with the Aging & Older Adult Services Committee. We are busy and are kept on our toes with new updates everyday regarding the possible unification. I have come into this internship hitting the ground running, and I am loving every second of it.
Pictured above, from left to right: Eric Hagarty (Deputy Chief of Staff, Governor’s Office), Teresa Miller (Secretary Designee), Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski (D-District 121).
Click on the following links to watch the public policy hearing:
Part one: http://aka.ms/azuremediaplayer?url=http%3A%2F%2Fpahouselivestream-pahousevideostream.streaming.mediaservices.windows.net%2Ff010ee59-2ae6-473b-badf-c1096151a2ea%2F8ff45f3d-4f69-45f0-9bad-4869cb087e65.ism%2Fmanifest
Part two: http://ampdemo.azureedge.net/azuremediaplayer.html?url=http%3a%2f%2fpahouselivestream-pahousevideostream.streaming.mediaservices.windows.net%2f6e4691da-1cab-4c06-b324-e752ff75c062%2f1620f67d-064a-456a-a485-670b57ee5dcc.ism%2fmanifest
Written by: Stephanie
Jun 5, 2017
I have the good fortune of writing the first blog post on behalf of the summer 2017 cohort of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Fellowship Program.
So how did I get here? Well, let me tell you…
Initially, I was unsure how my background would align to being a good fit for the fellowship program. But upon reflection of my educational and professional experiences, I quickly realized that this fellowship program is a natural fit! Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, community service was a cornerstone of my upbringing. At the age of 14, I joined the volunteer fire service. I continued to pursue that passion through college by residing at a volunteer fire station in lieu of college dorms. While in college I was an intern for the local 9-1-1 communications and public safety center.
Upon completion of my Finance degree from Penn State Harrisburg, I found employment with an investment consulting firm, while I remained committed to assisting the volunteer fire stations both at home and where I attended college in my spare time. After two years, I joined the executive branch of Pennsylvania’s government as an investment analyst at the state employees’ pension system. After approximately three years of working at the pension system, I wanted to further my education as well as position myself for a career that would have a greater impact on those around me.
I enrolled at the Charleston School of Law in the fall of 2016, where I observed the legal challenges faced by citizens all over the United States. I initiated my search for summer opportunities to expand the academic skills I developed, and then I found the Pennsylvania House Fellowship Program. I cannot imagine another internship that would draw so well upon my background while allowing me to expand my research and writing skills. Drafting constituent memoranda, researching current laws for inclusion in potential legislation, and the prospect of writing my own legislation before the end of the summer all contribute to the natural fit of the fellowship. I am currently working with the House Finance Committee on projects involving taxation issues affecting the residents of Pennsylvania. The opportunity to meet with legislators, learn about the legislative process, and then to see the process in practice has been absolutely incredible. I am eager to continue learning and I have no doubt that this summer will be an exciting adventure of growth and education, unrivaled by any prior experiences I have had to date.
Written by: Bill
May 11, 2017
Today, we welcome Sarah, Stephanie, Daniel, Bill, Erin and Emma to the Pennsylvania House Fellowship Program! We are excited for this bright group of graduate and law school students. This will be a busy term with the Budget just around the horizon and we know that they will hit the ground running.
- Sarah attends Widener School of Law and is working with the Local Government Committee.
- Stephanie attends University of Pittsburgh and is working with the Aging and Older Adult Services Committee.
- Daniel attends Widener School of Law and is working for Legal Counsel.
- Bill attends Charleston School of Law and is working with the Finance Committee.
- Erin attends Penn State Harrisburg and is working with the Consumer Affairs Committee.
- Lastly, Emma will be attending George Washington University in the fall and is working with the Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.
Written by: Sheryl Thomas
Apr 11, 2017
Thirteen weeks has flown by and the fellows have just wrapped up their final presentations. They worked hard in researching, drafting and presenting their own legislation last Friday.
We are proud of the exemplary work they have contributed to the fellowship over the spring and we expect to hear nothing but the best for their future endeavors.
Good work Josh, Kiryl, Sam, Briana, Heather, and Ronald!
Written by: Sheryl Thomas
Mar 27, 2017
With less than three weeks remaining, I have been reflecting on the experiences I have undergone, workshops I completed, and people I encountered. My professional growth has expanded more in these past ten weeks than in any other comparable stage of my life. I have been pushed past my comfort zone and into my learning edge. I have been urged to present my ideas using unique techniques, while considering all possible viewpoints. This has been a good lesson to learn and will be advantageous to me as a future law student and potential lawyer.
I have always been of the opinion that oppression of different identities does not simply get better over time, rather the forms of oppression change over time. This may seem pessimistic to some people but for me personally, it has motivated me to discover skills that will be effective in improving the lives of marginalized communities. Being a part of this fellowship has altered my view on life. This fellowship has enhanced my life because I have never been so empowered to make change at the state level before. Another way I have been able to see how my life has enhanced is to compare my situation to that of my families’ past generations’ circumstances.
Looking at the lives of my mother, my father, my grandfather and grandmother is a good indication of this. For example, my mother was a waitress and worked in elderly care for many years. She has simultaneously had multiple jobs for most of her life. My father has been an HVAC technician for over thirty years and I have witnessed the toll his body has taken from such a manually intensive job. My late grandfather worked at a Giant grocery store and at the U.S. post office simultaneously for over forty years. My late grandmother worked for the Pennsylvania House of Representative until she retired in 2003. She performed cleaning services at night and during the day she worked in the capitol cafeteria as a cashier. I often wonder what my grandmother would think of what I am doing in this fellowship. If she knew while she was cleaning the Capitol building late into the night, that one day her grandson would be working there as a legislative intern, writing independent legislation, I know she would be immensely proud. These examples show that generation of hard work and sacrifice can sometimes eventually open up new opportunities for the next generation. I am only 22 years old and this May I will be graduating from Lebanon Valley College with a bachelor’s degree and this fall I will be attending law school. I am the first in my family to gain a bachelor’s degree and now the first to be attending law school.
I believe that education is the major tool of liberation and this education does not stem purely from a traditional sense of the term. Education can come in a number of different ways; the people you meet in your life, conversations you have and lessons you learn. It is easy to see on paper how this fellowship provided me the opportunity to participate first hand in the legislative process. This fellowship has given me various tangible skills. I have learned how to write effectively, research competently, and draft legislation. These are all great skills that I have been endowed with by this fellowship, but there are much more abilities that you cannot measure quite as easy. I could not describe in words how much I have grown in such a brief period of time. I have learned skills that will stay with me for life and I am tremendously appreciative to have had all these experiences.
Written by: Sam
Mar 15, 2017
After coming to this country as an immigrant and living in the United States for 13 years, I have come to realize the discrepancy between the country of my birth and the country of my dreams. I was born in a country called Belarus, which is geographically located between Poland and Russia. The government of Belarus is designed in the framework of a presidential republic with a bicameral parliament: The President of Belarus is the head of state, and executive power is exercised by the government, with a prime minister appointed by the President at the top. Despite this design, Belarus has a government which can be described as a dictatorship. In fact, the politics and the framework of the government of the United States cannot be compared to Belarus.
In learning about the history of our state government, I have realized that one of the fundamental building blocks which helped to establish our government is teamwork. Additionally, one of the greatest things which I have witnessed during my internship is the importance of having a good character, being prepared to collaborate in a teamwork setting and the virtue of helping others. By observing a myriad of meetings and public hearings, I found that individuals who ultimately stand out the most are those who can work with others to solve problems, despite their personal interests. This is something that is rarely seen in the government of the country of my birth, which can explain its failures.
Furthermore, my experience in state government has taught me the importance of having a good character. One of my favorite quotes was written by Charles H. Spurgeon, “A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you and were helped by you will remember you when forget-me-nots have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.” This quote is essential because it is something that I live by. Helping others and doing upright deeds to people around us will not only benefit others, but it will also significantly impact our lives. I believe that you will reap what you sow. These values developed a desire in me to work on a bill idea that would revolve around these principles. My bill is designed to:
- Reduce our state’s large recidivism rate
- Reintegrate ex-offenders into our society
- Save/invest money for our state
I have come to understand the essence of teamwork as well as the benefits of having a good character in a government setting. Even as the fellows and I prepare for our final project presentation, we all depend on each other to help one another. We work together to understand the strengths and weaknesses of our legislation, which in the end will aid us to produce the most effective arguments.
In the end, Together Everyone Achieves More.
Written by: Kiryl
Mar 7, 2017
If I were asked what my career would be as an adult when I was in high school, I would have said: “diplomat”. Yet here I am, interning at the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and already two months in with my internship.
How things change.
Before coming to Harrisburg, I knew relatively little about the workings of the state government, especially the House of Representatives. While I was aware of some of the personalities, the politics, and the interest groups involved with the state government, I lacked the in-depth knowledge of the political processes taking place inside the state capitol. Basically, I was a newbie when I stepped foot on the capitol on January 9th, 2017, the first day of my internship.
A lot has changed for me since then.
Interning at the Office of Democratic Caucus Secretary Rep. Rosita C. Youngblood has been a very enlightening and unique experience for me. As the only House Fellow working at a leadership office this semester, I would say that I have been more exposed to the communications aspect of the law-making process in addition to policy research. While I have experience in policy research, this internship has helped me to develop my communications skills by forcing me to consider in-depth my audience, the interests and laws involved, and history when I draft bill analyses, constituent correspondence, and cosponsor memos. Not to mention the original piece of legislation that I am working on as part of the House Fellowship Program.
In researching and crafting my piece of legislation, I have had to take into account multiple factors. At the beginning, I thought heavily about the technical aspects of the law-making process, such as researching relevant existing legislation, the form and style of writing legislation and the rules involved (ex. single subject rule), and meeting with issue experts and stakeholders to learn more about the topic. I, however, paid little attention in the beginning to matters such as the broader audience the legislation is targeted towards beyond those directly impacted, the intricate political dynamics within the House beyond the party numbers, and the messaging conveyed by the language of the law. Over the course of the internship, however, I learned to pay more attention to those factors and to focus on the broader context under which my legislation is being written. In broadening my perspective beyond simply researching and crafting the legislation, I have my supervisor and coworkers to thank, who have provided and continue to provide advice drawn from their years of experience in the House.
While I have only been in Harrisburg for two months, this internship experience has greatly informed me of the inner-workings of the state government. When I leave the city at the end of April, I hope to gain more experience and knowledge from which I could draw upon when I embark on a career in politics and policy after graduation in 2018.
How things change.
Here’s a mural I came across while walking through Midtown Harrisburg.
Written by: Ronald
Mar 2, 2017
Now that the first half of our internship has passed, I want to take the opportunity to reflect on the work I’ve done so far as well as the challenges I’ve faced.
With a background in Creative Writing and no plan to work directly in state government after graduation, I came into this experience with little insight into how state government worked (beyond what I’ve learned in school) or my place in the process. This lack of knowledge was compounded by the fact that I was placed in a committee that dealt with issues related to a topic I knew even less about than the process in general.
To say I was intimidated would be an understatement..
But despite those reservations born of uncertainty (How would I compare to those students who planned to pursue this line of work…who had already dedicated a significant amount of time and energy to understanding the many facets of government and governance? What did I have to offer to a program that facilitated connections between lawmakers and future lawmakers, when my future doesn’t involve becoming an elected official?), I recognized that this was an opportunity I couldn’t waste on fear or hesitation. I wanted an opportunity to learn, explore and to grow, and I have come across no better experience that promises to fulfill those goals.
And now, with over a month behind me, I am more grateful than ever that I decided to take that chance. Being on the Liquor Control Committee when I knew nothing about Pennsylvania’s liquor laws has given me the opportunity to learn in ways I hadn’t expected, had I been placed on a committee more closely aligned with my future interests. More than the learning itself, however, I have found the environment compatible to the desire to learn. I am encouraged to ask questions if I don’t understand a given topic and I am assigned projects that allow me to research existing laws as well as explore bills that are in the process of becoming laws.
And despite being placed on a committee outside my comfort zone, I have not had to abandon my interests for the semester. Because of the bill assignment, I have continued to research criminal law and prison policies and am in the process of drafting a bill that would provide feminine hygiene products to all female inmates, free of charge. With my ultimate goal being to work in the realm of prison advocacy, the opportunity to research similar laws and practices will prove invaluable as I set my sights on my future.
My advice for anyone interested in this program, or for that matter, anyone looking to make advances in their professional lives, is to make connections whenever and wherever you can. I have spoken with Representatives from both sides of the aisle, all of whom have offered me advice on my future and insights into state government. I have had the opportunity to connect with alumni from school who are in the area and involved in state government, as well as former Fellows whose professional trajectories were in part directed by this program, offering them jobs in the Capitol after the program was complete. And I have developed a working relationship with the people in my office, all of whom have proven critical to my development in the program. Though I have learned quite a bit about law and government from the program itself, the connects I have made and the guidance I have been offered as a result of those connections have added a layer of depth to my internship, without which I feel as if my time here would be incomplete.
Written by: Heather
Feb 28, 2017
The weather hasn’t been the only hot topic this February in Harrisburg. It’s budget season once again in the state capitol and the hearings are underway under the green dome of state government. Officials from the state departments are flocking to hearing rooms for the House and Senate where they will answer questions about their finances and what they expect to receive from the state budget. Now I understand budget talks may not be the most interesting subject in the world to most people, but it shouldn’t be mistaken that they are perhaps one of the most important tasks of our state government. Nobody wants a bad budget and nobody wants a late budget, remember the infamous budget impasse of 2015?
As a Fellow who interns for the House Finance Committee, I was given the opportunity to have a front row seat to all of the budget hearing action. In one week alone, I went to four separate budget hearings ranging from an hour and a half in length to over two hours long in length. The House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee are responsible for carrying out these hearings. During the course of the week, I attended three House committee hearings and one Senate committee hearing.
For the House hearings, I watched as members of the committee questioned the director of the Independent Fiscal Office, the Pennsylvania Secretary of Revenue Eileen McNulty and officials from the Pennsylvania Lottery, and Pennsylvania’ new Treasurer Joe Torsella. Just as any conversation that deals with money and finances, members of the committee went into great detail in questioning how the money sent to these organizations would be spent for the benefit of the people of Pennsylvania. Questions were raised about Department effectiveness, raising revenue for the state, providing for children and the elderly, and promoting financial literacy. Being in our hot political climate, questions were also raised about several other topics including the possibility of the state leasing the Farm Show Complex, the possibility of raising the minimum wage, state property taxes, and the issue of paycheck protection.
Though I very much enjoy working for the House, I thought it would have been beneficial to see how the Senate conducts their budget hearings. I watched as the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned Auditor General Eugene DePasquale about how his department was acting as the financial watchdog of state government. This was a very interesting meeting as the Senators, being fewer in number than their House counterparts, were given more time to go into greater detail about their questions. It was also very refreshing to see the level of bipartisanship between the Democratic Auditor General and the Republican controlled Senate who agreed on a number of things though their ideologies were different.
I understand budgets aren’t the most interesting or fun thing to talk about, but they are absolutely vital to our state government. Harrisburg isn’t given the same leniency as Washington D.C. as our state budget must by law be balanced. Though this is a very fiscally responsible way of handling the state’s money, this can also make it more challenging to complete a budget on time. We have seen in the past that some budgets are completed on time while others are not. It’s times like these where legislative and executive officials can sit down together and talk face-to-face about the real challenges that are facing Pennsylvania that should be comforting to many who want more talking in government rather than fighting. This can however be a stressful experience as no one is bound to agree 100% of the time, but given my experience so far, I think Pennsylvanians are best to be optimistic.
Written by: Josh
Feb 27, 2017
This fellowship is designed to be immersive – so, through assignments, workshops and meetings, fellows will leave the Capitol not only with an arsenal of new knowledge, but personal growth. While the intentional and planned aspects of the Pennsylvania House Fellowship are important, there’s no denying it, I want to talk about the unplanned lessons that I have learned thus far.
- You get out what you put in: I could come to my fellowship every day and do just what is expected of me, and I would walk away with the mediocrity of doing the bare minimum. But the truth is, I feel like I owe myself more than that. You might be asking yourself, “If she was planning on giving it her all from the beginning, then why is this a lesson?” To that, I say, things happen. Through the midst of new experience jitters, a crazy workload and a busy schedule, it is easy to stick to the status quo. So, you have to push yourself if you want to grow.
- Spread your wings (be a social butterfly): I have always considered myself to be a social person, until I realized that I had no problem staying in my cubicle for the duration of my work day. Let me tell you, forming connections is a two-way street, but my side of the road is paved with obstacles. We meet important people every day who meet important people every day, so it is important to go out of your way to be remembered. Sometimes, you may not have the direct opportunity to meet with someone whom you wish to meet with, so you will need to reach out on your own. The reality is that you only have 13 weeks here, but if you want to be here more permanently, then you need to go out of your way to make connections.
- Never wait around for more work: I never wanted to be the fellow that sat around at their desk twiddling their thumbs waiting to be given something to do. This lesson applies to the other lessons in the sense that your experience and the impressions you leave are entirely up to you. I view my placement in my committee as a blessing. My goal is to learn as much as I can, and in order to do that you have to ask for more work. If you show the initiative to do more, then it will be appreciated. I have already had the opportunity to write an article for the House Democratic Caucus Diversity and Inclusion Council’s Newsletter, as well as draft legislation for a Member. These are assignments that go beyond what is required of me, and I was given these opportunities because I sought them out.
The thing about these lessons are that they are applicable to situations of all contexts. In the end, working hard and pushing past the uncomfortableness of a new experience will lead to great results. If anything, I will leave this fellowship with the knowledge that I overcame struggles and grew immensely as a person, and that, is priceless.
Something that I have always appreciated about this fellowship is always being in the presence of beautiful surroundings. This is one of my favorite areas in the Capitol.
Written by: Briana
Feb 22, 2017
As a first generation college student I was uncertain about what opportunities would be open to me. I was not sure what I wanted to do with my education. I am a criminal justice major with a passion for social justice. It was not until my junior year of college that I found an exceptional way to combine my knowledge of the criminal justice field with my passion of social justice. I added a law minor to my degree and I decided that I eventually want to go to law school and become an attorney, with the long-term goal of working for the ACLU.
My decision to apply for this fellowship came from my desire to learn about and gain experience with the legislative process. Not only did I acquire great insight in this aspect, but I also participated first-hand with the legislative process. This amount of involvement has been extremely empowering as a citizen of the Commonwealth and has additionally furthered my development as a perspective law student.
I’m assigned to the Emergency Management and Veterans Affairs Committee. I did not have much knowledge on any emergency management other than my criminal justice background. Besides the fact that my grandfather was a veteran, I did not have much knowledge about veterans concerns either. Regardless, I have been able to contribute a very unique perspective to my committee, which is something I view as crucial. It is important for various opinions and experiences to be shared as knowledge is exchanged. This is where the most effective learning takes place.
This fellowship has additionally afforded me the ability to cultivate my passion as well. The Fellowship’s final project is an original independent piece of legislation. This gave me the opportunity to incorporate my thirst for social justice. My bill will amend the statute of limitations for sexual assault in Pennsylvania. Currently, the statute of limitations for sexual assault is 12 years for adults and until the victim turns 50 for minors. My potential legislation will get rid of the statute of limitations for sexual assault. The bill drafting process has offered me insight into the legislative process. After meeting with various executive directors of different committees and multiple stakeholders, my bill has changed and altered significantly. This is common in the life of a legislator. Flexibility is crucial.
This internship fellowship has developed my growth tremendously, it has altered my perception of the legal process and the law. I believe that first-hand experience in state government is very helpful to all citizens, but for me personally it has made me realize that state government work is not the right fit for me, at least for right now. This program has influenced me and helped me develop an understanding of the law. One of the big lessons I’ve learned is the importance of listening to, learning from, and working with people of dissimilar views. This makes me an effective intern and will make me an even more effective attorney in the future.
Written by: Sam
Feb 15, 2017
Have you ever woken up in the morning and thought about how blessed you are to work in the job that you have? Well for me, this happens every single sunny, cloudy, rainy, or snowy morning.
Every day is a new day. This has become the exciting part of my internship. Two weeks prior to taking part in this fellowship, I pondered the idea of what a college student, who’s majoring in criminal justice might do in state government. In reality, I did not know much about state government. I was worried that I would not have experience related to my interest and my major, since in the future I am planning to go to law school. However, within the first week of the internship I found myself pleasantly surprised.
I was placed in the Judiciary Committee. Today, I have the honor to work besides the most hard-working and intelligent co-workers. Each one of them play a major role in making this a special and rich internship experience for me. The Judiciary Committee is truly an extraordinary committee as it deals with a plethora of legislative issues.
Learning and working has never been such a thrill. Every day I face new challenges and complete assignments/tasks that are not only related to my major, but I have also explored material beyond criminal justice. Some of my assignments consist of conducting research on PA work release programs, divorce laws, the child passenger restraint fund program, as well as drafting constituent letters, bill analyses and talking points for Representatives on miscellaneous matters.
Weekly, my Executive Director takes me to various important meetings with him, which has become one of my favorite parts of this fellowship. I get the opportunity to interact with individuals that I would never have imagined having the chance to meet. During these meetings I get to witness the live action of how my Chairman solves problems, discusses ideas, recommends advice, and serves as a public servant.
I am beginning to understand during this short time period, what wisdom, skills and abilities will aid me in reaching my future goals. For example, almost every week I get the opportunity to talk to one of the most prime prosecutors of his time (Michael Kane). Having various discussions with him about his life and prior cases helped ignite my desire to follow my dreams.
Therefore, if you truly want to expand and increment your knowledge and development as an individual, this is the place for you. No matter what major you are or what your interests are, the abilities that you will gain here will benefit you in any field of study that you are pursuing. This is something of great value.
Michael Kane, Esq. and myself
Written by: Kiryl
Feb 13, 2017
The fellows meeting with the House Parliamentarian, Clancy Myer.
They learned all about the rules and procedures of the House.
Thank you, Clancy!
Written by: Sheryl Thomas
Feb 6, 2017
While I major in political science at Temple University and know a lot of other students who major in political science, I don’t know a lot of students with an interest in the workings of the Pennsylvania state government, especially its legislature. While I am interested in state politics and government, I did not have extensive experience with the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, besides an internship at the district office of a state representative who represents a district in Philadelphia. That is until now.
As an intern placed in the Office of the Democratic Caucus Secretary Representative Rosita C. Youngblood, I have gained a lot of exposure to the workings of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, ranging from meetings to discussing policy issues to the process of crafting a piece of legislation. And while I have only been here for four weeks, I have learned a lot and have yet to learn more. Here are some of my reflections on my experience in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
First: Governance and policy-making require understanding. After interning or volunteering for multiple political campaigns throughout 2016, it was a welcome change to work at an institution with a long history behind it, where I could learn about the policy-making process at the state level. And the main thing that separates a political campaign from governance is that to succeed in the latter, one must be willing to meet with others who may disagree with you to learn about their perspectives, consideration of which is necessary to turn a policy into a law that endures for a long time. With a campaign, on the other hand, one could conceivably succeed by relying on their most fervent supporters alone, eschewing understanding in favor of a single-minded pursuit of political victory. With governance, such an attitude is most likely to result in failure at the policy-making level.
Second: Meet new people. With 203 state representatives and whose staff combined would number in hundreds, there are a lot of people who are interested in the workings of state government. This is a perfect opportunity to meet new people who are interested in similar fields as you are, which in my case would mean urban affairs and civil rights. Throughout the past few weeks, I have met many people, from staffers working for other House leaders to House committee staffers to lawyers and policy experts. Meeting new people in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has expanded my knowledge about both fields of interests and the state policy-making process, which has been greatly beneficial as I intend to pursue a graduate degree in public policy and/or urban planning. Additionally, it has also broadened my perspectives since I met many more people from across the state and not just from Philadelphia, where I am from.
Third: Take initiative. Since I will only be here for one semester, I have come to really appreciate the need to take the initiative as an intern since I only have thirteen weeks to complete my tasks and projects. Therefore I began to work on research for my original piece of legislation long before it’s due date and have continued to ask for tasks to complete from my supervisor whenever I can. Time is limited and therefore I took the initiative to ensure that this internship will be very valuable in gaining experience and professional development, not merely another line on a resume.
This internship has been a great learning experience for me in terms of knowledge about state-level policies and professional development, while also broadening my perspectives. Additionally, I would also strongly recommend this program to anyone with even a slight interest in state politics and government.
Note: Explore the city whenever possible. I already went to the Broad Street Market and the Midtown Scholar and it has been a great experience so far, and I plan to hit more spots around the city in the future.
Written by: Ronald
Feb 2, 2017
Prior to this internship, my experiences with governmental public service and the law rested solely with the judicial. As a (hopeful) future attorney, I sought internships and other experiences I expected would prepare me for a life as an advocate. After all, that was the side of the law with which I was most comfortable.
My decision to pursue this opportunity was made with the intention of expanding my familiarity with the law to encompass not just its codified form, but also the process by which it came to assume that form. After just a month here, I have been offered countless opportunities to both witness that process firsthand as well as participate in it.
I’m assigned to the Liquor Control Committee and will be the first to admit it was a topic I knew nothing about. The learning curve has certainly been steep. But a combination of guidance from the wonderful staff here as well as a desire to understand fully the work going on around me has resulted in my developing understanding of the Liquor Code. In the past months, liquor laws in Pennsylvania have changed as a result of the work done on this committee, and I consider myself lucky for having the opportunity to witness the results of those changes as they occur.
Beyond the chance to learn something new, this internship has also allowed me the opportunity to develop my own interests even more. For the bill assignment, I have spent the last few weeks researching criminal law and the corrections system as I try to determine the topic and scope of my proposed legislation. This project, too, has offered insight into the process of legislation. I am currently trying to determine how funds could be allocated to my project and how best to craft the bill so as to achieve its purpose. Neither are easy tasks, and I have already developed a better appreciation for our law makers and the staff members who work every day to do such work.
Though this internship has not shifted the direction of my future – I still intend to become a lawyer rather than a legislator, although I should note that I have had the chance to interact with representatives who are both – it has shifted my understanding of the law and the legal process. I truly believe that this experience will shape the way in which I advocate for my future clients and that it will prove invaluable to my future endeavors.
Written by: Heather
Jan 30, 2017
Graduating from Penn State Harrisburg this spring with a B.A. in Political Science, I really wanted to work someplace government-oriented for my last semester. I had first heard of the Legislative Fellowship Program through a fellow class mate at Penn State Harrisburg who told me the program was enjoyable and allowed Fellows to make numerous connections. Today, that class mate works as a research analyst for one of the House of Representative’s committees. After interning with political organizations to build up my resume, I interviewed for a spot in the program and found out two weeks later that I was accepted. To my surprise, I found that I had been assigned to not one, but two committees, the House Urban Affairs Committee and the House Finance Committee.
In the Urban Affairs Committee, we discuss the several issues facing PA’s cities and how to address those issues. The issue of blight plagues much of the Commonwealth and we have discussed several approaches to the problem including incentivizing urban agriculture. In the Finance Committee, we discuss Pennsylvania’s tax system and the best ways to provide revenue for the state. The timing for my placement in this committee could not have been more perfect as the Governor is giving his budget address in February and it can be assumed that property taxes will be a hot topic issue this session as it was last session.
In my short time at the Fellowship, I have gained valuable insight into the state law-making process while also meeting with several important people within state government including state representatives, state senators, and the Chief Clerk of the House. Though the work is both interesting and demanding, I’ve taught myself to appreciate the little things about the environment in which I work in. I have the opportunity to work in the most beautiful state capitol in the country. I have discovered that many of my co-workers have either worked or lived around the area where I grew up. Just spotting a coincidence, I even noticed that the Speaker of the House and I wore the same tie the day he recognized the Fellows on the House Floor.
If I had one piece of advice to give to perspective Fellows deciding whether or not to do the program, I would say do it. If you are willing to get the most out of this internship by putting in the hard work while coming into work every day with a positive attitude, then the House Fellowship Program will be for you as it is for me, the right choice.
Written by: Josh
Jan 25, 2017
I’ve traded in campus strolls for Capitol steps, term papers for bill analyses and class lectures for press releases. Come May 2017, I will be an alumna of Penn State York with a B.S. in Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS). You may ask, as many of my friends and family members asked, how does the House of Representatives connect to my field of study? Well, I can tell you at first that I was not entirely sure, seeing as I am no connoisseur of state politics, but even in my first couple of weeks here, I have started to discover the connection.
In the broad sense, politics impacts social work enormously, which is reminiscent to me as macro-level social work done at the community- and systems-level. What that actually means is that the committees under the umbrella of social work, for example, the Aging and Older Adult Services Committee where I work, try to pass legislation that ultimately aids the population for which they are assigned. For example, these are some issues that have been addressed in sessions past by the House Aging and Older Adults Services Committee: protecting older adults under the Older Adults Protective Services Act, LGBT awareness for the aging, long-term care and retirement, to name a few.
Luckily for me, adult development is an integral part of the course requirements for a B.S. in HDFS. Beyond that, though, I have taken a particular interest in working with older adults, which may have aided me in my committee placement here today. As a result, I am able to use my knowledge base from my studies and apply it to what is relevant in legislation today (with a lot of guidance, of course). Thus, my worries of being unprepared for this fellowship have since disappeared. In fact, I am already brainstorming ideas for my original piece of legislation that tie both my HDFS history and my newfound knowledge; although, you’ll have to stay tuned for that!
So, I believe that by the end of this fellowship, I will be a well-rounded human services professional. And who knows, maybe I will have the chance of permanently trading in classrooms for caucuses!
Written by: Briana
Jan 24, 2017
It is the start of a new year and with that, the start of a new group of PA House Fellows. Along with a fresh new year comes the start of some fresh ideas. This one, in particular, is a special one for me. The PA House Fellows will now be blogging to share their stories and experiences with you all. What better way is there to understand State Government than through the eyes of the next generation? It has been a privilege of mine to supervise the past couple groups of interns. It is interesting to observe when they enter the Capitol building on day 1, cautious and reserved, and without fail, 13 weeks into this fellowship program, they are equipped with confidence for the professional world and knowledge of State Government. It is not always an easy transition for our fellows, for some, it is a large stretch, but through the challenges and sacrifices, they exude greatness. They exit these extravagant walls with a passion for public service and the skills to execute necessary tasks.
Let me introduce you to our fellows this semester..
- Kiryl attends Temple University. He is currently working with the Judiciary Committee.
- Heather attends Allegheny College. She is currently working with the Liquor Control Committee.
- Sam attends Lebanon Valley College. He is currently working with the Veterans Affairs/Emergency Preparedness Committee.
- Ronald also attends Temple University. He is currently working with a Leadership Office.
- Josh attends Penn State Harrisburg. He is in the unique position of working with two committees – the Urban Affairs and the Finance Committees.
- Lastly, Briana attends Penn State York. She is currently working with the Aging and Older Adult Services Committee.
The House Fellows were introduced on the Floor this week and met the Speaker, Mike Turzai
Written by: Sheryl Thomas