Birds of a feather...?
For most inmates seeking access to work-release programs, the key problem is finding work. Most inmates, however, haven't been members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, even though the state and federal prison systems house more than a half dozen former state legislators.
Former state Rep. Joseph Brennan, a Lehigh Valley Democrat who abandoned his re-election bid last August after being charged with assaulting his wife and driving while drunk, was sentenced in January to three to 23 months in jail for DUI and simple assault.
Now, he has been admitted into Lehigh County's work-release program, and soon will begin reporting to his job - at the state House of Representatives. Mr. Brennan was hired by the House Democratic Caucus's Legislative Policy and Research Office after his arrest but before his Jan. 3 guilty plea. Apparently, the Legislature's infamous revolving door includes jail cells. His salary is $72,000 plus benefits.
The problem isn't just Mr. Brennan's unique circumstances, even though his uniquely awful conduct while a state legislator should disqualify him from a legislative staff job for which any number of law-abiding Pennsylvanians are qualified.
The underlying problem is the revolving door itself. Lawmakers who lose elections often are hired by their former colleagues at salaries close to legislative salaries. That enables the defeated polls to retain their Rolls Royce health benefits and to keep the meter running on their lavish pensions.
When Ken Smith defeated former Rep. Fred Belardi in Lackawanna County's 112th Legislative District, the Democratic Caucus quickly hired Mr. Belardi at a salary greater than his legislative salary. Then, when Rep. Kevin Haggerty defeated Mr. Smith last year, the Democratic Caucus hired Mr. Smith to help with the orientation of new lawmakers including, presumably, Mr. Haggerty.
Voters who turn out a lawmaker believe they are doing more than reassigning him to a different office at public expense. Lawmakers should honor the voters' decisions by establishing a two-year prohibition on any former member being hired as a legislative staffer.