Open Government

Senate Votes, PA Laws and Lobbyist Reports Posted Online

Pennsylvania Senate votes, debates, bills and statutes – as well as live video of Senate floor activity – can be accessed online. The general public can read bills and amendments, review text of floor debates, and see how senators voted. Information is available for votes in committee and the full Senate.

Citizens can also track who is lobbying, who individual lobbyists are representing, and how they are spending their money.  They can also see the number of clients each lobbyist has and what each one is spending per client.

State contracts are posted online as well, allowing citizens to search for contracts by agency, contracting party, amount, date and subject matter.

Instructions for accessing all of this information are listed below.

How To View Senate Votes and Debates

There are three ways to find and view bills, as well as how legislators voted: by bill number, keyword or date.

  • Viewing bills and votes by bill number: Go to the official Pennsylvania State Senate website and in the upper right corner select “Bill #.” Enter a bill number (e.g. “sb968” for “Senate Bill 968,” or “hb906” for “House Bill 906”). Click “Go!”This takes you to a “Bill Information” page. From this page, you can read: a “bill history” charting the legislation’s movements through the General Assembly; floor votes and committee votes; and text of the legislation, in its current form (Current PN) and prior versions (Prior PN).
  • Viewing bills and votes by keywords: Go to the Pennsylvania State Senate site and in the upper right corner select “Keyword.” Enter a keyword(s) (e.g. “agriculture”), click “Go!”, and a list of bills containing the keyword will be displayed. From there, you can access “Bill Information,” as described above.
  • Viewing bills and votes by date: Go to the Pennsylvania State Senate site and under “Senate Information” click on Senate Roll Call Votes, which lists activity by date. After selecting a date, you’ll see each bill or motion listed. By clicking on the link you’ll be able to view the vote tally as well as how each member voted.”Senate Information” also lists votes cast in committee, and amendments considered on the Senate floor.

To read transcripts of debates and other activity from the floor of the Senate, click on Senate Legislative Journals, which are posted by date. (Journals are posted upon Senate approval or within 45 days, whichever is earlier.)

The Journals chronicle each day’s activity on the floor of the Senate, including communications with the House of Representatives and Governor’s Office, amendments offered on the floor, remarks by senators, debates and vote tallies.

How to Search Pennsylvania Statutes

As part of its effort to make state government more transparent, the Senate now requires the placement of Pennsylvania’s consolidated statutes on the Internet.

For the first time, citizens are able to search Pennsylvania’s laws online, dating back to 1975.

To look up statutes, go to the official Pennsylvania General Assembly website and look for “Law Information.”  From there you can choose from enacted legislation, rules and regulations, the PA Bulletin, Legislative Reference Bureau and Consolidated Statutes.

You can search by year, legislative session, act number, or type of legislation. You can even view bills that were vetoed before becoming law.

How To View Lobbyist Disclosure Reports

A list of lobbyists and related information are posted on the Pennsylvania State Senate website under “Topics of Special Interest.”

Here, you’ll find links to Department of State Lobbying Disclosure  information, as well as a list of Lobbyist Expenditures, which lists activity according to lobbyists, the organizations they represent, policy areas and quarterly totals.

Under Act 134 of 2006, the Department of State must update the list by May 1 of each odd-numbered year. Random audits will be conducted on the registrations every two years.

Lobbyists who violate the law will be subject to civil fines of up to $2,000 and the possibility of being prohibited from paid lobbying for up to five years. Groups that retain lobbyists and intentionally violate the law could receive a fine of up to $25,000.

How to Search State Contracts

Pennsylvania taxpayers can access state contracts worth $5,000 or more via a searchable database.

Under Act 3 of 2008, the Pennsylvania Treasury maintains a website with a contracts search function that enables citizens to locate contract summaries, contracts and other documents, such as purchase orders and amendments.

Contracts can be searched by agency, contracting party, amount, date, subject matter, and contract number.

The contracts search page is here, and the help page is here.

Right-to-Know Law

Act 3 of 2008 established a strong Right-to-Know Law in Pennsylvania. Under Act 3, for the first time in Pennsylvania history, citizens no longer have to prove that a record is public and that it should be released. Now, a government agency – state or local – must presume that a record is a public record available for inspection or copying. If the government agency chooses to withhold a record, the agency has the burden to prove – with legal citation – why that record should not be available to the public.

More information about the new Right-to-Know Law and how to request access to documents can be found at the state’s Office of Open Records, the Senate of Pennsylvania, and the House of Representatives.