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Feral Cat Day just one of many state legislative victories

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

By Bill Toland, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG -- Pennsylvania's lawmakers have accomplished quite a bit over the last few weeks, but very little of it is what you might have expected.

A bona fide education package? Probably a few weeks off. Pittsburgh tax bailout? Lord knows. Slots? Don't bet on it.

Pennsylvania Feral Cat Day? Done. John Coltrane Day? Taken care of. Youth Soccer Month, anyone? You betcha. Each has been considered, via resolution, since the state Legislature returned to work last month.

It often takes months or years for substantive items to come up for consideration in the Legislature, but there's always a steady diet of resolutions, some of them serious, many of them silly. House and Senate resolutions, essentially statement papers with no basis in law, are approved nearly every business day, dozens in a week, hundreds in a legislative session.

Though mostly trivial, resolutions give legislators a formal way to honor luminaries and unsung heroes from their home districts or to satisfy constituents and interest groups who request the special days, weeks and months with earnest regularity.

Such proclamations aren't the exclusive domain of state legislators -- borough councils, school boards, county commissioners, Congress, practically every level of government gets in on the act.

At the state level, resolutions work like this: Prior to the vote, which is usually unanimous, the resolution's main sponsor takes the floor, reads a written copy of the resolution, and concludes by announcing that, for example, Oct. 5-11 forthwith ought to be known as Casimir Pulaski Week.

Which it will be, courtesy of Senate Resolution 149.

Pulaski, of course, was a Polish soldier who waged war against the Russians, was exiled from his homeland, made his way to the colonies, fought in the American Revolution and was eventually tapped by George Washington to head America's first cavalry.

Today he is referred to rather obscurely as the Father of the American Cavalry. He died Oct. 11, 1779, after the Battle of Savannah. Sen. Mike Stack, D-Philadelphia, sponsors the resolution each year around the anniversary of Pulaski's death, an aide said. The Pulaski resolution was approved last week.

Seldom do the resolutions cause a political stir, but House Resolution 403, which designated last week as "Dog Week" in Pennsylvania, somehow succeeded in doing so. A Senate Democratic campaign committee criticized state Rep. John Gordner, R-Columbia, for sponsoring the dog resolution, saying he should probably concentrate on fixing the state budget.

The resolution noted that "the unquestioning affection of faithful canine friends and companions has enriched the lives of all who have ever been dog owners."

Gordner defended the dog proclamation, saying one of his constituents requested the tribute as a way of honoring a "therapy dog" that comforted families in New York City after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

"They had therapy dogs to help the rescue workers cope," Gordner said. "That's [only] the third resolution I've introduced this session ... I'm not a big resolution guy, but they do tend to be meaningful to the people or constituents who request them."

Moving on. Legislators have a soft spot for health care causes and obscure diseases -- the first week of October will be "Dyslexia Awareness Week"; on Sept. 24, the entire month of September was designated retroactively by the House as "Long QT Syndrome Awareness Month"; Sept. 16 became "Take a Loved One to the Doctor Day"; and the Senate two weeks ago adopted September as "Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disorder" month.

Long QT Syndrome is an abnormality of the heart's electrical system. CMT disorder is an inherited genetic condition that causes nerve degeneration in limbs and extremities. It's named after a couple of French doctors.

Sen. John Wozniak, D-Cambria, who sponsored the CMT resolution, has a friend whose daughter died of the disorder. He said health awareness resolutions, such as the sleep apnea resolution he sponsors each April, can serve a beneficial purpose.

"They aren't always as innocuous as you might think," he said "It's absolutely amazing how many people call the office, asking for information" once a resolution has been passed.

Presumably, then, they'll soon be calling for information on the essential John Coltrane albums -- on Sept. 23, Coltrane's birthday, the Senate voted on a resolution commemorating the jazz saxophonist, who was born in North Carolina but moved to Philadelphia in his teens.

The week before, the Senate formally extended its condolences to the family of actor Charles Bronson, who was born near Johnstown and died in August.

The rest? Sort of a scattershot of resolutions: September, among its many other designations, became "Youth Soccer Month," thanks to House Resolution 393. October is known as "Planning Great Communities Month." Pennsylvania's "Hispanic Heritage Month" straddles the two, running from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.

Oct. 6-12 is the state's official "Financial Planning Week." Oct. 8 is "Health Cares About Domestic Violence Day." Looking ahead, November brings us "Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Awareness Month." That's a disorder characterized by an overactive nervous system, usually brought about by high-velocity wounds -- car crashes, shrapnel, bullet wounds.

So far this week, the House has approved resolutions urging that a statue of Commodore John Barry remain in Philadelphia's Independence Hall, and lobbying the U.S. Postal Service to create a stamp bearing the likeness of Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone.

Barry was an Irish-born seaman who helped create the U.S. Navy. Basilone was a Marine from New Jersey who won the Navy Cross and Congressional Medal of Honor and was killed by an artillery shell on Iwo Jima.

Yesterday, the House approved a resolution that designates Oct. 16 as "Feral Cat Day" in Pennsylvania; another that creates a "Dairy Farms Appreciation Day"; and one that posthumously honors Bob Hope, who died this summer.


Bill Toland can be reached at btoland@post-gazette.com or 717-787-2141.

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