In 36 years as a member of Pennsylvania’s General Assembly, state Sen. Stewart Greenleaf has had many fruitful sessions.
But in the latest one, which officially concludes at month’s end, Greenleaf, 73, has been as productive as ever.
The 12th District Republican ranks second in the Senate with nine bills signed into law. It’s his highest overall rating since the 1997-98 session, when 15 pieces of legislation he authored became law.
Since 1989, in fact, he’s ranked in the top four among the state’s 50 senators in all but one session. In that time, he’s been the primary sponsor of 112 bills that have passed both legislative bodies and obtained a governor’s signature.
“Stewart is a very serious legislator who works on his legislation on a consistent, constant basis,” said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-9. “He takes a very methodical approach to write good policy, and other members respect him for that.”
And those other members are not just Republicans. State Sen. Daylin Leach, D-17, of Montgomery County, praised Greenleaf as “one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet.”
As minority chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Leach works closely with Greenleaf, who chairs the committee.
“Stewart is very reasonable,” Leach said. “He’s not someone who says I’m going to take my ball and go home if you don’t agree with me. When there are objections, he addresses the concerns of other members and that helps to dissipate the opposition.”
Greenleaf said when it comes to legislation, “I try to follow what I think is right and try to accomplish it. I just follow my conscience.”
He said some bills may be considered conservative and some liberal. “I might be all over the ballpark.”
Two critical pieces of legislation authored by Greenleaf and signed into law last month by Gov. Tom Corbett involved changes to the state’s criminal justice system.
The Criminal Justice Reform Act, Senate Bill 100, is aimed at enhancing Pennsylvania’s Corrections system to better treat nonviolent offenders and reduce recidivism. The law enacts a variety of evidence-based practices that have been successful in other states to improve public safety and save taxpayer money spent on prisons.
His Senate Bill 850 reforms Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system to help ensure that juvenile offenders receive appropriate punishments focused on rehabilitation. The bill specifies that the least restrictive punishments should always be used in the sentencing of juveniles.
“Punishment without rehabilitation is a failure,” Greenleaf said. “I’m interested in turning peoples’ lives around, making them productive citizens and making the streets safer.
“We need to hold offenders accountable, but also ensure that former offenders have a chance for a crime-free life. Rehabilitated nonviolent offenders mean great costs savings to taxpayers.”
Greenleaf estimates $350 million in savings over the first five years, and that doesn’t include savings from not building prisons, he said.
Speaking to the juvenile reforms, Greenleaf said “we have to be really careful how we deal with juveniles. They’re very fragile and amenable to rehabilitation.”
Since not all measures gain traction the first time around, they must be re-introduced. That was the case with SB 341, which authorizes the Department of Agriculture to conduct random testing of octane levels in gasoline.
Greenleaf first introduced legislation for this in 2007, when the Pennsylvania Auditor General recommended that the state begin testing octane levels following an audit on retail gas pumps across the state. Pennsylvania is one of three states that don’t test for octane.
Greenleaf stayed with it and gained support this year.
Pileggi said Greenleaf introduces bills in one session and refines them in the next. “He has a very serious understanding in the policy behind his legislation,” he said.
Passing bills is not all that Greenleaf is about.
In January he traveled around New Hampshire, where he was on the presidential ballot in the GOP primary. Greenleaf’s purpose was not a White House bid, he explained. “It was to talk about some ideas I had,” he said.
A former basketball player at the University of Pennsylvania, Greenleaf is a whitewater kayaker and has a black belt in taekwondo.
Leach jokes that his black belt is one reason Greenleaf gets his legislation passed.
At committee hearings, “my Adam’s apple is one flick of the wrist away from him,” he said.
Leach, who described Greenleaf as “an effective and valuable legislator,” said a lawmaker half Greenleaf’s age might have a tougher time getting elected today because of “the ideological purity test of the primary voter.”
“Of course, I could be wrong about this, but Stewart comes from a different era, one when the ability to work across the aisle was considered an asset. Today he’d have a tea party opponent call him a socialist. He came from a genteel time of our political history.”
State Rep. Todd Stephens, R-151, said Greenleaf’s “wealth of knowledge” has helped him develop his own legislation.
Stephens said during election campaigns, when voters ask him about term limits, he’ll turn the question around and ask them what they think of Greenleaf.
“He is universally praised by my constituents,” Stephens said. “I haven’t met a person who doesn’t think he’s an effective legislator who doesn’t deserve re-election every time he runs.
“We all benefit from that knowledge and experience in Harrisburg.”
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