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Pennsylvania lawmaker portraits to include criminal history

By Elizabeth Daley

(Reuters) - Visitors to the portrait gallery at the Pennsylvania state Capitol in Harrisburg will see more than simple images of the state's past lawmakers - new plaques unveiled on Tuesday include a listing of any well-known criminal history as well.

The new bronze plaques beneath the portraits of four former House speakers were added as a compromise with lawmakers who wanted the portraits removed altogether after the politicians went to prison, said Stephen Miskin, a spokesman for Pennsylvania House Speaker Sam Smith.

"We didn't paint bars across the portraits," quipped Miskin, but the new tags do "give a fuller depiction of these individuals."

Labels were changed for former House speaker Bill DeWeese, a Democrat from Greene County, who was released from prison in 2014 after serving time for using public resources for political purposes.

The placard was also updated for Herbert Fineman, a Democrat from Philadelphia convicted of obstructing justice in 1977, as was the description of John Perzel, a Republican from Philadelphia, released in 2014 after serving time for corruption.

The plaque identifying former Senate president pro tempore Robert Mellow, a Democrat from Lackawanna County was also adjusted, to reflect his 2012 guilty plea to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and filing a false tax return.

"Hopefully it sets an example for others, and hopefully it sets precedent that won’t be needed again," Miskin said of the changes decided by Smith and Pennsylvania Senate pro tempore Joe Scarnati after debate amongst lawmakers.

Some lawmakers wanted the portraits removed entirely, but it was Smith's thought that the past couldn't be erased, so instead the plaques were altered to reflect history accurately, Miskin said of the compromise.

The portrait gallery was created in 1988 and features paintings of Pennsylvania House speakers, as well as notable representatives, including Benjamin Franklin.

(Editing by Sharon Bernstein)

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