Legislative Update - January 3, 2019

  • Jan 03, 2019

Legislative Swearing-In 

The 228 members of the House and Senate who stood for election in November were sworn into office New Year's Day. Watch video of the Senate Republican and Democrat members on swearing-in day. 

All together, 50 new members of the General Assembly, including 43 representatives and seven senators, were sworn in, or nearly 20 percent of the total number of lawmakers.

House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati were reelected to new two-year terms in their respective posts without serious opposition. Watch the Senate video and House video

This brings a partisan lineup of 110 Republicans and 91 Democrats in the House with two vacancies and 29 Republicans and 21 Democrats in the Senate with a pending vacancy.

The breakdown among freshmen is 24 Democrats and 19 Republicans in the House and five Democrats and two Republicans in the Senate.

House Speaker Mike Turzai (R- Allegheny) announced March 12 as the date of the special election for two open house seats vacated by the passing of former Rep. Sid Kavulich (D-Lackawanna) and the resignation of former Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown (D- Philadelphia) following her conviction and sentencing on bribery. No word yet as to when the race for former Senator Guy Reschenthaler’s (R- Allegheny) seat will be, who resigned after his Congressional win. 

Newly minted House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) pushed through a slew of rule changes on his first day as floor leader Jan. 1, the largest since the bipartisan rules reform commission just over a decade ago. Among the changes include a revised policy on sexual harassment discipline for, a new committee with subpoena power over the executive branch, and a ban on so-called ghost amendments, a loophole which let members tack hundreds of amendments onto bills to effectively kill the legislation.

House Speaker Appoints Committee Chairs 
Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny County) announced the appointments of majority committee chairmen for the 2019-20 Legislative Session. House committees study each bill and determine which proposals will go to the full House. They conduct public hearings on key issues, allowing citizens and interested groups to have a say in the legislative process, and they serve as a resource for members and others. 

  • Aging and Older Adult Services: Rep. Thomas Murt, 152nd Legislative District, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties. 
  • Agriculture and Rural Affairs: Rep. Martin Causer, 67th Legislative District, Cameron, Potter and McKean counties. 
  • Children and Youth: Rep. Karen Boback, 117th Legislative District, Lackawanna, Luzerne and Wyoming counties.
  • Commerce: Rep. Mark Keller, 86th Legislative District, Cumberland and Perry counties.
  • Consumer Affairs: Rep. Brian Ellis, 11th Legislative District, Butler County.
  • Education: Rep. Curt Sonney, 4th Legislative District, Erie County.
  • Environmental Resources and Energy: Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, 12th Legislative District, Butler County. 
  • Ethics: Rep. Frank Farry, 142nd Legislative District, Bucks County. 
  • Finance: Rep. Michael Peifer, 139th Legislative District, Pike and Wayne counties. 
  • Game and Fisheries: Rep. Keith Gillespie, 47th Legislative District, York County. 
  • Gaming Oversight: Rep. Jim Marshall, 14th Legislative District, Beaver and Butler counties. 
  • Health: Rep. Kathy Rapp, 65th Legislative District, Forest and Warren counties. 
  • Human Services: Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, 18th Legislative District, Bucks County. 
  • Insurance: Rep. Tina Pickett, 110th Legislative District, Bradford, Sullivan and Susquehanna counties. 
  • Judiciary: Rep. Rob Kauffman, 89th Legislative District, Franklin County. 
  • Labor and Industry: Rep. Jim Cox, 129th Legislative District, Berks and Lancaster counties. 
  • Liquor Control: Rep. Jeff Pyle, 60th Legislative District, Armstrong, Butler and Indiana counties. 
  • Local Government: Rep. Dan Moul, 91st Legislative District, Adams County. 
  • Professional Licensure: Rep. Dave Hickernell, 98th Legislative District, Lancaster and Dauphin counties. 
  • State Government: Rep. Garth Everett, 84th Legislative District, Lycoming and Union counties. 
  • Tourism and Recreational Development: Rep. David Millard, 109th Legislative District, Columbia County. 
  • Transportation: Rep. Tim Hennessey, 26th Legislative District, Chester and Montgomery counties. 
  • Urban Affairs: Rep. Sue Helm, 104th Legislative District, Dauphin and Lebanon counties. 
  • Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness: Rep. Stephen E. Barrar, 160th Legislative District, Chester and Delaware counties. 

Anti-SLAPP Co-sponsor Memo Introduced 
Representative Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon) has circulated a co-sponsor memo for the Free Speech Protection Act (Anti-SLAPP legislation), which adds a provision to Title 42 allowing for a swift motion to dismiss a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). 

Wolf Announces Cabinet Changes 
Governor Tom Wolf made a few changes to his cabinet. Most notably, Robert Torres, formerly head of the Department of State, will transition over to Department of Aging to take the reins as Secretary. Additionally, Teresa Osborne, the former Secretary of Aging, will now be nominated to serve on the Pennsylvania Civil Service Commission. In other moves, Kathy Boockvar will be nominated as the new Secretary of State, Michael Newsome as the new Secretary of Administration, Randy Padfield as the acting director for PEMA, and Meg Snead as the Secretary of Policy and Planning.
Gladys M. Brown, Chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC), has selected David W. Sweet to serve as the commission’s new Vice Chairman, which went into effect January 1. Sweet replaces former Vice Chairman Andrew G. Place

Wolf touts ‘clean slate’ access tool. Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate law just went into effect on Dec. 26 and now there is an effort underway to help those who may potentially stand to benefit from it. Gov. Tom Wolf joined legal advocates Wednesday to announce a new on-line service providing free legal consultation to help Pennsylvanians determine if they are eligible for the law’s provisions involving the sealing of old criminal records. The web link was created by Community Legal Services in partnership with the Pennsylvania Bar Association. The law provides for the sealing of records for non-violent first-degree misdemeanors and most simple assault convictions if an individual has not been convicted for ten years and no fines and costs are owed. Under the law, individuals can file petitions to seal the first-degree misdemeanor records. The law also creates an automated computer process to seal arrests that did not result in convictions within 60 days, summary convictions after ten years, and some second and third degree misdemeanor convictions if the 10-year period applies. 

New report recommends change and more transparency for PA's public pension systems.
The Public Pension Management and Asset Investment Review Commission (PPMAIRC) issued its final report and recommendations, and the recurring themes throughout the nearly 400-page report are change and transparency needed within the state’s two public pension systems.

Suggested throughout the report is a significant increase in transparency with regard to just about every aspect of the systems’ operations. The added transparency would then bring greater public pressure to bear upon the systems to justify their investment decisions, and if they can’t, to make different ones, the report submits. The commission’s leaders - Rep. Mike Tobash, R-Schuylkill, who chaired the body, and state Treasurer Joe Torsella, who was vice-chair - both indicated their hope the report's findings would produce necessary change, much of which they said can been accomplished at both SERS and PSERS without legislative action.

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