Changes in Store for PA House Agenda

Kristi Pronovost Merit Shop Spokesman Blog

By: Brent Sailhamer, Director of Government Affairs, ABC Keystone

Just one week after the November election that upended Congressional Republican plans for 2019, the state House and Senate met to formalize their leadership teams for the 2019-2020 legislative session. With the current session set to end at the end of this week, all existing legislation will die off, requiring legislators to re-introduce measures in 2019. But where will those efforts go in the next two years? A look at the new leadership team could decide.

In the 50-member state Senate, Republicans went from a supermajority of 34 seats down to 28 seats, losing four seats in southeastern Pennsylvania and one in southwestern Pennsylvania to Democrat opponents. The final seat, which is vacated by Congressman-elect Guy Reschenthaler, will be decided in a 2019 special election. Because Republican seats in the Philadelphia collar counties are typically expensive to defend and far more moderate than other areas of the state, the 28-member caucus is expected to shift further to the right in the coming session. Controversial legislation dealing with gun rights, labor unions, and right to life issues is infrequent in the Senate, in an attempt to protect moderate Republicans from difficult votes. However, under the leadership of Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre), the Senate has debated these issues with more regularity and is expected to continue that trend in the coming months. Republicans kept their leadership team intact this session, unanimously re-electing Corman as their Majority Leader with Sen. Joe Scarnati as Senate President Pro Tempore. Other returning leaders include: Sen. John Gordner (R-Northumberland) as whip, Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh) as Appropriations Committee chairman, Sen. Bob Mensch (R-Montgomery) as caucus chairman, Sen. Rich Alloway (R-Franklin) as caucus secretary, and Sen. Dave Argall (R-Schuylkill) as policy chairman.

In the 203-member state House, Republicans dropped from 121 seats to 109, following the trend seen in the Senate as they lost several seats in Delaware and Chester counties. The House Republican caucus has widely been rumored to be extensively more fractured than their Senate counterparts, with a growing group of conservatives demanding a stronger stance against the Wolf administration and a harder push for conservative legislation. Their ire over the past several years has been focused on House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana), who has frequently butted heads with his more conservative colleague, and Speaker of the House, Rep. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny). Reed, who is widely viewed as a moderate dealmaker, first opted for a Congressional run, but was shut down by the redistricting decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Instead of another term steering the divisive Republican House, Reed bowed out of politics altogether. In a drastic ideological shift, he will be replaced by Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster), who is seen as a pragmatic, but ambitious conservative. His collegial style of working toward compromise will be at odds with Turzai, however, who is known to be an outspoken firebrand for his issues. Other leaders in the House include: Rep. Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre) who will replace Cutler as whip, Rep. Stan Saylor (R-York) as Appropriations Committee chairman, Rep. Marcy Toepel (R-Montgomery) as caucus chair, Rep. Mike Reese (R-Westmoreland) who will replace Rep. Donna Oberlander as caucus secretary, Rep. Kurt Masser (R-Northumberland) as caucus administrator, and Rep. Donna Oberlander (R-Clarion) who will replace Kerry Benninghoff as policy chair.

Excuse Me, But I Think You’ve Got My Chair

In addition to the shake-up in leadership in the House and Senate comes the extensive vacancy of committee chairs. While successors have yet to be determined, 8 of the 26 committees in the House will see new leadership in the coming term, including Environmental Resources & Energy, Finance, Transportation, and Judiciary. Legislative rules dictate that members who are currently chair of a committee can opt to remain in that spot and any remaining vacancies are offered to members who have the most seniority. Members who currently chair a committee may also move to a new committee if they wish, however Speaker Mike Turzai is ultimately responsible for final appointments. The long list of vacant committees affects ABC through new opportunities in the Local Government and Professional Licensure Committees, as well as the potential for Rep. Rob Kauffman, who currently chairs the Labor & Industry Committee, to move to a new position.

In the Senate, 6 of the 22 committees will also see vacancies, including Urban Affairs & Housing, Transportation, and Judiciary. Again, these committees deal heavily with ABC issues and there may be an opportunity for Sen. Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland), who currently chairs the Labor & Industry Committee, to move to a new position. Again, final decisions will be made in the coming weeks by Sen. Joe Scarnati.

November 28, 2018