Musical Chairs

Kristi Pronovost Merit Shop Spokesman Blog

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

As is customary at the onset of every biennial legislative session, a new team of leadership is selected to direct policy, set goals, and work to find common ground. Months ago, the state Senate renewed their confidence in Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre) and Sen. Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) to lead the 29-member Republican majority for another term. And with the retirement of former House Majority Leader Dave Reed, House Republicans, now totaling 110 members, selected Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) and Rep. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) to head their caucus. But an equally important transition occurred as the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore fulfilled their duties in assigning chairs of respective committees.

Often overlooked, committee chairs can drastically change the outlook for legislation from session to session. Plumbing licensure legislation, for instance, passed the state Senate overwhelmingly for four consecutive sessions, only to die in the House Professional Licensure Committee due to a chair who was adamantly opposed to industry licensure. Only months after her retirement and a replacement was named, a vote was held and plumbing licensure legislation was approved, kicking off a tumultuous battle for ABC and other industry groups.

This session, Rep. Rob Kauffman (R-Franklin), who deftly chaired the House Labor & Industry Committee through a rocky battle on workers’ compensation, has moved on to chair the Judiciary Committee. In his stead, Rep. Jim Cox (R-Berks) will be chairing a committee for the first time and is a stalwart ABC advocate. He earned an A+ from ABC in the previous session and was the prime sponsor of House Bill 1005 of 2017, which would have repealed the Apprenticeship & Training Act of 1961. Also moving in the House is Rep. Dave Hickernell (R-Lancaster), who chaired the House Education Committee and will now take over the Professional Licensure Committee. Unlike his predecessor, Hickernell has expressed his hesitance toward industry licensure and is a longtime champion of ABC.

In the Senate, Sen. Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) has moved from her position chairing the Labor & Industry Committee to focus on transportation. Her replacement, Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-Washington), begins her second term in office with her first opportunity as committee chair. Meanwhile, Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, who survived re-election months ago by only 74 votes, will chair the Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure Committee again – a position he has held for decades. And finally, Sen. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) will succeed retired Sen. John Eichelberger as the Senate Education Committee chair.

All signs point to a far more conservative House and Senate in the coming months, however what these new chairs have in that process remains to be seen.

January 24, 2019