The current count of state representatives by party is 101 Republicans to 99 Democrats. By the results of November’s election, Dems would have a 102-101 majority, but Rep. Tony DeLuca passed away, and Rep. Summer Lee and Rep. Austin Davis resigned their seats to join Congress and become Lt. Governor, respectively.
Together, the 101-99 Republican majority house elected Democratic member Mark Rozzi (Berks) Speaker. Rozzi, in a brief statement, said he would act as an “independent” and formally caucus with neither party (contrary to the claim by some Republicans, Rozzi never publicly stated he would change his party registration). It’s somewhat odd, given their numerical advantage, Republicans didn’t choose one of their own, but here we are.
This week, the Commonwealth Court ruled the special elections for three Allegheny state house seats will go ahead on Feb 7. House Republicans, led by Brian Cutler, could appeal to the state Supreme Court, but I believe the elections will happen as currently scheduled, giving Democrats a 102 (counting Rozzi) to 100 majority around the end of February or early March, when those Feb 7 elections are certified. The reason Republicans are expected to have only 100 at that point is another special election, for a vacant state senate seat, is expected to be won by a current Republican member of the state house on Jan 31.
So, as things appear, Democrats should hold a 102 (counting Rozzi) to 100 advantage until that (to be vacated) other House seat (in a + GOP district in rural central PA) is filled, likely during the May primary and certified in June. Numerous rank and file Democratic house members have claimed that once that happens, Democratic leader Joanna McClinton will replace Rozzi as Speaker.
The election of Rozzi as Speaker is important. He has issued few statements and answered fewer questions since his election, but his position is one that can exercise significant power. No vote, including the necessary Rules vote which will govern how the chamber operates, can come to the floor without his approval. After Republicans staged a photo op last week, Rozzi reportedly locked the doors to the Assembly chamber.
The Republican-majority state Senate passed a bill containing 3 constitutional questions (Expanded Voter ID requirements, Giving a simple state legislative majority the ability to overturn regulations, and Creating a one-time window for sexual abuse survivors to sue their abusers). While passed in one bill, those questions would appear on the May primary ballot as three independent questions. Republicans in the House would, likely, pass that same bill as is. A similar bill passed both the Senate and House last year, although that one included a provision designed to remove the ability of the state Supreme Court to identify any rights with respect to abortion procedures. Republicans seem to have no desire to bring that particular question up again, and it seems doubtful it would pass the slim majority GOP House if it were voted on.
In the meantime, Rozzi adjourned the House rather than let Republicans with their slim, temporary majority pass this same bill under their proposed Rules for the special session. Rozzi has appointed 3 members of each party (Republican Paul Schemel of Waynesboro is one of them) to a special committee to hammer out Rules so the Chamber can do its job and govern. If Republicans, as a block, want to demand a vote on the Senate bill before anything else, they can, effectively, shut down the state house. Likewise, as Speaker, Rozzi can simply keep the chamber adjourned until the special elections give Democrats a majority.
Rozzi, based on his status as a survivor and past support of the amendment, would apparently like to pass the Survivor amendment separately. If this does happen, I believe it would have to go back to the state Senate, which passed it in one bill along with the Voter ID and Regulation questions.
As I write this, the bipartisan Rules committee Rozzi appointed has yet to meet. We also have no insight as to how Rozzi will assign state house committee chairs and majority/minority members. It is possible, that without some sort of bipartisan consensus (at least one viewed so by Rozzi), that the state house remains out of session until Rozzi decides otherwise.
In other news, the state Senate has decided to indefinitely delay the impeachment trial of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner. The Commonwealth Court recently ruled his impeachment in the house as invalid, given the proffered “charges” do not meet the constitutional and statutory requirements for impeachment. Apparently, being a Democrat and not liking their policies are not sufficient reason to impeach an elected official.
If you’d like to learn more about politics at the state Capitol, I suggest following Stephen Caruso and the other fine journalists at Spotlight PA. You can find them at:
- John Patterson, State Committee Member, 1/15/23
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