2017-18 House Session Opens with Turzai Re-Elected Speaker; Jobs, Improving Schools, Restructuring Government Top Agenda

Reed becomes floor leader with a majority of 121 Republican members

HARRISBURG – The 2017-18 Session of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives opened Tuesday with the election of Rep. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) as speaker after 200 of the 203 members of the General Assembly took their oaths of office. The House also adopted a set of rules governing how the body operates.

“It’s a new year and a new legislative session for Pennsylvania,” Turzai said. “Pennsylvania voters sent a message last year to rein in government and reconnect it to the everyday values of its citizens. Those values will help guide us as we represent working families and work to strengthen Pennsylvania through controlled spending, smaller government, greater accountability and a strong free enterprise.”

In a House Chamber packed with family, friends and guests, including Gov. Tom Wolf, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, Attorney General-Elect Josh Shapiro and Treasurer-Elect Joe Torsella, House members recited the oath of office administered by the Hon. Craig Dally of the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas. Dally is a former House member, representing the 138th District in Northampton County from 1997 through 2010. Among the members taking the oath were 23 first-term lawmakers, including 12 Republicans and 11 Democrats.

Republicans and Democrats nominated Turzai for the position of speaker following the administration of the oath. Those members were: Rep. Tina Pickett (R-Bradford/Sullivan/Susquehanna), Rep. Harry Readshaw (D-Allegheny) and Rep. John Lawrence (R-Chester). Turzai was elected unanimously.

“We have great opportunities in front of us, and we have the responsibility to govern,” Turzai said. “Working together, the members of this House will look at how government is structured from top to bottom and streamline operations to save taxpayer dollars.”  

House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana) spoke of the 2017-18 House agenda and the opportunity to reshape how government operates and delivers services.

“When the national unemployment rate drops and the state rate grows exorbitantly, something is wrong and needs to be fixed. The House will focus on improving the business climate so employers can grow and create family-sustaining jobs and better careers for Pennsylvanians,” Reed said. “The House will also focus on improving educational opportunities and ensure our schools and employers work together so Pennsylvania students get a practical and useful education.” 

The leaders noted one of the biggest issues facing the state is the large deficit if nothing is changed in the budget. According to the Independent Fiscal Office and the Governor’s Office of the Budget, through natural growth, the state may face a $3 billion deficit if the current budget was to be adopted for the next fiscal year.

“Working Pennsylvanians pay the bills here, and we must always be mindful of those folks,” Reed said. “It’s time to take a hard look at wants versus needs, and we need to ensure our government protects our families from crime, educates our kids for today’s world, and fosters economic activity for everyone.”

Reed further spoke of an initiative embraced by the House Republican Caucus, but appealed to all of official Harrisburg to join in the effort to restructure government.

“While difficulties exist, we have a tremendous opportunity to move Pennsylvania forward together. Just reshuffling the deck to hold on to the status quo of the past won’t bring us a 21st century Pennsylvania. Now is the time to re-imagine and redesign government, our state and our future,” he said.

In his remarks, Turzai reminded members of the overriding message of the voters last year was to be mindful that they represent the 64,000 people of their districts, that they are their voice in Harrisburg.

“Our mandate comes from the people and the very residents of our communities,” Turzai said.  “That mandate is to move Pennsylvania forward without taking more money from the already over-burdened taxpayers.”

Following the oaths of office and remarks, the House voted to adopt the rules which govern how the body will operate. Some modifications of last session’s rules were made to clarify issues raised by members and leaders to help make the body more effective and efficient.  

Two new subcommittees will be created, bringing the total number of House subcommittees to 48:

  • Government and Financial Oversight in the Appropriations Committee.
  • Career and Technical Education in the Education Committee.

A notable rules change includes clarifying and strengthening the House Ethical Conduct Rules and the rights and responsibilities of the House Ethics Committee. The Ethics Committee is charged with addressing matters involving conflicts of interest or job-related misconduct by House members, staff and officers. The rule changes clarify and improve the Ethics Committee’s role and processes.

While preserving and reinforcing due process rights for anyone under investigation, the new rules will also clarify the burden of proof necessary at each stage of the process.

The changes protect the committee from being used to target political challengers prior to an election by prohibiting the initiation of complaints against any member within 60 days of an election in which the member is a candidate; however, those complaints would be taken up as soon as the election is over.

The new rules provide the committee with clarification on when it is permitted or required to hire independent counsel; when it is authorized to issue and enforce subpoenas; the timeframe in which the committee is required to act; and the committee’s authority to define potential sanctions.

Another change in the rules specifically authorizes the chairman and vice chairman of the Ethics Committee to request preparation of a resolution of expulsion if a member pleads guilty, pleads nolo contendere or is found guilty of an offense which “relates to the member’s conduct as a representative or which would render the member ineligible to the General Assembly under section 7 of Article II of the Constitution of Pennsylvania.” The resolution would then automatically be placed on the next session day’s voting calendar. A resolution would, as under the current rule, automatically be prepared in the name of the chairman and vice chairman of the Ethics Committee upon imposition of sentence for such an offense.

In another rules change, the House will have to wait at least six hours before it can vote on concurrence in Senate amendments, giving members time to review the changes.

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