New leaders at the helm. As reported earlier, Mike Turzai—now former Speaker of the House—resigned his seat and leadership post to take a private sector position with a gas utility company. Therefore, the House of Representatives unanimously elected Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) as its 141st Speaker of the House. The action took place on Monday. Because of Cutler’s ascension to the House’s top leadership post, it set off a “domino effect” and the following representatives were elected to fill the House Republican Caucus leadership posts. Those in italics are newly elected to the respective post:

  • Majority Leader: Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre/Mifflin)
  • Majority Whip: Donna Oberlander (R-Armstrong/Clarion)
  • Caucus Chairperson: Marcy Toepel (R-Montgomery)
  • Caucus Secretary: Mike Reese (R-Westmoreland/Somerset)
  • Caucus Administrator: Kurt Masser (R-Columbia/Montour)
  • Caucus Policy Chair: Martin Causer (R-Cameron/McKean/Potter)
  • Appropriations Committee Chair: Stan Saylor (R-York)

RGGI in the news again. Earlier this week, Governor Wolf extended the timeline for consideration of the state’s entrance into a regional cap-and-trade compact otherwise known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative or RGGI. That immediately caused the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee to conduct a public hearing where the Republican-led majority questioned the impacts that the proposed regulation would have on the Commonwealth.

If approved, the regulation would place a cap on carbon emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants and require the facilities to purchase allowances equal to the amount of carbon they emit. That cap would then be lowered over time, reducing the level of emissions able to be released by the plants. Earlier this year, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell testified that the state could see a reduction of 19.9 million tons of carbon emissions through 2030, generating over $2.3 billion in revenue through the auction of carbon allowances during that time.

Opponents of RGGI argue that the regulation could endanger thousands of jobs as coal and natural gas plants close — a consequence they say far outweighs any of the compact’s potential benefits.

The regulation was originally scheduled to be taken up by the Environmental Quality Board on July 31. But Gov. Wolf said that vote would be rescheduled to September 15 to give the department more time to strengthen the draft regulation. This will be a very contentious issue within the General Assembly in the months ahead.

Wrapping up for the summer. As we near the July 4th holiday, many committees took action this week on bills to position them for the fall session. The main package of bills that featured a series of votes this week in the Senate could potentially dramatically expand video gaming in the state. Other actions in the House and Senate focused on responding to the unrest facing our country. The General Assembly passed numerous bipartisan police reform bills that are aimed at preventing lethal uses of force by police and reforming law enforcement hiring processes, placing a greater emphasis on mental health screenings for officers. Also passed was a bill that would establish a statewide database of separation records detailing why a law enforcement officer is no longer with a particular agency. No such database currently exists in the state and law enforcement agencies would be required to use the database when hiring new officers. It remains to be seen if these bills will be finally adopted and signed by the governor into law.