Change at the top leads to another new day in the Capitol|
After just two months of holding the gavel, (now former) Speaker of the House Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) resigned the chair this week. The move had long been rumored but came in a bit of an unorthodox manner. Rarely has a speaker willingly stepped aside to allow another member of their party to ascend to the House’s top post. Rozzi said he was stepping down and hopes his legacy will be a “rules package that would give rank-and-file lawmakers from both major political parties more say in the chamber’s agenda.” While the House finally adopted a set of operating rules, many of Rozzi’s requests were included. However, his main policy goal of enacting legislation altering the state’s statute of limitations to allow victims of child sexual abuse to seek damages is still in doubt. Many said Rozzi wouldn’t step aside until those changes became law.

Following the move, House Democrats promptly called for an election of a new speaker, and Rep. Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia) was elected to become the new Speaker of the House. McClinton had previously been the Democrat Floor Leader. McClinton becomes Pennsylvania’s first black woman to be Speaker of the House.

So, now that the Democrats have assumed control of the House—albeit tenuous at best—legislators can begin moving forward with some sort of agenda. With the Democrats having a narrow one-seat majority, every legislative effort promises to be challenging. There is no room for error, and party unanimity will be necessary for almost every major policy initiative the party plans to implement. Additionally, House Democrats will have to find a way to reach a consensus with the Senate, which is solidly in control of the Republicans by a 28 to 22 margin.

Finally, with these movements, Rep. Matt Bradford (D-Montgomery) became the new House Majority Leader, and Rep. Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia) became the new Majority Appropriations Committee Chairman.

An ugly situation
Overshadowing the changes in the House has been a report that a current democratic member has been accused of sexual harassment. Yesterday, that lobbyist made her accusations known and is now calling on that lawmaker to resign. We include this story only because should those calls be heeded, it would present another “balance of power question” within the House and may cause unknown ramifications at this time. To read more about this from the Associated Press, go here.

Senate passes bill to lessen diversions from the Motor License Fund
The Senate adopted Senate Bill 121, sponsored by Senate Transportation Chairman Wayne Langerholc, which would continue the reduction of monies for the PA State Police from the Motor License Fund (MLF). The bill immediately frees up $250 million for highway construction and maintenance projects by reducing the allocation to the State Police out of the MLF. The bill then continues to reduce the funding by $50 million per year until it is completely phased out. The bill now goes to the House for its consideration.

Heat turning up on Norfolk Southern
In other transportation-related matters this week, the Senate Transportation Committee held a hearing on the train derailment in eastern Ohio, impacting several communities in western Pennsylvania. A noticeable absence at that hearing was Norfolk Southern itself. Now, lawmakers are using its subpoena authority to require Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw to come before the Senate on March 8 to explain the company’s actions following the derailment that caused hazardous chemicals to leak onto the surrounding ground. Senators from both parties supported issuing the subpoena.

Future schedule
The House and Senate are slated to return to session next week, with Governor Josh Shapiro scheduled to deliver his first budget to a joint session on Tuesday at 11 a.m. The annual budget address is typically when the administration outlines its budget and policy initiatives for the upcoming year. This will be the first major policy announcement for Shapiro since taking office in January.