General Assembly starts 2018 with fewer faces and minor shakeups as lawmakers seek to focus on non-budgetary priorities

General Assembly starts 2018 with fewer faces and minor shakeups as lawmakers seek to focus on non-budgetary priorities

Author: Jason Gottesman/Tuesday, January 2, 2018/Categories: News and Views

As the Pennsylvania General Assembly returned to Harrisburg Tuesday to fulfill its Article II, section 4 state constitutional obligation to meet annually at noon on the first Tuesday in January, it did so with fewer faces, one new face, and a call to move beyond the fiscal debates that have weighed down policy progress in Pennsylvania.


Starting with the fewer faces, the resignations of Rep. Scott Petri (R-Bucks) and Rep. Brandon Neuman (D-Washington) were read across the desk during the House’s non-voting session.


Rep. Petri left his post to take over as executive director of the Philadelphia Parking Authority. Rep. Neuman resigned to take his seat on the bench after being elected in November to the Court of Common Pleas in Washington County.


Both former state lawmakers started their new positions on January 2, 2018.


The House was also greeted with a new face as it seeks to finish out the 2017-2018 legislative session with Rep. Jeanne McNeill (D-Lehigh) sworn into office.


Rep. McNeill won the Lehigh Count House seat on December 5, 2017, in a special election following the death of her husband, Dan McNeill, who represented the 133rd District since 2013.


The chamber also saw a number of committee shakeups that will be effective through the end of the current term, which ends on November 30.


Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) announced that Rep. Jeff Pyle (R-Armstrong) will be replacing Rep. Petri as majority chairman of the House Gaming Oversight Committee.


Rep. Pyle left his spot on the powerful House Appropriations Committee in December 2017, replaced by Rep. Lee James (R-Venango) on the committee and by Rep. Mike Peifer (R-Pike) as committee secretary.


Rep. McNeill was assigned to service on the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, the House Game and Fisheries Committee, the House Labor and Industry Committee, and the House Local Government Committee.


Other committee assignment changes saw Rep. Ed Neilson (D-Philadelphia) assigned to the House Labor and Industry Committee and Rep. Bryan Barbin (D-Cambria) assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, an assignment he has held in past sessions.


In the Senate, where there was considerably less in the way of internal membership changes, Sen. Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) was unanimously reelected Senate President Pro Tempore for the remainder of the session.


Tuesday also happened to be Sen. Scarnati’s birthday.


In his address to members, Sen. Scarnati called for a positive dialogue among members as state government begins to move away from the fiscal woes that have impeded other legislative progress over the course of the recent history of the state legislature.


“We do have so much that we can do this coming year. For better, or possibly worse than later years, the budget deficit is solved for this coming year and our focus can and should shift to policy matters that have been left to languish due to these fiscal matters that have been unresolved,” he said.


“Whether your issue is property tax reform—code word for elimination—tax code changes in Pennsylvania, accountability in budgeting, the most important task we can embark on is improving this economy and job climate here in Pennsylvania. Let us together not spend our time blowing out each other’s candles this new year’s, but rather in 2018, let’s have our dialogue be a positive mode.”


Earlier Tuesday, House Republicans echoed a similar tone as they stated a desire to prioritize welfare reform in 2018.


While, according to the Independent Fiscal Office, Pennsylvania’s budget crafters face a potential budget deficit of $1 billion in the FY 2018-2019 budget, more details await lawmakers as the governor’s budget address is scheduled for February 6, 2018, and revenues continue to beat estimates.