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PA State Senate to Join House in Closing

They might want to hang a “Closed for Business” sign on the door of the Pennsylvania State Capitol.

First, the state House closed. Now the state Senate announced it will be closed the weeks of Jan. 23 and Jan. 30 because the House is closed.

“Given that the House has not yet organized their chamber, our options for fully addressing legislative issues are limited at this time,” said Kate Flessner, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R-Armstrong).

“Additionally, the Commonwealth Court opinions on the impeachment process create more questions than answers, leaving our proceedings on the matter in flux.  Given that an open appeal period on the litigation runs through January 30, until further notice. No impeachment actions will be taken by the Senate,” Flessner said.

The Senate was to hold an impeachment trial for Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner on Jan. 18. It was postponed after the court ruling.

In the closely divided House, several Republicans, including the leadership, had agreed to elect Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) as speaker. While the Republicans currently hold the majority at 101-99, the Democrats will likely be narrowly in the majority after special elections are held for three vacancies in heavily Democratic districts.

Rep. Martina White (R-Philadelphia) had said they voted for Rozzi, a moderate who was nominated by Rep. Jim Gregory (R-Blair), to keep progressive Rep. Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) out of the position.

“We prevented the progressive agenda from being able to move forward,” White said.

However, when Rozzi did not immediately change his party registration to independent as he had promised Republicans, including Gregory, called for him to step down. And the legislative session paused.

Rozzi adjourned the House and issued this statement. “In an effort to move things forward and to get Democrats and Republicans talking again, I am creating a workgroup of three Republicans and three Democrats of varied interests from across the commonwealth to sit down and find a way forward.

“Make no mistake – we must pass statute of limitations reform (for childhood victims of sexual abuse). But we also must fix the workings of our government and find a way to move forward as Pennsylvanians for the betterment of Pennsylvania.

“History will not judge us based on how many Democratic Party wins or Republican Party wins we achieve, but we will be judged based on what we did for the children of this commonwealth.”

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Ward Elected First Woman to Lead PA Senate

Sen. Kim Ward was elected by her colleagues on Tuesday as the first woman Senate President pro tempore, or leader of the Pennsylvania Senate.

She will also serve as lieutenant governor until Democrat Rep. Austin Davis is inaugurated on Jan. 17. (Davis resigned from the House last month to prepare for his new position.)

Ward (R-Westmoreland) noted in her remarks to senators that more women are now serving in the Senate than ever before, eight Republicans and eight Democrats. While the House is nearly evenly divided, with Democrats likely to take control after three special elections to fill vacancies are held, the Senate retains a Republican majority.

Democrat Josh Shapiro will become governor this month.

Asked what she believes the legislature can accomplish with a Democratic governor and House, Ward told the Delaware Valley Journal that bills that are “good for the people of Pennsylvania” will be passed.

Her number one priority is a constitutional amendment requiring voter identification.

“That’s probably the most important thing we want to get done,” she said. Polling shows most Pennsylvanians, regardless of party, agree that voters should show their ID to vote.

“It’s a popular issue,” she said. “It’s 100 percent common sense.”

Asked what she can do to stop the state’s continued population loss (about 40,000 people from July 2021 to July 2022), she said the newly decreased corporate income tax should help.

“I think it’s important in that it is businesses bring jobs, right?” said Ward. The legislature passed “a big package. It’s going to help everybody in Pennsylvania.”

She also wants to unleash the energy sector and promote Marcellus Shale gas.

“We should choose to use the vast natural resources that we’re sitting upon,” she said. “And we don’t need to be pounding negatively on other energies and other energy sources do not need to pound negatively on fossil fuels.”

Using that natural gas will bring more jobs and more people to the state, she said.

And she’s hopeful that Shapiro will keep to his campaign commitment to take Pennsylvania out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) that Gov. Tom Wolf entered despite legislative denials.

She asked why Pennsylvania should be “negatively impacted” by RGGI, which will increase electricity costs, because “New York and these other northeastern states don’t have what we have (natural gas).”

The DVJournal wondered whether Republicans in Harrisburg and the rest of the state think the Delaware Valley is now hopelessly Democratic.

Ward said, “We’re never going to give up. We’re going to come back and get all of you to come back to our side.”

Asked her advice for other women who aspire to leadership positions, Ward was straightforward.

“Stay focused. Keep your eyes on where you’re to be. Work hard as you can and don’t let anybody tell you, you can’t do something because yes, you can.”

At her swearing-in ceremony, Ward said that in addition to reducing the corporate net income tax, they increased education spending and g, created the Pennsylvania Edge Tax Credit program to increase energy production. They also created a childcare tax credit, a home repair program, and a health care prior authorization change to help people access needed procedures. And these improvements were done in a bipartisan way.

“As we look forward, I’m hopeful that we can, together, put Pennsylvania on a greater path to prosperity,” she said.  “By tapping into our state’s energy abundance, we can fuel our state’s economy, create, and maintain good family-sustaining jobs and create energy independence, not only for our commonwealth but for our nation.”

Ward also wants to promote “earlier detection of breast cancer and greater access to a BRCA gene test for women.”

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PA Republican Sen. Kim Ward Elected First Woman President Pro Tempore

Senate Republicans Tuesday elected Sen. Kim Ward to serve as president pro tempore. She is the first woman to serve in that position, which is the third highest office in the state. It was among the Senate Republican leadership positions for the 2023-24 legislative session chosen on Wednesday.

“We think this is going to be pretty challenging in the next year or two,” said Ward (R-Westmoreland) at a Harrisburg press conference afterward. “The landscape has changed a little bit. We’re not sure really what’s happening in the House. That’s still up in the air. We have a new governor. All I know is this: We need to be the best we can to serve the people of our commonwealth.”

Ward had previously served as the Senate Majority Leader.

“I am incredibly proud to elect Kim as the first female pro tem. Her leadership and experience will be critical as we potentially lose the majority in the house. I am looking forward to working with Kim and the rest of the Senate leadership team,” Rep. Tracy Penncuick (R-Harleysville), who was just elected to the Senate 24th District, to serve parts of Montgomery and Bucks Counties.

The president pro tempore is responsible for appointing the chairpersons and members of the 22 standing committees of the Senate and serves as an ex-officio member of all committees. She will preside over the Senate floor when the lieutenant governor is unavailable and fills the position of lieutenant governor if the office becomes vacant. The office also refers bills and resolutions to the appropriate Senate committees for consideration.

“To all members of the Senate, Democrat and Republican, I look forward to working with you to chart a path forward that requires us to selflessly work together advocating for all Pennsylvanians and their families by putting the principles and respect for this institution and our Commonwealth above all,” Ward said. “Together we have done big things for Pennsylvania, and they should be acknowledged in the bipartisan manner in which they were achieved. It is proof we can be diverse and unified at the same time and a kind reminder of the work we must continue to do on behalf of our commonwealth and its citizens.”

The Senate Republicans also elected Sen. Joe Pittman (R-Armstrong) as Senate Majority Leader. His duties include overseeing the legislative agenda, developing policies and strategies for the Senate Republican Caucus, and playing a key role in floor debates officials said. He also has a major role in negotiating issues with the administration and House of Representatives and in coordinating action on the Senate floor. Pittman previously chaired the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee.

“To serve as the majority leader of the Senate Republican Caucus in the upcoming session will be a great honor,” Pittman said. “I am flattered to have the support of my colleagues and am committed to advancing a positive, pro-growth agenda for the citizens of this entire Commonwealth. The constituents of the 41st Senatorial District who have elected me to represent them as their senator will always be my top priority and focus, and I will use my voice to represent them and their interests.”

Others elected to leadership included Sen. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) as Majority Whip. Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster) will chair the Senate Appropriations Committee, which plays a major role in developing the state budget.

Also, Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) will serve as Majority Caucus chair for the 2023-24 legislative session. The chair presides over Republican caucus meetings to discuss bills and amendments and to develop caucus strategy. And Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-Beaver) was elected Senate Majority Caucus secretary to oversee all executive nominations submitted to the Senate for confirmation.

Ward was first elected in 2008. Previously, she had served as a Westmoreland County commissioner and was on the Hempfield Township Board of Supervisors, where she was chair.

Ward worked in a bipartisan way to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

She led efforts to ensure the people’s voice was not lost by advancing a constitutional amendment giving the people a say through the introduction of Senate Bill 2, which instituted the largest transfer of executive power since President Herbert Hoover, according to her online bio.

She’s also been active in regulatory reform and tax relief.

Ward advanced efforts to reduce the Corporate Net Income Tax (CNIT) for Pennsylvania, taking it from one of the highest in the nation to phasing it down to one of the most competitive rates among states. She also helped to provide more certainty for businesses through regulatory reform and make tax code adjustments for small- medium-sized businesses, her website said.

Ward is a member of Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Hempfield Township, the Italian Sons and Daughters of America, and the NRA. She is a southwestern Pennsylvania native who grew up in Meadowlands in Washington County. She attended The Community College of Allegheny County Respiratory Therapy program, the University of Pittsburgh, and Middle Tennessee State University.

Before entering politics, Ward worked as a board-certified respiratory therapist at Allegheny General Hospital, Vanderbilt University Hospital, and Hershey Medical Center.

She and her husband, Dr. Thomas Ward, have three sons: Tom, Michael, and Matthew, and six grandchildren.

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Muth Rebuked After Calling Supporters of Parents’ Rights Bill ‘Homophobic’

In a heated debate over school books containing graphic language and images of sexual conduct, Delaware Valley state Sen. Katie Muth (D-Chester/Montgomery) was reprimanded after calling supporters of these protections “homophobic.”

The bill, requiring parental notice when instructional materials and books containing sexually explicit material are being taught, passed the Senate Wednesday in a party-line vote. A second bill prohibiting teachers from speaking to very young children about sexual identity also passed the Senate. Both bills were sponsored by Sens. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster) and Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster)

“This legislation opens up a harmful window of unnecessary litigation,” said Muth, who voted against both bills. “They will be very costly to our school districts, school districts that are already under-funded, school districts that have had to pay out millions and millions of dollars to charter schools.” The bills include no funding for increased costs for litigation or insurance, she said.

But it was when she accused the bill’s backers of being bigots that she was called out by leadership. Sen. President Pro Tempore Jake Corman rebuked Muth and she recanted her name-calling.

Groups of concerned parents have complained to their legislators after discovering that library books such as “Gender Queer,” with many explicit passages, were in school libraries and available to children as young as middle school students.

Delaware Valley parents have complained to several local school boards about these books, including Great Valley and West Chester Area, but they were rebuffed.

“I believe this Senate bill is an excellent start to address the problem of sexually explicit materials in the schools,” said Bruce Chambers, a former Great Valley School Board president. “This issue was brought to the forefront by Fenecia Redman at Great Valley School Board meetings, but the school board would not even address the issue. In fact, when she showed the graphic material to the school board, they told her to take it down, and then left the room like cowards when she refused. Apparently, the school board didn’t see the irony in avoiding the material that was readily available to all the students in the library.”

Chambers added, “You can view an example of this online on the TikTok site for the Great Valley High School library. The second selection on the front page is ’10 Sweet Queer Graphic Novels.’ When you select it, you can see those Queer Novels featured by the librarian. This is the type of material that is currently up front and in the face of Great Valley students and should come under the legislation proposed by the Pennsylvania Senate.”

Redman also led a group of parents to the capitol last week to protest the books. The parents displayed enlarged posters of illustrations from some of those books, causing a capitol police officer to tell them to take their display down since children might be present.

Senate Bill 1277 would require schools to identify sexually explicit content in school curriculum and materials and notify parents that their child’s coursework includes such content. Senate Bill 1278 would prohibit classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation for pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students, consistent with the timeline for when the existing academic standards on general sex education begin in sixth grade.

“A school district in Chester County instructing elementary school teachers to withhold information from parents about children questioning their gender; a teacher reporting that a Philadelphia school was permitting volunteers to talk to elementary school students about LGBTQ issues without parental knowledge; and mothers of first-grade students in Allegheny County suing their school district for teaching about gender dysphoria without parental knowledge or consent – these are just a small sample of the dozens of complaints we’ve received from concerned parents around the commonwealth,” said Sens. Martin and Aument. “While we may not agree on what moral, ideological, and religious values to teach or not to teach our children, we can certainly agree that it should be up to the parent to decide – not the government.”

For some examples of sexually explicit content found in Pennsylvania school libraries and curricula, readers can, at their own discretion, review the dedicated webpage here, which contains blurred copies of the original materials.

The bills will be taken up by the House.

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