HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) — A new legislative session is officially underway in Harrisburg after both the House and Senate held swearing in ceremonies this afternoon. After the House ceremony, representatives worked to elect a Speaker, a difficult task with the evenly-split 100 Democrats and 100 Republicans sworn in Tuesday.
The 200 members sworn in this afternoon include some new faces, 49 to be exact. 23 of which are Republican and 26 are Democrats.
State Rep. Jake Banta (R-Erie) was among those sworn into office today. He begins his first term serving the people of the 4th Legislative District.
“My passion as a public servant is hard work, and the original intent of our state and federal Constitutions is my guide,” said Banta in a press release. “As a citizen lawmaker, I am here to roll up my sleeves and put We the People First, so everyone has the same opportunity to prosper and thrive,” he added.
The swearing in drove hundreds of friends and family members to the State Capitol. Familiar faces were also excited for today’s events and for the start of the new session.
“The new session brings a new chance to accomplish legislative priorities, and for me, protecting workers’ rights and safety is high on that list,” said Rep. Pat Harkins (D-Erie).
Although today’s ceremonial events were ordinary, like any other year, the rest of the day was far from it. A Speaker of the House was just one of the things that remained unknown well into the afternoon.
However, around 4:00, Republican Jim Gregory of Blair County nominated Democrat Mark Rozzi of Berks County for Speaker. Moments later, Republican Tim O’Neal of Washington County seconded the nomination. Around 4:30, it became clear that Rozzi had enough support to beat Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar (R-Bedford/Somerset), who was nominated by his colleagues shortly after Rozzi, by a vote of 115-85.
As Rozzi addressed the lower chamber, he made a pretty surprising announcement that he’d be Pennsylvania’s first Independent Speaker of the House.
“I’m honored to have your trust today to serve as Speaker. I pledge to caucus with neither the Republicans nor the Democrats. My staff will be made up of people from both parties,” said Rozzi. “I pledge my allegiance and my loyalty to no interest in this building, to no interest in our politics,” he added.
Republicans who supported Rozzi, like Rep. Gregory, say he has a proven track record of working with both sides, finding middle ground and putting people over politics.
“At first blush, I know many might be wondering why a Republican is standing up to nominate a member of the Democratic caucus. The answer is really very simple. We must have a Speaker that reflects the realities that we have before us,” said Gregory in his floor speech after nominating Rozzi. “For me, Representative Rozzi has proven himself to be an independent voice. I believe that he will continue to forge that independent path and remain a fair arbiter of the business of this chamber. And while we cannot or should not lose our identities or the identities of our districts, it is time to put aside the primacy of our parties and find common ground for the people of this Commonwealth,” Gregory added.
However, a lot still remains unknown. Who will call the special elections for the three Allegheny County Democratic vacancies, when will they be held, and House committee assignments, just to name a few.