After a shot of normal, it’s back to chaos as usual in the Pa. House | Friday Morning Coffee

The narrowly divided chamber is in disarray. Can it get back on track?

January 13, 2023 7:16 am

Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, speaks during a press conference at the Capitol on Monday, April 4, 2022 (Capital-Star photo).

Well that didn’t take long.

Just 10 days ago, it looked like Pennsylvania’s normally fractious House of Representatives had suddenly discovered sanity, with lawmakers coming together to elect Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, a compromise candidate for speaker  who promised to work as an independent and put the people first.

For a minute there “the birthplace of American democracy actually lived up to its promise,” I rather optimistically wrote.

In the words of the late, great Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella decrying the epidemic of violins on television, “Neverrrr mindddddd.”

Rozzi shut down the House after Republicans and Democrats failed to reach agreement on a proposed constitutional amendment giving adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse the retroactive right to sue in civil court.

Right now, the House only has a non-voting, special scheduled for today on its calendar, and there are no apparent plans to recall lawmakers to Harrisburg.

Rozzi, who has said the House won’t move onto other business until the issue is settled, has appointed a working group to break the logjam (the specifics of which have been maddeningly elusive).

Amidst all this, state Rep. Jim Gregory, a Blair County Republican, who, like Rozzi, is an abuse survivor, called on the newly-minted speaker to step down, charging that he’d reneged on a vow to switch his registration and become an independent.

Gregory, who’s worked with Rozzi on the civil litigation window, helped engineer the Democrat’s election to the speakership.

in a publicly-circulated letter Monday, Gregory said Rozzi admitted to him over the weekend that he was only thinking about switching, saying that his words contradicted a commitment Rozzi had made to Gregory, the House and the people of Pennsylvania.

“The bonds of trust between friends – as close as you and I have been – are now broken,” Gregory said, as the Capital-Star’s Peter Hall reported.

Somehow the word “mess” doesn’t do justice to the state the narrowly divided 203-member chamber now finds itself in. And it comes just days before departing Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf hands the reins to Democratic Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro, who will step right into the middle of it all.

House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton, of Philadelphia, and House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler, of Lancaster County (Commonwealth Media Services/City & State Pa..)

House Democrats and Republicans left town without agreeing to rules on the special session called by Gov. Tom Wolf to pass the look-back amendment.

So with little else to do, and plenty of time on their hands, the warring factions were left to lob incendiary statements across the partisan No Man’s Land, gaining about as much advantage as the French and the Germans on the Western Front in 1915.

“The General Assembly has a unique opportunity to stand firmly on the side of survivors of child sexual abuse and to start the session off with a genuine show of bipartisanship. The time to act is now,” House Democratic spokesperson Nicole Reigelman said.


“It is disappointing that the most basic organizational issues continue to obstruct the work of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives,” House Republicans volleyed back.


The only thing that was missing was a pointless and bloody decision to fix bayonets and go charging across the barbed wire, consequences be damned, just so someone could claim they’d won.

World War I trenchworks
Yorkshire Trench and Dug Out World War I Trenches in Ypres Belgium. Black and white (Getty Images)

Inevitably, the people who needed help the most, the abuse survivors who have waited two decades for justice, were collateral damage to the legislative and political paralysis once again.

“This is hard. This is triggering. Is this ever going to end?” Marci Hamilton, of the advocacy group CHILD USA, told the Capital-Star’s Marley Parish on Tuesday.

Relief, of a sort, appeared to come by Wednesday, when the Republican-controlled Senate passed a look-back amendment as part of a package of proposed amendments that also included voter identification requirements, and expanded legislative authority over regulations.

All but one of the chamber’s Democrats voted against the package. Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, was the lone Democratic ‘yes’ vote, Parish reported.

“The public should understand that this is happening only because the majority is choosing this path. It pains me that my vote today might be portrayed as a vote against survivors,” Sen. Maria Collett, D-Montgomery, said. “But I cannot, in good conscience, vote to support [the bill].”

Across No Man’s Land … then back again.

There’s every reason to think that the chaos that has engulfed House, where Democrats and Republicans are engaged in a high-stakes fight for control, will continue to flare violently for the foreseeable future.

With about as much success as in 1914.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.