With new leadership in the Pa. Senate, what are lawmakers prioritizing when they return to session?

Since Democrats and Republicans in the GOP-controlled chamber announced new leadership teams this week, their policy agendas and goals vary

By: - November 17, 2022 10:41 am
The ceiling of the main Rotunda inside Pennsylvania’s Capitol building. May 24, 2022. Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).

The ceiling of the main Rotunda inside Pennsylvania’s Capitol building on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. (Photo by Amanda Berg for the Capital-Star).

When Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward delivered remarks after being unanimously elected as the first woman to serve as the upper chamber’s highest-ranking member this week, she emphasized working across the aisle to craft legislation that benefits all Pennsylvanians.

The principles and respect for governing and the commonwealth should be at the center of their work in the General Assembly, Ward, R-Westmoreland, told her colleagues while speaking on the Senate floor.

“We have changed some things and have done the best we can and have done it in a bipartisan manner,” Ward, who is on track to become the next Senate president pro tempore when lawmakers return in January, said later during a press conference. “And we need to all acknowledge that, and we need to continue to work in that manner these next couple of years.”

She cited increased education funding, the Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program — which provides scholarships for state students to attend private schools — and a reduced Corporate Net Income Tax as “big moves for Pennsylvanians.”

On Jan. 3, the Senate will formally elect the president pro tempore to serve during the next two-year legislative session. The chamber also will swear in new members — five Republicans and one Democrat — to begin their four-year terms.

Since Democrats and Republicans in the GOP-controlled chamber announced new leadership teams this week, their policy agendas and goals vary.

Here’s a look at what each caucus identified as their priorities when lawmakers start the 2023-24 legislative session:

Republicans

Speaking with reporters alongside Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, the next majority leader, and other newly elected officers, Ward summarized their goal as stopping proposals that “we think are bad for Pennsylvanians.”

“But we can get things done that help our economy,” she said.

Pittman, who will control the legislative voting agenda as majority leader, said GOP Caucus members will “work across the aisle when necessary” but “defend the principles and beliefs of those who have elected us to serve them.”

As the majority party, Republicans control what legislation sees committee and chamber votes.

Ward identified strengthening the economy and helping working families are bipartisan issues, saying lawmakers have already proven that. 

The General Assembly in July advanced Senate Bill 106, a five-pronged constitutional amendment package, a measure the governor cannot veto.

The proposal includes language for voter identification, a system for election audits, a provision to allow gubernatorial candidates to select their running mate, and a measure that lets lawmakers disapprove regulations without facing a gubernatorial veto. It also has language that would amend the state Constitution to state that it does not guarantee any rights to abortion or public funding for the procedure.

The amendment package, which could reach voters as soon as May 2023, must pass the Legislature with identical language in the next session and be advertised by the Department of State.

While Ward did not comment on each component included in the Senate bill, she said voter identification “is an important constitutional amendment,” citing polling that shows support for the requirement. She added that Senate leadership is willing to discuss the proposed amendments with Democratic Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro.

Legalizing adult-use cannabis is not at the top of Ward’s agenda, she said, saying that she doesn’t think it’s worth discussing until the federal government legalizes it.

“We’ll see if that changes,” Ward added, referencing Pennsylvania U.S. Sen.-elect John Fetterman, an advocate for legalized adult-use cannabis. “That was a thing he talked about all the time.”

Democrats

When asked about legislative priorities, a spokesperson for Senate Democrats cited a video from Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny. 

In the clip, Costa echoed Senate Republicans’ emphasis on education investments and helping working families.

Costa identified addressing climate change, health care affordability, job creation, and protecting abortion access as issues for the caucus. He also mentioned passing non-discrimination legislation that targets the LGBTQ community and safeguarding democracy.

Costa added that Senate Democrats look forward to working with the incoming Democratic administration and House Democrats, who are expected to gain control in the lower chamber, to advance their agenda.

“With our chamber and the governor’s mansion, I’m excited to go to work on legislation that will make a huge difference in the lives of working families,” Costa said.

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Marley Parish
Marley Parish

A Pennsylvania native, Marley Parish covers the Senate for the Capital-Star. She previously reported on government, education and community issues for the Centre Daily Times and has a background in writing, editing and design. A graduate of Allegheny College, Marley served as editor of the campus newspaper, where she also covered everything from student government to college sports.

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