NEPA rebuilds lost seniority with committee positions
HARRISBURG - Members of the Northeast Pennsylvania legislative delegation are starting to rebuild lost seniority with committee chair appointments in the new session.
Eleven members of the 30-member delegation will either chair committees in the Republican-controlled General Assembly or serve as minority caucus chair, or ranking Democrat, on a committee. These include important committees with jurisdiction over environmental and energy bills, taxation bills and housing bills that are important to the region.
This development follows a significant loss of regional seniority in 2010 with the retirements of House Speaker Keith McCall, D-Carbon, long-time Senate Democratic floor leader Robert J. Mellow, D-Archbald, and veteran Sen. Raphael Musto, D-Pittston, and the defeat at the polls of former House Majority Leader Todd Eachus, D-Butler Twp.
The committee chairpersons for the 2013-14 legislative session were named last month by respective legislative caucus leaders. Committee seat assignments for rank-and-file lawmakers will be announced later this month.
A committee chairperson gets first crack at shaping the bills that come under that committee's jurisdiction. The majority party chairperson decides which bills advance or remain bottled up and the scheduling of hearings to build momentum for action on a political issue. Still, a minority chair can still exert influence depending on the working relationship with the majority chairperson or the need to round up bipartisan votes for a measure.
Sen. Gene Yaw, R-23, Williamsport, whose district includes the Marcellus Shale drilling region, is the new chairman of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. Sen. John Yudichak, D-14, Nanticoke, stays as the panel's minority chair and this arrangement will give the northeast region greater say over legislation affecting the development of the Marcellus Shale gas reserves.
Yaw is already drafting legislation to provide incentives for greater use of state-produced natural gas as an energy source for homes, school districts, colleges and universities and hospitals. He said it's ironic that many residents in drilling areas lack access to lower-cost natural gas. His pending bill will seek to extend natural gas distribution services to underserved rural areas, allow municipalities to establish their own gas pipeline systems and require the state Public Utility Commission to set rules for an orderly expansion of natural gas service.
Sen. David Argall, R-29, Tamaqua, is the new chairman of the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee. Argall plans to push for legislation to toughen penalties against "slumlords" as a way to fight neighborhood blight.
"Newspaper headlines continue to illustrate that we have a real problem in our region - too many properties in need of demolition and not enough money," he said.
Sen. John Blake, D-22, Archbald, is new minority chairman of the Senate Finance Committee with jurisdiction over tax bills and hot-button issues like the proposed privatization of the Pennsylvania Lottery. Rep. Phyllis Mundy, D-120, Kingston, stays as minority chairwoman of the House Finance Committee.
Rep. Mario Scavello, R-176, Mount Pocono, is the new chairman of the House Labor and Industry Committee with jurisdiction over workers compensation and unemployment compensation bills. Sen. John Gordner, R-27, Berwick, remains as chairman of the Senate Labor and Industry Committee.
Sens. Lisa Baker, R-20, Lehman Twp., remains chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.
Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-18, Bethlehem Twp., remains as minority chairwoman of the Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee. Reps. Matt Baker, R-68, Wellsboro, and Tina Pickett, R-110, Towanda, remain as chairman and chairwoman, respectively, of the House Health Committee and the Gaming Oversight Committee.
In addition, Sen. Pat Browne, R-16, Allentown, continues as Senate majority caucus whip; Rep. Sandra Major, R-111, Montrose, remains as House majority caucus chairwoman and Rep. Neal Goodman, D-123, Mahanoy City, is the new House minority caucus administrator.
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