The start of the new Pennsylvania legislative session was fraught with drama and surprises as lawmakers elected Democrat Rep. Mark Rozzi as Speaker of the House.
The first day of the 2023-24 Pennsylvania legislative session took an unexpected turn as House members elected Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) as speaker.
Rozzi beat out Rep. Carl Metzgar (R-Somerset) for the position by a vote of 115 to 85.
Rozzi was nominated by Rep. Jim Gregory (R-Blair), who said Rozzi is an independent voice and has made friends on both sides of the aisle. Rozzi will put the needs of Pennsylvanians ahead of expedient political outcomes, Gregory said.
The Democratic floor leader, Rep. Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia) voiced her support for Rozzi’s nomination. McClinton was reported to be the Democrat’s top choice for speaker going into Tuesday’s session.
“I’m sure a lot of you didn’t see or expect this today,” Rozzi jokingly said after taking the oath of office.
Rozzi, who began his sixth two-year term this week, is best known as a champion of the effort to give victims of child sexual abuse another chance to sue perpetrators or institutions that covered it up over claims that are barred by time limits in current law.
He worked alongside Democratic Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro in pushing for the lawsuit window after Shapiro, as attorney general, unveiled a landmark grand jury report on his office’s investigation into the state’s Roman Catholic dioceses.
The child sexual abuse lawsuit window has not been enacted, but Rozzi and others have advanced a constitutional amendment that will go before voters if both chambers give it a second round of approvals over the coming two years.
Rozzi himself has told of his rape by a Catholic priest when he was 13.
The day’s unexpected turns began to unfold after newly elected House members were sworn in at noon. They had been poised to vote for speaker before the chief clerk, Brooke Wheeler, announced an abrupt halt to the voting session. Later in the day, a resolution to adjourn was voted down and former speaker Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) pressed for the election of a speaker.
A contentious battle over majority in the state House has been ongoing since November when Democrats flipped a total of 12 seats in the November election, the minimum amount needed to take over the majority, but things were complicated by the death of Rep. Tony DeLuca (D-Allegheny), who passed away in October but was still reelected in November, and the resignation of Democratic Reps. Summer Lee and Austin Davis. (Lee was elected to Congress and Davis was elected lieutenant governor). That puts the margin at 101-99 for Republicans, at least until special elections are held to fill those vacant seats. The dates of those elections, one scheduled for next month, two more for primary day in May, are being hotly disputed.
If GOP lawmakers succeed in pushing two of the special elections to May, they could use that intervening time to pass an amendment to the state constitution that would ban abortions. The bill passed last session and must pass another consecutive session before heading to the ballot box for voters to consider, ultimately bypassing the veto pen of Democratic Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro.
Now that Rozzi is speaker, he could change the date of the special elections if he so chooses.
Rozzi said he would be independent, pledging to not caucus with either Republicans or Democrats and to staff his office with members of both parties, which left some to wonder if he was switching his political affiliation from Democrat to Independent. He decried dysfunction and obstruction in the chamber’s politics, and said “never has this House been so divided.”
“I pledge allegiance and loyalty to no interest in this building, to no interest in our politics, I pledge my loyalty to the people of the commonwealth,” Rozzi said in his remarks.
Upon taking the oath of office, Rozzi turned to the parliamentarian and asked, “Alright, what do we do?”
In the Senate, Sen. Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) will lead the chamber as president pro tempore. She is the first woman to hold the position. Sen. Joe Pittman (R-Indiana) will succeed Ward as majority leader. The former president pro tempore, Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre), did not seek reelection to run in the gubernatorial primary, but lost.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.
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