HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Tuesday to be sworn in for the two-year legislative term, facing a still-raging pandemic and a dispute over seating as senator, with Republicans holding large majorities in both chambers.
The state House begins the session with 113 Republican seats and 90 Democratic, although one of those GOP districts is vacant because of the death on Saturday of Westmoreland County Rep. Mike Reese.
Republicans hold at least 28 seats in the Senate, although there is continuing litigation over the razor-close reelection margin for Democratic Sen. Jim Brewster of Allegheny County. There is also one independent, Luzerne Sen. John Yudichak, a former Democrat who caucuses with Republicans.
Republican leaders said Monday they would not seat Brewster but did not indicate how long the Senate will need to review Republican challenger Nicole Ziccarelli’s election challenge before voting, or how long the GOP majority is willing to leave the seat vacant.
Starting at noon, the House will swear in its members in four groups to limit potential coronavirus exposure. Each chamber’s operating rules will also be considered, and House Democrats want mask wearing to be mandatory during floor sessions and committee meetings.
Republican draft rules did not address the mask issue, which could be taken up by a bipartisan group of House leaders that manages chamber operations.
The House is expected to elect Lancaster County Republican Rep. Bryan Cutler as speaker, and the Senate is poised to make Centre County Republican Sen. Jake Corman its presiding officer, president pro tempore.
Along with a pandemic-driven, multibillion-dollar budget gap, legislators this year will also have to figure out how to redraw congressional district lines based on new census results that are expected to cut one member of Congress from Pennsylvania’s 18-member delegation.
Later this year, the four caucus leaders will also begin redrawing General Assembly lines with participation from a fifth member they can select. If they remain deadlocked on the fifth member, as is likely, the Democratic-majority state Supreme Court will chose the tie-breaking member for them.