Lawmakers to take oath for coming 2-year legislative session

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — State lawmakers are convening in the Pennsylvania Capitol on New Year's Day to take the oath of office under a state constitutional mandate they meet on the first Tuesday of the year.

Forty-two House members and seven senators are expected to be sworn in for the first time after winning elections in November.

Both chambers will have smaller but still substantial Republican majorities in the coming session, 110 to 93 in the House and 29 to 21 in the Senate.

There are two vacancies among the 93 House Democratic seats, and a Republican senator is expected to step down and be sworn in to Congress later this week.

The 43rd House freshman, Rep.-elect Liz Hanbidge, D-Montgomery, will likely be sworn in later this month, after she returns from her honeymoon.

The biggest change in leadership is in the House, where Rep. Bryan Cutler will take over as majority leader, replacing Rep. Dave Reed, R-Indiana, who did not seek re-election to the Legislature.

Allegheny County Republican Rep. Mike Turzai is expected to retain the gavel as speaker, and Republican Sen. Joe Scarnati of Jefferson County as his chamber's president pro tempore.

The Senate will have a new presiding officer once Braddock Mayor John Fetterman becomes lieutenant governor later this month.

Fetterman beat incumbent Lt. Gov. Mike Stack in last year's Democratic primary and was elected along with Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who won a second term.

In the Senate, Scarnati ended weeks of uncertainty on Friday by announcing he supported the seating of Democrat Lindsey Williams in an Allegheny County district. Republicans had raised questions about whether Williams had lived in the state for four years to the day before being elected, a state constitutional requirement.

Williams' win was one of five Republican seats in the Senate that Democrats flipped in November, including four in the Philadelphia suburbs. The two new Republican senators are Judy Ward of Blair County and Kristin Phillips-Hill of York County, both filling vacancies created when an incumbent sought higher office.

Sen. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Allegheny, is scheduled to be sworn in to Congress on Thursday. A message left at his Capitol office Tuesday, seeking an update on his status, was not immediately returned.

There are two vacancies in the House. Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown, D-Philadelphia, resigned after being sentenced to probation in November for a bribery conviction, and Rep. Sid Michaels Kavulich, D-Lackawanna, died in office in October.

The first major item of legislative business will occur Feb. 5, when Wolf gives the governor's annual budget address.

Lawmakers may also again consider legislation, spiked last fall by Senate Republicans, to provide a "window" for civil lawsuits over claims of child sexual abuse that would otherwise be too old to pursue.

Among those not returning to the Legislature due to retirement are Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Clinton, who had been his party's whip; Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, a major figure for decades in legal issues in the Capitol; and Rep. Bob Godshall, R-Montgomery, who spent 36 years in the chamber.