State legislators taking office Tuesday in Harrisburg emphasized the need for bipartisan cooperation on pressing issues.
“What people want is for us all to work toward bipartisan solutions and reach a consensus,” said Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, a former state representative who was sworn in as a state senator representing the 37th District, which includes suburbs in the South Hills and west of Pittsburgh.
Hundreds of supporters attended the largely ceremonial swearing-in ceremonies at the state Capitol, which were held on New Year’s Day for the first time in 22 years. The state constitution requires the General Assembly to convene at noon on the first Tuesday of each January. The last time the House convened to swear-in members on Jan. 1 was 1991.
Judges administered the oath Tuesday to 25 senators and all but two of the 203 House members. One House member was absent and the 42nd District seat is vacant because of Smith’s election to the Senate.
Debates during the 2013-14 session are expected to address transportation funding, pension reform and passage of the state budget.
Transportation and education are key issues Smith said he hopes to address in his freshman term. His main goal is to “work to find common ground” among his peers.
Freshman Rep. Hal English, R-Hampton, said members are “anxiously awaiting committee assignments” to determine the main topics on which they will focus in coming months. The needs of the 30th District, including Ross, Hampton, Shaler, O’Hara and Fox Chapel, relate to those of the rest of the state, he said.
English said his top priority for the 2013-14 session will be to maintain state services while addressing budgetary concerns. He also listed health care, property taxes and transportation infrastructure as challenges that must be faced.
“It’s exciting as a new member because of the tough challenges ahead,” he said.
English is one of 10 new members of the House Republican Caucus; 19 Democrats took House seats for the first time. State Rep. Ed Gainey, D-Allegheny, was one of them. He represents the 24th District, containing Aspinwall, Wilkinsburg and parts of Pittsburgh.
In a statement on his website, he called Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony “an awe-inspiring occasion for me and my family.” He said his legislative priorities are labor issues, working-class families, transportation, education and community development.
State Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Fayette/Greene/Washington, succeeds William DeWeese, a Democrat and former state House Speaker whose name was stripped from the ballot after a jury convicted him of corruption charges last spring. A judge sentenced him to 2 1⁄2 to five years in state prison.
“I will be a strong advocate for the district and work directly with all communities and constituents,” said Snyder on her website.
House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, cited legislation to privatize liquor stores and a $41 billion anticipated deficit related to state pensions as problems the 197th Legislative Session will have to face.
“We have to understand other perspectives and get to a consensus all across Pennsylvania,” he said.
According to Turzai, reducing the state’s debt and reforming its borrowing programs will be on the agenda this session in addition to education funding reforms.
Lawmakers also re-elected House Speaker Sam Smith and Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, both of Jefferson County.