When she spoke with House Speaker Sam Smith about what committee chairmanships might be available to her in the new session, state Rep. Kathy Watson, R-144, told him Game and Fisheries wouldn’t be a good fit for her.
“It’s just not my thing,” she said.
Watson, who was adopted as a child and later became an adoptive parent, told the speaker she would “love to have” the House Children and Youth Committee.
Chairmanships are awarded by seniority, and when Smith met with Watson, he read a list of committees in need of chairs.
The first, naturally, was Game and Fisheries. After reading Children and Youth last, he said, “Am I to assume …” Watson quickly cut him off. “Yes, you are to assume. I would be thrilled to have that opportunity.”
And she will. Watson is one of several area lawmakers who are heading committees in this new session of the state Legislature.
Like Watson, state Rep. Kate Harper, R-61, has moved into a new position; she is chairwoman of the House Local Government Committee.
Harper, who served as a supervisor in Lower Gwynedd Township for more than a decade, previously served as chairman of the House Children and Youth Committee and the House Ethics Committee.
Three other area lawmakers, state Reps. Paul Clymer, R-145, Gene DiGirolamo, R-18, and Bob Godshall, R-53, will continue chairing their respective committees: Education; Human Services; and Consumer Affairs.
In the Senate, Stewart Greenleaf, R-12, remains chairman of the Judiciary Committee and Tommy Tomlinson, R-6, heads Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure. Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, R-10, moves from State Government to Law and Justice, while Sen. Bob Mensch, R-24, moves into the top seat on Aging and Youth.
Mensch said he told Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, “I want to be busy; I want to be challenged.” He said he believes the Aging and Youth Committee will fit the bill. “This is a good one,” he said.
As chairwoman of Children and Youth, Watson will play a key role in the committee’s review and consideration of numerous recommendations made late last month by the Task Force on Child Protection, which included ways to improve Pennsylvania’s child welfare system.
That board, headed by Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler, was created after the sexual abuse allegations against former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky came to light.
While calling the task force’s recommendations “a great blueprint,” Watson said she expects members of the General Assembly “will have many ideas on how we can make things better for children and help make them safer. It’s our job to do the right thing.”
Heckler believes Watson is a natural choice to lead the committee.
He described her as “one of the most down-to-earth and astute people I can think of to deal with children’s issues in a caring and realistic way. … I couldn’t be happier that someone as tenacious, thoughtful and committed as Kathy Watson will be in a key position to bring our proposals to life.”
State Rep. Bernie O’Neill, R-29, who previously served on the committee, said Watson’s appointment is “a great thing for Pennsylvania. … She’s always been a champion in that field.”
Watson said she is hopeful that, in addition to the major policy initiatives of transportation funding, pension reform and the budget, that child protection is at the top of the agenda for the 2013-14 legislative session.
“In light of what happened … (in Newtown, Conn.), and with child abuse in general, I think I want to steer us down the road to keeping the focus on children, Watson said. “Sadly, cases of physical and sexual abuse of children have captured far too many headlines, and as a result, it is time that we take a look at our current laws and update them for our ever-changing world.”
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