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Power struggle looms over new legislative session

Plus, court sides with Krasner in impeachment suit.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
Tuesday, January 3, 2023
Leadership struggle, impeachment review, policy problems, unethical acts, stagnant wages, massive manhunt, and Pa.'s busiest wildlife camera.

Today is swearing-in day for hundreds of Pennsylvania state lawmakers and the start of a new legislative session, but Spotlight PA reports the normally ceremonial proceedings could be overshadowed by political maneuvering amid dueling claims of partisan control in the state House.

Lawmakers in the lower chamber are scheduled to elect a new speaker today. Unlike in most nascent legislative sessions, it's not clear who they'll be, what party they'll be from, or even how long they'll serve.

Democrats were set to nominate Philadelphia state Rep. Joanna McClinton for the post, one with broad administrative powers, but several vacancies mean it's unclear they can secure the required majority support. 

Against that backdrop and a competing claim of control, Republicans like state Rep. Valerie Gaydos (Allegheny) and state Rep. Tina Pickett (Susquehanna) are floating speaker bids of their own.

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Who will lead the Pennsylvania House? Lawmakers will soon decide as a power struggle continues.

THE CONTEXT: While November's midterms delivered a razor-thin 102-101 majority for Democrats in the lower chamber, Republicans say several lingering vacancies give them a 101-99 edge and a "functional majority."

The special elections to fill those three seats — all of which cover reliably Democratic corners of Allegheny County — have yet to take place. One is set for Feb. 7. But the timeline for the others is mired in dispute, with Democrats pushing an ASAP approach and the GOP doing the opposite. 

All of this means Republicans are likely to maintain a one or two-vote advantage until at least Feb. 7, and GOP members say they hope to use the opportunity to advance constitutional amendments, including one that would require all voters to present ID at the polls.

If Democrats get their choice of special election dates for all three of their vacancies, they'll likely retake the majority after Feb. 7. But some in the party worry that Republicans could use their "functional majority" in the interim to tweak chamber rules and undercut the Democrats' control.


"I spoke to the police, and then I started calling them maybe every other day. And no response, no replies to my text messages, and no communication ..."

—Taylee De Castro whose son Dominik Herrera was one of 218 juveniles shot in Philadelphia last year; Dominik survived; the suspects are still at large
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An edible version of the City-County Building in downtown Pittsburgh on display inside the actual City-County Building, part of an annual gingerbread house showcase. Photo by yours truly. Send us your pictures by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

A lifelike gingerbread house replica of Pittsburgh's City-County Building.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.COURT ORDER: The articles of impeachment against progressive Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner fail to demonstrate he acted with an improper or corrupt motive as required for impeachment of a public official in Pennsylvania, said a Commonwealth Court order issued on Friday. NBC10 reports the impact of the court order on the Republican-led impeachment push wasn't immediately clear.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.CLASS RULES: At least seven Pennsylvania school districts faced public complaints over anti-LGBTQ policies last year, per WITF, and conservative efforts to restrict LGBTQ-friendly instruction in schools statewide are poised to continue in 2023. As Spotlight PA previously reported, Democratic Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro has denounced such bills as "attempts to bully LGBTQ Pennsylvanians."

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.ETHIC FAILS: Pennsylvania's State Ethics Commission found six government officials guilty of ethics violations in 2022, most involving nepotism, USA Today's State Capital Bureau (paywall) reports. The list of offenders includes former officials in Allegheny, Chester, Clearfield, Greene, Montour, and Susquehanna Counties. Some of the cases involved years-old violations of the state's Ethics Act.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.WAGE WATCH: The new year has ushered in minimum wage hikes in 23 U.S. states, but Pennsylvania isn't one of them. Incoming Gov. Josh Shapiro supports an increase, as do a number of new state legislators who are being sworn in today. But Spotlight PA reports early efforts on this and other fronts could be complicated by the state House's narrow partisan divide and ongoing leadership struggles

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.COURT DATE: The criminology student accused of murdering four University of Idaho undergrads is set to appear in Pennsylvania court today following his arrest in Monroe County on Friday, which ended a weeks-long, cross-country manhunt. NBC News reports that Bryan Kohberger, a one-time college student in Lehigh County, was known to locals who recalled his uncomfortable presence at an area bar.
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NEXT UP: Democratic political consultant Brendan McPhillips, who ran Joe Biden's 2020 campaign in Pennsylvania and two U.S. Senate bids by John Fetterman here, will manage Helen Gym's 2023 bid for Philly mayor

BELL TOLLS: Drivers owing $250 or more in unpaid Pennsylvania Turnpike tolls can now have their licenses suspended under a new law that took effect on Monday. The threshold was previously $500 in unpaid fees.

GAME CHANGE: Penn State's Rose Bowl game against Utah on Monday was the end of an era, marking the last one that's guaranteed to feature the time-honored pairing of Pac-12 and Big Ten teams.

LOGGED ON: Another year of Robert Bush Sr.'s beloved Pennsylvania webcam series "The Log" is in the books, this one having ended with the animal superhighway submerged by busy beavers.

CRAFT STORE: Redditor u/wittyviper made a Sheetz diorama for a niece's birthday and it's accurate down to the overflowing dumpster.

Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag. Answers submitted by 6 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

Friday's answer: Earthenware

Congrats to our weekly winner: Elaine C.

Congrats to our daily winners: Barbara F., Don H., Susan N.-Z., Kimberly D., Lynne E., Vicki U., Susan D., Becky C., Jane R., Dianne K., Bill S., David W., and Myles M.
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