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Will new speaker make the Pa. House less partisan?

Plus, NAACP-opposed highway project gets the green light.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
Thursday, January 5, 2023
Partisan priorities, surprise speaker, 'mistake by the lake,' millionaire's amendment, paper trail, paper sale, and West Virginia's 'hate castle.'

Some hope that Tuesday's surprise pick for speaker of the Pennsylvania House could lead the chamber to adopt less partisan rules.

For now, much remains unknown about how that pick, state Rep. Mark Rozzi of Berks County, will approach rulemaking and the powerful post. 

Good-government groups want to see rule changes that would force floor votes on popular bills to keep them from languishing endlessly.

And one GOP source said the caucus — faced with a less friendly state House map — will pitch rule changes that would give the minority party more agenda power via closer partisan splits on key committees.

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Will a surprise speaker pick make the Pennsylvania House less partisan?

THE CONTEXT: At the beginning of each two-year legislative session, lawmakers pass rules that govern the state House and Senate. Those rules can dictate how committees are organized, who can call a vote on bills, and even mandate lawmakers to publicly share expenses. 

Attempts to make changes in the state Senate fell flat this year.

Deliberations in the state House continue on both sides of the aisle.  

In the meantime, questions remain about Rozzi's pledge to be an independent speaker. Democrats and Republicans have offered competing versions of what he, a longtime moderate Democrat, has promised on that front.

Democrats, including Appropriations Chair Matt Bradford, said Rozzi privately assured the caucus he was still a Democrat. Republican leaders, meanwhile, say Rozzi “pledged to become an independent,” which would split the chamber 101-101-1 if Dems win three looming special elections.

Rozzi has said he won't caucus with either party in the role.


"He's going to caucus with nobody. He's going to be an independent, which means [Republicans] control the calendar, which means [Republicans] also control what bills run and when they run."

—State Rep. Jim Gregory (R., Blair) on why 16 Republicans helped elect state Rep. Mark Rozzi, a longtime Democrat, as speaker of the state House; Gregory later said he meant that Republicans will have the same level of “control” as Democrats should a 101-101-1 split come to pass
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A frozen impoundment at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, courtesy of Don N. Send us your photos and artwork by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

A photo of a frozen pond under blue skies taken from its scruffy shoreline.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.REP. ROZZI: Tuesday's compromise that saw state Rep. Mark Rozzi of Berks County named House speaker raised lots of questions, some of which Spotlight PA answers here in a look at Rozzi's background and road to the rostrum. In his first official act as speaker, Rozzi affirmed Feb. 7 dates for several Allegheny County special elections. As a result, a related and ongoing court challenge may be moot.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.ROAD WAR: A $100 million highway project opposed by the NAACP and environmentalists in Erie can proceed, a federal judge has ruled, via Erie Times-News (paywall). A lawsuit was brought against the project amid concerns over pollution, pedestrian safety, and disproportionate impacts on nearby communities of color. StreetsBlog dubbed the project a "mistake by the lake." Plaintiffs are weighing their options.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.MAYOR MONEY: Real estate magnate Allan Domb is running for Philadelphia mayor and triggering the city's “millionaire’s amendment” in the process. The Inquirer (paywall) reports that if any candidate gives their campaign $250,000 or more out of their own pocket, the city's fundraising rules double annual limits on how much money all campaigns can raise from individuals and committees in response

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.PRIVATE DONORS: Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court has once again blocked an attorney from accessing personal information on donors who contributed to a legal defense fund for contested local gun restrictions in Harrisburg. The ruling is the latest in a ping-ponging lawsuit brought by gun rights attorney Joshua Prince, who is also currently running for a seat on the appellate court.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.MEDIA BUY: A subsidiary of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's embattled ownership company, Block Communications Inc., has purchased Pittsburgh City Paper, the region's left-leaning alt-weekly publication. TribLIVE reports the buyer says no jobs will be cut and that operations will stay independent. A strike by Post-Gazette employees, one covered by City Paper and outlets citywide, is ongoing.
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KNOW NEWS: Media literacy will be required learning for K-12 students in neighboring New Jersey. Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law on Wednesday that makes the Garden State the first in the country to adopt such a rule.

'HATE CASTLE': An SPLC-designated hate group's purchase of a castle in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, 20 minutes from the Pennsylvania border, has roiled the Appalachian tourist town, WaPo (paywall) reports.

SWEARING IN: Democratic Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro will be sworn in on Jan. 17. His inaugural ceremony lineup includes choirs, a marching band, and a Battle of Okinawa veteran leading the pledge of allegiance.

BIG DAY: State Rep. Josh Kail (R., Beaver) welcomed his eighth child hours before being sworn in for a third term on Tuesday and a most unusual vote for speaker of the state House. "What a day!" he tweeted.

FARM SHOW: PennLive has your guide to this year's Pennsylvania Farm Show — including new cashless parking rules. The show officially opens on Saturday, but the food court will open Friday at noon. 

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.

Yesterday's answer: Neologism

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Mark O., Don H., Charlotte B., Myles M., Jon W., Judith D., Elaine C., Beth T., Wendy A., Chuck M., Susan N.-Z., Starr B., Karen W., Dennis M., James B., Dianne K., Stanley J., Bill S., Rick A., John P., Susan D., and Terry P.
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