PA Capitol & COVID Weekly Report: Legislative Leadership Elections, Re-Fighting The Election
While politicians and lawyers fight over the outcome of the Presidential race in Pennsylvania, the Senate and House focused on holding leadership elections for the new 2021-22 legislative session last week.
For the first time, two of the four legislative caucuses will be led by women. Senate Republicans elected Sen. Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) to be Majority Leader and House Democrats elected an African American woman– Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia)– to be their leader.
The selections also reflect the election results and increasing geographic polarization of politics in Pennsylvania.
Republicans consolidated their hold on Senate and House seats in Western Pennsylvania and Democrats expanded in the five county Philadelphia region.
Here are the complete leadership rosters for three of the four legislative caucuses–
— Senate Republican Leadership: Interim President Pro Tempore: Jake Corman (R-Centre) [New]; Majority Leader: Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) [New]; Appropriations Chair: Pat Browne (R-Lehigh); Majority Whip: John Gardner (R-Columbia); Caucus Chair: Bob Mensch (R-Montgomery); and Caucus Secretary: Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster).
— House Republicans Leadership: Speaker- Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster); Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R-Mifflin); Appropriations Chair Stan Saylor (R-York); Whip Donna Oberlander (R-Clarion); Caucus Chair Mike Reese (R-Westmoreland) [new]; Caucus Secretary Martina White (R-Philadelphia) [new]; Caucus Administrator Kurt Masser (R-Northumberland); Policy Chair Martin Causer (R-McKean).
— House Democratic Leadership: Minority Leader: Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia) [NEW]; Appropriations Chairman: Matt Bradford (D-Montgomery); Whip: Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia); Caucus Chair: Dan Miller (D-Allegheny) [NEW]; Caucus Secretary: Tina Davis (D-Bucks) [NEW]; Caucus Administrator: Mike Schlossberg (D-Lehigh) [NEW]; Policy Chair: Ryan Bizzarro (D-Erie) [NEW]
Senate Democratic Leadership election was delayed because of the see-saw battle going on in the race for incumbent Sen. Jim Brewster’s seat in Allegheny County. As of this writing, Sen. Brewster leads his Republican opponent Nicole Ziccarelli by 30 votes out of 131,592 cast.
Hanging on the outcome is whether Senate Democrats picked up one seat or lost one.
2 Out Of 3
Republicans officially took two out of the three statewide row offices up for grabs in the election. Winning State Treasurer was Stacy Garrity over incumbent Joe Torsella and for Auditor General Republican Tim DeFoor in an open race for that post.
The only Democrat to win was Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
As of Thursday, counties have 42,766 mail-in ballots left to count of the 2,643,485 returned by voters, along with evaluating the remaining 60,000 provisional ballots of the 100,000 issued on election day. Read more here.
There were also 28,529 military and overseas absentee ballots cast for this election that counties are also being counted.
Approximately 10,000 mail-in ballots cast before election day, but received by November 6,are being handled separately by counties per the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Late Friday, a Federal Appeals Court ruled these late-arriving ballots should be counted, turning back a challenge by the Trump Campaign and Republicans. The ruling can be appealed. Read more here.
By law, counties in Pennsylvania must certify their election results to the Department of State by November 23.
Pennsylvania’s electoral college representatives will cast their votes for President on December 14.
As of November 14, Joe Biden has a 65,061 vote lead over President Trump in Pennsylvania. President Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 by 44,292 votes.
Also on Friday, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said she would not be ordering a recount of any of the statewide races, including President, since no statewide candidate met the requirement of losing by one-half of one percent or less set by law. Read more here.
Anything written here about the many legal challenges to the state election results by the Trump campaign and other Republicans would be out-of-date the minute it was written, so that will be left to those following in the media. Read more here.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, however, did make some news last week when he submitted an example of voter fraud to the Republican Lt. Governor of Texas who was offering a $1 million reward for voting fraud tips. Read more here.
The case submitted by Fetterman was of a Republican in Luzerne County who tried to register his dead mother to vote.
“Hey, Governor Patrick- it’s your counterpart in Pennsylvania.
“I’d like to collect your handsome reward for reporting voter fraud.
“I got a dude in Forty Fort, PA who tried to have his dead mom vote for Trump.
“I’d like mine in Sheetz gift cards pls.
“ps. The Cowboys blow.”
Both Senate and House Republicans here in Pennsylvania announced they would be conducting an investigation into the November election results, citing unspecified and unsubstantiated claims of fraud. Read more here.
It was reported the review is not likely to change the outcome. Read more here.
Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh), Majority Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, sounded cautiously upbeat about the state budget at a press conference Thursday noting state revenues have surpassed projections, which he said will help legislators finish the FY 2020-21 budget. Read more here.
October state revenues were up $365.6 million over estimates and for the fiscal year $824.5 million. Read more here.
Continued revenue strength could make up for $1 billion or more of the state deficit, but the $5 billion deficit may be a tough hill to climb without additional federal aid.
Sen. Browne said the revenue numbers helped make the outlook a lot better for a potential final budget product this week.
The Senate will return to voting session November 16, 17, 18 and 19 and the House will be back for voting session November 18 and 19. Not a lot of time, especially since this legislative session ends on November 30 and with the Thanksgiving holiday in between.
More Bridge Tolls?
Drivers may see more toll booths on Pennsylvania bridges as a result of a new PennDOT Public Private Transportation Partnership initiative approved Thursday to allow the agency to charge tolls on major bridges to fund repairs or replacement. Read more here.
PennDOT has been facing major revenue declines in recent years and this is one way for them to continue their bridge rehabilitation program.
PennDOT said additional funding initiatives are expected to be announced soon.
Statewide Percent Positivity 9.6%
As of Friday, the statewide COVID percent-positivity went up to 9.6 percent from 6.9 percent last week. Anything above 5 percent is bad. Read more here.
The 10 counties with the highest percent-positivity include– Juniata (21.1 percent); Bedford (19.7 percent); Mifflin (17.7 percent); Armstrong (15.2 percent); Franklin (15.1 percent); Tioga (14.2 percent); Wyoming (13.9 percent); Huntingdon (13.3 percent); Indiana (13.1 percent); and Lawrence (13 percent).
For comparison, Allegheny County is 7.7 percent and Philadelphia is 12.5 percent.
There are only five counties– Susquehanna, Wayne, Union, Cameron and Forest below the 5 percent threshold at this point.
The Department of Health added Virginia to the list of 35 states they recommend travelers self-quarantine when they return.
COVID-19 Death Toll, Record New Cases
The number of new COVID cases in Pennsylvania again set records one day after the next last week with the highest single day total of 5,531.
The number of deaths from COVID-19 increased from 9,015 on November 7 to 9,274 on November 14. The number of people testing positive for the virus went from 227,985 cases on November 7 to 259,938 on November 14.
Delaware County officials issued a warning its hospitals were on the verge of being overwhelmed by the number of new cases [Read more here] and medical facilities in six rural Pennsylvania communities are reopening units dedicated to treating COVID cases [Read more here].
On Thursday, the Wolf Administration highlighted the vital role the PA National Guard plays in supporting nursing home efforts to combat COVID and the fact the federal money to support those activities will run out soon, without an extension by President Trump. Read more here.
Meanwhile more than 2,500 nurses in hospitals in Philadelphia and surrounding counties are preparing to go on strike over the issue of safe staffing levels on hospital floors, an issue that has been exacerbated by the continuing COVID pandemic. Read more here.
School districts and colleges across the state continue to open and close or go to hybrid teaching to cope with the surge in COVID cases sweeping across the state.
Montgomery County health officials Friday ordered all public and private schools in that county to go to remote learning as of November 23, the most sweeping action yet affecting schools. Read more here.
Thursday, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia recommended all Philly-area schools close and go to remote learning saying, ‘We are in a catastrophic situation.” Read more here.
In fact Tuesday, the Philadelphia School District canceled plans to have some of its students return to the classroom as COVID cases continued to rise. Read more here.
In addition, some colleges have imposed quarantines or tighter COVID mitigation measures on students they do have on campus before they go home for the Thanksgiving holiday hoping to at least limit the potential spread of COVID.
To see how last week went, Click Here and look for the School Districts and Colleges NewsClips.
For the week of November 1 to 7, there were 23,051 unemployment claims, down very slightly from 23,742 the week before. The highest weekly total came March 22 to 28– 374,056. Read more here.
On Thursday, Gov. Wolf announced the retirement of Department of Labor and Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak, who will be replaced by the current Deputy Secretary for Safety and Labor Management Relations Jennifer Berrier. Read more here.
Secretary Oleksiak, former head of the state’s teachers union, has been a lightning rod for Republican criticism of how the state’s unemployment compensation system was crushed by claims throughout the pandemic. Read more here.
On Friday, the PA Housing Finance Agency released figures on how many renters, landlords and homeowners received aid through October under the CARES Relief Program that ended on November 4. Read more here.
10,251 renters with 68,338 applications received. 6,965 landlords received assistance with 37,274 applications received.
Homeowners received $19,984,662 in assistance, but $169,536,785 in assistance was requested.
In August, Gov. Wolf proposed an additional $100 million in rent assistance be provided from the $1.3 billion in CARES funding still available in Pennsylvania, but the Senate and House failed to act on the request, so far. Read more here.
Lest we forget about the other long-term health emergency, Gov. Wolf Thursday signed the 12th renewal of his opioid and heroin overdose epidemic disaster declaration, a move that allows him to continue to reallocate resources and suspend regulations and other requirements to address the overdose issue. Read more here.
In case you’re wondering, the coronavirus disaster declaration Gov. Wolf originally signed on March 6 and renewed on September 1 runs out on November 30. He will also no doubt renew that declaration. Read more here.
Republicans repeatedly pointed to the ‘never ending’ disaster declarations by the Governor as an inappropriate use of executive authority.
The House is scheduled to return to voting session November 18 and 19, but the Senate is scheduled to return November 16, 17, 18 and 19.
Hanging in the balance are still the major issues of finishing the FY 2020-21 state budget– the temporary one runs out on November 30– and appropriating the $1.3 billion in federal CARES COVID funding that must be spent by the end of the calendar year, aid for renters, landlords and home mortgage holders, etc.
With so little time left before this legislative session ends November 30– when all bills die– the issues the Senate and House tackle in this rare lame duck session will be quickly triaged to what absolutely, positively has to get done.
We’ll see what makes the cut.