2011-2012 House Session Opens with Smith Elected Speaker; Jobs, Fiscal Responsibility, Government Integrity Top Agenda

Turzai becomes floor leader with a majority of 112 Republican members 

The 2011-2012 Session of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives opened today with the election of Rep. Sam Smith (R-Jefferson County) as speaker. Two hundred of the 203 members took their oaths of office today (see note below). The House also adopted a set of rules governing how the body operates. 

“It’s a new year, a new session and a new attitude for Pennsylvania,” said Rep. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny).  “Pennsylvania voters sent a message last year to rein in government and reconnect it to the everyday values of its citizens.  Those values will help guide us as we represent working families and fix Pennsylvania through controlled spending, smaller government, greater accountability and a strong free enterprise.” 

In a House Chamber packed with family, friends and guests, including Gov.-elect Tom Corbett, 200 members recited the oath of office administered by Superior Court President Judge Correale Stevens. Judge Stevens is a former member, representing the 116th District in Luzerne County. There are 29 new members, 21 Republicans and eight Democrats. 

Following the administration of the oath, Rep. Brian Ellis (R-Butler County) nominated Smith for the position of speaker; Smith was elected unanimously. 

“I have a deep respect for this office, the oldest elected position in America,” Smith said. “I will do my best to preserve the dignity of the office and help restore the public’s trust in their government and their representatives.” 

Following the election of speaker, the House voted to adopt the rules which govern how the body will operate. Some modifications of last session’s rules were made to clarify issues raised by members and leaders to help make the body more effective and efficient.  A notable change includes a formal prohibition of campaign activity on legislative work time.

The new House Rules adopted today by the full membership include:

  • House Ethical Conduct Rules - Comprehensive House ethical conduct guidelines to provide clear direction to members and staff regarding legislative activity versus impermissible campaign activities. This addition strengthens caucus (Republican and Democratic) policies already in place.
  • Expanding the 60-day pre-election prohibition on mass communications to include mass e-mails.
  • Strengthening the voice of the whole House by specifically limiting the Appropriations Committee to considering the fiscal aspects of any bill which has already received second consideration on the House floor.
  • The Health and Human Services Committee will be separated into two committees, the Health Committee and the Human Services Committee. The Intergovernmental Affairs Committee has been abolished and its duties transferred to the State Government Committee.  

“This chamber will no longer be satisfied with just talking points; we intend to initiate turning points,” Smith said. “We have a responsibility to govern, and I believe all of us who have taken the oath of office today are committed to making the House and state government as a whole more open and transparent.” 

In his remarks, Turzai reminded members of the mandate handed down by voters last year to rein in state government, reform the legislative process and be more mindful of local concerns and issues.

“Our mandate comes from the people and the very residents of our communities,” Turzai said.  “The real mandate for the elections of 2010 is to move Pennsylvania forward without taking more money from the already over-burdened taxpayers.”

Turzai also spoke of the shared agenda to create a positive jobs climate; pass an on-time, no-tax budget; and restore the faith of Pennsylvania’s residents in their government.

The 2011-2012 Legislative Session priorities, according to Turzai, will be to change Harrisburg from the ground up by making the legislative process more deliberative and open; cleaning up and streamlining state government, including reviewing and evaluating each state agency; and justifying every expenditure – including the legislature’s. 

Smith and Turzai said they have been examining the costs of the legislature and plan to meet tomorrow with House Democratic leaders to change several House policies dealing with health care, per diems and auto leases. 

“Through reform, responsibility and accountability, we will earn the people’s trust again,” Smith said.  “By balancing the budget with reduced or capped spending, responsibly managing welfare (public) entitlements, and lessening the tax burden on Pennsylvania, we will again earn the public’s confidence.” 

NOTE: Two hundred members were sworn in today. Rep. Robert Donatucci (D-Philadelphia) died on Nov. 9, creating a vacancy. Two other members were absent due to personal reasons.  

Representative Mike Turzai
Majority Leader
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Contact:  Stephen Miskin (717) 772-9943
Cell: (717)-756-3936

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