By MARK SCOLFORO Associated Press
HARRISBURG, Pa. — The new speaker of the Pennsylvania House said Tuesday that the first meeting of a bipartisan work group he assembled got off to a good start and that he’s hopeful they will help bridge the chamber’s partisan divide.
Speaker Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, held the first meeting with the group of three Democratic and three Republican state representatives shortly before a new governor was sworn in at noon.
Rozzi has said little in public since he was the surprise choice Jan. 3 to serve as speaker. As he walked from Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s inaugural event to his Capitol offices, he said the work group is developing proposed rules for the chamber and considering how to make progress on a measure Rozzi has long sought to allow some victims of child sexual abuse to file otherwise outdated lawsuits.
Since Rozzi became speaker two weeks ago, the House has not adopted rules, announced committee membership or held any votes.
“I think we just want to show that Democrats and Republicans can work together and not only find a pathway forward for the statute of limitations, but what can we do together? What other legislation can we pass that we can come to a compromise on?” Rozzi said.
He said the working group is “going to see where it goes. I think they’re willing to sit down and talk about how we move forward right now.”
Rozzi, who has vowed to serve as an independent speaker, on Thursday announced six lawmakers he chose to serve as what he’s calling the Speaker’s Workgroup to Move Pennsylvania Forward. Any rules they develop will have to be approved by a majority in the House in order to take effect.
Republican leaders and a few other GOP members joined with all Democrats to elect Rozzi speaker after a close November election and three Democratic vacancies resulted in a temporary 101-99 Republican margin. Democrats had been in the minority for 12 years.
Rozzi, who has spoken of his own abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest, has long advocated for a two-year “window” during which child sexual abuse survivors can sue. A constitutional amendment to create the two-year window needs to pass both legislative chambers any time over the next two years in order to go before voters for final approval in referendum form.
Democrats are hopeful they will reach a 102-100 majority once three House special elections are held in Democratic-leaning seats in the Pittsburgh area on Feb. 7, along with a Senate special election Jan. 31 in which an incumbent Republican House member is running.