“We always try to have a bipartisan panel,” said David Black, CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and CREDC, at the start of this year’s PA Legislators’ Forum.
In central Pennsylvania, however, that can be a tall task, as most of the members of the PA General Assembly from Cumberland, Dauphin and Perry counties are Republicans.
Therefore, it wasn’t a surprise that Tuesday morning’s discussion, an annual breakfast event at the Hilton Harrisburg sponsored by the Chamber & CREDC, centered around conservative priorities and positions.
Panelists included Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-88), Rep. Torren Ecker (R-193), Rep. Barb Gleim (R-199), Rep. Sue Helm (R-104), Rep. Dawn Keefer (R-92), Rep. Mark Keller (R-86), Rep. Andrew Lewis (R-105), Rep. Tom Mehaffie (R-106) and Rep. Greg Rothman (R-87).
The Harrisburg area’s sole Democrat in the House, Rep. Patty Kim (D-103), wasn’t in attendance to offer her take on the many issues discussed.
Although only Republicans sat at the table, some of the conversation revolved around political civility between parties.
“The first question I get a lot being new in office is, ‘what surprised you about Harrisburg?” Ecker said. “What I tell people all the time is how well people get along in Harrisburg.”
Panelists mentioned hostility, disrespect and social media feuds as key proponents of political polarization. However, most agreed the state legislature doesn’t struggle with this.
“There’s a lot more collaboration and work that goes on that’s bipartisan, but that’s not what really catches the news’ eye,” Keefer said.
Rothman brought up the Harrisburg school district. He’s co-sponsoring HB 1800, a bill that would provide tuition vouchers so that district students could attend alternative public or private schools.
“I’m going to work on helping to improve the Harrisburg schools by giving more options and choices to those kids,” Rothman said. “It’s not right that there are certain people who can afford to rescue their kids and pull them out of those schools and other people who can’t.”
The school district vehemently opposes this bill, with school officials saying that it would further devastate the already fragile school district financially, to the detriment of the students who remained within it.
Another discussion topic was Pennsylvania’s minimum wage. Most panelists said they opposed raising the minimum wage.
“Minimum wage is a number, that’s it,” Keller said. “That’s something we should leave up to the business community not the government.”
Overall, panelists advocated for regulatory reduction and promoting small businesses and agriculture.
Here are some of the priorities this session for area legislators:
- Sheryl Delozier (R-88)—Criminal justice reform, re-entry programs
- Torren Ecker (R-193)—Recruiting junior firefighters
- Barb Gleim (R-199)—House Bill 1746, equalizing apprenticeship ratios between unions and non-unions, adding career and technical education certifications to high school transcripts
- Sue Helm (R-104)—House Bill 1578, updating homeowners association rules and regulations; House Bill 21, licensing home inspectors
- Dawn Keefer (R-92)—Regulatory reform, “Taxpayer Protection Act”
- Mark Keller (R-86)—Election reform, filing campaign reports electronically
- Andrew Lewis (R-105)—“Fighting Chance Act,” regulatory reduction
- Tom Mehaffie (R-106)—House Bill 1900, House Bill 1802, providing for scope of practice of licensed dietitian nutritionists
- Greg Rothman (R-87)—House Bill 1800, starting a school voucher pilot program in the Harrisburg school district
The Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC continues its Legislator’s Forum on Feb. 20, featuring a panel of state senators. For more information, visit www.harrisburgregionalchamber.org.