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Largest freshmen class enters state assembly

Pa. House will welcome 21 first-term representatives.

HARRISBURG — Thirty-two first-term legislators will start new chapters in their lives today as members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly in a biennial rite of passage known as swearing-in day.

The largest contingent of freshmen belongs to the House Republican caucus, which will welcome 21 first-term representatives. Also taking the oath of office will be eight freshman House Democrats and three new state senators, all Democrats.

“Most of the people who supported me were never through this process, and they’re excited to see what’s going on, as am I,” said Rep.-elect Lynda Schlegel Culver, a Northumberland County Republican who plans to ride with supporters from Sunbury to Harrisburg in a chartered bus she is paying for.

Culver, 41, who worked for 21 years as a district aide for the man she is succeeding in office, now-retired Rep. Merle Phillips, said freshman orientation since the November election has been valuable.

In the House, which will be controlled 112-91 by the GOP with one Democratic vacancy, all members will take the oath. They will formally elect the speaker for the coming term, considered a shoo-in election for Rep. Sam Smith, R-Jefferson. The speaker and floor leaders will make speeches and the chamber will vote on operating rules for the 2011-12 session.

The proposed changes would expand the limits on mass mailings before elections to include mass e-mails, install new ethical conduct rules regarding campaign activities, reduce the number of minority-party members on each committee from 11 to 10 and split the Health and Human Services Committee into two committees.

Rep.-elect Sid Michaels-Kavulich, D-Taylor, said one of the first bills he plans to push for would eliminate the automatic cost-of-living increase that legislators receive.

New members to be sworn among our area’s contingent along with Michaels-Kavulich are Tarah Toohil, R-Butler Township; and Gerald Mullery, D-Newport Township.

John Blake, D-Archbald, will be sworn as state senator in the 22nd District.

Also to be sworn is Sen.-elect John Yudichak, D-Nanticoke, who previously represented the 119th District in the House.

Returning local legislators to be sworn in include state reps. Phyllis Mundy, D-Kingston; Mike Carroll, D-Avoca; Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake; Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre; and senators John Gordner, R-Berwick; and Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township.

In the Senate, 25 newly elected or re-elected members will take the oath, including the three freshmen Democrats. They also are expected to re-elect Republican Sen. Joe Scarnati of Jefferson County as president pro tempore and adopt the same operating rules that were in place during 2009-10.

The Senate and House will also convene in a joint session today to certify the election results for governor and lieutenant governor. Both chambers will return to Harrisburg on Jan. 18, when Attorney General Tom Corbett will be sworn in as governor.

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