gavel.gif (3462 bytes) Legislative Update

Pennsylvania races draw national attention


By Mark Phenicie, Esq.

The Pennsylvania Legislature officially went into recess on June 14, and it will not return until late September. So far this session, we have been able to keep the opposition at bay in its attempt to pass all or part of Senate Bill 5 and proposed civil rule changes. While we have been successful to date, the forces opposed to an evenly balanced civil justice system continue unabated in their attempts both to pressure the Pennsylvania Legislature and the courts in Pennsylvania to maximize their profits at the expense of the rights of your clients.

Both national and political parties view Pennsylvania, as well as Florida and California, as the three most important states on Election Day 2000. Of immediate interest in Pennsylvania is control of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, with the House having a 103-100 Republican to Democrat balance, before a series of resignations and other scandals.

For the Democrats to take control of the House, there must be a net gain of two Democratic seats. One of the earliest battles for control of the House occurred last month in Lackawanna County’s 114th District, where Democrat Jim Wansacz apparently defeated Republican Tom Parry in a special election to replace Frank R. Serafini.

In addition to this seat, there are seven or eight targeted races by both parties, with the question of control very much up in the air awaiting November 2.

With the Senate and the Governor’s office firmly Republican, it is imperative that the Democrats win control of the House if there is to be balance in reapportionment, as Pennsylvania will lose two of our current 21 congressmen. Congressional reapportionment—unlike legislative reapportionment—is done by legislation, and will occur sometime in 2001. Currently, there are 11 Democrats and 10 Republican congressmen in Pennsylvania, and the balance in 2001 will depend on both the 2000 Congressional Election, as well as the newly drawn Pennsylvania Congressional Districts in 2001. In Washington, Republicans enjoy a very narrow lead for control of the House of Representatives, where Democrats need a net gain of six seats nationwide to gain control of the U.S. House of Representatives. While Democrat gains are expected in the U.S. Senate, it appears to be close to a consensus that a gain of five or six seats (depending on whether Al Gore or George Bush is elected President), for Democratic control of the Senate, is unlikely.

In Pennsylvania, there are three races that the country is watching. In the 13th Congressional District centered in Montgomery County, trial lawyers have two friends in long time Republican State Senate Judiciary Chairman Stewart Greenleaf, facing incumbent Democrat Congressman Joe Hoeffel. In the 10th District in northeastern Pennsylvania, incumbent Congressman Don Sherwood, who won the closest Congressional race in the country in 1998 over Democrat Pat Casey, faces a rematch in 2000. This election is also considered too close to call. The last key race in Pennsylvania centers on retiring Congressman Ron Klink’s 4th Congressional District in Western Pennsylvania, where Republican State Senator Melissa Hart battles State Rep. Terry Van Home, in another tight contest.

The U.S. Senate race features one-term incumbent Rick Santorum against Klink in a battle of Western Pennsylvanians. While most political observers were not surprised to see Klink victorious on April 4, few could have predicted the size and margin of Klink’s victory, which has many Democrats enthused about his prospects of upsetting the favored Santorum in November.

As you can see, in addition to the vital race for President between Vice President Al Gore and Governor George Bush, there are many vital and important races ahead of all of us in November. As in other races, Pennsylvania is considered at this time to be "too close to call" between Gore and Bush. It is important to understand that these elections have so much to do about the future rights of your clients and your practices. Please get involved and support the candidates of your choice.

Mark Phenicie is Legislative Counsel for the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association.

Mark Phenicie is Legislative Counsel for the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association.

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