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What were Lehigh Valley lawmakers actually up to in 2023? We check their activity

Climate Action in Bethlehem
Will Oliver
State Rep. Steve Samuelson, D-Northampton, sponsored one of the 66 pieces of legislation signed into law in Pennsylvania this year. His Act 7 of 2023 boosted rebates for seniors on their property taxes and rents.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Pennsylvania lawmakers sent a slew of bills to Gov. Josh Shapiro's desk late last week as they wrapped up their final voting session of 2023.

Shapiro could be forgiven if his hand cramped as he signed 31 bills into law Dec. 14. Along with the three omnibus bills he signed the day before, he more than doubled the number of acts bearing his signature.

The rush of activity capped off a year of sometimes chaotic sessions in Harrisburg, where lawmakers at times questioned who was calling the shots.

House Democrats closed the year with the slimmest majority possible, 102 to 101. But throughout the year, work stalled for weeks at a time as the majority fluctuated because of a death and resignations.

Partly as a result, only 66 state laws went on the books this year — one of the lowest totals in decades. The new year may see more of the same as House Democrats have pushed back the first voting session into March.

State Rep. John Galloway, D-Bucks, resigned on Dec. 14 after winning a race for magisterial district judge. The next voting session won't be until after the Feb. 13 special election for his Democratic-leaning district, after which it will be clear which party will hold the majority.

But state Rep. Peter Schweyer, D-Lehigh, cautioned against using the number of laws passed as a metric of legislative success.

Many bills have no effect on public policy, such as efforts to rename streets or buildings after fallen heroes, Schweyer said. While those are worthwhile, they don't require the same amount of debate or compromise as laws that can bring about real change, he said.

Schweyer Press conference
Pa. House Video on YouTube
Rep. Peter Schweyer, D-Lehigh, praised the work of the General Assembly in 2023. It passed critical legislation, including a historic funding boost to basic education and a needed investment in repairing school buildings.

Instead, he pointed to some of the bigger accomplishments signed into law in 2023.

Those included a $45.5 billion budget with record spending in education and an additional $150 million to renovate and repair aging school buildings.

Cutting deals and building consensus isn't a straightforward process, Schweyer said. Lawmakers should be judged by what they ultimately get done instead of how much gets done.

"I hate the gamification of government and politics," said Schweyer, chairman of the House Education Committee. "The end product was remarkable this year, and I'm so proud of what we achieved."

State Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, R-Lehigh, agreed that legislative success shouldn't be judged from the number of bills passed.

But he still questioned the effectiveness of the House with Democrats in control.

Senate Republicans thought they had reached a deal with Shapiro for a $100 million school voucher program. Instead, House Democrats railed against it, and Shapiro was forced to line-item veto a program he campaigned for.

Its collapse damaged relationships and limited how much could have been done, Mackenzie said.

"When that was rejected by the House Democrats, that's what really led to this budget impasse that we really had for months now," he said.

What have Lehigh Valley lawmakers been up to?

State senators and representatives left the capital for their holiday break last week. Here's a breakdown of the legislation sponsored by the Lehigh Valley's delegation to Harrisburg. Bills introduced in 2023 can still be debated and voted on in the new year.

Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton/Lehigh

No Lehigh Valley lawmaker was the primary sponsor of more legislation this year than Boscola, who introduced 30 bills.

The legislation ranged widely, from a proposal to effectively end daylight saving time to a bill to lock in property tax rates for seniors who have lived in their home for at least five years.

Two of her bills have advanced beyond the Senate. The first would withhold tax refunds and lottery winnings from people with unpaid Pennsylvania Turnpike tolls. The second would increase the fine for killing or unlawfully taking a bald eagle or golden eagle.

Sen. Jarrett Coleman, R-Lehigh

The freshman senator introduced 10 bills this session, one of which Shapiro signed into law Dec. 14. Act 65 of 2023 allows professional license holders — nurses, barbers, crane operators and others — toexpunge a single civil penalty from their records if it was a minor violation and their only infraction over a five-year period. License holders are only allowed to apply for a single expungement.

Some of Coleman’s other proposals focused on deregulation.

One would allow schools to seek waivers from state mandates if they could argue it didn’t conflict with federal law and didn’t affect essential matters such as academic standards or safety.

Another would create a “Regulator Sandbox” program where businesses could seek exemptions from state regulations. Also, a bill he introduced would rename part of Route 143 "Heroes' Highway" in Lynn Township after two New Tripoli firefighters who died in the line of duty in 2022.

Sen. Nick Miller, D-Lehigh

The freshman senator pushed for the state to create a new judicial position to for Lehigh County Court. While his specific bill didn't pass, Act 58 of 2023 granted 10 counties, including Lehigh, a new county judge.

Miller's five other bills haven't advanced out of committee. One bill would spell out that it’s a crime for people illegally driving motorbikes and ATVs on local roads to flee from police. The bill was sparked by a 2022 incident when dozens of joyriders endangered lives on a miles-long jaunt on Tilghman Street.

Another bill would have boosted Level Up money — additional funding for the state's poorer school districts — to $400 million instead of a planned $100 million. Ultimately, no Level Up money was awarded. The Allentown School District and Bethlehem Area School District had relied on the money in recent years. A state court has mandated that Pennsylvania better and more equitably fund its K-12 education, and Shapiro said he will look to address that in his 2025-26 budget.

Rep. Joe Emrick, R-Northampton

Emrick, a 13-year veteran of Harrisburg, introduced three bills this year. To date, none has passed through committee.

His first would dedicate the state’s revenue from casino table games toward property tax relief. Another would let the governor veto decisions by the state’s designees to the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission; New Jersey has a similar law in place for its commissioners. The third would make it a summary offense to steal wildlife cameras from state game lands.

Rep. Ann Flood, R-Northampton

None of Flood’s eight bills has made it through committee, but her latest proposal has quickly attracted bipartisan support.

HB 1906, introduced this month, attempts to empower victims of sexual abuse and sexual harassment by prohibiting enforcement of pre-employment non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements. The goal, according to a memo penned by Flood, is to make it easier for victims to come forward and hold perpetrators accountable.

Rep. Robert Freeman, D-Northampton

In January, Freeman said he didn't intend take it easy during his 40th anniversary as a state lawmaker. He wound up introducing 13 bills.

One that passed the House would allow any municipal government to form land banks, government entities designed to fight blight by converting abandoned or foreclosed properties into more productive uses.

The current law is only open to municipalities with at least 10,000 residents.

Another bill that saw significant bipartisan support in the House would establish a tutoring program where high school seniors and juniors could receive academic credits for mentoring students in sixth grade or lower.

Rep. Milou Mackenzie, R-Northampton

Milou Mackenzie has introduced four bills so far this session, but none made it out of committee. The proposals included a litterbug billthat would require schools to teach young students about protecting the environment and one clarifying that it’s child abuse to allow a minor to be present at a meth lab.

Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, R-Lehigh

None of Ryan Mackenzie's 26 bills were signed into law this past year, but something similar to the child tax credit he supported was included in an omnibus bill this month.

Mackenzie called for Pennsylvania to gradually match the federal $3,000 credit over a few years. Instead, the state will match the full amount next year.

Most of Mackenzie’s bills dealt with tax cuts or tax holidays. He called for exempting pet food, cribs, cell phones and toys from sales tax, lowering the personal income tax and reducing the inheritance tax when the heir is a child or grandchild.

Rep. Zach Mako, R-Northampton

Mako, a helicopter pilot with the Pennsylvania National Guard, introduced 10 bills in 2023. Two of them made it through the House unanimously, including legislation that would lower the standards to become a barber teacher. The other requires the Department of Environmental Protection to notify a municipality when the federal Environmental Protection Agency notifies the DEP of violations of the Toxic Substances Control Act within that municipality.

Another bill would amend the Price Gouging Act, which bars selling goods at “unconsciously excessing” markups during a declared emergency.

In a memo, Mako said the Price Gouging Act was intended for natural disasters but is triggered by events such as the opioid epidemic. His bill would cap enforcement to 60 days, and allow the governor to decide if the disaster should trigger the act. It would also specify that businesses can't be prosecuted for markups of less than 10%.

Rep. Jeanne McNeill, D-Lehigh

McNeill was the primary sponsor to 20 bills this year that covered a broad focus. Several of her bills touched on animal cruelty, including the proposed Victoria's Law, which would make it illegal to sell dogs at pet stores that double as kennels.

She also introduced a number of bills that focused on health care. One would cap the cost of a month's worth of insulin at $35. Another seeks to protect patients at dialysis centers by limiting a caregiver's caseload to four patients at a time. Yet another would require health insurance companies to provide coverage for pancreatic cancer screenings.

Four of her bills have cleared the House but none have become law, including one that would require child care facilities with fossil fuel heating to have carbon monoxide alarms.

Rep. Steve Samuelson, D-Northampton

Samuelson batted 1.000 on his sponsored legislation this year.

The only bill he introduced passed the General Assembly with strong bipartisan support and was signed into law in August. Act 7 of 2023 raised the rebate low-income seniors receive on their property taxes or property rents for the first time in 16 years.

Moving forward, the eligibility for the rebates will be tied to the Consumer Price Index. That means low-income seniors won’t be reliant on lawmakers to revisit the law every few years.

Before the change, cost-of-living increases to Social Security meant people living paycheck-to-paycheck could be pushed out of the program.

Rep. Peter Schweyer, D-Lehigh

Schweyer introduced two bills so far this session.

One would have allowed school districts to apply for up to $5 million in grants to address upgrades such as mold rehabilitation, leaky roofs and installing air conditioners.

Instead, the General Assembly dedicated $150 million to improving school infrastructure as part of an omnibus bill passed last week.

The other is a pet project of Schweyer's that would allow people to create community solar organizations. The groups would function similar to co-ops, where members who may not have the land or property for solar panels could still contribute financially toward solar energy equipment and use the electricity they generate.

Rep. Michael Schlossberg, D-Lehigh

Schlossberg has made mental health treatment one of his signature causes in Harrisburg, and he made some inroads with it this year.

A bipartisan proposal he introduced — as co-primary sponsor with McNeill — would dedicate $100 million of American Rescue Plan funding to shoring up mental health care in prison, recruiting more mental health professionals and improving the pay for existing ones.

It passed the House but hasn’t budged in the Senate yet.

Of his five other bills, only one other reached the Senate. It would provide aspiring teachers with financial assistance toward their education and certification if they go on to teach at financially distressed districts facing teacher shortages.

Rep. Joshua Siegel, D-Lehigh

Siegel, a former Allentown councilman, introduced six bills in 2023, a few of which focused on community development grants.

One would dedicate $5 million to improve pedestrian safety. Another would set aside $50 million for an Innovation Hub Network, which would redevelop vacant buildings into research, academic and tech space.

His only bill to pass the House was responsible contractor legislation. It would require the state to award public works projects to businesses that paid prevailing wage and operated a certified apprenticeship program. Companies that default on a contract would be ineligible for work for three years.

The proposal has not advanced in the Senate.