New legislative session starts, lawmakers take oath

The swearing in ceremonies are underway in the Capitol which is bustling, packed with new and returning lawmakers and their families for the start of the new legislative session.

In all, 29 new House members (21 Republicans and 8 Democrats) take office, along with three new members of the Senate (all Democrats).

The Oath of Office will be administered by state Superior Court President Judge Correale. F. Stevens.

Elsewhere in the Capitol earlier, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter was spotted leaving a meeting this morning with incoming Lt-Gov.-elect Jim Cawley, who gets sworn in with Gov.-elect Corbett on Jan. 18.  (Maybe the mayor is seeking assurances from the ex-Bucks County commissioner that Philadelphia won't be forgotten with the western Pennsylvania-oriented administration of Pittsburgh native Corbett.)

Among those taking the oath today is House Rep. Mike McGeehan (D., Phila.) - entering his 11th term in office - who says he has decided against a run for the 6th District City Council seat and instead will assume the post of ranking Democrat on House Transportation Committee. His release also notes no one has represented the 173rd district for as long as he has.

Also being sworn in as a new House member today is activist and non-profit group founder Margo Davidson, the first African American to represent Delaware County. She is also the first Democrat to hold the seat long occupied by Republican Mario Civera, who retired last year.

Rep. Sam Smith (R., Jefferson) - who has served as House Republican leader - was unanimously elected by his colleagues as Speaker of the House in the newly-GOP controlled chamber.

SHARK factor - A group seeking to ban pigeon shoots, backed by iconic game show host Bob Barker, set up a video screen showing a film of wounded birds trying in vain to fly in the crowded Capitol Rotunda to urge lawmakers to support their cause. (Animal welfare activists have fought for 20 years to end pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania - the last state where they are sanctioned - which they contend are clear violation of animal cruelty laws without success).

"A lot of people are unaware this is still going on," said SHARK's Steve Hindi, who adds he plans to call on lawmakers and publicize those who support the effort and those who don't.

Outside anti-Marcellus Shale gas drilling activists have set up protest signs and are handing out leaflets calling for a drilling moratorium. A giant inflatable Liberty Bell carries a sign against so-called "forced pooling" that activists say would infringe on property rights by requiring landowners to go along with shale drilling if their property is located in a drilling area. A sign on activist Gene Stilp's famous "pink pig" school bus parked outside the Capitol rails against "Tom Corporate" for the incoming governor resistance to a shale tax while his campaign was supported to the tune of $1 million by gas companies.

Activists say the water supply is being threatened by the hydrofracking activity used to reach the gas deep below the surface.

"They use 8 million gallons of water to frack," said Susan Norris, of Gas Truth-PA. "Why aren't they planning now? Nothing is going to happen until we are pushed to the edge of a cliff."

After the ceremonies, lawmakers throw parties throughout the Capitol. In the House, private funds totaling about $23,000 are being raised to cover the cost of today's events. In the Senate some events are being paid for with public dollars but not all. Senate Majority leader Dominic Pileggi's spokesman alerts Commonwealth Confidential that the Delaware County Republican's reception costs will be paid for with campaign funds.


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