Rigby sworn in

State Rep. Jim Rigby, R-Ferndale, (left) on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, joined his colleagues in taking the oath of office for the 2019-20 legislative session. He was joined by (from left) his wife Kathleen, daughter Kirsten and son Beau. Not pictured is daughter Kayla. Submitted photo

For Jim Rigby, the new year brought a new role Tuesday.

Nearly two months since his election-night victory, Rigby officially became a member of Pennsylvania’s General Assembly on Tuesday, joining 200 colleagues who were sworn into office inside the state’s landmark Capitol Complex.

The new 71st District lawmaker described the moment as “humbling”  – but said he’s eager to get to work.

“The issues that continue to plague our area – the opioid epidemic, blighted homes and the need for jobs – drove me to pursue public office,” Rigby said.

“Residents have been waiting far too long for some relief ... (and) the concerns they have shared will direct me each day in Harrisburg and back home.”

Rigby replaces five-term Democratic lawmaker Bryan Barbin, who he defeated in November in a race for the 71st District seat.

State Rep. Mike Turzai, a Republican from Allegheny County, was reappointed to serve as majority chairman Tuesday, winning support from lawmakers from both parties.

In a cordial ceremony, he joined Democrats in calling for a civil 2019, with both parties working together toward “common goals” for Pennsylvania’s greatest opportunities and problems alike.

“We come here now with a clean slate,” Turzai said. “Family-sustaining jobs, educational opportunities, bettering our communities and working together the scourge of opioids ... are some of the common goals we will tackle together over the next two years.”

Familiar faces

Pennsylvania’s 203rd General Assembly will also include two other state representatives whose districts include parts of Cambria County – Rep. Frank Burns, D-East Taylor, and Rep. Tommy Sankey, R-Clearfield.

For Burns, this will be his sixth term in office. For Sankey, it marks the beginning of his fourth term.

State Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar, R-Berlin, also returns this year to represent portions of Somerset and Bedford counties, alongside state Rep. Mike Reese, R-Westmoreland, and Matthew Dowling, R-Fayette.

New makeup

Republicans went into the November election with a 121-seat majority in the Pennsylvania House and a 33-seat super-majority in the Senate.

Democrats made gains this year across the state, but not enough to gain control of either chamber.

On Tuesday, 110 Republicans and 91 Democrats were sworn into the House of Representatives. Two more Democrats are expected to be appointed to fill recent vacancies in the coming year, which will bring the party’s total to 93.

In the Senate, 29 Republicans hold the majority over 21 Democratic counterparts.

State Sen. Wayne Langerholc Jr., R-Richland Township, is partway through a first term that runs through 2020. His Somerset County colleague, Sen. Pat Stefano, R-Fayette, was elected to a second term in November.

Youngest member

State Rep. John Hershey, at just 25 years old, became the youngest current member of the state House on Tuesday when he was sworn in to represent his Juniata and Mifflin county district.

His grandfather, Arthur “Art” Hershey, who previously represented Chester County in the House, joined him at the ceremony.

The elder Hershey, now 81, spent more than 20 years as a lawmaker before stepping down in 2008.

Women’s ‘wave’

State Rep. Tina Pickett, a Republican serving parts of Bradford, Sullivan and Susquehanna counties, is the oldest House member at 75 years old.

Now in her 17th year, she is also one of a record number of women who were sworn into office this year.

A total of 50 women are now serving in the state House and 12 in the Senate.

The state Senate had just seven last year.

Despite this year’s increases, the percentage of women remains a bit below 25 percent of Pennsylvania’s total House and Senate membership.

Rule changes

In a bipartisan step, state lawmakers also updated their House rules of governing. It modifies the last session’s guidelines by addressing issues related to allegations of sexual harassment or misbehavior in office.

As adopted, the House Ethics Committee will investigate charges of sexual harassment against any member or officer of the House. A resolution of expulsion will be considered when a member is convicted of a crime relating to his or her office, rather than when they are sentenced – a proceeding often held months after a conviction.

Another reform includes the creation of the House Government Oversight Committee, whose nine members will be empowered to investigate matters referred by the speaker, majority leader or minority leader, Turzai said.

As structured, the majority party will have the power to appoint five members and the minority party will appoint the other four.

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.