State Legislature’s plans for Jan. 1: Happy New Year and this I swear

December 17, 2012
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While they were running for office, neither state Sen.-elect Matt Smith nor state Rep.-elect Pam Snyder realized they’d be spending New Year’s Day in the state Capitol taking their oaths of office.

The Pennsylvania Constitution requires lawmakers to assume their offices on the first Tuesday of the month, even when that Tuesday is New Year’s Day, a national holiday.

For the ceremonies to coincide with Jan. 1, two things have to happen: The year must end with an odd number, and the year, of course, must begin on a Tuesday.

That doesn’t occur as often as one might think. The last time the calendar shook out that way was 22 years ago, although the combination will next take place in 2019, but not again until 2041.

State Sen. Tim Solobay pointed out the anomaly occurring this holiday season in a phone conversation last week.

“We celebrate New Year’s in Harrisburg on the banks of the lazy Susquehanna,” Solobay said.

Snyder and Smith will be new area legislators. Re-elected in November were state Reps. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth, John Maher, R-Upper St. Clair, Jesse White, D-Cecil, and Brandon Neuman, D-North Strabane, and, along with Smith and Solobay, state Sen. Richard Kasunic, D-Dunbar.

Snyder usually spends Jan. 1 taking down her Christmas tree, preparing a pork-and-sauerkraut dinner and “watching my husband watch bowl games, but not this year,” she said.

The Waynesburg Democrat, who recently resigned her seat on the Greene County commission, will be the successor to convicted felon Bill DeWeese in the 50th Legislative District that includes all of Greene County and parts of Washington and Fayette counties.

She has invited a large family entourage to Harrisburg and, at her own expense, she will be feeding them. At first envisioning a trip home where she’d have to find an open restaurant serving up the New Year specialties, she just realized she may be calling her caterer to include the traditional good-luck menu for 2013.

“You have to have your pork and kraut, let me tell ya,” she said.

After the midday session, the House will recess until Jan. 14.

“Decorated for the holidays, (the Capitol is) really nice,” said White, who, along with Smith, was first elected to the House in 2006, and ran unopposed this past fall. He expects the Jan. 1 session to last only an hour, when the chief clerk of the chamber, essentially leaderless, gavels the House into session. Speaker of the House, expected to again be Sam Smith, R-Punxsutawney, and other leaders will be elected and make brief speeches.

Matt Smith, a Democrat from Mt. Lebanon who represented the South Hills in Allegheny County while a member of the House, will have a broader constituency in the 37th District of the state Senate, which includes Peters Township in Washington County. He succeeds Republican John Pippy of Moon Township, who resigned his seat June 30, six months before the end of his four-year term.

The Smith family plans to spend New Year’s Eve with his brother-in-law’s family in Philadelphia, then head over to Harrisburg for the Senate’s noontime event.

“The 5-year-old and 3-year-old have been in Harrisburg before,” Smith said. “The 1-year-old has not. It’ll be interesting to see how he does during the ceremony. Generally, he’s a pretty good boy, so we’ll see. The girls are really excited because they get to wear their fancy dresses.”

The New Year’s Day coincidence doesn’t affect state officials outside the Legislature.

Statewide row officers who were elected this year – Kathleen Kane, attorney general; Rob McCord, treasurer; and Eugene DePasquale, auditor general – don’t begin their four-year terms until the third Tuesday in January, which in 2013 falls Jan. 15.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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