Pa. House Republicans elect caucus chair, leadership team

Pennsylvania House Republicans on Tuesday elected their caucus chairman along with a slate of leaders for the 2023-24 legislative session. 

Rep. George Dunbar (R-Westmoreland) was selected by his peers for a second time to serve as chairman of the state House Republican Caucus. Dunbar was first elected in 2021. 

“Overall, the past legislative session has presented challenges and the House Republican Caucus charted several successes, including improving the tax code for Pennsylvania’s small and large employers,” Dunbar said in a statement. “But we have our work cut out for us as we move into 2023 and I am as excited as ever to work with my peers on advancing policies to strengthen our economy and make our communities safer.” 

Dunbar as caucus chair will conduct all Republican Caucus meetings, as well as inform members of the session and voting schedules, notify members when bills they are sponsoring are scheduled for a House vote and if amendments are posted to their legislation. He will also participate in leadership discussions and help guide the House agenda. 

Previous sessions saw Dunbar serve as majority vice chairman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committees. He chairs the bicameral, bipartisan Legislative Audit Advisory Committee. 

Also, the House Republican Caucus elected the following members to the House Republican Leadership team for the 2023-24 legislative session: 

  • Leader: Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) 
  • Whip: Rep. Tim O’Neal (R-Washington) 
  • Appropriations Chair: Rep. Seth Grove (R-York) 
  • Caucus Chairman: Rep. George Dunbar (R-Westmoreland) 
  • Caucus Secretary: Rep. Martina White (R-Philadelphia) 
  • Caucus Administrator: Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland) 
  • House Republican Policy Committee Chair: Rep. Josh Kail (R-Beaver/Washington) 

 Cutler called the caucus an optimistic group of forward thinkers from diverse backgrounds and regions. 

“Our shared experiences and commitment to find solutions is unwavering and this group is poised and ready to find a pathway to opportunity for all Pennsylvanians,” he said. “This leadership team, just like our caucus, is ready to take on what lies ahead. And I look forward to being with this caucus every step of the way.”

Wolf administration faces potential investigation of COVID-19 guidance to senior homes

Pennsylvania’s House Republicans plan to refer an investigation into the Wolf administration’s handling of senior and long-term care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic to the House Government Oversight Committee later this month.

House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre and Mifflin counties, announced he would be leading the referral in a statement on Monday. In the announcement, he said the Wolf administration has lacked transparency in its guidance for nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in the past year.

“We believe Pennsylvanians deserve better from their government when they are seeking answers as to why something so tragic has occurred and they are not getting answers,” Benninghoff said. “Unfortunately, as of today, including our recent budget hearings where members directly asked the administration about this issue, Pennsylvanians and their families are left only with excuses and deflection from an administration that has been anything but transparent.”

In March 2020, the state Department of Health issued several pieces of guidance to provide direction to long-term care facilities to allow for specific infection control measures to protect residents and staff.

Some of this guidance included restrictions on visitors and volunteers and a stipulation that nursing care facilities must continue to accept new admissions and receive readmissions for current residents, including stable patients with COVID-19.

The Wolf administration’s alleged lack of transparency in the reasoning behind its directives for Pennsylvania’s long-term care homes during the pandemic has been subject to criticism from the right.

As of Feb. 26, 23,937 Pennsylvanians have died from COVID-19 and 12,470 of those deaths have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities, according to the state Department of Health.

“We want answers for the people who lost loved ones in our nursing homes under Secretary Levine’s order and Gov. Wolf’s leadership,” said Rep. Clint Owlett, R-Tioga, Bradford and Potter counties. “The problem has been, no one will step up and do the investigation here in Pennsylvania. So, if no one else will do it for these families, we will.”

Lyndsay Kensinger, Wolf’s press secretary, called the GOP accusations “baseless,” and said they “portray a significant lack of understanding of the role of the Department of Health and guidance provided to nursing facilities.”

Kensinger said that the state’s guidance mirrored the federal government’s recommendations and required facilities to follow specific infection control measures, but it rested on each individual facility to follow through with the recommendations.

“It is incumbent upon the nursing homes to follow infection control and other guidance designed to keep patients safe during both regular periods and the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “Failure to institute protections can result in sanctions, license suspensions or revocations.”

A representative of the for-profit long-term care industry seemed to welcome the investigation, which facilities could emphasize a need for the state to bring providers to the table in a greater way when it makes such decisions, said Zach Shamberg, president and CEO at the Pennsylvania Health Care Association (PHCA).

PHCA is a statewide advocacy organization for for-profit long-term care providers. According to Shamberg, he and other members of the industry have testified to the state’s decision makers regarding the needs of the industry but were not brought to the table to help with those decisions like states like West Virginia have done.

“I have to believe that as these detectives were being given in March and April 2020, if providers were at the table you would have seen different guidance that would have done more to protect residents and guide staff,” he said.