As a New Year was heralded in, some new Delaware County elected officials were sworn into office — including one state senator and three state representatives.
On Tuesday, state Sen. Tim Kearney, D-26 of Swarthmore, joined state Reps. Dave Delloso, D-162 of Ridley Park, Mike Zabel, D-163 of Upper Darby and Jennifer O'Mara D-165, of Springfield as they boarded three buses of 150 family members and supporters headed to Harrisburg to be sworn in during a ceremony at the state Capitol.
"It was a bit surreal at times," he said of the swearing in with his wife, children and parents present. "Two years ago, I was a happily practicing architect. I loved being the mayor of Swarthmore but it's a far cry from being in the state Senate."
His first action came when he seconded the nomination for Chief Clerk Donetta D'Innocenzo.
"It was good to get something like that under your belt," Kearney said of making his first motion as a senator.
Now, other matters will follow. Kearney said he's signed on as a co-sponsor of SB 51 that would protect the Affordable Care Act. "In light of the ruling in Texas, we wanted to make sure that people weren't thrown out in the cold," he said.
Then, he said working on funding for education and tackling environmental issues is next.
"From my background as an architect, I'm used to dealing with complex issues with a wide variety of issues," Kearney said, adding that Pennsylvania needs to work on many issues. "Literally, the deck is stacked and we need to do a lot to deal with that."
In addition, new representatives took their oaths Tuesday.
"The residents of the 162nd have sent me to Harrisburg to fight for quality schools, a fair economy and good jobs," Delloso said. "We must make sure that education funding is dispersed in a more equitable way, end tax loopholes, freeze property taxes on seniors and bring good-paying jobs to Pennsylvania."
He plans to work on a fair funding formula, closing the Delaware loophole, doubling the corporate income tax on corporations with more than $10 million in annual Pennsylvania revenue and enacting an extraction tax.
Zabel also anticipated the work ahead in his new position.
"As a lifelong resident of Delaware County, I am looking forward to fighting for what's best for the residents of the 163rd: strong schools, good jobs and a fair economy," he said.
He also identified fair education funding, addressing the opioid crisis, enacting tax reform, creating economic policies that favor working families and meaningfully addressing gun violence.
O'Mara also was sworn into office.
"Today we begin the work of ensuring that every Pennsylvanian has a government that serves their needs – not special interests," she said. "I am grateful to the people of the 165th District for entrusting me with this office and I am committed to creating practical solutions for our greatest challenges in state government."
She spoke of how her background has shaped her motivation to serve.
"Delaware County is where I developed my dedication to public service when my family was able to survive after losing my father to suicide," O'Mara said. "Thanks to excellent public services, my father's union pension, strong public schools and my mother's union job, we made it through. I believe that everyone should have those same opportunities and will fight to protect and expand them in the new legislative session."
She also listed improving public education, protecting communities from gun violence, ensuring access to affordable health care and expanding job opportunities at all skill levels as her priorities.
In addition to the oaths of office in Harrisburg Tuesday, House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-28 of Allegheny County, announced chairman appointments of majority committees, including state Rep. Stephen Barrar, R-160, of Upper Chichester. Barrar was named chairman of the Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.
The committees study bills appropriate to them and determine which ones are sent to the House for consideration. They also conduct legislative hearings on a variety of topics.
"The men and women who chair the House committees are getting the work done to prepare legislation for the full House to consider," Turzai said. "Through public hearings and voting meetings, committee chairs lead the way by vetting proposed solutions to the serious issues and challenges facing Pennsylvania."
Barrar was grateful for the appointment.
"I'm really thrilled that the speaker is going to let me be the chairman of the committee I have chaired for eight years," he said.
The representative said he thought about possibly changing but then decided against it.
"There's so much unfinished business and so many things that need to be done," he said, such as dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for first responders and the financial viability of some emergency services.
He explained that last year alone, 114 first responders commit suicide.
In addition, Barrar said the SR6 Fire and EMS Commission had developed 35 recommendations to assist volunteer fire companies and ambulance companies around the state to make them financially fit.
"We're losing a lot of them," he said. "A lot of our fire and ambulance companies are shutting down because they don't have the funds," he explained.