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Representative Joanna McClinton spoke at an event hosted by the Black Student League and Penn Democrats at Irvine Auditorium on April 4 (Photo from Tom Wolf | CC BY 2.0).

The Black Student League and Penn Democrats hosted Representative Joanna McClinton, the Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, at Irvine Auditorium on April 4.

Around 25 students gathered to discuss issues with Speaker McClinton, who represents part of Philadelphia. McClinton — the first female speaker — spoke with students on topics ranging from criminal justice reform to the education system.

When asked about rehabilitation and post-incarceration efforts within the Pennsylvania House, McClinton said that the House is committed to easing the transition out of the prison system. Over the last two years, McClinton said that the administration has worked with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to ensure that individuals, particularly women, were registered for health insurance post-sentence. 

Speaker McClinton, a Democrat, also discussed facing Republican gridlock when trying to advance bills through the state legislature to the desk of Governor Josh Shapiro, who won his election in the November 2022 midterms. She also spoke about several bills which have been tabled from discussion.

“We’re [not] just going to be sending [their] bills to Governor Shapiro’s office, [we’re] going to have to work together,” McClinton said. 

Even in the wake of a recent school shooting in Nashville, Speaker McClinton said that the House might still face difficulties reaching a 102-vote majority to move forward on gun control policy, citing a small number of Democrats in isolated Republican districts who will likely not support such legislation. 

Pivoting to education, Speaker McClinton said she has an internal deadline of June 30 for the House to present bills on the topic, adding that by this date, she is hopeful that the House will have a concrete path towards stronger funding towards the school system. 

Speaker McClinton said that the transition from a Republican-controlled House to a Democratic one has been interesting. A special election on Feb. 7 led to a one-seat Democratic majority in the Pennsylvania House for the first time in 12 years. 

“When it was a Republican-controlled House, it faced a lot of gridlock with bills that were sent over, just bottled up, and never came out, so we’re going to have to work on that,” McClinton said. “It should be interesting to see which bills will see the daylight and get to the governor’s desk. It will be rallying and organizing about the priorities that we have thus far.

Speaker McClinton said that since she assumed public office in 2015, she believes that the bipartisan camaraderie has faded, although the Democratic “takeover” of the House has brought “optimism and excitement” to the party. She said that she looks forward to presiding over debate and prioritizing that the two parties maintain decency and mutual respect despite a fading of “bipartisan friendships, relationships, and respect.”