News & Politics

Legislative agency says Democrats lack a majority in the Pennsylvania House

House GOP leader Bryan Cutler's office sought an opinion from the Legislative Reference Bureau.

The main rotunda of the Pennsylvania Capitol.

The main rotunda of the Pennsylvania Capitol. Bruce Yuanyue Bi / Getty Images

A nonpartisan state legislative agency says that Democrats lack a majority in the state House – an advisory issued one day after state House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton was sworn in as the chamber’s presiding officer and scheduled three special elections for next year. 

In response to an inquiry from House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler’s office, who referred to McClinton’s actions as a “power grab,” the Legislative Reference Bureau ruled that Democrats currently lack the 102 seats needed to hold a majority, falling short by one seat. That leaves the House “without a majority caucus,” according to the bureau. 

“The limited case law on this topic suggests that the House Democratic Caucus may only count its 101 living members toward a majority, short of the 102 members necessary for a majority,” wrote Peter Klein, associate counsel for the bureau. 

In the analysis, Klein added: “Neither caucus can claim the 102 members necessary for a majority and the House is left without a majority caucus until a special election fills the vacant seat.”

A spokesperson for the House Democratic Caucus did not immediately comment on the ruling and its potential impact. 

The Legislative Reference Bureau, which was formed in 1909, assists state lawmakers with crafting bills, resolutions, citations and other documents. The opinion circulated Thursday noted that the bureau only makes advisory opinions and “does not issue rulings or binding legal opinions.” 

Democrats won 102 House seats in this year’s midterm elections, flipping the chamber and giving Democrats a slim one-vote majority. However, a deceased lawmaker was one of the 102 Democrats elected, temporarily splitting control of the House at 101-101. 

Then, two Democrats who ran for higher office resigned from the House on Wednesday, complicating the struggle for power in the chamber. 

The letter from the Legislative Reference Bureau can be viewed below.

Dec. 7 Legislative Reference Bureau Letter by City & State PA on Scribd