Pa.’s top GOP senator now favors swearing in Democrat Williams

Mark Scolforo
Associated Press
FILE - This Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, file photo shows the Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

HARRISBURG – The top-ranking Republican in the Pennsylvania Senate said Friday he favors seating the Democrat who won last month now that he has looked into questions about her residency.

President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati issued a statement that said he will recommend that Lindsey Williams be sworn in along with other new members on Tuesday.

Williams’ fate has been up in the air as Republicans have sought details about whether she meets a state constitutional requirement that senators be “citizens and inhabitants” of Pennsylvania for four years before they are elected.

Williams has said she stayed with Pittsburgh-area friends in 2014 and made plans to move to that city in time to meet the constitutional requirement.

“I respect that they took the time to deliberate and go to through the facts, and I’m happy and really looking forward to getting sworn in on the First,” Williams said. She has been working as senator-elect while the dispute played out, including constituent work and a community event.

Her lawyer, Chuck Pascal, said Scarnati’s decision likely ends the controversy about Williams’ status as a senator.

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“I think it’s good that the Republicans decided … not to create a constitutional crisis in the state right now,” Pascal said, shortly after reading a letter from Scarnati. “So I think that we proved that she was here on Nov. 6 (2014), and I think that should be sufficient and I’m glad that it was.”

The 35-year-old Williams defeated Republican candidate Jeremy Shaffer by fewer than 800 votes. Shaffer beat incumbent Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-Allegheny, in the primary.

Counting Williams, Republicans will hold a 29-21 majority in the chamber after losing five seats in this year’s balloting. If Williams is not seated, a special election will be scheduled.

Scarnati said the state constitution’s residency provision has not been fully vetted by courts and argued a precise definition of residency in the constitutional context does not exist.

He also cautioned that the dispute could resurface Tuesday if documents are obtained that contradict those Williams has produced.

Williams has said she accepted a job offer with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers in the days before the 2014 deadline, and began moving her belongings from Maryland.

She is a native of northeastern Pennsylvania and has lived in the state most of her life.