Sunday, October 31, 2010

A new era for Baker

State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, has kept busy during her first term of office serving the 20th District. She travels 32,000 miles a year, has attended more than 2,000 community events and has helped to pass crucial legislation for veterans within Pennsylvania’s fifth-largest senatorial district.

As the unopposed senator prepares for her second term of office, she will now have another notch in her political belt.

Baker, 49, will be the senior senator from the area, as state Sens. Bob Mellow, D-Peckville, and Ray Musto, D-Pittston Township, are retiring.

“The fact that the two senators who will be retiring have a combined total of probably 75 years of experience, it gives us an opportunity to learn from their service and look to the future as well, with new ideas and new people coming to serve,” she said.

Baker’s government career didn’t just start when she was elected to office in 2006.

She has been working for state government since she was a senior at Shippensburg University, interning for former state Sen. Robert Jubelirer, R-Altoona, which turned into her first job out of college as a researcher in his office.

Baker went on to work for her predecessor, state Sen. Charles Lemmond, R-Dallas, as his chief of staff for 10 years and also served under former GOP governors Tom Ridge and Mark Schweiker.

“While I’m relatively new and just finishing my first term, I actually started as a college intern in the (state) Senate in 1983,” she said.

“I think that gives me an advantage in understanding the history of the institution and also having the perspective of ways I think we can change the institution.”

And Baker has pushed for change. She said one of the first bills she sponsored in the state Senate was one the Legislature had been trying to pass for years. The bill, signed into law in December 2007, helped to improve and better coordinate veterans’ programs and outreach assistance throughout the state.

She has also been focused on the juvenile justice system after the “kids-for-cash” scandal, in which former judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan were accused of accepting money illegally in exchange for rulings that benefited two for-profit juvenile detention centers.

“All of us believe that in the court system, fundamental fairness is the cornerstone, and (I) felt very troubled by the fact that that was not the case,” she said.

Baker proposed a bill after details of the case noted that more than half of the children who appeared in front of Ciavarella were not represented by an attorney. The bill passed 48-1 in the Senate, and she’s hopeful the bill will become law before the end of the year.
She also is working to include restitutions within the state budget for victims of the scandal.

“It’s important that the original victims’ concerns and rights are taken care of in this process,” she said.

Looking forward, Baker said natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale is the most significant issue within her district, and she is determined to ensure safety for the 119 townships and boroughs she serves.

“I have indicated that I will support a severance tax if it incorporates key principles, and unfortunately the bill that passed the House, the one that the governor has been pushing, is not good for our area,” she said.

Baker said a severance tax, which has not been approved by the state Senate, should benefit the municipalities and counties directly affected by drilling before revenue can be placed into the state general fund.

“I think we all recognize the potential economic impact of this industry and the potential for job growth, but I use the caveat that it has to be done in a responsible manner,” she said.

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