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Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Senate committees advance Shapiro’s nominees for attorney general, state police chief

Governor Josh Shapiro’s nominees for State Police Commissioner and Attorney General passed unanimously through state Senate committees Monday, paving their way for confirmation before the full Senate.

The Senate Law & Justice Committee voted to advance the nomination of Christopher Paris to lead the Pennsylvania State Police, and the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance the nomination of Michelle Henry as the state’s Attorney General – although with some politically-charged questions for Henry from Republican members.

Both Paris and Henry have been serving in acting roles since their nomination by Shapiro last month; the attorney general is an elected office, but Henry was named by Shapiro as his replacement after he stepped down halfway through his term as attorney general to become governor.

“I look forward to collaborating with all of you to make the commonwealth safer,” Paris said Monday, telling the committee, “I give you my word that we will work our hardest for every day that I serve in the role, should I be confirmed.”

Paris joined the Pennsylvania State Police in 1999 and worked his way through positions at several barracks throughout the state, and was most recently a regional commander. He is a graduate of the University of Scranton as well as Temple University Law School.

“It’s clear that you are the right choice,” committee chair Mike Regan, R-York, told Paris. “When it became apparent that you were going to be the governor’s nominee, my phone stared going off” with laudatory messages.

Similarly, judiciary chair Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, said she had received overwhelming positive feedback on Henry, commending her work in child advocacy as “someone who has actively engaged in community efforts directing kids in safe and productive directions” – something of particular relevance to Baker and the committee’s work on juvenile justice reform.

A graduate of Allegheny College and Widener University School of Law, Henry spent over two decades with the Bucks County District Attorney’s office, eventually rising to the top role as Bucks County DA. She went on to become the state’s First Deputy Attorney General under Shapiro.

“We have rebuilt the office, and we rebuilt the office with your support,” Henry told the committee Monday. “We have become the voice for those that need a voice, the voice for victims, the voice for consumers, and that is very important.”

“If I were to get this position, my number one priority would be to be that voice, to be fearless, to be independent, and to be there for those individuals,” Henry said, highlighting recent work on combatting straw purchases of firearms.

Questions for Henry from the committee hinted at potential political battles ahead.

Sen. Cris Dush, R-Clinton, referenced what he described as refusals by state agencies to cooperate with legislative inquiries, specifically referencing Senate Republicans’ attempts to compel voter information from the Pennsylvania Department of State.

A Commonwealth Court judge earlier this year turned down a suit by Republicans on the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee to force the Department of State to hand over records, saying the Senate had subpoena authority it had not yet used, according to a recent report from Spotlight PA.

“I would agree that the Commonwealth Court found that that was correct and that was their interpretation of the law,” Henry told Dush when he inquired about her stance on subpoena authority.

But the AG’s office represents the Department of State in the matter, and “we would have to have discussions with the client” before getting into any further specifics, Henry said.

Democrats are in the process of appealing the matter, according to Sen. Art Haywood, D-Philadelphia, who encouraged Henry to “leave it up to the Supreme Court to decide, not the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

Additionally, Sen. Wayne Langerholc referenced crime in Philadelphia, posing that the legislature could authorize an “expanded task force that would give you more jurisdiction in those areas, in the cities” and asking if Henry would use such authority.

Republican lawmakers have proposed giving the state AG’s office such power in order to circumvent Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, a Democrat, whom Republicans have unsuccessfully attempted to impeach.

“I share your concern about the violence in Philadelphia as well as throughout the state,” Henry said, saying as a prosecutor she would “use very tool in the tool belt” to combat crime.

“If you’re asking me if you gave me more resources and more tools, would I use them, the answer is yes,” Henry continued.

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