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House Select committee votes to start impeachment process

The Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee on Courts voted unanimously earlier to consider House Resolution 99 that was passed by the House of Representatives in November.

It authorizes the subcommittee and House Judiciary Committee to take testimony, subpoena witnesses and receive documents regarding the possible impeachment of Schuylkill County Commissioner George Halcovage Jr.

Before voting, Rep. Joseph Hohenstein (D), Philadelphia County, spoke.

“Impeachment is one of the most serious processes that we as a body have and we here in this committee are taking this specific process very seriously, handling it with the professionalism that it deserves and also looking to hold to account our fellow elected representatives and doing so actually holding ourselves to account for how we conduct the public’s business,” Hohenstein said.

Rep. Paul Schemel, chair of the subcommittee on courts, said, “I believe it is incumbent upon us to use the subpoena power to ensure the relevant witnesses are heard and documents are produced and reviewed in an orderly and expeditious manner.”

The meeting was less than five minutes. This is only the second time the committee has met in four or five years, Schemel said previously. The last time being for the possible impeachment of a Lancaster County Sheriff who resigned.

If the committee finds Halcovage engaged in “impeachable” conduct, it can approve articles of impeachment. If approved by the House, the Senate would conduct a trial.

Upon voting of two-thirds of the senators for impeachment, Halcovage would be removed from office.

Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-Berks/Carbon/ Schuylkill, one of three representatives who introduced HR 99, commented on the vote today.

“It is important for the committee and the investigation to follow the facts wherever they lead. The committee will work to uncover the facts of the case to determine if and how to proceed with the impeachment process to remove Commissioner Halcovage from office. The investigation will be conducted in a way designed to collect facts and information while protecting the constitutional rights of everyone involved in the process. We must allow the process to unfold in order to ensure a full and thorough consideration of the facts,” Knowles said.

Halcovage has been sued in federal court by four women, all Schuylkill County employees, who have accused him of sexual harassment. He denies the accusations. An amended complaint was also recently filed that lists employment actions that took place after the first lawsuit.

Numerous county and state leaders have called for Halcovage to resign. The county’s solicitor’s office and Human Resources office investigated and determined that Halcovage violated three county policies, sexual harassment, conduct and discipline and physical and verbal abuse. The investigation determined if he was an employee he would be suspended and recommended he be terminated.

Howard Merrick, chairman of the Schuylkill County Republican Committee, once again called for Halcovage to resign.

“It’s time for the benefit of the county that he should resign,” Merrick said.

He said the effort is progressing but it is also “taking up the resources of the legislature and I know they will do a thorough accounting, and I’m sure the county will turn over all the information they have and that perhaps we can move this process along.”