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Senate GOP Puts Lindsey Williams' Residency Debate Into Motion

The top Republican in the Pennsylvania Senate is requesting Lindsey Williams provide records proving her eligibility to serve in Harrisburg next year.

Williams won a narrow victory in the North Hills-centered 38th state Senate District in November. In a letter dated Thursday, Senate president pro tempore Joe Scarnati said he did “not dispute that you received approximately 500 more votes than the Republican candidate. Hence, you are rightly holding yourself out as the Senator-elect for the 38th District.” (Williams appeared at a Pittsburgh hearing on climate change in just that capacity on Wednesday.)

Still, Scarnati wrote, “I … question your qualification to be sworn in to serve in accordance with the Constitutional requirements.”

Under the state Constitution, state senators must have lived in the state for at least four years prior to the date of their election. In the fall of 2014, Williams was in the process of moving from Maryland to take a job with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers. She voted in Maryland in that year’s November election, and still had her vehicle registered in the state that month. Williams has pointed to a job agreement with the union she signed in October, along with social media posts that show her in the Pittsburgh area at the time.

Republicans raised the issue during her campaign against Republican Jeremy Shaffer, and in a lawsuit that was promptly dismissed by a Commonwealth Court judge. That ruling relied on an argument that the case, filed by a GOP lawyer on behalf of two district voters, had been filed months after the deadline for such challenges had passed. It did not rule on the underlying facts, however, and Republicans have threatened to make an issue of it both before and after Williams’ victory.

Sacrnati’s letter gives Williams seven days to provide a copy of her driver’s licenses dating back to 2014, “any residential lease or residential purchase information”,  a “full and complete copy of your 2014 employment” with the PFT, as well as local, state, and federal tax information.

The letter gives Williams the option to have a hearing on the matter, to be presided over by Scarnati, along with three Democrats and three Republicans.

Chuck Pascal, an attorney for Williams, said the campaign had not made a “final decision” about whether to ask for a hearing. For now, he said, “We’re focusing on responding [to the requests for documentation] and providing them with additional information as well.”

Once elected, legislators are eligible to receive a salary beginning Dec. 1, and to hire staff and take other steps to ready their office.

While the residency question remained “in flux,” Scarnati wrote, he would “not object to you receiving your pay for the month of December or thereafter, hiring staff or other administrative duties.” But he warned that, “If it is determined that you do not meet the constitutional requirements, the salary will need to be repaid.”

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.