- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - A state Senate committee on Tuesday took the unusual step of sending Pedro Cortes’ nomination for a second stint as Pennsylvania’s secretary of state to the Senate floor without any recommendation.

The State Government Committee voted without dissent after an hourlong hearing that largely focused on Cortes’ role in the case of former Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, who was convicted of murder and is serving a life sentence for killing three babies born alive during illegal abortions at his former clinic.

Sen. Mike Folmer, the panel’s chairman, said the committee is divided over Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s nominee and that sending the nomination to the floor would move the confirmation process along.

The goal “was simply to allow Mr. Cortes to be voted on by the full Senate and people can make their choice as they see fit,” the Lebanon County Republican said.

Cortes, who was secretary of state in Gov. Ed Rendell’s administration from 2003 to 2010, called the neutral vote “a great outcome” that will set the stage for a vote on his nomination by the full Senate.

Cortes sought to distance himself from alleged lapses by state regulatory agencies including the Board of Medicine, which falls under the State Department, that allowed horrific abuses to continue for years at Gosnell’s clinic and prompted the resignations or firings of several state lawyers and supervisors.

In recent weeks, at least 12 senators have publicly criticized Cortes for doing more to address problems in his department.

Cortes said he had no knowledge about the clinic’s operations and, that if he had, he would have reported it to the authorities for criminal prosecution.

“I was as devastated as you are,” he told the committee members. “I’m a man of faith. I’m a family man. I’m a man of values.”

He described the department as “a complex entity” that not only oversees 29 professional licensing boards, but also administers elections, campaign finance reports, lobbyist registration and corporate filings.

Folmer said the nomination would be reviewed by the rules committee before it comes up for a vote. He said that could happen as early as Wednesday.

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