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Snack attack: Debate ensues in Pa. House on naming Hershey Kiss as official state candy

Mar. 27—HARRISBURG — Nothing comes easy in the Pennsylvania Legislature, as evidenced by a "sweet" proposal in the state House to declare the Hershey Kiss as the commonwealth's official candy — an offer that left a bitter aftertaste for opponents.

The bill passed 130-71 following a 30-minute debate, at times light-hearted and at times testy. The measure now moves to the upper chamber for state senators to sample.

Rep. Thomas Mehaffie III, R-Dauphin, is the bill's prime sponsor. However, it was developed by students from Bucks County as a civics effort. They began while in the eighth grade and finally saw a vote Tuesday as juniors in high school.

The bill was opposed in the floor vote largely, though not exclusively, by Republicans. It had cleared the House Tourism and Recreational and Economic Development Committee by unanimous vote last month and moved through House Appropriations on Tuesday by a count of 36-1.

Opponents who made floor arguments against the bill claimed the Official State Candy designation was preferential to a single business, no doubt one synonymous with Pennsylvania, in an industry with many competitors big and small across the commonwealth.

The National Confectioners Association, while not comprehensive of the state's industry, shows 53 in-state member companies including Hershey along with Just Born, the maker of the popular Easter candy, Peeps. Other renowned candies based in the Keystone State that don't belong to the trade association's members include Goldenberg's Peanut Chews, the Boyer Clark Bar and Mallo Cup, and Gertrude Hawk Chocolates.

"They never thought the Hershey Kiss being the state candy would be so confrontational. Now, as young ladies, they understand that bills do not pass easy and this is not an easy place to get things done but they stuck with it," said Mehaffie of the students who he said wrote the legislation and lobbied on its behalf.

Mehaffie promoted his bill not only as a vehicle for candy but one recognizing the contributions of the Milton Hershey School, a free K-12 private school that serves kids from low-income families including those who have intellectual and physical disabilities.

The opposing lawmakers were careful not to knock the efforts by the students, calling the experience a lesson in the complexities of lawmaking even when something appears so simple on face value.

Rep. Paul Schemel, R-Franklin, said choosing a single candy puts a "thumb on the scale" for one brand at the expense of many others. Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon, hyped up Hershey and his memories of the candy as a kid but stressed the controversial relocation of some operations and jobs to Mexico in the 2000s. Diamond attempted a failed amendment on Monday to allow the designation but with a sunset clause, letting it expire after five years.

Rep. Brad Roae, R-Crawford/Erie, was ruled out of order three times on accusations that he strayed off topic and for decorum after using the word "freaking" that isn't exactly subject to censors in mass media.

"We are sitting here, we're ready to do a state budget that spends $3.5 billion more than we're going to take in and we're talking about the state candy," Roae said.

Supporters like Rep. Mary Jo Daley, D-Montgomery, touted Hershey's presence as a giant in tourism and economy. According to Daley, the company generates $200 million in tourism and economic development in Dauphin County and lures 3.2 million visitors annually to its attractions.

Hershey claims 21,000 employees worldwide and operates plants in Hershey, Hazleton and Lancaster as well as three others in the U.S. and additional operations around the globe.

"All those other candies made in Pennsylvania, they should have done a better job," said Rep. Maureen Madden, D-Monroe, a New Jersey native who said she made annual summer trips to Hershey with her family growing up. "I only know Hershey Kiss and I'm voting 'yes.'"