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House Speaker Biographies


Dennis M. O’Brien

Born: June 22, 1952, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA.  Member of the House: 179th Legislative District, representing part of Philadelphia County, 1977-1980 and 1983-December 31, 2011.  Affiliation: Republican.

Dennis O’Brien graduated from Archbishop Ryan High School in 1970 and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in labor relations in 1983 from La Salle University.  O’Brien married the former Bernadette Benson, with whom he has 3 sons: Dennis, Jr., Brendan and Joseph.

O’Brien first won his state House seat in 1977 but left the House after serving 2 terms to run for a seat in the United States Congress.  He was re-elected to the House in 1983 and represented Philadelphia County until he resigned on December 31, 2011, after being elected to Philadelphia City Council.

Throughout his career, O’Brien was the prime sponsor of 19 bills that were signed into law.  O’Brien authored several bills that reformed judicial and criminal procedure.  In 1995 O’Brien authored a bill to establish a State DNA Data Base, which became Act 14 of 1995.  O’Brien proposed this bill during Special Session No. 1 in 1995-1996.

O’Brien held the following Committee chairmanships: Military and Veterans Affairs, 1993-1994; Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness, 1995-1996; Health and Human Services, 1997-2001; Consumer Affairs, 2002; and Judiciary, 2003-2006.  O’Brien was elected the 137th Speaker of the Pennsylvania House on January 2, 2007.  After his tenure as Speaker, he assumed the chairmanship of the Children and Youth Committee, 2009-2011. 

O’Brien was elected Speaker despite being a member from the minority party.  One of his first acts as Speaker was to create the Speaker’s Commission on Legislative Reform, or House Resolution 108 of 2007.  It was a bipartisan commission tasked with reviewing and making recommendations about the rules and operations of the House of Representatives.  While Speaker, O’Brien presided over the passage of updates to the Right-to-Know Law, which became Act 3 of 2008, which allowed the general public greater access to public records.   O’Brien also presided over the passage of the Clean Indoor Air Act, or Act 27 of 2008, which regulated smoking in the Commonwealth.  In response to the passage of Act 71 of 2004 and the creation of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, the House added the Gaming Oversight Committee as a standing committee for the 2007-2008 session.  O’Brien presided over a Special Session No. 1 regarding energy policy in Pennsylvania. 

In the community, O’Brien is on the Archbishop Ryan High School Alumni Governing Board, the Archbishop Ryan High School President’s Advisory Board, and on the Advisory Board of the University of Pennsylvania’s Field Center for Children’s Policy.  O’Brien is an advocate for autism spectrum disorder, and he also sits on the board of directors for the American Liver Foundation and the Maritime Charter School.

Historical Member Biography

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