A Pennsylvania Senate hearing gave lawmakers a chance to heap praise on the state Department of Public Welfare's brand-new chief.

The chairman of the state Senate Appropriations Committee had to ask the audience to refrain from applause -- not a common request during budget hearings.

Nevertheless, lawmakers on the panel found other ways to gush. One called acting secretary Bev Mackereth tremendous. Another said she's a breath of fresh air.

State Sen. Larry Farnese, D-Philadelphia, was more temperate.

"This breath of fresh air that folks are talking about -- I don't know yet," he said. "We'll see a year from now."

Former Department of Public Welfare Secretary Gary Alexander, who resigned last month, oversaw controversial moves including the elimination of nearly 90,000 children from the state's Medicaid rolls when the state meant to check the eligibility of enrollees.

Alexander was also in charge when the Corbett administration eliminated the state-subsidized adult health-insurance program, which a state judge has just deemed illegal.

Makereth received a word of warning about that from state Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia.

"There's a history here that you need to be conscious of ... 40,000 people were cut off of the AdultBasic rolls unnecessarily," Williams said.

But state Sen. Jake Corman, D-Centre, stood up for the secretary, in a sense, acknowledging Alexander's mandate to cut costs in the state budget's second-most-expensive department.

"His mission was to keep it to the letter of the law, what, who was eligible, and make sure those people, at least first get their benefits," Corman said Tuesday.