Politics & Government

We cover politics and government with an eye to providing to voters clear, in-depth, nonpartisan information. 

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From a conference room at the North Shore offices of Peoples Gas, president and CEO Morgan O’Brien has a view of Pittsburgh’s rivers.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

District attorneys from Allegheny, Butler and Washington counties are calling on legislators to restore mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court invalidated mandatory minimum sentences in 2015, saying criminal defendants did not know the potential sentence they faced until after conviction. Offenders knew their punishment carried at least a fixed punishment time and prosecutors used that to leverage information from an offender.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

A year after seven firefighters were forced to bail out of a second-story window during a house fire in Wilkinsburg, Chief Darryl Jones said he’s reviewing recommendations for how to prevent a similar situation.

Margaret Sun / 90.5 WESA

After eight years on Pittsburgh City Council, Natalia Rudiak said she is “a bit burned out.”

“I'm looking forward to really spending some time on some self-care and spending some time with my family,” she said.

Communities With Casinos In Pennsylvania Concerned About Possible Funding Changes

Mar 27, 2017
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

When playing the slots in Pennsylvania, casinos and gamblers aren't the only ones making money.

The state collects 54 cents for every dollar a player loses in a slot machine.

The state uses most of that money, about 34 cents, for reducing property taxes. The state's horse racing industry gets 11 cents and 5 cents goes to a state economic development trust fund. The remaining 4 cents is split among the communities that host the casino.

Matt Nemeth / 90.5 WESA

At the age of 13, Alex Hoffman was already using alcohol and marijuana. By 14, he was on juvenile probation.

“I wouldn’t stop smoking weed, I wouldn’t stop drinking, so I kept failing drug tests and that lead to my first time going involuntarily into juvenile rehab,” Hoffman said.

It was not his last involuntary commitment. He bounced in and out of programs and jail for years before getting clean three years ago, at the age of 21. He remembered being dropped off at a juvenile facility by his parents on his 16th birthday.

casey.senate.gov

Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey said Thursday he has “serious concerns” about Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch and plans to vote against his confirmation.

Thursday marks the fourth and final day of confirmation hearings for Gorsuch. Congress is expected to vote Monday, April 3.

Matt Rourke / AP

On the heels of a survey finding Pennsylvanians support efforts to reform the state justice system, one lawmaker said he plans to introduce what he called “clean slate” legislation.

Wolf Urges Mixed Pennsylvania Delegation To Defeat GOP Bill

Mar 22, 2017
Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Reaction to Republican health care legislation speeding toward a vote was mixed Wednesday among Pennsylvania's 18-member U.S. House delegation, as Gov. Tom Wolf made another attempt at urging them to defeat it, saying it would jeopardize people's lives.

In a letter Wolf's office released publicly, the Democratic governor said the GOP health care bill would blow a $2.5 billion to $3 billion hole in the state government's deficit-riddled finances.

David Goldman / AP

Families of people hurt or killed by police would not learn the identity of the officer involved for 30 days or until the completion of an investigation under a new bill making its way through the Pennsylvania legislature.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Four years ago, City Councilwoman Darlene Harris considered a run for mayor of Pittsburgh but ultimately decided not to enter the race.

“I take care of my mother and she was ill, and I was just too worried about her,” Harris said.

Four years later, without any fanfare, Harris made a different decision. Although she never held an announcement party or even a news conference to declare her candidacy, Harris is on the May Democratic primary ballot in an effort to unseat Mayor Bill Peduto.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

One of Harrisburg’s perennial headaches is heading back to the legislative spotlight as Senate Republican leaders work to push a familiar pension bill through the chamber.

Last session, GOP lawmakers made a late-in-the-game attempt to pass a pension overhaul that would have offered state employees three retirement options—two so-called “hybrid” plans, and a 401k-style plan.

At the time, Governor Tom Wolf indicated he’d sign it. But the plan didn’t get full votes because House and Senate Democrats refused to support it, saying they hadn’t gotten enough input.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

President Donald Trump's budget plan, released Thursday morning, clarifies his spending priorities and calls for cuts in several departments, which local and state leaders said will negatively impact residents.  

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Alex Merchant and Madeline Lagattuta walked through their recently purchased home in Polish Hill. Chalk marks covered the floors, indicating where new walls will be erected and bathrooms created. 

Renee Rosensteel

NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro wasn’t always in the news business. Though, he pursued journalism in college and worked for a newspaper after graduation, he also spent three years as a high school English teacher. 

He stopped by 90.5 WESA and spoke to Larkin Page-Jacobs about his work as a broadcast journalist and how it’s similar to teaching students.

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

Bob Gradeck can’t stand the term “data-driven.”

It might seem odd that the project director of the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center would recoil at a data-centric phrase, but Gradeck sees data as tools and not answers.

The WPRDC is the repository for more than 150 data sets from Pittsburgh and Allegheny County government, as well as organizations throughout the region.

Bill Sikes / AP Photo

Pittsburgh is the only Pennsylvania city in 100 Resilient Cities, an initiative created by the Rockefeller Foundation to prepare urban areas to weather the shocks and stresses of the 21st century. Throughout more than a year-long process, Pittsburgh identified racial and socioeconomic inequity, aging infrastructure, public health, and severe weather events as the city’s greatest weaknesses.

Wayne Parry / AP

Pennsylvania’s current budget has a $100 million hole state lawmakers intended to fill with some kind of gaming revenue.

That money never came through.

Even so, Gov. Tom Wolf’s spending plan for next fiscal year optimistically calls for $150 million to be filled with even more unspecified gaming money, and lawmakers don’t seem close to a consensus on what to do. 

The gaming conversation at the Capitol often revolves around whether to legalize and tax online gambling.

Kevin Gavin/Sarah Kovash/Pittsburgh City Council

Incumbent Mayor Bill Peduto will face two opponents in the May party primary.

Officials with the Allegheny County Board of Elections confirmed Tuesday that North Side Councilwoman Darlene Harris and former Peduto supporter Rev. John Welch both filed petitions ahead of the 5 p.m. deadline.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf isn't ruling out any particular kind of casino-style gambling expansion under consideration by lawmakers, but he says tax revenue to the state can't be a zero-sum game.

Wolf said Tuesday that he'll look for a gambling expansion that brings in new revenue to the deficit-wracked state government.

Wolf made the comments during an interview with the editorial board of Pennlive.com. Some lawmakers warn that a gambling expansion could cannibalize existing forms of gambling or the state lottery.

Pennsylvania Senate Democrats Hit By Cyberattack, Ransom Demanded

Mar 6, 2017
Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Pennsylvania's top state Senate Democrat said Monday that no ransom has been paid to resolve a "ransomware" cyberattack that shut down the caucus' network and prompted an FBI investigation.

Senate Democrats' computer network, including their email system, remained inaccessible Monday, three days after the attack was discovered early Friday by information technology staff who received an alert that the network had been breached.

The Office of Governor Tom Wolf / flickr

Pittsburgh's neediest families won't benefit from the proposed reforms to President Donald Trump's affordable child care system, according to some local advocates. 

In his address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, Trump said he wanted to "work with members of both parties to make child care accessible and affordable." 

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Pennsylvania has long been notorious for its state-run liquor stores and old fashioned restrictions on selling alcoholic beverages.

But last year, the legislature passed its first meaningful liquor reform in decades.

Trump's Immigration Talk Hits Home In Hazleton

Mar 3, 2017
Eleanor Klibanoff / Keystone Crossroads

Over a decade ago, Hazleton tried to stem the tide of immigrants flooding the city by prohibiting residents from employing, housing or selling anything to unauthorized immigrants. The ban never went into effect and was eventually struck down by the courts, costing the city $1.4 million in legal settlement fees. And it didn't stop Latino immigrants from settling in Hazleton: the city is now over 50 percent Latino. 

HealthCare.gov

  

In his first speech to a joint session of Congress, President Donald Trump Tuesday night urged the House and Senate to make good on a promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

In doing so, the president endorsed a key provision of a Republican plan in the House: providing tax credits to help consumers.

Gerrymandering Battle Draws A Crowd In PA

Mar 1, 2017
Dave Davies / WHYY

Could a citizens' group defy tradition and change Pennsylvania politics?

Fair Districts PA, which has taken on the issue of gerrymandering in state political boundaries, is at least making some noise.

Matt Slocum / AP

After a series of bomb threats against Jewish schools and day centers Monday, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said President Donald Trump told a group of attorneys general from across the country that "the reverse can be true, meaning someone is doing it to make others look bad."

Shapiro said that's how Trump responded when asked how federal, state and local agencies can work to prevent further incidents while on a conference call with reporters on Tuesday. The day school two of Shapiro's children attend was one of the locations threatened and evacuated.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Deb Gross is leading a fundraising effort to buy lead-filtering water pitchers for families with young children.

She said the city could provide a countertop pitcher to each of Pittsburgh's estimated 25,000 households with a child under age 6 for less than $1 million. She said she hopes private foundations and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority will be able to allocate funding within a month.

Pennsylvania's 2018 U.S. Senate Race Gets Going With GOP Entry

Feb 27, 2017
Marc Levy / AP

Pennsylvania's 2018 race for U.S. Senate is getting underway.

Rick Saccone, a fiery Republican state lawmaker from suburban Pittsburgh, formally declared his candidacy Monday to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey. Saccone held the event in the Pennsylvania Capitol, where he was joined by conservative supporters.

The 59-year-old Saccone is one of the state Legislature's staunchest conservatives and is a strong backer of President Donald Trump.

Matt Rourke / AP

Pennsylvania's top prosecutor estimates that legal bills stemming from his convicted predecessor's actions cost about $3.6 million.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro told a state Senate Appropriations Committee hearing Wednesday that his staff had tallied the costs related to former Attorney General Kathleen Kane.

Kane resigned last year after being convicted of leaking secret grand jury information and lying about it. She's been sentenced to 10 to 23 months, but is free on bail while she appeals.

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