Politics & Government

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

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

When police are called to the scene of a drug overdose they can treat it as a crime scene or an accident scene.  Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala wants it to be treated as a crime scene.

“Over the last year in Allegheny County, we’ve trained about 50 different police departments what they should do when they come on the scene,” Zappala said. “You have to move quickly [to gather evidence] but detectives have been trained specifically in those kinds of things.”

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Pennsylvania's Josh Shapiro has joined with fellow attorneys general from 19 other states to send a letter to Congress urging them not to pass the Financial Choice Act of 2017.

The bill is expected to pass in the House on Thursday, largely along partisan lines.

Matt Rourke / AP

The state House of Representatives quickly introduced and passed a sweeping new gambling bill Wednesday evening, which would significantly expand the industry.

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Approve Public Pension Plan Bill

Jun 8, 2017
Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Pennsylvania lawmakers approved legislation Thursday that will cut retirement benefits for future hires in public schools and state government as part of a package of changes designed to slash risk and reap modest long-term savings from the state's deeply indebted public-sector pension systems.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Pennsylvania’s unfunded pension liability stands at $70 billion. In other words, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, what Pennsylvania owes in pensions for retired and active state employees and public school teachers is only funded at about 60 percent.

Ex-Energy Exec Enters Pennsylvania's US Senate Race

Jun 7, 2017
Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

A former energy executive and a first-time candidate for public office joined the GOP field Wednesday vying to challenge Pennsylvania's Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey in 2018.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

After a recent audit found significant accounting, technology, and funding issues in the commonwealth’s unemployment compensation system, the Wolf administration is attempting to correct its course.

But it’s not going to be an easy—or quick—process.

Lawmakers are already expressing frustration with the amount of information they’re getting about the UC system’s financial decisions.

Bill To Rein In Pennsylvania Pension Benefits On Fast Track

Jun 5, 2017
Matt Rourke / AP

Most rookie teachers and newly minted Pennsylvania government employees would see a smaller retirement benefit in the coming decades through the state's two big debt-plagued pension systems, under legislation that passed the Senate on Monday and has the backing of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

The Republican-controlled Senate's 40-9 vote could be followed by swift House action this week to send the just-unveiled bill to Wolf's desk.

Katie Meyer / WITF

State senators gathered in the Capitol on Sunday evening to move a bill that's been dogging the legislature for the last four years, in various forms.

It would rework the structure of the state's two heavily indebted public pension systems, a change the bill's supporters say mitigates risk to taxpayers.

However, the proposal does little to reduce the state's massive pension debt.

Like several previous GOP pension proposals, it would shift the state's retirement plan to a three-tiered 401-k-style system--effectively reducing benefits for new hires.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority is temporarily suspending its program to partially replace lead water service lines less than a month after it officially began.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Despite a bomb threat for Market Square called in to Pittsburgh Police Saturday morning, a few hundred protestors marched from the City County Building on Grant Street to show their disdain for President Donald Trump.

Charles Krupa / AP

Pittsburgh-area law enforcement agencies are equipping K-9 handlers with naloxone as reports of dangerous opioid overdoses continue to sweep the Midwest.

Allegheny County Police Officer Steve Dawkins said dangerous situations are in his 4-year-old partner's job description. 

Margaret Sun / 90.5 WESA

President Donald Trump may not think the Paris Climate Accord is beneficial for the U.S., but Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto says the city is still committed to it.

Gene J. Puskar / AP

Over the years, Pittsburgh's City Council has tried to encourage social change through legislation. That includes the executive order signed Friday by Mayor Bill Peduto committing the city to ideals set forth in the 195-nation Paris climate agreement, which President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from on Thursday

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Five insurers are seeking an average 9 percent increase in rates for health coverage in Pennsylvania through the federal Healthcare.gov marketplace in 2018, a significant drop from this year's increase.

The state Department of Insurance said Thursday that proposals filed before last week's deadline could still change, and won't be approved until just before open enrollment starts in the fall.

However, Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller warned that an effort by the Trump administration or Congress to undermine the marketplaces could drive up premiums.

Margaret Sun/90.5 WESA and Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

In a strongly worded statement, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto rejected President Donald Trump’s use of Pittsburgh in his announcement of the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord.

Matt Rourke / AP

Activists across the commonwealth are urging state lawmakers to take an uncommon step in order to move a bill that would place limits on the gifts elected officials can accept.

They’re putting together discharge petition—a measure that’s not often used, and even less often used successfully.

Such a petition can force a bill to move out of a committee to a floor vote if the committee refuses to act on it.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

A group of constituents is calling on state Rep. Dom Costa (D-Allegheny) to attend a town hall meeting Thursday in Lawrenceville.

AP

Harrisburg lawmakers accepted over $145 thousand in hospitality, gifts, and other travel in 2016, according to recently-filed financial interest disclosure forms.

The commonwealth has one of the loosest laws for reporting those gifts in the country.

The filings are coming as advocates across the state make a renewed push to get lawmakers to impose regulations on the amount of money they can take.

Republican Representative Rick Saccone, of Allegheny County, said regulations governing what needs to be reported--like dinners--are also loose.

Mike Groll / AP

A bill to expand gambling and raise sorely-needed revenue is moving on to the House, after passing swiftly through the Senate last week.

Gaming has been a sticky issue for the legislature for several sessions, and the latest bill is expected to face pushback from several factions of House lawmakers.

The Senate-passed bill would chiefly legalize and regulate internet gambling. It would also let Pennsylvanians buy lottery tickets and bet on fantasy sports online, and fix a law that dictates how casinos pay out fees to their local communities.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

A bipartisan group of legislative leaders has been working on a major proposal to change how state employee pensions are structured.

The commonwealth’s roughly $70 billion unfunded pension liability has been dogging lawmakers for years. But the plan most likely to move forward won’t attempt to reduce that debt significantly.

Instead, leaders say the measure will look similar to one they attempted to pass last session, which disintegrated without a vote because Democrats refused to support it.

Trump Seeks To End Program For Older Jobless Americans

May 26, 2017
Laurie Kellman / AP

Nathan Singletary is beyond the traditional retirement age, but he's only just beginning a new career — helping other low-income, unemployed Americans over age 55 find jobs.

Kiichiro Sato / AP

Legislation to allow PennDOT to issue REAL ID-compliant drivers licenses is about to be signed by Gov. Tom Wolf, but that doesn't mean the ID in your pocket will truly be compliant with the federal standards.

As of June 7, non-compliant IDs will no longer be accepted for admittance into federal and nuclear facilities. TSA officials will stop accepting them for air travel as of Jan. 22, 2018.

Ted S. Warren / AP

Pennsylvania lawmakers on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly for a bill designed to comply with federal identification standards for people who want to fly or enter federal facilities.

The House passed the Real ID bill 190-1, and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said he will sign it.

The measure gives residents the option to obtain a driver's license or other ID that meets the rules of a 2005 federal law enacted in response to the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Residents would also be allowed to get a noncompliant, traditional driver's license or ID.

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

One day after the inauguration of Donald Trump, women, men and children marched in Washington, D.C. and in cities across the country, including Pittsburgh.

Women were encouraged to run for office at all levels: federal, state and local. But was that call to action taken to heart and was it reflected in the recently held Pennsylvania Primary?  

governor.pa.gov

Gov. Tom Wolf says he'll nominate his insurance commissioner, Teresa Miller, to lead a new agency overseeing public health and human services programs.

Wolf said Tuesday that Miller would lead the proposed Department of Health and Human Services. It would be created by combining the departments of Human Services, Health, Aging and Drug and Alcohol Programs.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

More than 30 ambassadors to the U.S. from around the world were in Pittsburgh this week, touring research laboratories at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. They also rubbed elbows with local luminaries at the Andy Warhol Museum, including Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

Turzai Says He'll Keep Speaker's Job If He Runs For Governor

May 23, 2017
Matt Rourke / AP

Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai says he won't step down from his position atop the Republican-controlled chamber should he get into the race to challenge Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's re-election bid next year.

The Allegheny County Republican spoke Monday at the Pennsylvania Press Club, and says he hasn't heard anyone ask Wolf resign to run for governor.

He says he's seriously considering running. He says he's working on a number of issues in the Capitol right now and is looking toward Labor Day as an appropriate time to announce his candidacy.

Gun Rights Rally Puts Concealed Weapons Rules In Crosshairs

May 22, 2017
Marc Levy / AP

Hundreds of gun rights supporters took their cause to the state Capitol on Monday, pushing for an agenda that includes looser rules for carrying concealed weapons.

A "Make the Second Amendment Great Again" rally in the Rotunda brought together state lawmakers, sheriffs and gun rights enthusiasts for what has become an annual event.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly of northwestern Pennsylvania says he won't run for governor, but may still decide to seek the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey in 2018.

Kelly issued the brief statement Friday.

The 69-year-old Kelly says he'll make a final decision later this summer.

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