Government & Politics

Government & Politics news from 90.5 WESA.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File

Gov. Tom Wolf argued last week that taxing Pennsylvania’s booming natural gas industry could help compensate for an anticipated $1 billion structural budget deficit in 2016.

His budget includes a state severance tax of 5 percent on extractions based on the value of gas at the well head and a charge of 4.7 cents per thousand cubic feet extracted. The commonwealth produced 3.23 trillion cubic feet in 2013.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

A month after Republican lawmakers advanced a plan to end the traditional pension for new state workers, they’ve set their sights on doing the same for future municipal employees in Pennsylvania.

The cited reason for the change has been repeated in most debates over public pensions: People are living longer, and the annual pension payouts for city retirees are getting harder for municipal governments to afford.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto on Tuesday issued an executive order aimed at repairing and maintaining the city’s aging public safety, public works and parks facilities.

The order coincided with a previously planned City Council post-agenda meeting with administration officials and leaders from the city’s three public safety unions.

A state Senate proposal would prevent child victims from being prosecuted for participation in sex trades and related charges as part of last year’s crusade against human trafficking.

“We have to concentrate on the victim and make sure that the victim is treated as a victim,” said Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery), a sponsor of the measure.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

It took just 500 write-in votes for lifelong Democrats Chelsa Wagner and John Weinstein to get their names on the November ballots as Republicans, but it will take 2,328 signatures if a third-party candidate wants to have the same opportunity.

A House GOP spokesman says the majority's lawmakers aren't giving up on a bill to legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania.

A plan to let doctors and nurse practitioners recommend different forms of marijuana for various ailments passed in the state Senate by a huge margin last month.

In the House, the bill's fate was always less certain. One problem popped up as soon as it was referred to the Health Committee: the panel's chairman, Rep. Matt Baker (R-Tiog), said he wouldn't put the measure to a vote.

The Pennsylvania House will take up a bill that makes some changes to the Child Protective Services Law. That is the law crafted after the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

“This is the bill that clarifies the existing statute requiring employees and adult volunteers who work directly with children to obtain criminal background check clearances and child abuse clearances,” said Rep. Katharine Watson (R-Bucks), the bill’s sponsor. “The legislation further delineates who is and who is not subject to those requirements.”

AP Photo/Marc Levy

Gov. Tom Wolf has pulled the nomination of Marcus Brown to lead the Pennsylvania State Police. The Senate was to vote this week on Brown’s nomination. Last week a committee sent the nomination to the full body without making a recommendation.

State Senate Republicans want to tweak casino rules and legalize online gambling this year to help ease the commonwealth's fiscal woes.

A forthcoming proposal would allow round-the-clock alcohol sales in casinos and let certain casinos put slot machines miles away from their main premises. The big change, however, would be letting existing casinos offer online gambling. A report last year found the state could generate more than $100 million in tax and fee revenue from Internet gambling alone.

Mayor Bill Peduto has appointed Grant Ervin as the city’s Chief Resilience Officer, a position funded through a Rockefeller Foundation grant.

His first task: developing a plan to enable the city to survive, adapt and grow no matter the challenge it will face.

Ervin has served as the city’s Sustainability Manager since 2014. He will now transition into working with stakeholders across the city to determine the key threats facing the city, then work to draft a resilience strategy with the help of the other 99 Chief Resilience Officers in the world.

In an online poll attempting to determine public opinion on state Attorney General Kathleen Kane's ability to lead, more than half of respondents said they didn't "know enough about it." 

Conducted by the Robert Morris University Polling Institute from May 8 to 16, the poll offered no context about the ongoing scandal. Of the 527 participants, 49.5 percent admitted they weren't sure. Those who did weigh in responded 2-1 that Kane should resign.

Gov. Tom Wolf issued a temporary stay of execution on Thursday for convicted killer Hubert Lester Michael, who was set to die the next day.

It’s the governor’s second intervention since he took office. He promised in February to grant a reprieve to any inmate whose execution date comes before the results of the newly established Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment are published.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

A state budget deadline looms at the end of the month, but Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican lawmakers remain divided on a spending plan.

Entities that rely on the state for funding have cautioned about the headaches caused by lengthy budget standoffs. But Wolf says he’s not resigned to a late state budget.

City Council members gave preliminary approval to updated cooperative police services agreement between city officers and University of Pittsburgh Police.

“Departments that overlap have to have agreements in place so they can share information and act in their partner’s jurisdictions,” said Public Safety Director Stephen Bucar. “The University of Pittsburgh sits in the city and quite often there are issues where our police officers are responding to an incident in the city but within the campus.”

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Allegheny County Councilwoman Heather Heidelbaugh said she will call for a public hearing on the status of health care at the county jail.

The move is in response to efforts of prison justice activists and family members of those who have been or are currently incarcerated at the jail.

Wolf Pick For Police Chief Fields Senators' Tough Questions

Jun 3, 2015
AP Photo/Marc Levy

Gov. Tom Wolf's choice to lead the Pennsylvania State Police responded to a battery of questions Wednesday from Republican senators who, like the troopers' union, want the Democratic governor to withdraw Col. Marcus Brown as his nominee, while a Democrat accused Brown's detractors of opposing the integration of the overwhelmingly white force.

Pittsburgh City Council approved an agreement with the city and Department of Public Safety aimed at mentoring parents of young children. “Promised Beginnings” is part of the larger Safer Together Pittsburgh initiative to improve public safety.

“It helps facilitate existing resources that are already out there by the county or private providers, bringing those resources together (and) targeting the parents of preschool children,” said Public Safety Director Stephan Bucar.

Lawmakers met in Harrisburg Tuesday to announce the formation of a legislative group aimed at reforming the boundaries for Congressional districts.

The bipartisan, bicameral group cited a plethora of misshapen, poorly drawn district boundaries that they said pressure lawmakers to toe the party line at the expense of political compromise.

Democratic Sen. Rob Teplitz of Dauphin County considers himself Exhibit A. Maps were redrawn after his election, so the voters he now serves didn’t actually choose him – they inherited him.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

The chair of late Allegheny County Councilwoman Barbara Daly Danko’s re-election committee took over her seat in Council on Tuesday.

Terri Klein is active in local politics and currently serves as vice chair of the 14th Ward Democratic Committee. The Squirrel Hill resident works as a physical therapist and sits on the board of American Civil Liberties Union’s Pittsburgh chapter.

More of Gov. Tom Wolf's Cabinet members are removing the word "acting" from their title.

The Senate on Tuesday unanimously confirmed Human Services Secretary Ted Dallas, Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Dunn and Banking and Securities Secretary Robin Wiessmann.

It voted 31-18 to confirm State Secretary Pedro Cortes.

Gov. Wolf Seeks State Authority Over Health Insurance Marketplace

Jun 2, 2015
AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File

Gov. Tom Wolf's administration said Tuesday it has formally applied to take over the operation of Pennsylvania's health insurance marketplace as the Democrat seeks a bulwark against the potential loss of health insurance subsidies for hundreds of thousands of state residents.

Erika Beras

Following a naturalization ceremony in Pittsburgh City Council Chambers on Monday morning, Mayor Bill Peduto and his staff introduced Welcoming Pittsburgh, an initiative to make life easier for the city’s immigrants.

“This is not only a question of doing what is right," he said. "It's also a critical part of the growth of a new Pittsburgh, the next economy and a part of seeing the full potential of every neighborhood to see revitalization.”

There are nearly 68,000 registered voters in Allegheny County Council District 11, according to the state Department of Elections, yet 24 people will choose the person likely to occupy that council seat for the next four years.

“That’s exactly right,” acknowledges Nancy Patton Mills, chairwoman of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee.

The Pennsylvania state Legislature has 253 members. Currently, only 46 of them are women.

The League of Women Voters will discuss this problem, among other issues, at its state convention, which they recently announced will take place in Pittsburgh next month.

Area representatives are supporting a bill that would waive background check fees for paid and volunteer firefighters and emergency response personnel.  

The Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce has announced that current state Sen. Matt Smith (D-Allegheny) will be its next president. Before being elected to the Senate, Smith served three terms in the state House of Representatives.

He said the work before him as head of the Chamber won’t be much different than what he’s used to.

“Workforce development, education issues, economic development and community-based issues as well as transportation infrastructure issues that we’ve worked on over the last couple of years at the state level,” said Smith.

Rick Santorum Launching Second White House Run

May 27, 2015
Alonzo Adams / The Associated Press

Rick Santorum, an aggressive advocate for conservative family values, will launch a second bid for president on Wednesday, a spokesman said.

The former Pennsylvania senator exceeded the political world's expectations by scoring a second-place finish in the race for the Republican presidential nomination four years ago. Yet as he competes again, he may struggle even to qualify for the debate stage in 2016.

Updated to reflect that Santorum is now officially in the race.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is praying for political lightning to strike twice.

Even after pulling an upset win in the Iowa caucuses four years ago and going on to survive the longest against eventual nominee Mitt Romney, the GOP presidential hopeful is again the underdog in a much more crowded 2016 field.

Keith Ewing / Flickr

This weekend marks the unofficial start of summer – which means, among other things, swimming! 

Sen. Rop Teplitz (D-Dauphin) has introduced a bill that would return lifeguards to state park public beaches.

“In 2008, the lifeguards were eliminated at all but two parks due to budgetary reasons, but I think the public safety requires that the lifeguards be restored,” Teplitz said.

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources estimates the state saved roughly $800,000 a year by not having lifeguards on duty at all parks. Teplitz said those savings aren't worth risking public safety.

State Pension Crisis: Where Do We Go From Here?

May 21, 2015
Emma Lee / WHYY

There may not be three more yawn-inducing words in the English language than: "public employee pensions."

But considering the $53 billion dollars worth of state employee pension debt currently saddling the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, those words are at the center of nearly every conversation in Harrisburg this spring.

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