Government & Politics

Government & Politics news from 90.5 WESA.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Gov. Tom Wolf has asked various groups to start planning on increases in state funding for education, and the move is prompting criticism from Republican state lawmakers who oppose the governor's spending plan.

In 2013, there were 1.1 million firearm-related background checks conducted in Pennsylvania.

Now, state Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R- Washington/Greene) has introduced legislation that would eliminate that background check.

Currently, firearm customers need to register for the Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS) and the National Instant Check System (NICS) before they can purchase a gun. If Bartolotta’s bill passes, Pennsylvania will join the 36 states that solely rely on the national system.

A proposal to give night owls a couple more hours at the bar doesn’t appear to be on the fast-track in the Republican-controlled state House.

The plan would let bars and restaurants apply for the power to keep serving alcohol until 4 o’clock in the morning.

“I’m not sure keeping bars open ‘til 4 a.m. is a priority in the House right now,” said Reed. “We’ve got bigger issues to deal with,” said GOP House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana). “I represent a college town so I’m not sure I want to keep the bars open an extra two hours with 15,000 college students.”

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

State budget negotiations are starting to take shape in Harrisburg. The backbiting has subsided for now, as meetings pick up between Gov. Tom Wolf and legislative leaders.

The governor rankled Republicans recently when he said he was prepared to work on a state budget long after the June 30 deadline.

House Republican Majority Leader Dave Reed took umbrage at the remark, calling it "premature" and suggesting Wolf said it because he was "new at this process." By Wednesday, things had been smoothed over in a meeting Wolf held with GOP legislative leaders the day before.

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner announced that her office will fully examine the property assessment appeals process. A previous audit has already looked at the actual property assessment processes.

“And now, since most of the appeals are wrapped up, we’ll be looking at the appeals process,” said Wagner. “We’ll be analyzing at lots of data, but with this, we also want the involvement of the public.”

What her office is looking for are the personal experiences of those who went through the appeals process.

Flickr user daveynin

A group of state senators is hoping toughen traffic laws around cell phone use.

Sen. Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin) earlier this year introduced a bill to make using a cell phone while driving a secondary offense.

“There would be no violation of this law, if it were to pass, unless the person was convicted of another traffic offense,” Teplitz said.

When House Republicans presented their own proposal to cut local property taxes, the sponsoring lawmaker threw down a gauntlet along with it.

Rep. Stan Saylor (R-York) said he doubts Gov. Tom Wolf's property-tax relief plan has support within his own party.

"Nobody over there has introduced his plan," said Saylor. "If he thinks his plan's so good, I would love to see a Democrat introduce his plan. And they've had more than, what, two months to do it."

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

To mark National Equal Pay Day, Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner called on the county to ensure women are paid equally to men for the same jobs.

“Nationally we know that women are compensated 77 cents on the dollar for every dollar a man makes, and that’s for the same work” said Wagner. “In the Pittsburgh area, it’s even worse where you have women compensated 74 cents for every dollar a man makes.”

A new report from environmental advocacy group PennFuture says that in Pennsylvania alone, $3.25 billion went to subsidize the fossil fuels industry in the 2012-2013 fiscal year. The report breaks down that that comes to $794 per taxpayer.  

Much of that subsists of tax subsidies to energy industries, such as shale gas development and legacy costs of oil, gas and coal.

State lawmakers are faced, once again, with a plan to revamp the commonwealth's organ donation procedures.

Supporters of the changes say Pennsylvania once set the national standard for organ donations, but has since fallen behind. Proposals to increase education about being a donor and streamline the organ procurement process have failed to gain approval in the past two legislative sessions. Backers of the latest proposal are hoping third time's the charm.

After slogging through weeks of hearings on Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2015-16 budget proposal, the Pennsylvania Legislature returns to session Monday. Now their real work on the budget begins. 

Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) says lawmakers need to get down to business quickly if they hope to make the June 30 deadline. Senate Republicans have scheduled only six session days this month and the same number in May. 

Topping Yudichak’s list of priorities is debating the governor’s proposed 5 percent Marcellus Shale severance tax.

Tax Calculator: How Gov. Wolf's Budget Would Affect You In Allegheny County

Apr 13, 2015
governortomwolf / flickr

Since Gov. Tom Wolf announced his ambitious budget proposal that would rework Pennsylvania’s tax structure, you may have simultaneously heard you will be better off and worse off under his proposal.

The state Department of Health says a newly-authorized system to track powerful painkillers and other drugs won't arrive on schedule.

The prescription drug monitoring program was signed into law last October to establish an online database by June of this year. But that's not going to happen, and there's no word on when the new system will be ready.

Andrew-M-Whitman / Flickr

The National Guard can say goodbye to its Apache attack helicopters.

By this fall, the Army will take control of all National Guard Apache aircrafts as part of its Aviation Restructuring Initiative, starting with 24 from the Johnstown Military Aviation Complex and another 24 from the Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.

Somerset County is trying to find a way to connect the Flight 93 National Memorial with the Great Allegheny Passage as part of a 1,100-mile September 11 National Memorial Trail, which would link the World Trade Center and Pentagon with the Flight 93 crash site.

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner announced Thursday that her office has found an additional $1.44 million in unpaid car rental taxes and penalties.

This is in addition to the $743,107 that her office found in January during a routine audit. Hertz paid the amount promptly plus penalties and interest, and Wagner expects them to do the same this time.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

The Republican-controlled state House will press ahead in the coming weeks with a plan to cut local school property taxes across the commonwealth.

A series of hearings in the state House are making one thing clear: medical marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania is no done deal.

State senators overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana last session. The governor supports its legalization as well. A Quinnipiac University poll of Pennsylvanians last month showed 88 percent of respondents want medical marijuana legalized.

House members don't appear as quick to pass such a plan.

The United Way along with the Afterschool Alliance and two state lawmakers hosted a “crawl” to after-school programs in the city Wednesday.

The first stop was the Sarah Heinz House on the North Side. There they observed an after-school program for elementary school-aged children and heard from a panel of teens on their thoughts on after-school time.

A venture-capitalist with a penchant for helping minority-owned businesses is Gov. Tom Wolf’s pick to step in as state treasurer.

Tim Reese, a resident of Montgomery County, said Tuesday that he brings more than two decades of experience in finance, most recently as a managing partner at Forge Intellectual Capital and founder of the National Minority Angel Network, which sought to invest in and provide financial literacy for companies owned by minorities, women, and veterans.

Two health care associations and people who receive and provide in-home aid have sued Gov. Tom Wolf over an executive order they say paves the way for unionized caregivers.

The challenges filed in Commonwealth Court this week take issue with a February executive order allowing direct care workers paid through state programs to recognize a representative who will then meet with state officials to discuss things compensation, training and other standards.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Council is poised to approve a $100,000 funding request for the Jeron X. Grayson Community Center in the Hill District, but the expenditure is not without its detractors.

In last week’s committee meeting, Councilwoman Darlene Harris expressed concern over the city’s decision to fund upgrades to the building’s heating, ventilation and cooling system, despite the fact that she voted in favor of a companion bill setting aside the money in December.

After a recent scandal involving student athletes receiving falsified grades for classes surfaced at the University of North Carolina, a state legislator is pushing to deter similar incidents in Pennsylvania.  

Representative Stephen Kinsey’s (D-Philadelphia) bill would make academic fraud a felony.

Pennsylvania is facing a $2 billion budget deficit, so state revenue officials are hoping coffers stay strong until the end of the fiscal year, June 30.

March revenues, however, were lower than expected, according to Department of Revenue Spokeswoman Elizabeth Brassell. In March, the state collected $4.3 billion in General Fund revenue, 0.2 percent less than anticipated.

“So that brings us, fiscal year to date, collections of about $21.7 billion; $368 million or 1.7 percent above estimate,” said Brassell.

The Pennsylvania House Committee on Human Services heard from mental health workers and advocates Thursday about the challenges faced by those living with mental illness. The main topic was the stigma surrounding mental illness. That stigma, according to each speaker, is a major barrier to health care.

The legislative task force studying the state's death penalty is once again pushing back its deadline.

The panel was supposed to finish its work in December 2013, but it has repeatedly extended its timeline. Now, the agency putting together a final report says it might need until next year.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

A county prosecutor says she'll review evidence and other material from an investigation that prompted a grand jury to recommend that Pennsylvania's attorney general be charged with perjury and other offenses.

Mary Wilson / WITF

For weeks, GOP lawmakers have been braying at Gov. Tom Wolf's budget proposal to reduce property taxes, saying it doesn't go far enough.

Farmers are also cottoning to that idea.

"We wouldn't support the proposal in its current state," said Mark O'Neill, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

Gov. Tom Wolf is earning a reputation as a social-media savvy executive.

Wolf took to Facebook to answer questions sent in from around the state and selected by his staff. He answered about a dozen of them during the live, video-taped exchange.

Topics ranged ranging from Wolf’s budget proposal and plans for tax increases and accompanying tax relief, to his desire to raise the state’s minimum wage and sign legislation protecting Pennsylvanians from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

State environmental officials have granted a request to give the city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County more time to include more "green" solutions to the region's sewer system problems.

The antiquated sewers overflow during heavy rains because storm drains are tied to sewers in a way no longer permitted under environmental laws.

The department said Monday that it will provide an 18-month extension to a March 30 deadline for a plan to fix the problem.