Government & Politics

Government & Politics news from 90.5 WESA.

PA Rep. Dave Reed Seeks to Transcend Party Politics

Jan 15, 2015
PA State Rep. Dave Reed / Facebook

State Representative David Reed first entered politics as a registered Democrat. Last week he was sworn as the leader of the Pennsylvania House GOP. The Indiana County native shares his vision for the future of the commonwealth and talks about how he plans to work with a new, Democratic governor.

Looking back on his background, Reed explains that he came from a rural portion of Indiana County where political differences aren’t just black and white.

In this area, he explains, the dominant culture is social conservatism -- regardless of party affiliation -- and so the distinctions between Republicans and Democrats can be blurry.

Ken / Flickr

Harrisburg was the first city to face a challenge to its gun laws under a new Pennsylvania law targeting gun measures.

It comes from a gun rights group representing a state police corporal. City officials have been bracing for lawsuits in the wake of Governor Corbett's signing of legislation that allows gun owner groups to challenge local ordinances. 

And now, Pittsburgh faces a lawsuit on its own that has emerged from the National Rifle Association. Patriot News editorial page editor John Micek offers his analysis of the issue.

According to Micek, the community "lost and stolen" ordinances have been challenged by gun-rights advocates in part because they feel the Commonwealth should avoid a “patchwork” approach to gun legislation, wherein gun ordinances vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction -- even neighboring ones.

But at the same time, Micek says that the state supreme court has, in some cases, argued that municipalities should have the right to specify their own gun ordinances.

A new report finds Pennsylvania remains on a list of the “Terrible 10” — states with the most regressive tax policies.

The non-partisan Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy finds that the poorest residents pay nearly three times what the wealthy pay in taxes as a share of income. Middle-income earners pay twice as much as the richest residents.

Pennsylvanians can now check out the broad strokes of their school districts’ finances using a state website.

The Department of Education’s PA School Performance site now displays things like school districts’ general fund balances, tuition rates paid to charter schools, and average teacher salaries.

Pittsburgh City Council again delayed action on a bill Wednesday that would create a rental property registry.

“We did hold the bill for two more weeks while we continue to collaborate and work through some of the issues of the bill,” City Council President Bruce Kraus said.

As it stands, the bill requires landlords to submit all available forms of contact information, allowing the city to keep a close eye on problem properties. Owners could face a $500 penalty if they fail to submit their name, address, phone number and email address.

Mayor Peduto Pledges to Stand Against NRA Lawsuit

Jan 14, 2015
Heather McClain / 90.5WESA

The new year brings new headlines, including a lawsuit filed today by the National Rifle Association against the City of Pittsburgh. 

Sparked by the passing of Act 192, which allows for suits to be brought against municipalities for passing gun ordinances that are more restrictive than state law, the NRA has brought suits against Pittsburgh and other municipalities, including Philadelphia and Lancaster.

Mayor Bill Peduto joined us in Studio A to discuss the suit. He then went on to discuss other issues including recent events surrounding Public Safety Director Stephen Bucar and new Police Chief Cameron McLay.

For more on the announcement of the NRA lawsuit, follow 90.5 WESA's coverage.

Ukraine at a Crossroads

Jan 13, 2015
Trey Ratcliff / Flickr

University of Pittsburgh professor and Ukraine native Tim Mylovanov has recently returned from an eventful holiday trip to his home country. He offers his take on the situation there and talks about his efforts to help create positive change in Ukraine amid economic challenges and conflicts with Russia.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner is releasing an analysis of county-owned vehicles that she said reveals a number of issues including misuse, fraud, lack of oversight and major gaps in usage data.

In a summary of the audit, released Tuesday, Wagner said it took about a month for the county to give her office the number of vehicles in the fleet. She said that needs to be fixed.

The pieces are starting to fall into place for one of the hottest parts of state government for the incoming administration.

The state House and Senate GOP leaders have named the chairs of their education committees. Lawmakers expect the panels to see a lot of action in the coming legislative session, since Gov.-elect Tom Wolf has underlined education funding as his top priority upon entering office.

In the House, the education chairman is Rep. Stan Saylor (R-York), who said he hopes to work on a new funding formula for schools.

Even before being sworn in on Jan. 20, Gov.-elect Tom Wolf is already working to ensure the transition from current Republican Gov. Tom Corbett to him is a smooth one.

A number of transition teams are taking on issues including aging, banking, agriculture, environmental protection and community and economic development. Co-chairing the economic development team is Dennis Yablonsky, president and CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Economic Development and his counterpart in Philadelphia, Rob Wonderling.

The state's incoming transparency official doubts his appointment will have any effect on pending revisions to the state's Open Records law.

Proposed updates to the seven-year-old law are still being hashed out by lawmakers. The tweaks would expand the law's scope to bring college campus police records into the public eye. Other changes would clarify parts of the law that have led to a deluge of record requests from groups like prison inmates and commercial interests.

A Year of Turmoil for Attorney General Kathleen Kane

Jan 12, 2015
The Office of the Attorney General

The political future of PA State Attorney General Kathleen Kane looks to be falling as fast as it rose. Evidence of wrongdoing has been found by the special prosecutor and grand jury who are recommending she be criminally charged. 

We’ll get an update on the current troubles of the beleaguered attorney general with John Baer, political columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News and Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Angela Couloumbis.

Couloumbis gets us up to speed on what exactly the attorney general is being accused of doing:

She is accused of having [her office] give two documents to the Philadelphia Daily News about a 2009 investigation into a Philadelphia civil rights leader. That investigation was before a grand jury back in 2009 and never resulted in any criminal charges against the civil rights leader Jerry Mondesire.

Advocates supporting medical marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania ran out of time and political good will last year, but people on both sides of the debate expect the issue to remain hot in 2015.

The health community is divided, with the state nurses' association supporting legalization, but the commonwealth doctors' group urging caution.

Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED) legislative counsel Scot Chadwick said, for now, marijuana remains far too mysterious.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Gov.-elect Tom Wolf has named director of Allegheny County Economic Development, Dennis Davin, as the secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. One of the reasons, Wolf said, is the Pittsburgh region’s economic growth.

“Basically what I’m trying to do and what I want to do as governor is capture the magic that really we see out here in Western Pennsylvania,” Wolf said. “In so many ways, the successes that everyone here as experienced in term so economic development is what I think we need to capture for the rest of Pennsylvania.”

Erik Arneson will become the new executive director of the Pennsylvania’s Office of Open Records Gov. Tom Corbett announced Friday.

Arneson will replace Terry Mutcher, the office’s first director who is stepping down to join the law firm Pepper Hamilton in Philadelphia where she will head a government transparency practice.

In 2006, Arneson joined the staff of Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R- Delaware County) as communications and policy director. There, he helped develop the Right-to-Know Law and the office of Office of Open Records.

The new state Senate leadership isn't looking eager to clamp down on gifts to public officials.

The coolness to such ethics reform comes in spite of recent criminal charges against two lawmakers for allegedly taking cash from an undercover informant.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said, in this case, he's not sure how far ethical reforms can go to restore public confidence.

Mary Wilson / WITF

Farmhands and dairy princesses watched Thursday as the Pennsylvania Farm Show's traditional centerpiece was unveiled: a massive butter sculpture.

Blinds obscuring the piece rose, revealing a butter boy having his butter cup filled with butter milk as a butter cow looks on.

The half-ton of butter was donated by Land o' Lakes in Carlisle, Cumberland County.

"I wanted to thank the dairy farmers of Pennsylvania because without their butter, we couldn't have done this sculpture," said Jim Victor, who made the piece in just over 10 days with his wife Marie Pelton.

Auditor General: Pennsylvania Needs to Better Monitor Corporate Tax Incentives

Jan 8, 2015
Marielle Segarra / WHYY

Every year, Pennsylvania gives out hundreds of millions of dollars in grants, loans, and other financial help to companies. In exchange, the companies promise to invest. Maybe they'll build a new office, or create a certain number of jobs, for instance.

The Department of Community and Economic Development gives out this money, and it's also responsible for holding companies to their promises.

PA Gun Legislation in Limbo

Jan 7, 2015
Keary O. / Flickr

Last November, Governor Corbett signed into law Act 192, which allows Pennsylvania gun enthusiasts and groups to sue communities that have "lost and stolen" ordinances -- local laws requiring gun owners to notify police when a firearm goes missing. The law has supporters and critics. Post-Gazette reporter Chris Potter joins us to look at both sides of the issue.

A Story of McCarthyism in Pittsburgh

Jan 7, 2015
United Press / Library of Congress


"I have here in my hand a list of 205,” said Senator Joe McCarthy during a speech given in 1950.

“A list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department."

What the senator said was completely untrue, but it didn’t stop his tactics- which came to be known as McCarthyism- from spreading across the country.

The nation was gripped by a communist panic, and baseless accusations were soon flying in both the public and private sphere.

Sixty years ago, five employees at the Westinghouse Electric Corporation’s East Pittsburgh plant were fired for being named in McCarthy’s Washington hearings as “undesirable”. Historian and author Charles McCollester stopped by Studio A to recall what happened.

Governor-elect Tom Wolf joked frequently on the campaign trail that he started his career in the Wolf family cabinet-making company in a warehouse, driving a forklift. So maybe he’ll feel at home outside the Capitol complex on inauguration day in less than two weeks.

The Democrat will take his oath of office in a construction zone.

The Capitol complex is in the midst of a years-long project to make roof and lighting replacements, as well as fountain repairs.

Trust in the state and federal governments have hit “historically low levels,” according to the Robert Morris University Polling Institute.

Of the 1,004 voters and nonvoters polled across the country following the November 2014 election, 21.7 percent said they trusted the federal government, while 20.3 percent said they had confidence in the state. Local governments were seen as the most trustworthy with about 40 percent approval.

It was fun while it lasted, but call this rumor bunk: Leaders and aides say the Republican-controlled House and Senate will not try to push bills to Gov. Tom Corbett’s desk before Democratic Gov.-elect Tom Wolf is sworn in.

“If you’re talking about something to get to Governor Corbett’s desk, there’s not even enough days now, at this point, unless we were in this week,” said Republican Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman as he walked to his office following Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremonies.

Legislation that would give city of Pittsburgh employees six weeks of full paid family leave was submitted in City Council Tuesday.

It would amend the current rules that allow leave, but must be unpaid if all vacation and sick time has been used. The current policy adheres to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak submitted the bill and said it applies to everyone, “regardless of their marital status, or their gender and it also allows employees who have children, who are adopting children, or who are fostering children to take advantage of this.”

Would You Like to Buy an Ambassadorship?

Jan 6, 2015
Ryan McFarland / Flickr

In 2014, a number of President Obama’s US ambassador appointees were confirmed by the Senate, despite their lack of diplomacy experience. Appointees such as Noah Bryson Mamet, the new ambassador of Argentina, have never visited the country where they will be stationed.

While a president naming political appointees as ambassadors is not new, international policy experts such as Penn State International Affairs professor and retired U.S. Ambassador Dennis Jett are concerned.

In his new book “American Ambassadors: The Past, Present, and Future of America’s Diplomats,” he looks at the various paths to becoming a diplomat.

Jett joins Dan Simpson, another former ambassador and a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist, to discuss the role of ambassadors in this ever more globalized world.

Pennsylvania’s state lawmakers will make a short visit to Harrisburg for their swearing-in Tuesday.

The House will elect a Speaker, the Senate will elect a President Pro Tem, and both chambers will adopt rules for the coming two-year session.

“This is all pretty much routine – scripted,” said House Chief Clerk Tony Barbush.

Sometimes people go off-book.

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

The Pennsylvania Farm Show is set to begin the second weekend of January, giving public officials a chance to tout agriculture as the state's leading industry. But the data behind this oft-heard claim is fuzzy.

Agriculture isn't the state's top industry based on any ranking from the Department of Labor & Industry (L&I). The purported ranking is rooted in an assessment of the industry's economic impact: $75 billion, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

Governor-elect Tom Wolf has named Dennis Davin, 52, director of Allegheny County Economic Development, as secretary for the Department of Community and Economic Development.

Davin has worked for the county for 10 years and also serves as director of the County Redevelopment Authority and executive director of the Industrial Development Authority.

How Pittsburgh’s New Leadership Performed in 2014

Jan 2, 2015
Josh Raulerson / 90.5 WESA

From a new mayor to a new Police Chief, the City of Pittsburgh saw sweeping change among its leadership. Chris Potter of the Post-Gazette talks about Bill Peduto ushering in a new era of transparency in city government and how the hiring of police chief Cameron McLay will impact community/police relations.

Peduto has some accomplishments to be proud of, Potter acknowledged, citing in particular the formation of a new public safety team, an accord with the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority and a sympathetic city council. With regard to the new police chief, Potter suggests that McLay has already demonstrated a new approach to policing in Pittsburgh.

Was 2014 as Tumultuous as 1968?

Jan 2, 2015
Seth Anderson / Flickr

Post-Gazette columnist Tony Norman says when it comes to 2014, we probably haven't experienced as much turmoil in a single year since 1968.

From the riots in Ferguson and the nationwide demonstrations in reaction to police violence inflicted on African Americans to the debate over gay rights in the U.S., the American landscape was filled with social upheaval.

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