Government & Politics

Veterans
3:30 am
Mon July 14, 2014

Veterans to Receive Priority with Public Housing

Homelessness among veterans has increased in Pennsylvania by 46.2 percent since 2009 according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. To combat this growing number, a bill was just passed unanimously by the state Senate which would give veterans preferential treatment for public housing.

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Sun July 13, 2014

New Law Raises Minimum Sentences For Hit-And-Run Drivers

Drivers who flee the scene of a vehicular homicide now face a stiffer sentence after Gov. Tom Corbett signed legislation last Monday that raised the sentence to a minimum of three years in jail.

“Kevin’s Law” is to honor a 5-year-old boy, from Wilkes-Barre, who was killed 18 months ago by a driver who drove away after the accident. Authorities finally caught the man who killed the boy, but he was sentenced to less than a year because of a loophole. Kevin Miller’s parents advocated for change.

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Government & Politics
9:49 am
Fri July 11, 2014

Legislation Addresses Affordable Housing Needs

As the housing market continues to rebound after the 2008 recession, some Pennsylvanian residents are still in need of affordable housing.

Currently in Pennsylvania there is a shortage of about 268,000 affordable housing units, according to Liz Hersh, Executive Director of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania.

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Overshadowed by the Budget
9:14 am
Fri July 11, 2014

Bill Would Give Counties More Help With Blight

Special series: This week we're exploring legislative action taken recently in Harrisburg on important bills that were overshadowed by the passage of the state budget.

Most cities are plagued by blighted and abandoned properties, but who is responsible to demolish them after the owner is nowhere to be found? Senate bill 1442 could solve these issues with a fee on foreclosed properties.

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City Government
9:10 am
Fri July 11, 2014

Heth's Run Valley Slated for Major Facelift

The old Heth's Run Bridge was built in 1914. The land beneath the bridge was long used as an industrial dumping site.
Credit Flickr user Todd Shirley

Heth’s Run Valley hasn’t been much of a valley for a while. The area underneath Heth’s Run bridge—a portion of Butler Street between Morningside and Highland Park—had long been a dumping site for industrial waste. City Councilwoman Deb Gross, whose district includes the area, said many of her constituents didn’t even know a bridge was there.

But that area is slated to get a major facelift, which Gross said has been a long time coming.

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Essential Pittsburgh
5:45 pm
Thu July 10, 2014

Strong and Decisive, Corbett Takes A Stand Against the Legislature

In a press conference this morning, Tom Corbett announced he signed the budget, but line-item vetoed about $72 million.
Credit 90.5 WESA

On the eve of the state budget deadline, Governor Tom Corbett announced Thursday that he had signed the $29 billion state spending plan, but line-item vetoed $65 million in legislative spending.

The Governor is blaming budget problems on pension costs and called on the legislature to come back and enact pension reform.

Penn Live’s John Micek said he expected that Corbett’s announcement would include the line-item veto, so he was not surprised with the outcome. 

Micek was instead surprised by Corbett's demeanor.

“I wondered where this Tom Corbett was four years ago. Very strong, very decisive. You know, not taking any guff, casting the legislature as the bad guy. His approval rating has been lousy, theirs’ is worse than his. So he loses nothing by running against them and making them the bogeyman here.”

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State Government
10:57 am
Thu July 10, 2014

Corbett Signs Budget, But Cuts Off General Assembly Funds

Though Gov. Tom Corbett signed the 2014-15 state budget, he line-item vetoed $65 million in General Assembly spending and an additional $7.2 million in legislative designated spending.

He said he did this because the lawmakers sent him a budget that was filled with discretionary spending but refused to deal with the unsustainable public pension system.

Instead, he said the Assembly increased its $320 million budget by two percent – which he said would cost taxpayers an additional $5 million.

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Overshadowed by the Budget
7:44 am
Thu July 10, 2014

New Bill Allows Isolated Schools to Partner with Nearby Police In Cases of Emergency

Special series: This week we're exploring legislative action taken recently in Harrisburg on important bills that were overshadowed by the passage of the state budget.

New legislation to increase the number of schools with an on-site police presence now awaits Gov. Tom Corbett’s signature before becoming law.

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City Government
4:07 pm
Wed July 9, 2014

City to Audit Tax Revenue from Pro Sports, Concerts, Conferences

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak says when constituents asked her how much tax revenue is brought in by pro sports and other large events, she didn't have an answer for them.
Credit Flicr user joseph a

Pittsburgh’s professional sports teams are huge drivers of the local economy, but City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak said in Wednesday’s committee meeting that she’s currently unable to quantify that contribution.

“As we were talking about Act 47, I was talking with constituents and they would constantly ask me ‘How much money do we get out of the stadiums?’” Rudiak said. “To be honest with you, I couldn’t answer that question.”

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Overshadowed by the Budget
7:52 am
Wed July 9, 2014

New Legislation Redefines Human Trafficking

Special series: This week we're exploring legislative action taken recently in Harrisburg on important bills that were overshadowed by the passage of the state budget.

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Government & Politics
7:48 am
Wed July 9, 2014

Corbett Faces Tough Challenge in Budget Decision

Gov. Tom Corbett has yet to sign the $29.1 billion budget passed by state lawmakers last week. He said he would not sign a budget that does not include a pension overhaul.

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City Government
4:13 pm
Tue July 8, 2014

Policy Change Will Increase City Pool Access for Low-Income Youth

Kids who received free or reduced cost pool passes through youth groups and other organizations were previously unable to access city pools on evenings and weekends.
Credit Photo courtesy Citiparks, City of Pittsburgh

Swimming pools are the quintessential summer hangout for kids, but when Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith found out children were being turned away because they didn’t have the right kind of pool passes, she decided to take action.

City Council Tuesday unanimously passed a bill that will repeal a city policy preventing kids with pool passes received through youth groups and other organizations from using city pools during evenings and weekends.

Kail-Smith said she wasn’t even aware of the policy until some of her constituents complained.

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Overshadowed by the Budget
3:30 am
Tue July 8, 2014

Bill Could Overhaul State Horse Racing Industry

Special series: This week we're exploring legislative action taken recently in Harrisburg on important bills that were overshadowed by the passage of the state budget.

The Pennsylvania House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee is considering a Senate bill that would change the state’s oversight of the horse racing industry.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Elder Vogel (R-Beaver), would dissolve the Department of Agriculture’s State and Harness Racing commissions and create one independent five-member commission.

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Essential Pittsburgh
7:31 pm
Mon July 7, 2014

Civic Leadership Academy Empowers Citizens to Learn About Local Government

Joe Wos is executive director of the Toonseum in the Cultural District and one of the newest graduates of the Civic Leadership Academy.
Credit Joe Wos / Twitter

The Civic Leadership Academy, run by Pittsburgh's volunteer initiative Serve PGH, provides citizens with an opportunity to learn more about their local government. It is also hoped that some of the city’s most pressing needs can be tackled with help from volunteers who go through the program.

Melanie Ondek, the Grants Officer who oversees Serve PGH believes that the program will benefit both the city and the people who take the class.

“We know that strong neighborhoods really start with strong leadership. So really the hope of this program is to foster more informed and empowered residents. Giving them the tools and sort of the relationships that can be helpful to them to bring resources back to their own communities."

Ondeck said the goal of the program is to also include representatives from every neighborhood in the city.

"We've touched 60 of the 90 neighborhoods. So each application period we try to have a diverse population. So eventually our goal is to reach all 90 neighborhoods and have representation of each of them."

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City Government
4:19 pm
Mon July 7, 2014

Tackling Pittsburgh’s Blight Problem, One Small Project at a Time

Volunteers beautify a vacant lot in Lawrenceville as part of the city's Love Your Block program.
Credit Photo courtesy Lawrenceville United

Blight is a major problem in Pittsburgh, and the city is pursuing several big-picture initiatives to deal with it.

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Overshadowed by the Budget
3:30 am
Mon July 7, 2014

Medical Marijuana Bill Closer to Floor Vote

Special series: This week we're exploring legislative action taken recently in Harrisburg on important bills that were overshadowed by the passage of the state budget.

For the first time bill to legalize medical marijuana has made it out of committee, and some state Senate members are confident that they can get it passed soon.

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Government & Politics
7:39 am
Fri July 4, 2014

Rep. Rothfus Recites Declaration Of Independence On House Floor

U.S. Representative Keith Rothfus (R-PA- 12) took to the House floor last week to do something that hasn’t been done in more than 40 years.

In celebration of the upcoming holiday, Rothfus recited the entire Declaration of Independence.

Joined by fellow freshmen Representatives Scott Perry (R-PA-04) and Andy Barr (R-KY-06), Rothfus said he was inspired by the 112th Congress.

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City Government
11:12 am
Thu July 3, 2014

City Lost More Than $70,000 In Bad Checks In 2013

An example of a check returned to the city by the bank because it was illegible.
Credit Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Since 2008, the city of Pittsburgh has lost more than $380,000 from checks returned by banks, due to non-sufficient funds or other problems.

Controller Michael Lamb announced the losses at a press conference Wednesday, saying he had just issued recommendations to the Department of Finance about how to fix the problem.

Chief among his recommendations: compile a list of all the points of entry for payments by check coming into the city.

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Essential Pittsburgh
5:02 pm
Wed July 2, 2014

Explaining Governor Corbett's Budget Battle

Credit Capitol Media Service

Budgets often lead to some of the most contentious battles within government, and the approval for the Pennsylvania’s $29.1 billion budget is shaping up to follow suit.

The budget was approved by lawmakers on Monday night, hours before the end of Pennsylvania’s fiscal year, but Governor Tom Corbett refused to sign the budget sent to him.

He said he would withhold his signature until the General Assembly made a decision regarding pension cuts, adding that the budget “does not address all the difficult choices that still need to be made.”

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:47 pm
Wed July 2, 2014

Supreme Court's Monumental Rulings: From Contraception To Cellphones

Credit David / Flickr

This week, the Supreme Court completed its term with a flurry of decisions ranging from birth-control exemptions for employers to the need for a warrant to search cell phones.

Our legal contributor, University of Pittsburgh Law Professor David Harris, explained the recent court rulings, and how they will impact our lives.

He started by discussing the Supreme Court’s ruling to allow companies an exemption from providing birth control on religious grounds. It was a decision that split the Court 5-4 and has proved to be just as decisive and controversial with the public.

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Government & Politics
7:55 am
Wed July 2, 2014

Pension Overhaul Spiked As Corbett Stalls

State lawmakers unceremoniously sidelined a public pension overhaul bill Tuesday, disarming House Republicans in their efforts to advance a priority topping Gov. Tom Corbett’s legislative wish list.

Midway through floor debate on the measure, Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R- Bucks) asked to send the pensions proposal to his committee for further study over the summer.

“There are too many unanswered questions about the proposal and about the amendment that we have before us,” said DiGirolamo.

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Government & Politics
3:12 pm
Tue July 1, 2014

Democrats Slam State Budget

The Pennsylvania Senate passed a $29.1 billion state budget late Monday to the fanfare of Republicans and jeers of Democrats. Gov. Tom Corbett has yet to sign the budget, citing a lack of a pension overhaul.

Sen. Matt Smith (D-Allegheny/Washington) is one of many Democrats displeased with the bill.

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Government & Politics
7:51 am
Tue July 1, 2014

Corbett Withholds Signature On Budget For Pension Overhaul

Gov. Tom Corbett is holding off on signing the $29.1 billion commonwealth budget approved by state lawmakers Monday evening.

The announcement came just after the final vote on the spending plan, which includes no new taxes but leans heavily on one-time revenue sources and hopeful revenue forecasts.

In a written statement, the governor took issue not with anything in the spending plan, but with the Legislature’s failure to pass another one of his top priorities: changes to public pension benefits for future state and school employees.

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Tue July 1, 2014

Pittsburgh Land Bank Brings New Tools To City's Blight Problem

Ronell Guy and Councilwoman Deborah Gross in the Northside. They say the land bank will help put blighted properties into productive use.
Credit Irina Zhorov/90.5 WESA

Ronell Guy oscillated between admiration and admonishment as she drove around the California-Kirkbride neighborhood in the Northside.

Guy, who is the executive director of the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing and an interim board member of the city’s land bank, pointed at blighted properties and vacant lots and then cooed at the possibilities of the abandoned properties.

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Budget
5:28 am
Mon June 30, 2014

No-Tax Budget Teed Up For Final Votes Today

A roughly $29.1 billion state budget is poised for final votes in the House and Senate Monday.

The plan includes no new taxes, and appears likely to go to the governor before the midnight deadline.

Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans are noting the number of one-time funding sources and optimistic tax revenue forecasts baked into the plan.

The proposed spending blueprint relies on nearly $250 million in transfers from funds for small business loans and other programs.

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Abortion clinic protests
3:34 am
Mon June 30, 2014

Pittsburgh's Buffer Zone Still Being Enforced; Abortion Opponents Expect a Court Challenge

“We’re hoping that it will also obliterate the yellow arch that’s out in front of the building that houses Planned Parenthood.”

Helen Cindrich, executive director of People Concerned for the Unborn Child, is referring to the US Supreme Court’s decision Thursday declaring a Massachusetts law that establishes a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics violates protesters’ free speech rights.

The yellow semicircle outside the Planned Parenthood facility in downtown Pittsburgh marks the 15-foot buffer zone established by a 2006 city ordinance.

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Truancy Bill
3:27 am
Mon June 30, 2014

Truancy Penalties Reconsidered After Death of Reading Woman

The death of a 55-year-old mother of seven has led to the proposal of new legislation in the PA Senate, which would eliminate sending parents of frequently truant children to jail.

Some school districts in Pennsylvania have a policy where a child who is absent without an excuse for an excessive number of days must appear before a magisterial district judge, and the parents of the child could be fined.

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Government & Politics
3:24 am
Mon June 30, 2014

Pigeon Shoots, Dog and Cat Meat Processing Could End in PA

The umpteenth effort to ban pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania has cleared a state Senate panel.

Animal rights activists have been trying for decades to end pigeon shoots – private events during which hunters take aim at live pigeons released from traps. Activists call it barbaric, though judges and prosecutors have said it breaks no animal cruelty laws.

Sen. Rich Alloway (R-Adams) counts himself among the traditional sportsmen against the practice. He called it a wasteful “blood sport” before voting for the ban during a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday.

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Law
3:28 pm
Thu June 26, 2014

An Uncertain Future For Pittsburgh's Abortion Protest Buffer Zone

It’s uncertain what will happen to that the yellow semi-circle marking a 15-foot buffer zone outside Planned Parenthood’s downtown Pittsburgh location.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling Thursday striking down the 35-foot protest-free zones outside abortion clinics in Massachusetts, saying that law violates the First Amendment Rights of protesters.

But the question remains if the high court’s decision will have on Pittsburgh’s eight-year-old law.

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Government & Politics
10:55 am
Thu June 26, 2014

House Sends Budget To Senate As Tax Talks Continue

The state House passed a $29.1 billion spending plan Wednesday, five days before the July 30 budget deadline. The measure now heads to the Senate, which looks likely to make big changes to the revenue sources assumed in the plan, if not the final spend figure.

House Republicans heralded the proposal as a reflection of their priorities: holding the line on spending, without raising taxes, and passed before July.

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