Government & Politics

Government & Politics news from 90.5 WESA.

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Rumors that the Beechview and Bloomfield farmers markets might be on the chopping block spurred a spirited discussion about food equity and market management in Pittsburgh City Council Wednesday morning.

Mayor Peduto Talks Community Policing, Snow Removal and More

Feb 11, 2015
Andrew Bardwell / Flickr

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto makes his monthly appearance on the program. We discuss the new 'Safer Together' initiative that the mayor hopes will increase public safety and improve community-police relations, raising the minimum wage and ways to make downtown more livable.

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

When Ian McMeans became Homestead’s borough manager three years ago the borough had only one email address and the secretary printed the messages and hand delivered them to everyone. “That stopped very shortly thereafter,” said McMeans. Then McMeans built a website. But progress has been slow. The borough is still entirely paper-run. 

A slightly higher age limit for Pennsylvania judges is two steps away from becoming a reality. The state House has passed a proposed constitutional amendment to bump the mandatory retirement age from 70 to 75 years.

“For a judge, the older you are, the more experience you have – life experience, courtroom experience, case law experience – the more experience you have, the better you’re going to be as a judge,” said sponsoring Rep. Kate Harper (R-Montgomery).

State House and Senate supporters of a bill aiming to curb drunk driving in Pennsylvania say they’re hoping this is the year the measure goes all the way to the governor’s desk.

“There’s an old saying, the third time’s the charm,” said Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery), sponsor of a bill to let some first-time impaired-driving offenders keep their licenses as long as their cars are equipped with an ignition interlock. The restriction requires drivers to pass a Breathalyzer-type test before starting their vehicles.

Governor Wolf Begins Dismantling Corbett’s Healthy PA Program

Feb 10, 2015
Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

When Tom Wolf was campaigning for Governor, he said he would do away with then-Governor Tom Corbett's Healthy PA plan, and replace it with a full Medicaid expansion supported by the Affordable Care Act.

This week Gov. Wolf officially announced plans to transition from Healthy PA to the Medicaid expansion. We'll talk about the implications of this change with Antoinette Kraus, Director of PA Health Access Network.

Kraus says that her organization is relieved to see that Healthy PA will be phased out and the Medicaid expansion will be implemented. The PA Health Access Network has worked to enroll hundreds of Pennsylvanians in Healthy PA, but she says that the program has been complicated and bureaucratic, with substantial limits on accessing care and benefits.

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner announced Tuesday she intends to subpoena the county administration and police department.

She said it’s the result of the “refusal to cooperate” with her performance audit of the police department, which includes 220 officers and operates on a $29.4 million budget.

The subpoena will call on County Manager William McCain, Chief of Staff Jennifer Liptak and police Superintendent Charles Moffat to report to her office on Feb. 23 to discuss the audit and next steps.

Under the current law, parents of children who are chronically absent from school are subject to fines. If they can’t pay those fines, then they face jail time. State Rep. Mark Gillen (R-Berks, Lancaster) said he is trying to change the current statute from a “shall” provision because parents don’t belong in prison.

“We think that it needs to be changed to a 'may' provision,” said Gillen. “We’ve got 50,000 inmates in the Pennsylvania prison system. Currently we’re exceeding our capacity by 3,800 inmates.”

AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File

Gov. Tom Wolf's administration on Monday announced it is simplifying the benefits packages for adult Medicaid recipients.

Wolf's administration released letter to the federal government saying it is withdrawing a request from former Gov. Tom Corbett for approval of a low-risk benefits package for healthier adults.

The governor’s nominees selected to fill two vacancies on the state Supreme Court appear poised for easy approval by the state Senate.

On Wednesday, Gov. Tom Wolf selected Democrat Ken Gormley, dean of Duquesne Law School, and Republican Thomas Kistler, Centre County President Judge.

Doug Kerr / flickr

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to continue with several projects in the Pittsburgh region, thanks to the inclusion of $225.5 million dollars in President Obama’s proposed Fiscal Year 2016 budget.

“It’s about a 30-35 percent increase over 2015,” said Lenna Hawkins, deputy district engineer for the Corps’ Pittsburgh district. “It’ll do quite a bit for us as far as getting some major construction projects moving along.” 

If approved, it will go to two such projects.

A proposed constitutional amendment to change the way tax-exempt entities are defined won’t make it onto the spring ballot.

State Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Blair) said lawmakers have run out of time to pass the amendment and send it to a voter referendum.

“I think we’ve already missed that deadline,” said Eichelberger, “so it’ll be in the fall.”

He added that it’s also possible lawmakers will study the matter further, and even revise the proposed amendment, restarting the three-part process of changing the state constitution.

The case over whether Gov. Tom Wolf can remove the head of the Office of Open Records will go before a panel of seven Commonwealth Court judges next month.

Both sides of the dispute struck a deal after a hearing Wednesday. Senate GOP lawyers arguing on behalf of Erik Arneson, the fired Office of Open Records director, said they would withdraw their request that he be immediately restored to the director’s post. In exchange, the Office of Attorney General, arguing for the Wolf administration, said that Arneson could not participate in any Open Records business.

The Role of the Attorney General

Feb 4, 2015
The US Department of Justice

Last week Senate confirmation hearings began for Loretta Lynch. She's President Obama’s nominee to replace outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder. In light of the hearings, Pitt Law Professor David Harris talks about the role and responsibilities of the office of the Attorney General.

Harris first explains that the Attorney General is the top lawyer for the US government. Their role is to advise all of the departments of the executive branch, including the office of the President. He or she is also the administrator and chief of the US Justice Department. Harris says while the AG serves as a lawyer for the office of the President, it's not the same as representing the President. He offers Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon as examples.

"There has to be, there should be a separation between the white house and the political interests of the president," says Harris, which is why Janet Reno did not represent Bill Clinton in his impeachment hearing.

Harris says the office of the Attorney General has existed pretty much from the start of the nation in 1789, and the Justice Department was created in 1870. Read more at the Department of Justice website.

Allegheny County Council on Tuesday joined the chorus of voices calling on the state Legislature to stop bills that would amend the state constitution and give lawmakers the right to decide what qualifies an organization for tax-exempt, public charity status.

Photo courtesy City of Pittsburgh Department of Parks & Recreation

According to Pittsburgh City Councilman Dan Gilman, figuring out how much it costs to rent a trash container or hire an off-duty police officer is more difficult than it needs to be.

Gilman on Tuesday proposed a bill that would create a schedule of fees for the use of such city-owned property and services. He said currently, fees are scattered throughout city code and various city websites, rather than existing all in one place.

Michael Lynch / 90.5 WESA

The City of Pittsburgh is taking big steps toward financial transparency.

Officials Wednesday unveiled Fiscal Focus Pittsburgh, a web project that tracks the city’s revenues and expenditures over the last three years, including the 2015 estimated budget.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Despite passionate pleas from local activists, Allegheny County Council on Tuesday voted down a measure that would have placed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in county parks for the next two years.

The bill was written and introduced into Council by the residents themselves, using a provision of the county’s charter that has never actually been put into practice. Activists with the group Protect our Parks gathered nearly 2,000 signatures, well beyond the 500 signatures required to put the bill before Council.

Allegheny County has responded to a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union and a woman who is caring for four children without receiving financial help. The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of Tracy Schaeffer who has taken care of her grand nieces and nephews since 2012. The suit alleges Schaeffer was not notified of her options to become a certified foster parent.

The campaign office of Mark Patrick Flaherty has fired the first shot in the 2015 Allegheny County Controller’s race.  Flaherty, who was unseated from the post in 2011 by now County Controller Chelsa Wagner, says the incumbent left key data off her most recently campaign filing.

In specific, Flaherty says Wagner did not file home and work addresses for several of the individuals who donated to Wagner’s campaign more than the state reporting threshold of $250.

Flickr user Joseph A

Pittsburgh homeowners who are scrambling to meet a Feb. 10 deadline for early payment of taxes, which entitles them to a 2 percent discount, can breathe easy.

City Councilman Dan Gilman on Tuesday introduced legislation to extend that deadline to Feb. 28.

He said many taxpayers did not receive their bills until Jan. 31, while others have not received them at all yet.

McCord Resigns Amid Extortion Scandal

Feb 3, 2015
Rob McCord website

Now that former Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord has admitted using the influence of his office to get money from prospective donors to his gubernatorial campaign, what happens next? And what does his resignation mean for the future of the state? Capitol correspondent Mary Wilson provides her analysis and her forecast for Harrisburg’s political climate to come.

Flickr user Ronald Woan

State Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny) said when he was a kid, people often warned him not to get to close to Pittsburgh’s three rivers. But the polluted industrial riverfronts of generations past have slowly been replaced by family-friendly recreational opportunities and big-ticket development projects such as PNC Park and South Side Works.

The state’s major doctors lobby is already gearing up to oppose plans to reduce or eliminate property taxes.

Plans to curb or kill the property taxes levied by school districts didn’t get very far last legislative session. Lawmakers are in the process of reintroducing those proposals.

But the Pennsylvania Medical Society said both proposals would stick medical doctors and their patients with a higher bill.

State Treasurer Rob McCord will plead guilty to federal charges he tried to compel two potential donors to give to his campaign or risk any business they had with the commonwealth, he said Friday.  

In a video statement distributed by his lawyer, McCord says his resignation planned for mid-February will now be effective immediately.

US Sen. Bob Casey (PA-D) will introduce this week an anti-bullying bill aimed specifically at schools.

The Safe Schools Improvement Act would require school districts to develop and implement locally-driven anti-bullying policies to protect children. It would also require states to report data on bullying and harassment to the US Department of Education.

Allegheny County has launched an online information portal that will put in one place information from various departments.

“You can go into the Health Department, look at their air quality index, you can look at the courts as far as their records, of course we have the property assessment records, there’s treasury data,” said William McKain, Allegheny County manager.

Such portals have been used in other cities, according to McKain.

On Thursday, City of Pittsburgh Controller Michael Lamb’s office released an audit of Schenley Park Skating Rink. The audit found poor cash management procedures and not enough internal controls – a problem Lamb said is pervasive across city owned facilities.

“We could pretty much do this audit in just about anywhere across the city where we are taking money across the counter,” said Lamb.

Is Medical Marijuana Coming to PA?

Jan 29, 2015
Dank Depot / Flickr

Efforts to pass a medical marijuana bill in Pennsylvania have received a boost with the election of a new governor.

But how can marijuana advocates sway skeptical House members who sat on the legislation last year?

Patrick Nightingale of the Pittsburgh office of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws talks about his work as part of a years-long public education program on marijuana decriminalization.

Following last year’s passage of a bill allowing licensed volunteer fire companies and social organizations to sponsor small betting pools, one state lawmaker spoke on the Senate Floor this week and said groups are still being punished for that with Superbowl or March Madness pools.

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