Government & Politics

Government & Politics news from 90.5 WESA.

One of the challenges many veterans face when they re-integrate into civilian life is finding a job. Though many veterans operate heavy machinery, drive specialty vehicles or perform other specialized duties, additional training and testing is required before they can get a job outside the military. A bill introduced in the state House would change that.

Talk of liquor privatization all but disappeared from the legislative scene a year and a half ago, but the issue is back as state lawmakers discuss top priorities for the new session.

A plan to expand alcohol sales and phase out state wine & spirits stores passed the House nearly two years ago, only to die unceremoniously in the Senate a few months later. But the coming months hold promise for the proposal’s supporters, who say it should be part of any big policy compromise with the Senate and Governor Tom Wolf’s administration.

Since he launched his mayoral campaign in 2013, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has been promising residents a more efficient and cost-effective style of governance.

The Allegheny County Controller is hoping a little preventative legislative action could stave off a scandal like the one involving lewd emails sent among members of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office and at least one State Supreme Court Justice. 

The measure being promoted by Controller Chelsa Wagner would create a zero-tolerance policy for any “misuse” of the county email system.

“When you look at the scandals that have really rocked Pennsylvania … I think there is a clear need,” Wagner said.

The race for the three open seats on the seven-member Pennsylvania Supreme Court is expected to be intense this year, and there is no doubt it is starting earlier than normal.

All six Democratic Supreme Court candidates will be in Pittsburgh at 2 p.m. Sunday for a forum at Chatham University. In total there are 18 announced candidates.

But little is known and will be known about them. 

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner is threatening to withhold nearly $682,000 from VisitPittsburgh until the nonprofit tourism promotion agency explains why it allocated public funds to Mayor Peduto’s “Undercover Boss” appearance last month.

As part of the CBS reality show, Peduto promised $155,000 to four city employees for college tuition, mortgage payments and startup costs for a new church. Peduto said no public funds would be used, but according to Wagner, VisitPittsburgh was asked to contribute $25,000 toward the gifts.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said Thursday he would void 28 last-minute nominations made by his Republican predecessor, Gov. Tom Corbett, as well as the "midnight appointment" of Erik Arneson as director of the state's Office of Open Records.

Arneson, a former top aide in the state Senate GOP, was selected to run the OOR less than two weeks before Wolf's inauguration.

Wolf criticized the appointment at the time.

A grand jury report made available by a special prosecutor looking into allegations that state Attorney General Kathleen Kane leaked information from a separate grand jury has called for a narrowing of the state law protecting reporters.

Pennsylvania’s so-called Shield Law exempts reporters from having to disclose confidential sources, even in the course of a governmental investigation.

Melissa Melewsky, counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, says she’s never heard of a past effort to scale back the statute.

Before he took the oath of office, Gov. Tom Wolf said that as governor he would push for legislation that would implement paid sick leave for employees of businesses with 50 of more employees. That has some business groups in the state concerned.

“We’ve gone through this issue before,” said Gene Barr, president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. “The problem isn’t in having people get sick time, it’s in government mandating or dictating exactly what that structure needs to look like.”

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Court documents released Wednesday show a grand jury has concluded there are reasonable grounds to charge the state's top prosecutor with perjury, false swearing, official oppression and obstruction after an investigation into leaks of secret investigative materials.

The records made public by the state Supreme Court say the grand jury's Dec. 18 presentment regarding Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane has been sent by the supervising judge to the district attorney in Montgomery County to decide whether to file charges.

What’s the Right Rhetoric for the State of the Union?

Jan 20, 2015
Blatant World / Flickr

Tonight at 9 p.m., President Barack Obama will deliver the State of the Union address to Congress, the Senate and the rest of the country. But his office has already put forth many plans for the year.

Before the president gives his address, we'll get some perspective on what he'll propose, from University of Pittsburgh presidential rhetoric and political communication professor Jerry Shuster.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Gov. Tom Wolf has taken his oath of office, using his inauguration address to call for a statewide transformation.

“As you know, I laid out a plan during the campaign to give Pennsylvania a fresh start, and we will debate those ideas, I know, in the days and months and years to come,” said Wolf, turning to his left, where Republican House and Senate leaders chuckled.

When Pennsylvania’s junior senator sits at his desk for the State of the Union Address tonight, he will have a specific list of items he would like President Obama to address.

The second-term senator would like to see the president focus on the economy and national security, not broadband speeds and net neutrality as he has already previewed in stops around the country this month.

“The fact is, the average working family in Pennsylvania is not getting ahead,” he said. “That’s the reality. We need a stronger economy and we change that reality.”

The Pennsylvania General Assembly will go back into session Jan. 20 with new leadership at the helm. But much of the committee leadership is from outside of the Pittsburgh area. Of the 23 House committees, only two Republicans from the southwestern corner of the state are committee chairs.

“Committee chairs are very important positions,” said House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny). “It is driven by seniority. The chairs in both parties are the most senior folks.”

Gov.-elect Tom Wolf’s transition team says Pennsylvania is in the throes of an all-out budget crisis.

Pennsylvania is facing a $2.3 billion shortfall for the fiscal year beginning in July, according to a report by the governor-elect’s transition team.

The projected shortfall is even bigger than they expected — big enough to sink existing state programs, not to mention all of the additional spending Wolf proposed during his campaign.

Gov.-elect Tom Wolf says his transition team's examination of the state's fiscal situation didn't turn up any surprises, merely confirming the presence of a roughly $2 billion deficit for the fiscal year beginning in July.

Key findings from the group's report are expected to be released Friday.

"We have a mess. I knew that going in," Wolf told reporters Thursday before heading into a tour of the Pennsylvania Farm Show. "The mess is as big as I feared it was, so I have a lot of work to do — we all do."

The City of Pittsburgh, through the Urban Redevelopment Authority, approved plans Thursday to purchase the Alfred E. Hunt Armory in Shadyside from the state.

The 102-year-old historic landmark will be purchased by the URA without having to go through a bidding process, according to Pittsburgh City Councilman Dan Gilman.

“That allows us to have better local control over the future redevelopment plans, whereas the state just requires selling to the highest bidder,” he said.

But Gilman said the city doesn’t want to own the property for long.

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.

Pages