Government & Politics

Government & Politics news from 90.5 WESA.

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.

Pennsylvania’s money problems go beyond its pension debt.

The commonwealth could face a $2 billion spending gap this year, a hole attributed to rising public sector pension costs and an over-reliance on one-time funding sources in the budget. But the state does have a revenue problem – or rather, several problems. Its tax policies aren’t keeping pace with demographic changes and new technologies, leaving the commonwealth with a shrinking tax base.

Would-be reformers are already coming together to try to reform how Pennsylvania's congressional and legislative district boundaries will be drawn seven years from now.

"Believe it or not, for the 2021, we're already starting to get a little bit late," said Barry Kauffman, head of Common Cause Pennsylvania.

New district lines were only recently put into effect for this decade, but it would take so long to reform the process that a bunch of advocacy groups are gearing up now to push for changes.

In an effort to cut down on prescription drug abuse, the state is working to put together the Achieving Better Care by Monitoring All Prescriptions Program (ABC-MAP) oversight board by Jan. 25. Part of the law that created the board will also create a prescription drug database.

Pennsylvania state agency buildings will now act as the testing ground for new, environmentally beneficial and energy-efficient technologies.

House Bill 1672, known as the State Agency Green Technology Implementation Act, allows the Department of General Services to identify new energy-efficient technologies, products, or processes and implement them in state-owned buildings.

Rep. Tom Caltagirone (D-Berks) was a co-sponsor of the bill and an advocate for energy-efficient efforts in the commonwealth.

Newly elected lawmakers in Pennsylvania will be sworn in Jan. 6. In Senate District 32, which includes Somerset, Fayette and Westmoreland counties, political newbie Patrick Stefano is taking over long-serving Democrat Richard Kasunic’s  seat.

With his first year as mayor of Pittsburgh coming to a close, Bill Peduto said the first term was exhausting, but satisfying. He said the job is everything he thought it would be and more, though said there are some surprising aspects, namely having to deal with personnel matters.

“You have 3,500 employees, a certain percent of them are going to have issues with the people they work with and those issues don’t get resolved as you’d think – well a lot of them do – through the directors of personnel, they actually work their way all the way up the food chain,” Peduto said.

Republicans in Harrisburg are still floating the idea of trying to take advantage of a quirk in the state constitution that separates the swearing in of the Legislature and the governor by more than two weeks. 

What Governor-Elect Wolf Would Do to Fix Pennsylvania's Cities

Dec 29, 2014
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

More than 13 percent of Pennsylvanians have incomes below the poverty line, according to the Census Bureau. The problem is even worse in cities like Reading, Chester, and Coatesville, where more than 30 percent of residents live in poverty.

Police officers now have a new way to pinpoint the location of missing persons within the commonwealth.

Senate Bill 1290, known as the Kelsey Smith Act, gives law enforcement the ability to request GPS information from cell phone providers in the event of a life-threatening emergency.

“[The bill] allows for during an emergency situation for an officer to go to carrier – be it AT&T, Verizon – and say to them, ‘We need to know where that phone is at, and we need to know where it is at now,’” said state Representative Dom Costa (D-Allegheny).

When the U.S. Senate reconvenes Jan. 6 for the start of a new Congressional session, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) will find himself in the minority party for the first time in his eight years in that office.

Through the November elections the Republicans gained control of the Senate for the first time since losing the majority in January 2007. The Republicans now hold a 10-seat advantage 54-44 over the Democrats with two independents — Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine.

Cross-State Voter Checks Come to Pennsylvania

Dec 26, 2014

With election season in the rearview, Pennsylvania is shifting its focus to 2015 and beyond — a time when more accurate voter rolls should become a reality.

The Pennsylvania Department of State announced in November that the commonwealth will be participating in the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, which compares voter records among states to identify possible duplicates.

This is the third in a three-part series looking ahead to the 2015 priorities with members of Pittsburgh City Council. Find part one here and part two here.

A bill that would prevent Pennsylvania lawmakers from passing legislation before a new governor can be sworn into office is one of several measures that the co-chairman of the state Government Reform Caucus plans to introduce in January.

This is the second in a three-part series looking ahead to the 2015 priorities with members of Pittsburgh City Council. Find part one here.

Wildlife Conservation Officers and Waterways Conservation Officers (WCOs) in Pennsylvania now have the option to wear body cameras in the line of duty, says state Representative Dan Moul (R-Adams).

“I will argue every day of the week that a WCO is the same as any police officer,” Moul said, referring to a newly enacted state law that allows municipal police officers to wear body cameras. “Their duties are just a little different. The training is virtually the same.”

For as long as property taxes have been used to locally funded schools, there has been a debate over fairness and it might come to head this year in Pennsylvania.

State Senator Matt Smith (D – Allegheny) is hopeful the 2015-16 budget will incorporate a funding formula for Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts.

He is a member of the Basic Education Funding Commission, which is tasked with crafting the formula.  Created in June, the 15-member commission has about six months to go until it must submit a proposal to the legislature.

This is the first in a three-part series looking ahead to the 2015 priorities with members of Pittsburgh City Council.

Whatever he’s doing after moving out of the governor’s residence, Tom Corbett says, he’ll probably be holding a grandson. The governor says he’s looking forward to more family time as he returns to his Pittsburgh-area home – but he’s not closing the door to an encore in public service. 

A potential revenue stream for the city of Pittsburgh could become tied up in litigation if City Council does not act quickly.

Council on Monday discussed a bill to approve the installation of distributed antenna systems, or DAS, in 19 light poles across the city.

According to Mike Salem, an engineering technician in the Department of Public Works, the antennae are meant to improve cell service in “dead spots,” areas where reception is bad or calls are dropped regularly.

Lower phone rates for state prison inmates this holiday season are presenting the state Department of Corrections with a classic lesson in economics: what happens when pent-up demand meets low supply.

The agency announced a drop in phone rates right before Thanksgiving. Costs for a 15 minute call (including taxes) went from about six bucks to less than one dollar.

Cities Learn to be Strategic When Demolishing Blighted Buildings

Dec 23, 2014
Kate Lao Shaffner / WPSU

Urban revitalization often brings to mind preservation and rehabilitation—people like the idea of saving old buildings. But the reality is, in Pennsylvania's post-industrial cities, there are many, many buildings that will never be rehabbed.

Sometimes, before you rebuild, you have to tear down—and it helps do to it strategically.

Technology upgrades in the new Department of Permits, Licenses, and Inspections – formerly the Bureau of Building Inspection – are set to continue, as Pittsburgh City Council on Monday gave preliminary approval to a bill that would set the stage for putting permitting online.