Government & Politics

Government & Politics news from 90.5 WESA.

Katie McGinty / facebook

Katie McGinty confirmed Tuesday that she will seek the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2016.

McGinty's announcement was expected. She stepped down from her role as Gov. Tom Wolf's chief of staff last month after fellow Democrats lobbied her to run.

"As Governor Wolf's chief of staff, I've seen that as he is working hard for our families, we need partners in Washington to help solve problems, not make them worse," said McGinty in a web video released by her campaign.

The governor’s nominee to run the Pennsylvania State Police says one of his goals will be workforce diversity.  

Major Tyree Blocker said Tuesday that, in addition to community outreach and superb training, the state police needs “a long-term recruitment and retention program to attract qualified individuals.”

If confirmed by the state Senate, Blocker would be the second black commissioner of the state police. But he said his concerns about recruitment and retention extend beyond minority and female troopers.

Wolf Picks Retired Major To Run PA State Police

Aug 4, 2015
Courtesy photo

Gov. Tom Wolf has picked retired Major Tyree C. Blocker to be the next commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police, after the governor’s first nominee failed to win the state Senate’s confirmation in June.

The nomination represents a homecoming for Blocker, a Chester County resident, who spent 30 years with the State Police. Blocker was a trailblazer as an African-American commander and ran the Bureau of Drug Law Enforcement when cocaine was flooding into Pennsylvania.

Twenty-four years ago, in late July, Joyce David was running out of patience.

The commonwealth's budget was five weeks late, and David's husband, a state auditor, hadn't received a paycheck in a month.

"The paralysis stems from a potential tax increase," reported The Associated Press in 1991.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Council on Monday received a standing ovation from activists and workers after it gave final approval to a bill that will require employers to provide paid sick days to workers.

State Sen. John Sabatina (D-Philadelphia) believes the Americans with Disabilities Act has greatly improved access to the physical world and employment for those with special needs since its passage 25 years ago, but says it has fallen short when it comes to protecting life.

Individuals with mental or physical disabilities are often denied the opportunity to be listed on organ transplant lists because of their disability, he said. Sabatina introduced legislation to change that as a House member in February, and said he intends to file a similar measure as a freshman member of the Senate.

State Rep. Susan Helm (R-Dauphin) said she believes many students throughout Pennsylvania experience unfair treatment under municipal laws.

Helm’s House Bill 809 would strike down municipal laws in the state that prohibit people from living somewhere based on their current status as a student.

arnet4statesenate.com

Voters in Pennsylvania’s 37th senatorial district now have two candidates from which to choose as they begin to think about the November special election. 

The Allegheny County Democratic Committee chose Heather Arnet as its candidate on Saturday. Last month the Republicans chose Guy Reschenthaler as its candidate.

The seat was left vacant when Democrat Matt Smith resigned to run the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce. 

In a bid to establish a safety net for part of the state’s social safety net, the Rehabilitation and Community Providers Association is urging state lawmakers to offer some help as the budget impasse hits the one-month mark.

The trade group sent letters to lawmakers in mid-July asking them to consider a short-term funding measure and held a press conference in Pittsburgh last week to drum up support. The group has also suggested that the state provide interest-free loans to social service agencies and nonprofits, “similar to what was done for state employees the last time the budget was not passed on time.”

U.S. Senator Bob Casey said the nation must increase its commitment to inspecting the safety of train bridges to avoid disaster on Thursday.

Casey said he wants an additional $1 million added to the Federal Railroad Administration budget to increase the number of railroad inspectors from eight to 15.

He said the eight inspectors are currently responsible for inspecting more than 70,000 train bridges nationwide.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Council got an earful at a public hearing Thursday on paid sick days legislation. The measure was put on hold by council last week to allow for amendments and a public hearing. 

The most visible attendees were pro-sick days legislation, though several came to represent the other side.

Homeowners forced to buy expensive flood insurance through the federal government could have more buying power if a pair of proposals make it through the U.S. House and Senate.

Ron Ruman, Pennsylvania Insurance Department spokesman, said his office would like to see private insurance on a level-playing field with the federal government’s flood insurance offerings.

In a state budget stalemate with few compromises, a left-leaning think tank says focusing on property tax relief could prompt some bipartisan agreement.

Gov. Tom Wolf made his pitch to offer property tax relief central to his proposed budget. In May, the state House passed a GOP-crafted proposal with bipartisan backing.

It included the kind of broad-based tax increases Republican leaders now say they can't support. 

Victims of sexual violence in Pennsylvania may receive more support as the state adopts a new approach to contact them.

The State Police and the Office of the Victim Advocate are now sharing data to identify victims of sexual violence and let them know them about changes in their offenders’ status.

The effort has more than doubled victim registrations in the past two months, according to state officials.

State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) re-introduced a House resolution to impeach PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane “due to the pattern of misbehavior that we have seen in office for the last two years,” he said.

Metcalfe first introduced the measure in 2013 after she chose not to defend the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s now-nullified Defense of Marriage Act. He withdrew it after not getting support from the House State Government Committee before the 2013-14 legislative session ended. So Metcalfe is trying again.

The top House Republican says he'll try to override the governor's budget veto if negotiations don't starting yielding consensus.

"We have to look at overriding if we're not going to have a substantive discussion," said House Speaker Mike Turzai, during his appearance at the Harrisburg Press Club luncheon on Monday.

Turzai said an override should be the "goal" of the GOP-controlled Legislature, though he's not sure if such a move would have the votes to pass.

Proposal Would Limit Drone Use In PA

Jul 27, 2015

A forthcoming state Senate plan would curb the use of drones by state and local government.

Several other states have enacted laws limiting the use of drones for surveillance or hunting purposes, and federal rules for civil drones are still in the works. But Pennsylvania has no specific laws governing unmanned aircraft systems.

Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon County) said he wants to limit government agencies’ use of drones. He’s worried they could violate someone’s right to be protected from search and seizure.

Flickr user SOZIALHELDEN

The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law 25 years ago on Sunday.

The act was a major step toward full-scale accessibility for citizens with disabilities, but according to many, there are still substantial barriers in place.

Minor Parties Get Win In PA Ballot-Access Lawsuit

Jul 24, 2015

A federal court is throwing out provisions in Pennsylvania law that minor political parties say make it unconstitutionally difficult for their candidates to get onto ballots.

The ruling released Friday by U.S. District Judge Lawrence Stengel targets the financial penalties that judges can impose on candidates for office who lose a challenge to their nomination papers, but he's also striking down the state's higher signature requirement for the nomination papers of minor party candidates.

Wolf Names Isenhour As New Chief Of Staff

Jul 23, 2015

Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday said goodbye and good luck to his chief of staff for the past six months and turned to his legislative liaison, Mary Isenhour, to step in as his top aide.

Katie McGinty resigned Wednesday and is expected to launch a bid for U.S. Senate in 2016 after being courted intensively by national Democrats. She would not confirm Thursday that she intends to run.

AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma, File

Katie McGinty, chief of staff to Gov. Tom Wolf, is stepping down, reportedly to prepare for an announcement of her candidacy for U.S. Senate in 2016.

Wolf's spokesman said McGinty submitted her resignation Wednesday, first reported by the National Journal. She has been considering a U.S. Senate run for the past few weeks.

McGinty's departure comes as Wolf is still trying to hammer out a budget agreement with a GOP-controlled Legislature. But a feud with Senate Republicans has smoldered for months since she took a shot at their proposal to change public pension benefits in May.

Pennsylvania schools represent a growing chunk of the school districts with the most desperate finances in the country, according to one credit rating agency.

Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded the credit of eight Pennsylvania school districts since March, and it says the worst of those aren’t like to recover soon.

Pittsburgh City Council voted on Wednesday to hold the Paid Sick Days Act for one week so the bill can be amended and council can hold a public hearing July 30.

Councilman Corey O’Connor of Squirrel Hill agreed to amend his own bill. In it's original form, the bill required businesses with 15 or more employees allow workers to accrue up to 72 hours of paid sick leave per year, and those with less than 15 employees up to 40 hours of leave. An employee would have to work 30 hours to earn one hour of sick leave.

Every 10 years a fight explodes in Harrisburg over how to redraw state House, Senate and U.S. Congressional districts, with Republican and Democratic lawmakers wrangling over what often becomes a map full of oddly shaped districts drawn in an effort to keep one party or the other in power. 

State Rep. Ted Harhai (D-Westmoreland) wants to end the fight by creating a new independent panel to redraw the districts following the decennial U.S. census.

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

President Barack Obama on Tuesday called the Legionella-related deaths of six veterans at a Pittsburgh VA hospital a “tragedy.”

“Whenever there are any missteps, there is no excuse,” Obama told thousands of veterans at the annual Veterans of Foreign Wars convention at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh.

Reid Frazier / The Allegheny Front

Gov. Tom Wolf said he would be "willing to have conversations" about compromises on the 5 percent severance tax on natural gas he's proposed to balance the state budget.

"I'm willing to have conversations," Wold told reporters while touring Big Beaver Elementary School in Darlington on Monday. "I want a better Pennsylvania. If I'm convinced we can have a better Pennsylvania with something better than what I've proposed, then I'm all ears."

The City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections is changing the way it handles appeals to its decisions regarding businesses licenses and property violations.

PLI Chief Maura Kennedy said a review of all bureau policies last year revealed that the current system — wherein Kennedy herself evaluates and adjudicates appeals — violates state law.

“Legally there needs to be an independent body that you appeal the director’s decisions to,” she said. “It’s not appropriate for the department both to be the judge and the jury.”

There are 250 state boards and commissions in the commonwealth, but a Pittsburgh-area lawmaker said there’s no full understanding of what they do and how they spend state money.

Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Shaler) sponsored Senate Resolution 138, passed in June, that led to a new study to answer those and other questions.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) is supporting a bill to correct the “WIC gap” in which young children who receive assistance are left without nutritional assistance before entering school.

In Pennsylvania, children are eligible for the Women, Infants, and Children program until they reach age 5 – then its assumed they enter school where they may qualify for the school breakfast and lunch programs that provide them with food.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

The political debate over the state budget has hit a lull within the walls of the state Capitol, but it's very much alive on roadside billboards, radio ads, and in mailboxes.

"We're in a messaging war, but that's on both sides," said Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna) this week.

GOP ally Americans for Prosperity has radio ads and billboards blasting the governor for trying to raise taxes.

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