Government & Politics

Government & Politics news from 90.5 WESA.

GOP Readies Stopgap Budget, But Details Are Scarce

Sep 11, 2015

Republican state lawmakers could put Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in a tricky spot with their next budgetary maneuver: they say they’ll be back in session this month to approve a temporary spending plan.

Flickr user the yellowrider

For many, pigeons are pests. Woody Allen called them “rats with wings” in the 1980 film Stardust Memories.

And according to Rebecca Reid with the animal advocacy group Humane Options Pittsburgh, that’s how the state and federal governments see them as well. Pigeons, or rock doves, are one of just three species not protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Aapo Haapanen / Flickr

  A legal battle over Gov. Tom Wolf’s seven-month death penalty moratorium lands in the state’s Supreme Court on Thursday.

The court’s ruling could disrupt Wolf’s plans to continue issuing reprieves to death row inmates, at least until a state task force finishes studying capital punishment in Pennsylvania. 

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

It’s no secret that Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is big on innovation. He transformed the city’s Computer Information Systems department into the Department of Innovation and Performance and hired the city’s first Chief Innovation Officer, Debra Lam.

But Lam said that when the mayor’s team started looking around at the most innovative cities in the world, they found that they were also some of the most exclusive.

Officials with the Pennsylvania’s eHealth Partnership Authority plan to grant about $10 million to hospitals and ambulatory providers in an effort to digitize and streamline medical services. They will be able to connect to the Pennsylvania Patient Provider Network.

This is a continuation of the grant program and effort they started last year.

AP

Vice President Joe Biden spoke to a group of union workers before the Labor Day Parade in downtown Pittsburgh Monday morning.

His speech was focused on the importance of organized labor to the health of the national economy and quality of life.

PA Eyes Avian Flu Threat

Sep 4, 2015
Stewart Black / Flickr

  Pennsylvania is bracing for a possible outbreak of what was once called the “fowl plague” – a highly contagious form of bird flu that devastated entire poultry flocks in the Midwest this spring.

The commonwealth saw severe cases of the bird flu in the 1980s. Since then, commercial poultry operations have become more complex, and keeping backyard hens is more popular –- as evidenced, perhaps, by a certain website purveying in rent-a-chickens.

Rendell To Kane: Put Someone Else In Charge

Sep 2, 2015

Former Gov. Ed Rendell has a little advice for embattled state Attorney General Kathleen Kane: take a leave of absence.

“Let someone in her office be the one to call the shots for the attorney general’s office while she was getting ready for trial, preparing for trial with her lawyers, etcetera,” said Rendell on WITF’s Smart Talk on Wednesday.

Top state Democrats have called on Kane to resign in light of the criminal charges filed against her last month. Rendell said Kane could stop short of that while placating some of her critics.

An activist who has crusaded for a year to learn who exchanged pornographic e-mails within the state Office of Attorney General says he might be about to make headway — thanks to public comments made by Kathleen Kane herself.

Simon Campbell, founder of the Bucks County group Pennsylvanians for Union Reform, has been angling to uncover the identities of all the state employees who sent or received smutty e-mails found on OAG servers and computers. Kane's office unearthed the messages but fought numerous requests for their full release, citing union contracts and employee privacy.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Activists with the Allegheny County Jail Health Justice Project on Tuesday delivered a petition with more than 1,700 signatures to County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s office, asking him to fire County Jail Warden Orlando Harper.

Activists maintain that Harper — and Fitzgerald — are ultimately responsible for the death rate at the jail, which in 2014 was more than twice the national average at seven deaths. Four inmates have died at the jail so far this year, including Frank Smart, whose mother, Tomi Lynn Harris, spoke at a rally outside the county courthouse.

Fiscal Watchdog Hounds PA Budget Negotiators

Sep 1, 2015

The state’s fiscal watchdog issued another growl about the state’s absentee spending plan on Tuesday.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a Democrat, said routine audits of school districts, starting now, will also consider the ramifications of the state budget impasse – like schools’ borrowing costs.

Finishing audits of all 500 school districts will take years, he said, so there's no exact estimate for statewide school costs to schools. That's why DePasquale said he’s putting negotiators on notice now. 

PA Budget Talks Go Underground

Sep 1, 2015

State budget talks are being kept quiet this week as Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf plans to meet with top Republican lawmakers without the press lurking outside.

The governor’s office said Monday the coming meetings will be smaller and more low-profile in an attempt to get closer to a deal.

Spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan said the impromptu hallway press conferences that have punctuated so many meetings over the past several weeks haven’t been helpful. The state spending plan is already two months late.

Ginny/Flickr

Pennsylvania lawmakers are trying, once again, to change the state’s anti-discrimination law.

A pair of bills have been introduced that would update the Human Relations Act, making it illegal for someone to be fired from a job, turned away from a business and evicted from or denied housing because of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act currently provides those protections for people on the basis of age, race, gender, disability, among others,” said one of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny), “but we believe that it is a glaring omission to not include people from the LGBT community.”

Pennsylvania Launches Online Voter Registration

Aug 28, 2015
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Pennsylvania is becoming the 23rd state to allow its residents to register as voters by going online.

The paper registration forms aren't going anywhere, but now Pennsylvanians will have the option of online voter registration due to policy change by the Wolf administration.

Budget Talks Paused As Wolf Mulls Offer

Aug 27, 2015
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

State budget negotiations are on ice as Gov. Tom Wolf considers the most significant offer from Republicans since talks stalled in June.

The proposal would let Wolf spend more money on schools, one of his campaign promises. But it would also scale back future pension benefits, delivering a kick in the pants to public sector labor unions, who have panned the deal.

Group Presses Casey To Support Iran Deal

Aug 27, 2015
Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

Twelve people gathered Downtown on Wednesday to deliver a letter to U.S. Sen. Bob Casey’s local office to support the Iranian nuclear deal because they "don’t want another war."

“If the only alternative to the current peace plan is war, then yes, the right answer is approving the plan,” said Joy Sabl of Point Breeze. “But the overwhelming message is that we have a lot of pressure to go to war and we are standing firm against that pressure. We’ve seen a lot of it, we recognize it for what it is and we don’t like it.”

Court Releases The Porn E-mails Kane Wanted Public

Aug 26, 2015
Matt Rourke / AP

The state Supreme Court has unsealed a trove of documents that show as early as last November Attorney General Kathleen Kane was claiming that the investigation into her stemmed from her efforts to release pornographic and insensitive e-mails exchanged by her critics.

The documents unsealed by the high court Wednesday show that Kane made multiple appeals to quash the investigation into her, saying it was “trigged” by two critics and former prosecutors in her office: Frank Fina and Marc Costanzo.

Hillary H / Flickr

As temperatures creep back into the 90s next week, one state lawmaker says he's looking ahead to protect dogs and other pets from being left in vehicles unattended.

The Motor Vehicle Extreme Heat Protection Act would “prohibit the confinement of a dog or cat in an unattended motor vehicle in a manner that would endanger the health and wellbeing of the animal.” The violation would be a summary offense, which is the most minor criminal offense in the state and generally comes with a fine.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Republican Allegheny County Councilwoman Heather Heidelbaugh has not been shy about her dissatisfaction with the way the county’s legislative body operates.

In July, she suggested to the state Government Review Commission that the council be disbanded, decrying it as “superfluous” and a rubber stamp for County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s initiatives.

Last September, she unsuccessfully attempted to pull multiple pieces of legislation she had introduced out of committee for a full vote before council, citing a rule in the county’s administrative code that said bills must be voted upon within 90 days of their introduction.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

The state’s embattled attorney general says her office may reconsider its refusal to release the same pornographic e-mails she says are at the root of criminal charges against her.

In a written statement released Tuesday, Attorney General Kathleen Kane suggested there may be a change in her office’s position against releasing pornographic e-mails it found were exchanged by current and former employees.

First In PA: State Says Distressed City Of Nanticoke No Longer Needs Oversight

Aug 25, 2015
Keystone Crossroads

Nanticoke is the first city and 10th municipality in Pennsylvania to complete the Commonwealth's Act 47 program for distressed municipalities.

The city's consultants made the case in June that Nanticoke's financially stable enough to operate without their help.

Late Budget Taxes Pennsylvania Schools

Aug 25, 2015
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Many Pennsylvania public schools are starting the school year with a worried eye toward Harrisburg.

Some are putting off bills. Some plan to borrow money. But Education Secretary Pedro Rivera said Monday he's not sure how much longer the budget impasse can continue before school operations are compromised.

Pennsylvania AG Kane In Court In Perjury, Obstruction Case

Aug 24, 2015
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Pennsylvania's top prosecutor will find herself at the defense table in the first evidence hearing on charges she leaked grand jury material to the press, lied about it under oath and ordered top aides to illegally snoop through computer files to keep tabs on the investigation that followed.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane insists she committed no crimes in her long feud with rival prosecutors, including top deputies who had left her office.

Flickr

Local organizations and agencies can start lining up Monday to make their pitch for grants from the Allegheny Regional Asset District, or RAD.

RAD annually awards tens of millions to support parks, libraries and cultural organizations.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

If pornographic office e-mails are at the root of the criminal charges filed against Attorney General Kathleen Kane, new court orders unsealed Tuesday show that she could have released them, in full, as early as last December.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court unsealed two orders Tuesday in response to Kane's comments last week that a grand jury judge is blocking her efforts to expose a chain of raunchy e-mails exchanged by prosecutors and judges.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Now seven weeks late, state budget negotiations have prompted rallies and protests by community groups, non-profit organizations, service providers and citizens all imploring Gov. Tom Wolf and the General Assembly to come to a consensus.

The Grandparents Support Group added their voice to the mix Tuesday at a gathering outside East Hills-based A Second Chance Inc., an agency that serves children being cared for by relatives or family friends.

“We cannot do anything, not unless the budget is passed. Our children are our future – no budget, no future,” said Shirley Pinnock, a grandmother from Wilkinsburg.

Activist Files Ethics Complaint Against Kane

Aug 18, 2015
Matt Rourke / AP Images

State Attorney General Kathleen Kane is facing questions for using the trappings of her public office in the course of defending herself against criminal charges.

Dauphin County activist Gene Stilp filed a complaint to the state Ethics Commission Monday, requesting an investigation into Kane’s use of public resources for what he sees as her own personal gain.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

A tentative proposal from Gov. Tom Wolf to change state pensions isn't sparking much agreement.

The governor has floated a "scenario" under which he would scale back retirement benefits for state and school workers, but top Republicans say the changes don't go far enough.

"It's just not even in the ballpark of what we would think we could acceptably sell to Republican members in the Senate," said Drew Crompton, chief counsel to GOP Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati.

Matt Rourke / AP

A close confidant to state Attorney General Kathleen Kane remains on the job, despite having been criminally charged for allegedly accessing secret grand jury information on her behalf.

Patrick Reese, a special agent who is part of Kane’s protection detail, was charged by Montgomery County prosecutors over a week ago in connection to the criminal case against Kane.

State Sen. John Sabatina (D-Philadelphia) is urging the Senate to take action before a program that provides a financial benefit to Gulf War veterans expires at the end of August.

State legislature isn’t scheduled to officially reconvene until Sept. 21. 

“[I’m] asking the Senate to come back prior to Aug. 31 and pass this no-brainer of a bill so that the veterans don’t have a lapse in benefits,” Sabatina said.

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