Government & Politics

Government & Politics news from 90.5 WESA.

The Pennsylvania Senate unanimously passed a bill Tuesday that would test energy efficient technologies in state buildings.

The State Agency Green Technology Act aims to reduce the commonwealth’s carbon output while saving money, increasing energy conservation and promoting new environmental technologies.

Sen. Matt Smith (D-Allegheny) said, under the bill, state buildings would invest in products such as energy efficient insulation and windows that hold heat in the winter and releases it in the summer.

Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration is taking another run at raising the fee for lobbyist registrations.

A state panel will consider hiking the lobbyist registration fee from $200 to $300.

Many lobbyists have balked at the prospect of another increase to the registration fee. It was last raised in 2011 from $100.

A skirmish is unfolding in the final days of the state legislative session.

It's over an effort to change who approves state grants for economic development projects, so often touted by lawmakers.

Opponents call it a legislative power grab.

Senate Republicans have voted to put economic development spending in the hands of a little-known state authority with an abysmal record on transparency.

But, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa says the governor’s office should maintain control of which projects get funding.

The Supreme Court: What cases will be heard this term?

Oct 9, 2014
David / Flickr

 

 

The 2014-2015 session of the Supreme Court began on Monday. The court wasted no time in making news by refusing to rule on same-sex marriage. There are a number of other issues on the docket including first amendment rights in the digital age and whether to hear a challenge to the affordable care act. The current term also marks John Roberts’ 10th year as chief justice. Joining us for an overview of the cases the Supreme Court could be ruling on is University of Pittsburgh Law Professor David Harris.

Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ron Castille on Friday will find out more about whether bawdy e-mails traded among current and former state employees went all the way to the state judiciary.

Jim Koval, a spokesman for Castille, said the chief justice will meet with an agent from Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane's office. Castille requested more information specific to any "top jurists" who sent or received sexually explicit e-mails in a letter to Kane two weeks ago.

AP Photo/Rodney Johnson,WTAE-TV, Pool

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and Democratic challenger Tom Wolf met for their third and final debate in Wilkinsburg Wednesday evening.

The tone was less combative than previous debates, which Wolf attributed to the format of the debate, in which each candidate had one minute to respond to questions from an in-studio panel and the public via social media.

The main topics of the evening were education funding and the state’s pension debt shortfall.

A Pennsylvania county prosecutor is resigning in the wake of a pornographic email scandal that the state attorney general's office says involved him while he was a high-ranking supervisor there.

Rick Sheetz, who led the criminal division until Attorney General Kathleen Kane took office early last year, resigned Monday from a part-time job as assistant district attorney in Lancaster County.

District Attorney Craig Stedman says the email scandal prompted Sheetz's departure, first reported Tuesday by Lancaster Newspapers.

State lawmakers could send to the governor a plan to make doctors test for hepatitis C among patients most likely to have it – baby boomers.
 
The mandatory screening for people born between 1945 and 1965 would address another medical issue contributing to rising health care costs.
 
Hepatitis C causes liver failure if left untreated. Most people don’t know they have it.
 

State House lawmakers plan to hold at least one hearing on medical marijuana, which will likely put off any final votes on legalization until next year.
 
House GOP leaders say a Senate-backed plan to allow certain kinds of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania needs to be more thoroughly vetted before it’s lined up for a vote.
 
“What exactly does it do? Do you guys know what it does?” said House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin, addressing reporters. “Do you know it sets up a whole new bureaucracy and industry?”
 

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald presented an $832.9 million 2015 operating budget to County Council at their meeting Tuesday evening, along with a $79.9 million capital budget.

Among the highlights, according to Fitzgerald, is the lack of a real estate millage increase for the 13th time in 14 years.

Fitzgerald linked that millage stasis to county bonds that were refinanced over the last two years.

Bob Herbert on How We’re “Losing Our Way”

Oct 7, 2014
Justin Garland / Flickr

For nearly 20 years Bob Herbert was an award-winning columnist for the New York Times. His book, titled "Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America, " chronicles ordinary Americans struggling for survival in a nation that has lost its way. We’ll talk with Bob Herbert prior to his upcoming appearance at Carnegie Mellon University’s McConomy Auditorium on Thursday, October 9 and discover the Pittsburgh ties to the book.

Herbert’s book centers on the idea that the United States has been heading in the wrong direction when it comes to the economy and the stakes of ordinary people. In the face of “perpetual war and economic decline,” Herbert stresses, leadership in America seems unwilling or unable to make forward progress.  Part of the problem, Herbert argues, is that America’s leadership has become preoccupied with short-term thinking. 

A comprehensive and rational drug policy in Pennsylvania may be elusive for some time, warns one academic.

State lawmakers have considered a few different remedies to the spiking rates of heroin overdoses in Pennsylvania. In the next few weeks, they'll turn their attention to the abundance of painkillers. If abused, such opioids can turn people on to heroin.

This story was updated Oct. 13, 2014 with comments from Erin McClelland.

Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District does not appear to be as close of a contest as it was back in 2012.

The current race pits incumbent Republican Keith Rothfus against Democrat Erin McClelland – a political newcomer and businesswoman from Westmoreland County. As it stands, Cook Political Report has PA-12 as a “Solid Republican” district with a partisan voting index of R+9.  

This Week in PA Politics 10/6

Oct 6, 2014

Two Corbett staffers resign with connections to lewd emails. The story surrounding the sending of sexually explicit emails among Tom Corbett’s staffers while he held the position of Attorney General got more interesting. As more information was released to Corbett and news outlets, Environmental Protection Secretary Christopher Abruzzo and his colleague Glenn Parno have resigned from their posts, reports 90.5 WESA’s Mark Nootbaar.

Flickr user Joseph Novak

City Councilman Daniel Lavelle, who represents much of the Hill District, wants to make that the history of the area does not repeat itself.

In the mid-1950s, redevelopment of the Hill District and construction of the Civic Arena displaced 8,000 residents, most of whom were black and more than a third of whom ended up in public housing.

Now, that same area is slated for redevelopment by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Plans include housing, mixed-use retail, a hotel and an outdoor plaza.

As more awareness and excitement builds around eating and buying local, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board hopes commonwealth residents will drink local. This October, Wine and Spirits stores will be encouraging you to buy wine made and bottled in-state.

Pennsylvania wine sales account for a small percentage of all wine sales – in 2012, wine sales were $821 million – five million of that was wine produced in-state. But those are numbers that have been rising – over the last 30 years, Pennsylvania wineries have grown from a couple dozen to more than 200.

For the past week, Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane has released information in a piecemeal fashion about bawdy e-mails exchanged by current and former state employees years ago. Some say the office has done little to quell criticism that the bit-by-bit disclosures show political motive.

Chief Justice Ronald Castille called it a “show and tell” last week — the way the attorney general revealed raunchy images sent or received by eight men who worked under Gov. Tom Corbett when he helmed the AG’s office. All the men named by Kane’s office are Republicans.

A widening scandal over the exchange of emails containing pornography by current and former members of the attorney general's office has gripped the Pennsylvania Capitol all week.

Pennsylvania's state Supreme Court chief justice demanded information on whether any judges were part of the exchanges. Gov. Tom Corbett, who was attorney general when the emails were exchanged, was forced to defend his management of the office as he campaigns for a second term.

Chris Abruzzo has turned in his resignation as head of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, one week after the attorney general’s office named him among state employees who swapped sexually explicit e-mails on state computers years ago while working for then-attorney general Tom Corbett.

In a letter to the governor, Abruzzo says assertions made by the attorney general’s office have become a “distraction” from the governor’s administration.

State tax revenues for the first quarter of the fiscal year are up…slightly.

The Revenue Department reports that for the first three months of FY 2014-15, the state pulled in $6.6 billion— just $500,000 above expectations, or 0.007 percent. General fund collections in September totaled $2.6 billion, $11 million more than projected.  

Democratic Congressional candidate Dan LaVallee said Pennsylvania’s 3rd district is “ready for new leadership” as he gathered supporters outside of the incumbent’s district office in Sharon, Pa.

LaVallee said Mike Kelly (R- PA 3) is out of touch with voters. “He hasn’t been spending time with the voters. He said previously that he doesn’t have time to glad-hand with voters.”

LaVallee is on the offensive with just a little more than a month before the election, denouncing what he describes as Kelly’s proclivity for lavish trips and his votes to cut education funding.

AP Photo/The Philadelphia Inquirer, Tom Gralish, Pool

A lively second debate between Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and Democratic challenger Tom Wolf became tense Wednesday as Wolf sought to assign blame to Corbett for budget deficits and struggling schools while Corbett tried to frame Wolf as the candidate who will favor labor unions over taxpayers.

Corbett and Wolf met during the one-hour "Breakfast with the Candidates" event at KYW-TV and KYW-AM in Philadelphia.

Gov. Tom Corbett heads into his second debate with Democratic challenger Tom Wolf with renewed energy, after a strong performance in the candidates’ first debate last week.

But Wednesday morning’s debate will air on radio and TV stations in the Philadelphia area, where most of the state’s Democratic voters reside.

“The geography of this certainly favors Wolf,” said Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll and a political science professor.

It’s not clear how much debates can shake up a statewide gubernatorial election in Pennsylvania.

A New Municipality In Antietam Valley?

Sep 30, 2014
Kate Lao Shaffner / WPSU

Pennsylvania has more local governments than any other state except Texas and Illinois. There are some downsides to this, including the inefficiency and expense of duplicated services, and the potential for competition among municipalities.

State law allows municipalities to consolidate or merge, but it doesn't happen all that often because the process can be fraught with tension. But two communities in Berks County are trying to give it a shot— this November, residents will vote on whether they should consolidate and form a new municipality.

State lawmakers are working out the details of a plan to overhaul Act 47, shorthand for the much-maligned program that to rehabilitate municipalities with money problems.

Cities lingering in the state program would be given deadlines to exit. The state would expand early intervention efforts for municipalities sailing toward fiscal cliffs. Smaller communities would have new ways to disband if residents agree they’re just not viable.

Elizabeth Thomsen / via Flickr Creative Commons

 It's been a busy week in Harrisburg, PennLive and Patriot-News editorial and opinions Editor John Micek joins us to lay it all out.

Topics include: the eight former and current state officials alleged to be involved in an exchange of hundreds of racy emails using state computers, calls for protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Pennsylvanians and the Senate passing legislation to legalize certain kinds of marijuana.

To earn a living wage for a family of four while only making minimum wage, the two adults in that family would each have to work 68 hours a week. Another option, according to state Rep. Dom Costa (D-Allegheny), is to raise the current $7.25 minimum wage so that families in Pennsylvania could buy groceries and live comfortably while earning minimum wage.

This Week in PA Politics 9/29

Sep 29, 2014

Corbett exudes confidence in front of business-friendly crowd. In the first of three scheduled gubernatorial debates, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett came out aggressively against Democratic challenger Tom Wolf, attempting to make up ground in the polls that have him behind by double-digit margins.  Corbett benefited from the pro-business crowd in Hershey, 90.5 WESA’s Mary Wilson reports, but he also exceeded expectations by appearing candid and experienced compared to political newcomer Wolf.

There are only six session days left on the calendar this session for the Pennsylvania General Assembly, and municipal police are lobbying for a set of bills that would allow them to use radar guns.

Senate Bill 1340 and House Bill 1272 would allow all police officers in the state to use the devices, not just state troopers, who have been using radar for more than 50 years. Neither has received a vote.

Municipal police departments have multiple options when it comes to catching speeders.

Even in 2014, fulfilling a request for service made to the city of Pittsburgh’s 311 Response Center involves data entry and paper printouts. But all that is about to change.

The city’s 311 Response Center system, which allows citizens to request that potholes be filled, buildings be inspected, or streetlight bulbs be changed, is slated to get a major upgrade.

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