Government & Politics

Government & Politics news from 90.5 WESA.

Lindsay Lazarski / Keystone Crossroads

The centerpiece of Gov. Tom Wolf's state budget died its umpteenth death around a negotiating table this week.

Republican legislative leaders emerged from closed-door negotiations with the Democratic Wolf administration to announce that the governor's proposed severance tax on natural gas drillers is a non-negotiable no-go.

Following a March 2013 lawsuit from the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania concerning the treatment of inmates diagnosed with serious mental illness, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has made a number of changes in their services.

Among them, the DOC has established a psychology office, trained inmates to be certified peer-support specialists, employed a mental health advocate and trained all 15,000 employees of their employees in Mental Health First Aid.

All new employees will receive the training as well.

Some republican state lawmakers are grumbling about the launch of Gov. Tom Wolf's political action group just as budget negotiations heat up.

The stated mission of Rebuild Pennsylvania is to promote Wolf’s agenda and support candidates allied with him. Several House republicans blanched at the idea of another political group putting unwelcome pressure on them at an already tense time.

“I’ve never seen such politicking during budget negotiations,” said Rep. Scott Petri (R-Bucks).

Senate Democrats

  Democrats in the Pennsylvania Senate have offered a compromise plan that would shift school funding from property taxes to a mix of sales and income taxes but would not make the payments directly to school districts.

“We are trying to change the culture. I call it a paradigm shift in how we pay taxes,” said Sen. Jim Brewster (D-McKeesport). “The burden of school property taxes has fallen on a group of folks and it’s now time to look at that and change that methodology so that everyone shares in that burden for education.”

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

A proposal to end civil asset forfeiture in Pennsylvania has bipartisan backing among state lawmakers.

House and Senate plans would halt a practice that allows law enforcement to seize property from someone accused, but not convicted, of certain crimes.

With six years under her belt, Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak said she’s tired of noticing confusing city forms and documents.

Rudiak introduced a bill Tuesday which would require city employees to make every document they create easier to read and understand, adhering to plain language guidelines.

Rudiak said they can’t have the grammar police standing behind every single city employee as they create every publicly accessible form, however.

Church groups seeking a radical solution to the large funding disparities among school districts are taking their message to the Capitol, even as other advocates continued to support an incremental approach to restoring education funding.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

The tentative optimism about a timely state budget is giving way to partisan backbiting as lawmakers enter the last week before their deadline to approve a state spending plan.

Gov. Tom Wolf and the GOP-controlled Legislature appear to be stuck, both sides unwilling to compromise major priorities tied up with the state’s spending plan due June 30.

Legislation to lower eligibility requirements for children receiving free summer meals was touted in Washington last week by co-sponsor U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, Jr.

The Pennsylvania House Health Committee approved a bill aiming to revise the state’s child care benefits so they gradually taper off as a family earns more income on Wednesday.

$1.1 Million Announced For Teen Summer STEM Jobs

Jun 18, 2015

Local leaders announced $1.1 million in STEM funding for paid internships benefiting low-income, at-risk youth at a meeting Downtown on Thursday.

The 3 Rivers Workforce Investment Board will manage the pilot in partnership with city and county officials through the Learn and Earn program set up earlier this year. 

While the American West grapples with drought, lack of water isn’t much of a concern in Pennsylvania.

Still, it’s a natural resource that is finite. A bill in Harrisburg aims to promote the use of treated coal mine water rather than fresh water for natural gas development.

“It’s going to recycle the treated water that comes from a coal mine, which would typically be pumped right back into a mine to hold it,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-Washington/Greene). “It would also really reduce the use of fresh water in the fracking process.”

Courtesy Jennifer England / Pink Coat Communications

Workers in Pennsylvania’s largest city now have the right to earn and use sick days without retaliation, thanks to a bill passed by Philadelphia City Council in February.

But for the state’s second biggest city, it might not be so straightforward.

A bill in the state House Labor and Industry Committee would prohibit municipal governments from mandating that businesses offer sick leave to employees.

Mary Wilson / WITF

A Republican state senator has officially announced his bid to take the state’s Office of Attorney General from the embattled Kathleen Kane, the first Democrat to win the seat.

Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery) made his announcement flanked by fellow GOP state senators, police and fire fighters union leaders, and other representatives of law enforcement.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Pennsylvania school districts whose communities are similar economically are supposed to receive about the same amount of money per student from the state.

But officials have long complained that isn't happening.

Currently, law enforcement officials in Pennsylvania have the power to seize property they believe to be connected with a crime, even if the owner is not charged, a practice known as civil asset forfeiture.

More than $100 million has been seized in Pennsylvania by way of civil asset forfeitures in the last 10 years, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. A bill proposed by State Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon) would change the way these forfeitures are handled.

Wolf To Seek New Nominee For State Police Commissioner

Jun 15, 2015
AP Photo/Marc Levy

Gov. Tom Wolf said Monday that he will seek a new nominee to become the Pennsylvania State Police commissioner and replace his first choice, who was rejected by the Republican-controlled Senate in what the Democratic governor called a move that put politics above the state's best interests.

Col. Marcus Brown, a former Maryland State Police superintendent, withdrew his name from consideration, Wolf's office said in a statement.

When Gov. Tom Wolf took office earlier this year, one of his first items of business was implementing a gift ban. That set a ban on gifts to all political appointees and state workers. But lawmakers didn’t fall under that umbrella.

A bill (HB43) has been introduced in Harrisburg that would ban large gifts to elected officials in part to help restore public trust.

Allegheny County has announced a new medical collaboration for jail medical services, following the announcement of a parting of ways with former provider Corizon.

The private health care provider had come under fire after the death of four inmates in custody and complaints about working conditions from employees. Allegheny County announced it would not renew the contract with Corizon when it expires in August.

Starting in September, Allegheny Health Network will be the provider of health care services at Allegheny County Jail.

State Sen. Shirley Kitchen (D-Philadelphia) has introduced two separate bills to ban the sale of powdered alcohol in Pennsylvania.

“It’s odorless and it’s a powder so it can be manipulated and even the best-trained lawmen would not be able to detect this,” said Kitchen, who held a roundtable discussion about the product at Temple University in Philadelphia.

"Palcohol" can be dissolved into water and other liquid. Lawmakers, education officials, community members and others expressed concern over potential retail in Pennsylvania at Kitchen's meeting last week.

Uniformed Rangers Join County And City Park Patrol

Jun 11, 2015

Trained rangers will begin patrolling Allegheny County and Pittsburgh city parks next week offering protection, giving directions, helping with emergencies and identifying plants, trees and mushrooms to park patrons.

Rangers in uniforms of khaki shirts and green pants will maintain a presence in all nine county parks and Schenley Park through November. And although they’ll be unarmed and non-sworn officers, they’ll be responsible for reinforcing park rules.

Mayor Bill Peduto said the program will give people a sense of security – and a sense of wonderment.

Gridlock And Grudges: Toxic Relationships In Pennsylvania Cities

Jun 11, 2015
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

The Commonwealth’s Act 47 program to help cash-strapped local governments doesn’t address how elected officials might get along better, despite how critical relationships are to their financial well-being.

Local officials who have trouble getting along have some options for mending their relationships.

The state House formally expressed its disapproval of Gov. Tom Wolf’s moratorium on Pennsylvania’s death penalty.

The Republican-controlled chamber voted largely along party lines to condemn Wolf for issuing reprieves to two death row inmates who had exhausted their appeals and were scheduled for execution.

“I didn’t set this process up. Gov. Wolf didn’t set this process up,” said Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery). “But the bottom line is, it is the law of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

In the quest for online gambling, and additional gaming revenue, Republican senators are asking casinos to keep one foot firmly in the corporeal world.

A Senate GOP proposal would legalize online gambling, but players would have to register first with the casino — by showing up in person.

Volunteers working with children will find themselves free of the $20 fee from both the child abuse clearances and criminal background checks beginning July 25.

For non-volunteers, the standard cost for both the child abuse and criminal history record checks are being reduced from $10 per check to $8. There is no reimbursement for those who have already paid the fees.

Flickr user Ronald Woan

Mayor Bill Peduto said he receives weekly requests from American cities and abroad asking him to visit and tell the Steel City’s story of resilience.

He couldn’t possibly visit them all, so it’s convenient that 25 municipal, non-profit and business leaders from across the country are coming to Pittsburgh this week for the Innovative + Inclusive City workshop.

Gov. Tom Wolf is vowing to appeal a court ruling reversing his dismissal of the director of the state’s Office of Open Records, the latest counter-punch in a months-long legal dispute over the independence of the agency and the powers of the governor.

The Commonwealth Court ruling reinstates Erik Arneson to his post as executive director of the agency. It also awards him back-pay.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File

Gov. Tom Wolf argued last week that taxing Pennsylvania’s booming natural gas industry could help compensate for an anticipated $1 billion structural budget deficit in 2016.

His budget includes a state severance tax of 5 percent on extractions based on the value of gas at the well head and a charge of 4.7 cents per thousand cubic feet extracted. The commonwealth produced 3.23 trillion cubic feet in 2013.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

A month after Republican lawmakers advanced a plan to end the traditional pension for new state workers, they’ve set their sights on doing the same for future municipal employees in Pennsylvania.

The cited reason for the change has been repeated in most debates over public pensions: People are living longer, and the annual pension payouts for city retirees are getting harder for municipal governments to afford.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto on Tuesday issued an executive order aimed at repairing and maintaining the city’s aging public safety, public works and parks facilities.

The order coincided with a previously planned City Council post-agenda meeting with administration officials and leaders from the city’s three public safety unions.

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