Government & Politics

Government & Politics news from 90.5 WESA.

$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.

A state Senate proposal would prevent child victims from being prosecuted for participation in sex trades and related charges as part of last year’s crusade against human trafficking.

“We have to concentrate on the victim and make sure that the victim is treated as a victim,” said Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery), a sponsor of the measure.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

It took just 500 write-in votes for lifelong Democrats Chelsa Wagner and John Weinstein to get their names on the November ballots as Republicans, but it will take 2,328 signatures if a third-party candidate wants to have the same opportunity.

A House GOP spokesman says the majority's lawmakers aren't giving up on a bill to legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania.

A plan to let doctors and nurse practitioners recommend different forms of marijuana for various ailments passed in the state Senate by a huge margin last month.

In the House, the bill's fate was always less certain. One problem popped up as soon as it was referred to the Health Committee: the panel's chairman, Rep. Matt Baker (R-Tiog), said he wouldn't put the measure to a vote.

The Pennsylvania House will take up a bill that makes some changes to the Child Protective Services Law. That is the law crafted after the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

“This is the bill that clarifies the existing statute requiring employees and adult volunteers who work directly with children to obtain criminal background check clearances and child abuse clearances,” said Rep. Katharine Watson (R-Bucks), the bill’s sponsor. “The legislation further delineates who is and who is not subject to those requirements.”

AP Photo/Marc Levy

Gov. Tom Wolf has pulled the nomination of Marcus Brown to lead the Pennsylvania State Police. The Senate was to vote this week on Brown’s nomination. Last week a committee sent the nomination to the full body without making a recommendation.

State Senate Republicans want to tweak casino rules and legalize online gambling this year to help ease the commonwealth's fiscal woes.

A forthcoming proposal would allow round-the-clock alcohol sales in casinos and let certain casinos put slot machines miles away from their main premises. The big change, however, would be letting existing casinos offer online gambling. A report last year found the state could generate more than $100 million in tax and fee revenue from Internet gambling alone.

Mayor Bill Peduto has appointed Grant Ervin as the city’s Chief Resilience Officer, a position funded through a Rockefeller Foundation grant.

His first task: developing a plan to enable the city to survive, adapt and grow no matter the challenge it will face.

Ervin has served as the city’s Sustainability Manager since 2014. He will now transition into working with stakeholders across the city to determine the key threats facing the city, then work to draft a resilience strategy with the help of the other 99 Chief Resilience Officers in the world.

In an online poll attempting to determine public opinion on state Attorney General Kathleen Kane's ability to lead, more than half of respondents said they didn't "know enough about it." 

Conducted by the Robert Morris University Polling Institute from May 8 to 16, the poll offered no context about the ongoing scandal. Of the 527 participants, 49.5 percent admitted they weren't sure. Those who did weigh in responded 2-1 that Kane should resign.

Gov. Tom Wolf issued a temporary stay of execution on Thursday for convicted killer Hubert Lester Michael, who was set to die the next day.

It’s the governor’s second intervention since he took office. He promised in February to grant a reprieve to any inmate whose execution date comes before the results of the newly established Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment are published.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

A state budget deadline looms at the end of the month, but Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican lawmakers remain divided on a spending plan.

Entities that rely on the state for funding have cautioned about the headaches caused by lengthy budget standoffs. But Wolf says he’s not resigned to a late state budget.

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