Politics & Government

We cover politics and government with an eye to providing to voters clear, in-depth, nonpartisan information. 

Katie Meyer / WITF

New members have officially been sworn into the Pennsylvania legislature.

The first day of the new session saw further entrenchment of Harrisburg’s partisan divide. Republicans shored up their majorities in the House and Senate, where they’ve often clashed with Democratic Governor Tom Wolf.

Now, lawmakers are turning their attention to legislative priorities in the new session.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Though Republicans boosted their stronghold in the state legislature as they were sworn into office Tuesday, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said he's used to working in a bi-partisan manner. 

Republicans now have a veto proof majority in the Senate, 34-16, and increased their margin to 39 seats in the House, 121-82.

Wolf said he doesn’t believe the stronger GOP grip on the legislature will affect his upcoming budget, nor has it forced him to adjust his priorities.

Lawmakers Begin New Session With Old Leaders Again At Helm

Jan 3, 2017
Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Pennsylvania lawmakers are back in session with leadership teams largely unchanged from the two-year session that concluded in November.

The oath of office was administered Tuesday for members in both chambers, including 22 new representatives and six freshmen senators.

Republicans are again in firm majority control of both chambers, 121 to 82 in the House and 34 to 16 in the Senate.

Republican Rep. Mike Turzai was re-elected House speaker, while Republican Sen. Joe Scarnati is again the Senate's president pro tempore.

Liz Reid / 90.5 FM WESA

This is the third in a three-part web series looking ahead to 2017 with members of Pittsburgh City Council. Find part one here and part two here.

John Beale / AP

The Joint State Government Commission is recommending changes to a decades-old domestic violence protection law in Pennsylvania.

The group is pushing for updates that would, among other things, make it more difficult for abusers to access firearms.

Matt Rourke / AP

An independent report from an academic group has given Pennsylvania a dismal ranking in how well it conducts its elections.

The Electoral Integrity Project—which is based out of Harvard University and the University of Sydney—has the Keystone State tied for fifth-worst in the country.

The group ranked states based on 12 criteria, including electoral laws and procedures, media coverage, campaign finance, and district boundaries.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

This is the second in a three-part web series looking ahead to 2017 with members of Pittsburg City Council. Find part one here.

Council members Deb Gross, Corey O’Connor and Daniel Lavelle represent three very different districts, but the issue of equitable development looms large for each of them. 

Matt Rourke / AP

The 2017 legislative session has yet to begin, but some lawmakers are already making plans for the new year, and casino-related laws are among those at the top of the list.

A closed-door meeting on Jan. 3 has been planned between lawmakers and representatives from all of the state’s 12 casinos.

When it was passed this summer, the state’s operating budget included $100 million in new gambling revenue, but no bill was ever passed to provide the money.

courtesy: city of Pittsburgh

  When Bill Peduto became mayor of Pittsburgh three years ago, he restructured some of the city departments and created a new one: the Department of Innovation and Performance.

One of his first hires was Pittsburgh native Debra Lam to be the city’s first ever Chief Innovation Officer.

“It was an amazing opportunity,” Lam said. “We took the old city Information Systems Department, which was just an IT department, and (Peduto) saw technology as a means rather than an end; and he wanted to see technology as a driving point to improve the quality of life for Pittsburgh.”

Katie Blackley / 90.5 FM WESA

When Pennsylvania Attorney General Elect Josh Shapiro takes the oath of office Jan. 17 he will be moving into an office that has been racked by controversy.  The last elected Attorney General, Kathleen Kane, was sentenced in October to 10 to 23 months in prison on charges of perjury and abuse of her office.

Shapiro said he believes he as a track record of acting ethically and will instill that in his staff.

Baastian Slabbers / NewsWorks

This year saw the end of one of the most dramatic political roller-coasters in recent Pennsylvania history: the tenure of former state Attorney General, Democrat Kathleen Kane.

Kane was convicted of perjury this summer and stepped down from her post, but the controversy surrounding her far predates that.

City of Pittsburgh

This is the first in a three-part web series looking ahead to 2017 with members of Pittsburgh City Council.

Pittsburgh's nine Democratic City Council members will soon find themselves governing in an era where Republicans control not only the state legislature, but both houses of Congress and the presidency. 

New App Helps Immigrants Deal With Complicated Tangle Of Forms

Dec 23, 2016
Jennifer Lynn / WHYY

 

For the 2 million people who move to the U.S. every year who wish to live and work here legally on a permanent basis, one big step involves paperwork — and lots of it. Filling out immigration forms can be tedious, confounding, and it comes at an expense.

In an effort to streamline the process, attorneys Jeremy Peskin and James Pittman have created Borderwise, a Philadelphia company with an app that prepares immigration applications based on answers to simple questions.

Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

The state health department plans to start accepting applications for growers and dispensers in Pennsylvania’s newly-formed medical marijuana program on Feb. 20.

Matt Nemeth / 90.5 WESA

The celebration in Pittsburgh City Council chambers Tuesday over the creation of a Housing Opportunity Fund was short-lived. Even before the final vote was taken, the focus turned to finding a revenue stream to support the fund.

“We have now created a box with a bow and wrapping paper but there is no gift in it,” Councilman Ricky Burgess said.  “We are now telling low- and moderate-income people in Pittsburgh that they count. The question is will we actually mean it?”

Keith Srakocic / AP

Affordable housing, more efficient transportation and park improvements are what Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said he’ll focus on in 2017.

But the New Year also brings a measure of uncertainty for the county executive.

Fitzgerald said he’s still waiting to see what happens with a new presidential administration in office.

“We don’t live in a vacuum here in Pittsburgh and in Allegheny County,” he said.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Council gave final approval to a 2017 budget Tuesday that’s balanced by $10 million in casino revenues.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

President Barack Obama pardoned a former Pittsburgh city councilman's 46-year-old federal gun charge.

Seventy-three-year-old Sala Udin says he filed a formal request for clemency four years ago and had given up hope when he was surprised on Monday.

The civil rights advocate served seven months of a five-year sentence on charges of illegally transporting firearms and untaxed alcohol.

Trump Nets Pennsylvania's 20 Electoral Votes For President

Dec 19, 2016
Gerry Broome / AP

 

Republican Donald Trump has scooped up Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes.

Members of Pennsylvania's 58th Electoral College met at the state Capitol amid demonstrations by hundreds of protesters to cast the state's 20 electoral votes for Trump.

Demonstrators Greet Pennsylvania Electors At Capitol

Dec 19, 2016
Matt Rourke / AP

 

More than 200 demonstrators are on the steps of Pennsylvania's Capitol to greet members of the state's 58th Electoral College, with the faint hope that they'll persuade them not to vote for Republican President-elect Donald Trump.

The demonstrators were waving signs and chanting in 25-degree weather Monday morning as delegates began arriving at the state Capitol to cast the state's electoral votes for president. Monday's ceremony starts at noon in the state House of Representatives' chamber.

Gov. Tom Wolf / 90.5 WESA

Pennsylvania’s mid-fiscal year budget report has confirmed what the Independent Fiscal Office has been warning for well over a month: underperforming revenues are putting the commonwealth on track for a shortfall of around $600 million.

So how bad is that?

By all accounts, it’s a tenuous place for the state’s bank account to be. But it’s not without precedent.

Gov. Wolf Eliminating 'Thousands' Of Unfilled State Jobs

Dec 16, 2016
Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

 

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf says he's eliminating thousands of unfilled positions in state government as the state faces a large budget deficit.

The Wolf administration told cabinet agencies in a Friday memo obtained by The Associated Press that it is effectively limiting the size of the state workforce to the number of positions now filled.

Wolf's press secretary, Jeff Sheridan, says the decision will affect thousands of positions. But he says he doesn't have a precise number or know how much money will be saved.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Council has given preliminary approval to the creation of a “Housing Opportunity Fund,” but didn’t create a revenue stream for it.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

A bill given preliminary approval by the Pittsburgh City Council Wednesday would extend the use of parking meters in the South Side until midnight on Friday and Saturday nights. City officials plan to enforce the new parking rules in February.

GOP Eyes Big State Government Changes In Lean Budget Year

Dec 14, 2016
Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

State officials warned Wednesday Pennsylvania faces a projected $600 million shortfall for its current budget year, while one of the Legislature's top Republicans suggested sweeping structural changes to state government may be needed to solve the latest fiscal jam.

The projected shortfall in the state government's $31.5 billion budget is very bad fiscal news for budget makers who have struggled to address a persistent post-recession deficit that has damaged the state's credit rating.

Marcus Charleston / 90.5 WESA

For decades, the city of Pittsburgh has struggled to diversify its police force. The Census Bureau says that African Americans comprise about 25 percent of the city’s population, but according to the Bureau of Police, African Americans only make up 13 percent of the police force.

“But we’ve made a turn,” said Mayor Bill Peduto. 

Charlotte Cooper / flickr

Reproductive health advocates around the region are reacting to last week’s legislative action in Ohio that would ban abortion at six weeks gestation, well before many women know they are pregnant. Gov. John Kasich now has 10 days to act on the “heartbeat law.”

Noah Brode / 90.5 FM WESA

On Monday, the Pittsburgh City Council gave preliminary approval to a budget amendment that would pull $285,000 out of the city’s paving fund and spend it on community service efforts.

Pittsburgh’s 2016 budget allocated $75,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and another $74,000 for the Pittsburgh Community Services hunger program, but those lines were zeroed out in the 2017 budget proposal submitted by the mayor’s office.

Trump's Victory Affirmed Following Recount And Court Blockages

Dec 12, 2016
Gerry Broome / AP

Republican Donald Trump's victory in Wisconsin was reaffirmed Monday following a recount that showed him defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton by more than 22,000 votes.

Wisconsin finalized its recount on the same day that a federal judge issued a stinging rejection of a Green Party-backed request to recount paper ballots in Pennsylvania's presidential election and scan some counties' election systems for signs of hacking.

Law Insuring 1 Million Pennsylvanians Faces Uncertain Future

Dec 12, 2016
Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

 

 

About 1 million people in Pennsylvania are receiving government-subsidized health insurance under Democrats' 2010 health care law that is facing an uncertain future as Republican President-elect Donald Trump takes office next month with a pledge to repeal it.

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