Government & Politics

Government & Politics news from 90.5 WESA.

Social Services Advocates Decry Corbett’s Block Grants

Mar 9, 2012

A proposed block grant would actually cut funding by 20 percent for programs like mental health services, substance use disorder programs, and homeless assistance while giving counties more flexibility in how they pay for the services. Advocates argue that new leeway could mean their programs are underfunded by the counties.

Charlie Folks, Director of Counseling and Community Integration Services at a substance abuse hospital in Montgomery County, said the block grant proposal is wrong, and must be stopped.

Pennsylvania may become one of the states that require valid photo identification to vote. The State Senate passed a measure that supporters say will help prevent voter fraud. Many civil liberty groups oppose the bill, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania. Legal Director Vic Walczak said arguments that the requirement would be a success if even one fraudulent voter was stopped are misguided.

County Council Passes New District Map

Mar 7, 2012

Allegheny County Council passed a bill on Tuesday redrawing the County's thirteen Council Districts in a way that forces about 10 percent of the county's population into new districts.

The law will go into effect immediately if signed by County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

County Councilwoman Barbara Daly Danko headed the committee charged with redrawing the district map. She said the new districts reflect population shifts within the county.

Fitzgerald Tight-Lipped on Dixon

Mar 6, 2012

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald is remaining coy about the future of County Health Department Director Bruce Dixon. "We'll see what happens at the [health] board meeting tomorrow, we're not going to comment on personnel issues," said Fitzgerald.

In January the board went into executive session during its regular monthly meeting to discuss Dixon's future but made no comments upon returning to open session. Fitzgerald appoints five of the nine members of the health board.

Altmire to Stay on Ballot

Mar 5, 2012

A state judge says U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire can remain on the primary ballot in a race against a fellow Democratic congressman in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Commonwealth Court President Judge Dan Pellegrini on Monday denied the challenge by U.S. Rep. Mark Critz.

Voter ID Bill Awaits Senate Action

Mar 5, 2012

Labor unions and voting rights groups are calling a proposal to require state-issued identification at the polls a "voter suppression" bill.

This week, the Pennsylvania state Senate will consider legislation that would require voters to show a state-issued ID at the polls. Currently, only first-time voters and those who are new to a polling place must show photo ID.

Opponents of the bill said minorities, new citizens, the elderly and disabled would be negatively affected by being required to show voter ID every time they vote.

Judicial Elections Debate Rekindled

Mar 5, 2012

The Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee is gearing up for a springtime push of bills to overhaul the way appellate court judges are chosen for the bench.

Currently, judges of the Commonwealth Court, Superior Court, and State Supreme Court run for office in partisan elections.

However, some legislators and activist groups have criticized the election of judges as overly political. House Judiciary Committee Chair Ron Marsico said partisan judicial elections give people reason to think judges are being bought and sold.

Judge Will Decide Fate of Altmire Campaign Monday

Mar 2, 2012

The battle between Democratic Congressmen Mark Critz and Jason Altmire should be decided on Monday. A court hearing on Friday ended with both sides agreeing to throw out or keep specific signatures on the nominating petitions. Now it comes down to a batch of signatures from one Altmire staffer.

The ranking Democrat on the Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee asked the Department of Education for a list of school districts that are financially distressed or on the brink of bankruptcy. Only one district was named: the Duquesne School District in Allegheny County. Education Secretary Ronald Tomalis said that's the only district that falls under the legal definition of financially distressed.

Senator Andy Dinniman (D-Chester County) said the department is interpreting the law too narrowly, and there are many more districts in financial distress than just the one.

The campaign for Congressman Mark Critz has filed objections to Congressman Jason Altmire's nominating petition, challenging the validity of more than half of the signatures on the petition that would place him in the April Democratic Primary. A spokesman for Critz said there are numerous irregularities found on the petition, including 385 signatures they said came from a circulator from outside the congressional district, which goes against state law.

Controller Chelsa Wagner wants to let the state handle the auditing of weights and measures in Allegheny County, rather than relinquish control of the duty to the County Executive's office.

At Tuesday night's County Council meeting, Wagner plans to offer up a bill that would authorize the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to inspect scales, parking meters, gas pumps, and UPC price scanners in Allegheny County.

Public Education Group Analyzes Pittsburgh Schools

Feb 21, 2012

An independent study by A+ Schools reports the Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) has made "solid progress" towards financial stability.

Carey Harris, executive director of A+, said the city school system took decisive action to cut its budget deficit from a projected $100 million to $30 million.

She said the report also notes the Governor Corbett's proposed state budget for 2012-2013 has not restored funding cuts made last year to public schools.

New Bill Focuses on Reforming Teacher Hiring

Feb 20, 2012

Pennsylvania State Senator Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia and Delaware) has introduced legislation that would close a "loophole" in the public school code known as "passing the trash."

"Passing the trash" occurs when a school district gives an educator accused of sexual misconduct incentives for resigning such as health benefits, letters of recommendation, and confidentiality agreements.

Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed is the only Republican in the race to become Pennsylvania's next state attorney general. His candidacy was made official last week when he filed more than 7,000 signatures, seven times what he needed to be on the ballot. The deadline to submit nominating petitions passed February 15.

Republican Race for Nomination Kept Close by Super PACs

Feb 17, 2012

Former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum's underfunded campaign is posing a challenge to Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney and a Pennsylvania political analyst thinks super PACs are proving to be a big benefit for less-resourced candidates.

Shirley Anne Warshaw, a political science professor at Gettysburg College, said the everyone-gets-a-turn surges of presidential candidates in this year's race can be traced back to these new funding sources.

Cardiac arrest is the number one killer of student athletes across the country, but currently there is no policy in Pennsylvania to screen athletes and possibly prevent unnecessary death. A new bill in committee in the state Senate addresses that discrepancy.

Sponsor state Senator John Blake (D-Lackawanna) said the goal of this bill is to protect student-athletes without overstepping the government's boundaries.

The Allegheny County Democratic Committee will meet this weekend to endorse candidates for U.S. Congress and the Pennsylvania General Assembly for the primary. But the ongoing dispute over state legislative maps has caused some confusion in the party and beyond.

"We set up our endorsements based upon the 2011 lines, then after the Supreme Court decision, we were instructed by the court to return to the 2001 lines, which we have done," said Nancy Patton Mills, chair of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee.

State House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) is sponsoring legislation to reform the process for state assistance in capital project funding.

Turzai said the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Project's debt ceiling has ballooned in the past two gubernatorial administrations, and he hopes to lower that ceiling.

"It takes the limit immediately down from $4.05 to $3.5 billion and then over the next eight years it takes it to $3.1 billion, and then it takes it down further over the remainder of the 20 years to $1.5 billion," Turzai said.

City Council Blasts Senate Shale Bill

Feb 7, 2012

Pittsburgh City Council Members sharply criticized state Senate legislation that would set a comprehensive policy for Marcellus Shale exploration in Pennsylvania.

The bill, which is expected to clear the state House soon, would assess an "impact fee" on each Marcellus Shale gas well drilled in the state, and set zoning laws regarding where such infrastructure could be built within municipalities.

Both of those points drew heated words from City Council Members, who unanimously passed a resolution that denounced Senate Bill 1100.

Corbett Budget Holds Line on Taxes

Feb 7, 2012

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has proposed an essentially flat budget in order to close a projected deficit of more than $700 million.

As expected, there are no tax increases in the $27.1 billion dollar spending plan, and the departments that pundits considered to be least likely to see cuts have stayed more or less level. However, higher education is seeing double-digit reductions.

DeWeese Won't Step Down Despite Guilty Verdict

Feb 6, 2012

Former Pennsylvania House Speaker Bill DeWeese has been found guilty on five corruption charges stemming from claims he required staff members, paid with state tax dollars, to work on his election campaigns as part of their jobs.

Judge Orders Occupy to Go

Feb 2, 2012

Occupy Pittsburgh has three days to leave Mellon Green adjacent to BNY Mellon's Pittsburgh headquarters. Allegheny County Judge Christine Ward ruled today that no law "permits a group of people to take over someone else's private property."

DeWeese Jury Deliberations Begin

Feb 2, 2012

The jury in the public corruption trial of former Pennsylvania State House Speaker and sitting state representative Bill DeWeese heard from the Green County Democrat on the last day of testimony and will now begin deliberations. When DeWeese took the stand in his own defense he became the first sitting lawmaker to do so in response to theft and conspiracy charges brought by the attorney general's office in an investigation that goes back more than five years.

On a rare sunny and mild January afternoon, several Democratic state lawmakers gathered at the Greenfield Bridge in Pittsburgh, calling on Governor Tom Corbett to take the lead on transportation funding. February 1st marks the six month anniversary of the governor's Blue Ribbon Transportation Commission releasing its report outlining options for the governor. The report included ideas such as uncapping the Oil Company Franchise Tax and raising license fees to support investments in highways, bridges, and mass transit.

Would-Be Candidates Plead for District Lines

Jan 31, 2012

Don O'Shell is currently the York County Clerk of Courts, but he planned to run as a Republican for the Senate seat being vacated by Dauphin County Republican Jeff Piccola. Now that the state Supreme Court has struck down the new legislative boundaries without issuing comment, O'Shell and others are in a holding pattern.

It may be some time before the state Supreme Court explains how a legislative redistricting map should be fixed.

Pennsylvania House Declares The Year of the Bible

Jan 31, 2012

You may have thought 2012 was the year of the dragon, but state House lawmakers have assigned a moniker.

With a unanimous vote last week, House members declared 2012 the "Year of the Bible."

The resolution recognizes the book that has shaped the Commonwealth and the "national need to study and apply the teachings of the holy scriptures."

Sponsoring Representative Rick Saccone (R-Jeffrson Hills) said he's been getting a bit of critical feedback on the measure.

Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Sam Smith has asked a federal judge to rule that district maps from a decade ago no longer be used for elections.

"He believes, as do others, that the 2001 legislative lines are out of whack and are unconstitutional, and violate the one person, one vote standard," said Smith Spokesperson Steve Miskin.

Pennsylvania GOP Makes Predictable Endorsements

Jan 30, 2012

All four of Governor Tom Corbett's picks for state and federal offices received the endorsement of the commonwealth's Republican committee over the weekend. Not all of the votes were easy.

During a forum of U.S. Senate candidates this weekend, Corbett could be found outside in the hallway, the top of his head barely visible from behind an armchair facing the wall in the corner. He was "shoring up support," said members of his staff.

Senate Democrats Outline Priorities for 2013 Budget

Jan 26, 2012

Senate democrats called for Governor Tom Corbett to keep certain priorities in mind before making his 2013 budget proposal next month.

The budget address will come on the heels of a state spending freeze announced after commonwealth revenue trailed budget projections by nearly $500 million midway through the fiscal year.

Lawmakers expect more cuts will be made in 2013, but Senate democrats maintained the governor should consider transportation, education, and fair taxes when making the budget.

But the top priority, democrats insisted, should be jobs.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Tosses New District Maps

Jan 25, 2012

A divided Pennsylvania Supreme Court is invalidating a plan to redraw district lines for seats in the state House and Senate, calling the redistricting approach "contrary to law."

The justices voted 4-3 to send the plan back to the Legislative Reapportionment Commission. The majority said their opinion in the case would be released later.

The high court's ruling throws into disarray plans by candidates and parties for this year's General Assembly races.

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