Government & Politics

Government & Politics news from 90.5 WESA.

Human Service Block Grant Fight Grows in Pennsylvania

Jun 26, 2012

A budget tussle in Harrisburg is heating up over the fate of seven county-run human services programs that serve people with intellectual disabilities and substance abuse problems. Both the funding method and the amount of state assistance are at issue.

An original 20% cut for the human services programs became a 10% cut after budget negotiators used improving revenue reports to persuade Governor Tom Corbett to soften his earlier proposal.

Democrats Continue Fight for Education Funding

Jun 25, 2012

In the final days of state budget negotiations, state House Democrats aren't letting up on their push for an increase in public schools funding.

Democratic Representatives Eddie Day Pashinski of Luzerne County and James Roebuck of Philadelphia headed to the governor's office today to lobby the Corbett administration to earmark more money for public education. They had petitions containing some 15,000 signatures, but they were met at the door by Education Secretary Ron Tomalis and that was as far as they were able to get.

Senate Set To Vote On Corrections Reform

Jun 25, 2012

The state Senate is expected to give its approval today to prison reform legislation, which is receiving bipartisan support.

Senate minority leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) said SB100 is a "solid step" toward improving the corrections system in Pennsylvania and includes ideas proposed by his caucus, "including increased programming for short term nonviolent offenders to help effectuate their timely release back into the community, aggressively utilizing alternative sentencing for nonviolent offenders and increasing the use of treatment programs," Costa said.

State Budget Likely To Be Approved This Week

Jun 25, 2012

State lawmakers this week are expected to approve a $27.7 billion budget for the new fiscal year that begins Sunday, July 1.

In his February budget address, Governor Tom Corbett outlined a $27.14 billion spending plan, but after closed-door discussions with Republican legislative leaders, he agreed to come up to the $27.66 billion level proposed by the Senate. Some of the addition $500 million would go to reducing the governor's proposed cuts to education.

Proposed Legislation Blocks Employers Asking For Passwords

Jun 25, 2012

Companies in Pennsylvania could be barred from digging into their workers' social media profiles. A state House proposal sponsored by Representative Jesse White (D-Washington) would ban employers from requesting passwords to sites like Facebook and Twitter as a condition of employment.

"They can't ask you in a job interview about your religious orientation, about your sexual orientation, those sorts of things, because they're not allowed to use them as a basis for employment," White said.

City Council President Darlene Harris said she is investigating whether the city could legally challenge the tax-exempt status of large nonprofits in Pittsburgh.

If organizations like Highmark, UPMC and city universities don't measure up to state nonprofit criteria, Pittsburgh could stand to gain tens of millions of dollars more in revenue from real estate and payroll taxes that are currently waived.

Privatizing LCB Dead For Now

Jun 19, 2012

The leading Democrat on the state House Liquor Control Committee said it's time to talk about modernization and not privatization when it comes to the commonwealth's liquor and beer sales.

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) has conceded the privatization issue is off the table until at least the fall because he doesn't have enough votes. Speaking with reporters as a budget meeting between Governor Tom Corbett and legislative leaders broke up, Turzai said legislators need to focus now on passage of a state budget.

Ed Rendell's resumé is impressive: eight years as the District Attorney of Philadelphia, eight years as Mayor of Philadelphia, and eight years as Governor of Pennsylvania. Toss in a stint as the chairman of the Democratic National Committee and you have a long career in government and politics.

Allegheny County's Board of Elections will likely vote in favor of a lawsuit against the state's new voter ID law. The vote is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

Democrats on the board are hoping to strike down a law that requires photo identification to be presented before Pennsylvanians can vote. However, the board's lone Republican said the lawsuit is redundant, expensive, and politically motivated.

Finalized State Budget Quickly Approaching Deadline

Jun 18, 2012

With the new fiscal year starting July 1, budget talks are quietly continuing in Harrisburg, with state House and Senate GOP leaders saying they're still working on a joint proposal for the governor. Republicans say though Governor Corbett has been saying he'd like to spend "less" than what the legislature's proposed, he only recently identified how much less.

A plan to sell off the state's roughly 600 wine and spirits stores has the support of the governor, but it's still stalling in the House.

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai said his bill's not dead, but he won't say whether the votes are there to pass it.

"It's scheduled to run on Monday," said Turzai.

It isn't the first Monday the plan has been brought up on the House floor. A week ago, debate went on for hours before leaders finally pulled the plug. The proposal wasn't brought up at all for the rest of the week.

State House Proposal To Reform Pensions For Some State Employees

Jun 14, 2012

House Republicans have unveiled their own proposals to change state worker pension in Pennsylvania just weeks after their counterparts in the Senate introduced a pension reform plan.

President Barack Obama incited a lot of excitement among young voters in 2008, but at a young professionals round table in downtown Pittsburgh Tuesday, a worry about voter apathy was expressed. Actor and former Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement Kal Penn spoke to the small group and asked for input on what the Obama campaign can do to energize young voters. He said the president has been a tireless proponent of issues important to young people, while Republicans have been focused on other issues.

PA Republicans say Romney has a Good Chance

Jun 12, 2012

The 2012 Presidential Election campaign is intensifying in Pennsylvania.

President Barack Obama will appear this evening at 8:00 o'clock at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia to raise money for the Obama Victory Fund Campaign, a joint fundraising committee of the Obama re-election campaign, the Democratic National Committee and several state Democratic parties.

Governor Tom Corbett is expected to sign legislation that takes away the Port Authority of Allegheny County's ability to review applications to provide bus service in the county. Interested parties would still have to get approval from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and live under that entity's regulations.

The Senate last week approved House Bill 10, which the lower chamber passed in the fall.

The five-member Legislative Reapportionment Commission this afternoon approved a second plan to redraw the legislative districts in the commonwealth.

The Board of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) selected Veolia Water North America to provide Executive Management services to the Authority for twelve months with a possible six-month extension.

Jim Good will serve as the PWSA's Executive Director and fill the 18-month vacancy left by the resignation of Michael Kenney in 2010. Another Veolia executive, Doug Amos, will serve as Study Manager for PWSA.

The Secretary of the Air Force, Michael Donley, visited the 911th Airlift Wing Thursday to meet with senior and civic leaders who lobbied him to keep the base open. While there he thanked the airmen for their contributions to national security and continuing focus on their mission.

Governor Corbett Holding Private Budget Meetings With Republicans

Jun 8, 2012

Budget talks continue in Harrisburg among legislative leaders and the governor. However, those negotiations are happening behind closed doors and without the input of Democrats. Gov. Tom Corbett has not avoided the fact that budget talks have been a Republicans-only affair so far.

"This, it has to be passed by a majority. The Republicans are in the majority in both houses. The discussions that the Democrats have put out there is that they want to continue to spend and at least I have the Republicans trying to save money in some areas," Corbett explained.

House Lawmakers Approve So-Called Payday Loan Regulations

Jun 8, 2012

The lending industry calls them small-dollar loans. Opponents call them payday loans. State House lawmakers approved a measure to regulate and expand the short term loan industry in the commonwealth.

Such loans tend to be issued with a two-week payback period, and they often come with high interest and fees. The small loans tend to be taken out for a couple weeks at a time, and they often come with high interest rates and fees.

A committee of Allegheny County Council has given an affirmative recommendation to a bill that would transfer the Weights & Measures Division from the Controller's office to the administration. The bill now heads to the full Council for a final vote.

State Senator Mike Stack (D-Philadelphia) and Representative Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) have introduced legislation aimed at breaking financial ties with companies that do business with Iran. Stack's Senate Bill 1543 and Frankel's House Bill 2427 would specifically go after businesses with direct investment in Iran's energy sector and bar them from bidding on Pennsylvania state contracts.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Jane Orie has been sentenced to serve between 2 and a half to 10 years in prison. The Republican from McCandless was convicted in March of using her legislative staff to do campaign work, and for forging documents to cover up the criminal activity.

The judge will decide within the next 30 days what monetary penalty Orie must pay. That number could go as high as $2 million in legal fees and restitution to the state.

Republican Lawmakers To Propose Joint Spending Plan Next Week

May 31, 2012

Republican lawmakers in the Pennsylvania state legislature are meeting with Governor Tom Corbett early next week to present a joint spending plan with the intention of passing a budget in mid-June. Procedurally, it falls to the state House to make changes to the Senate's $27.7 billion budget plan, which contains a half-million dollars more than what the governor proposed.

It seems Allegheny County Council is the rope in a political tug-of-war between the County Executive and the County Controller. A pending Council vote will determine which office will have command of the county's Weights & Measures Division.

Pennsylvania State Senator Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) has introduced a bill that would require all Pennsylvania school districts to teach students in grades 6-12 about the Holocaust. The Bill would also require schools to teach about genocide, human rights violations, anti-Semitism, racism, and the abridgement of civil rights.

Senator Williams said if today's youth is not educated about this event, it could pave the way for something similar to happen in the future.

Corbett Names New Chief of Staff

May 24, 2012

Gov. Tom Corbett's top aide is leaving his job as the first-term Republican battles criticism from opponents over his cost-cutting agenda and from allies over his ability to forge policy and broadcast a persuasive and strong public message.

Corbett made no mention of pressure when he announced Thursday that he is nominating his chief of staff and longtime friend William Ward to fill a vacant seat on the Allegheny County Common Pleas Court after 16 months in Harrisburg with Corbett.

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner said Governor Tom Corbett's proposed budget compromises the tax payers of the county. According to Wagner, the budget will lead to Allegheny County residents being double-taxed by a governor who's from Allegheny County and has a background in law enforcement.

"Yet his budget is cutting our courts, and cutting law enforcement here in Allegheny County, forcing us to pay for those services here in Allegheny County and statewide," said Wagner.

Even as Pennsylvania's Voter ID law goes through legal challenges, one lawmaker is introducing a package of bills aimed at "fixing" parts of the bill. The so-called "Every Voter Counts" package contains three parts. The first part would create an online voter registration system. The second would require the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to use new technology and mobile outreach to help registered voters obtain needed photo identification.

Orie Resignation Leads to Special Election

May 21, 2012

The criminal conviction and resignation of Republican state Senator Jane Orie leave a political void in the North Hills, with the GOP and Democrats both rushing to fill it.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of State, a special election must be held by mid-August for the 40th Senate District.

Republican Committee of Allegheny County Chairman Jim Roddey said he's confident about his party's chances this summer.

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