Government & Politics

Government & Politics news from 90.5 WESA.

Pennsylvania's state government operations received a "C-" in integrity, but the state still ranked 19th in the nation.

The Center for Public Integrity sent a journalist to each state capitol to do the research, using 330 questions in 14 categories to determine how transparent a state is in its justice department, campaign finance disclosures, budgeting process and most importantly the condition of the organizations in the state which monitor ethics issues. Pennsylvania does have an Ethics Commission, however its funding has been cut in recent years.

Health Care Referendum Passes Committee

Mar 19, 2012

Pennsylvanians could see a referendum by next year's primary to opt out of the federal health care mandate.

The legislation, which passed the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee along party lines, would amend the state constitution to block any penalties to those who do not purchase health care insurance, as required by the federal Affordable Care Act.

The bill's sponsor Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson County) said he's not trying to debate "Obamacare."

Two Sides Battle Over Gun Control Bill

Mar 15, 2012

A coalition against gun violence is standing in opposition to state House bill 1523 which allows for the National Rifle Association to take to court any municipality that uses gun control law more strict than the state.

Max Nacheman, executive director for CeaseFirePA, said the rights of local municipalities to require reporting lost or stolen guns are in the language of the law. While they are prohibited from superseding state legislation when it comes to lawful gun use, ownership, transfer or transportation, but he said this is a different case.

New Poll Shows Obama Up, GOP Down in Pennsylvania

Mar 14, 2012

According to a new poll, President Obama leads Republican challengers in Pennsylvania, and his approval ratings are on the rise.

The Public Policy Polling survey has the president with a 47% approval rating in Pennsylvania, up from 42% in 2011.

PPP Director Tom Jensen said Obama leads Republican frontunner Mitt Romney by seven points in the Keystone State, 49-42. The president also leads home-state candidate Rick Santorum by two points in the poll, 48-46.

Voter ID Passes PA House

Mar 14, 2012

Pennsylvania's House of Representatives has approved a measure establishing one of the nation's toughest photo identification laws for voters. The vote comes less than eight months before the presidential election.

The 104-88 vote Wednesday in the Republican-controlled chamber came after three days of debate. The measure heads to Gov. Tom Corbett, also a Republican, who says he'll sign it into law immediately. The ACLU of Pennsylvania says it will mount a court challenge.

Corbett Mum on Presidential Pick

Mar 13, 2012

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett's longtime political advisor has been named to lead the Pennsylvania ground game for Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

However, Corbett himself hasn't made any endorsements yet.

Brian Nutt ran Corbett's campaigns for Attorney General and governor. Rick Santorum's campaign has tapped Brian Nutt to be the Pennsylvania state campaign director, but Corbett says that doesn't affect his presidential pick in the slightest.

Corbett Receptive to Mandatory Ultrasound Bill

Mar 13, 2012

A bill in front of Pennsylvania's House would require women to undergo an ultrasound before undergoing an abortion.

Unlike similar bills in other states, the Pennsylvania bill would not require an internal probe.

Republican Governor Tom Corbett said he would oppose requiring such invasive procedures, but said he sees no problem with a mandatory ultrasound.

"I don't know how you can make anybody watch, because you just have to close your eyes," said Corbett. "But as long as it's on the exterior, not interior."

State House Expected to Pass Voter ID Bill

Mar 12, 2012

The state House is poised to pass a bill that would require Pennsylvanians to show photo identification before voting, set to take effect this year.

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai said the bill is about upholding a constitutional principle.

"It's 'one person, one vote,' and I don't think anybody should object to that long-held constitutional principle," said Turzai. "I think voter ID specifically reinforces the notion that each person is entitled to one vote in this country."

Pennsylvania “Important” Republican Battleground

Mar 12, 2012

Now that Super Tuesday has failed to shake any of the four Republican presidential candidates out of the race, it's looking like Pennsylvania's April 24th primary will be hotly contested.

There are five states holding their primary elections on April 24th, including New York and Pennsylvania, with big delegate counts at stake.

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.

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