Government & Politics

Government & Politics
9:37 pm
Wed March 19, 2014

Key Cases Loom in Pennsylvania Gay Marriage Fight

Pennsylvania remains the only mid-Atlantic state that bans gay marriage, but several court fights this year could change that.

In Philadelphia, a federal judge has been asked to order Pennsylvania to recognize same-sex marriages from elsewhere.

Lead plaintiffs Cara Palladino and Isabelle Barker have been married nine years. They believe most people don't see same-sex marriage as an issue anymore.

A February poll by Quinnipiac University shows that 57 percent of state voters support same-sex marriage, while 37 percent are opposed.

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Essential Pittsburgh
5:34 pm
Wed March 19, 2014

Police Review Board Still in Need of Members But Hopeful About New Administration

Beth Pittinger is the Executive Director of the Citizen Police Review Board (CPRB).
Credit Heather McClain / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh’s Citizen Police Review Board (CPRB) has recently been criticized for its lack of effectiveness, but despite having three empty board seats and a mayor and city council who are taking a long time to fill the posts, the board feels it is getting a lot of work done.

Many of the current board members were never officially appointed.

“On October 31st the terms expired. Nobody was succeeded by appointment as of December 31st, so 30 days had lapsed and they were automatically retained in their seats and then what happened was individuals moved. They relocated and were then disqualified from continuing with the board which created the two city council vacancies,” said Beth Pittinger, CPRB’s Executive Director.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:38 pm
Wed March 19, 2014

An Update on Recent Firearm Legislation from Harrisburg

New legislation is being pushed to the Pennsylvania House after a committee voted on and approved to move the bills to the floor.
Credit Michael Saechang / Flickr

The state House Judiciary Committee released an agenda on five firearms related bills this week, including an approved measure that would make municipalities that pass gun restrictions susceptible to law suits.

90.5 WESA State Capitol correspondent Mary Wilson says under the municipality bill, challengers of local gun restrictions would have the legal standing necessary to ask for court review of an ordinance.

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Government & Politics
3:06 pm
Wed March 19, 2014

Legislation Could Raise PA Minimum Wage to $10.10 Per Hour

A Pennsylvania lawmaker is pushing for legislation that would increase the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour over the next two years.

Under Senate Bill 1300, the minimum wage would jump to $8.20 an hour beginning July 1, 2014. On Jan. 1, 2015, wages would increase again to $9.50 an hour and then $10.10 an hour one year later.

The bill’s sponsor, State Sen. Tina Tartaglione (D-Philadelphia), said after that, it will be up to local governments to set the wage.

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City Government
9:42 am
Wed March 19, 2014

Pittsburgh Appeals Panel's Police Residency Ruling

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is appealing an arbitration panel's decision that its police officers can live outside the city.

The appeal to Allegheny County Court puts on hold last week's ruling that would let officers live within 25 miles of the City-County Building. The ruling means officers could live throughout the county and in parts of six neighboring counties.

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Government & Politics
7:55 am
Wed March 19, 2014

Bill to Curb Local Gun Restrictions Goes to Full House

Gun owners and groups like the National Rifle Association would be able to take municipalities to court over local gun restrictions under a measure that passed a House committee with overwhelming support Tuesday.

The bill would give challengers of local gun restrictions the legal standing necessary to ask for court review of an ordinance. Successful challengers could be reimbursed by municipalities for legal costs and other expenses.

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Allegheny County
7:48 am
Wed March 19, 2014

Fitzgerald Faces Council, Activists Over Deer Lakes Gas Drilling Deal

Around two dozen anti-fracking activists attended Tuesday's County Council meeting.
Credit Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald delivered his quarterly state of the county address Tuesday night and had plenty of praise for county departments.

Fitzgerald acknowledged public works for its handling of the roughest winter weather in recent memory, the health department for its successful efforts to improve air quality in the county and the medical examiner’s Office for a recent national award it received for ballistics work.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:55 pm
Tue March 18, 2014

Dem. Candidate Schwartz: Corbett's Affordable Care Act Response a Failure

Credit 13th Congressional District, Pennsylvania / flickr

Allyson Schwartz, a Democratic candidate for governor, said Pennsylvania is looking for someone with a proven track record to replace Gov. Tom Corbett and his “failed leadership.”

On Tuesday, she said one of his “failures” was his response to the Affordable Care Act, which she wrote provisions to as a U.S. Representative.

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Government & Politics
2:56 pm
Tue March 18, 2014

Corbett, Lawmakers Slam PA Hunting Agency

Gov. Tom Corbett and several high-ranking state lawmakers are demanding that members of the Pennsylvania Game Commission make changes or resign.

The letter they sent Tuesday to Pennsylvania Game Commission President Bob Schlemmer says the agency should rescind an agreement to pay $220,000 to its former executive director, Carl Roe.

It also says William Capouillez shouldn't be named to succeed Roe.

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Government & Politics
7:44 am
Tue March 18, 2014

Bill Would End PA Background Check System For Guns

A proposal to dismantle the state background check system used to determine if someone is eligible to buy a gun or a gun license is set for a committee vote Tuesday.

The measure, referred to the House Judiciary Committee, would bypass and defund the state background check in favor of using the national background check system.

Supporters say it would reduce redundancy and free up state funding currently going to the state background check system, established in 1998.

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Courts
3:00 am
Tue March 18, 2014

Kane Says Despite Crimes Committed on Tape, Case Couldn’t Be Salvaged

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane says despite the fact that her office has audio tapes documenting four state lawmakers and one judge committing crimes, she is defending her decision to drop a case investigating them.

The Philadelphia Inquirer first reported the abandonment of the case, which allegedly relied on one confidential informant to catch public officials in the act of accepting cash or gifts.

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Essential Pittsburgh
5:19 pm
Mon March 17, 2014

Congressman Doyle is Optimistic About Renewal of Unemployment Benefits

How much longer will people who need an unemployment insurance extension have to wait?
Credit Bytemarks / Flickr

Senate negotiators have struck a bipartisan deal that could renew federal unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless. But the question becomes, what will happen when this legislation makes its way to the House?

US Congressman Mike Doyle has been in the House of Representatives since 1995, he's witnessed the emergence of an increasingly partisan congress and explained why he's hopeful for this legislation.

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Mon March 17, 2014

Are PA's Campaign Finance Rules in Need of Reform? Depends Who You Ask

If you ask any of the Democratic candidates for governor, Pennsylvania’s campaign finance rules are atrocious. If you ask the sitting governor, Republican Tom Corbett, the wells of donor and financial information are a click away and need no reforming.

The field of gubernatorial candidates shrank once more last week with the exit of John Hanger. His parting words included a diatribe on the effect of big spending in political campaigns.

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Public Safety
3:30 am
Mon March 17, 2014

'Rocco’s Law' Moves Forward in Harrisburg

Six weeks after the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police said goodbye to K-9 officer Rocco, legislation is advancing through the Pennsylvania House that would strengthen the punishment for those who harm a police dog.

Rocco’s Law, sponsored by Rep. John Maher (R-Allegheny/Washington), would make injuring or killing a police dog a felony of the second degree carrying a maximum fine of $25,000 and 10 years in prison. This includes mutilating, disabling or poisoning a K-9 officer.

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State Government
5:02 pm
Fri March 14, 2014

Extreme Energy Demand Has State Lawmakers Exploring Rate Caps

A state house committee wants to take a closer look at extreme electricity rates that left consumers shocked this winter. 

High energy demand during extreme cold spikes in January and February caused huge spikes in electricity costs across Pennsylvania. Consumers who agreed to pay variable electric rates are now receiving bills and are finding the numbers hard to believe. According to Rep. Peter Daley (D-Fayette/Washington) who co-chairs the Consumer Affairs Committee, some citizens saw rates far beyond their monthly income.

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City Government
4:59 pm
Fri March 14, 2014

Ruling Nixes Pittsburgh Police Residency Rule

A labor arbitrator has ruled Pittsburgh police don't have to live in the city, instead requiring only that they live within a 25-mile radius of the City-County Building downtown.

Thursday's ruling sets aside a November referendum in which voters overwhelmingly favored requiring officers to live in the city.

City Council proposed the referendum after a state law was changed in 2012, overturning the residency requirement. The law didn't require cities to negate residency requirements, but gave them the flexibility to do so.

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Essential Pittsburgh
2:24 pm
Fri March 14, 2014

The Impact of the Open Records Law, Five Years Later

Five years ago Pennsylvania's Open Records law was changed to increase transparency of government agencies.
Credit Jenni C / Flickr

Five years ago Pennsylvania's Open Records law was changed, with the promise of ensuring more information would be made more easily available to the public. The new law is generally seen as a positive for the Commonwealth, but open records officials and some people who use the law see room for improvement.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter, Rich Lord, says, “When the new law took effect in the beginning of 2009, there was an opening up, there was a feeling in agencies that, 'hey now the presumption is that I've got to give it over, so I may as well give it over' that has gradually shifted over the last five years. Agencies have been looking, I think, or at least focusing less on that presumption of openness than on the 30 exemptions in the law. Agencies have appeared to view the law in recent years as a tool for coming up with reasons not to disclose rather than a requirement to disclose or an encouragement to disclose."

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Government & Politics
4:58 pm
Thu March 13, 2014

Pittsburgh to Remain Under Act 47

PA Gov. Tom Corbett, with Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto at his side, announces that Pittsburgh will remain under Act 47
Credit Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

With the thanks of Pittsburgh’s mayor, Gov. Tom Corbett Thursday announced that the city would remain under the controls of Act 47. 

Pittsburgh entered into distressed-city status 10 years ago, and the Ravenstahl administration had argued in 2012 that enough progress had been made to release the city from its bonds.

“While Pittsburgh continues to take considerable steps in its efforts in stabilizing the city’s financial position, many conditions that originally led to the distressed determination have not been alleviated,” Corbett said.

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County Government
12:36 pm
Thu March 13, 2014

Paperless Office in Sight for Allegheny County Controller

To cut costs and encourage more effective communication between businesses and county government, Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner is taking the next step in having her office go paperless.

Vendors are now being urged to send invoices to the county electronically, which will save the office between $15,000 and $20,000 per year in postage, paper and ink. 

Businesses still have the option to submit paper invoices, but Wagner said she expects using the electronic system to be a requirement soon.

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Election 2014
10:49 am
Thu March 13, 2014

Hanger Out of Democratic Race for PA Governor

John Hanger has withdrawn as a Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania Governor. The former Secretary of the PA Dept. of Environmental Protection made the decision official Thursday morning. 

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Thu March 13, 2014

Five Years After A Major Change, How Open Is Pennsylvania's Open Records Law?

It's been five years since a major shift in the way the commonwealth makes public documents available. But how much of a difference has the change made?
Credit Flickr user All Those Details

Five years ago, Pennsylvania’s open records law was changed with the promise of ensuring more information would be more easily available to the public.

Records requests have gone up, and the new law is seen, overall, as a positive for the commonwealth, but open records officials and some people who use the law see room for improvement. 

Before the change in the open records law, all records were presumed closed unless the requester could prove why they should be open. Now, with the new law, all records are presumed open unless the requestee can prove otherwise. This has resulted in a spike in requests from across the commonwealth.

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Essential Pittsburgh
5:16 pm
Wed March 12, 2014

Pitt Ukrainian Scholar Explains Varied Responses to Russian Conflict

Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Pittsburgh Adriana Helbig is one of many Pittsburgh residents with Ukrainian heritage.
Credit adrianahelbig.com

Ethnomusicologist and anthropologist Adriana Helbig is one of many Pittsburgh residents with Ukrainian heritage. She travels to Kiev each year for family, and for work as an assistant professor of music and a faculty member in Cultural Studies, Women's Studies, Global Studies, and the Center for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.

Helbig shared insight on Ukraine's standoff with Russia including why nations in the European Union are struggling to help Ukraine with this conflict.

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Government & Politics
12:37 pm
Wed March 12, 2014

State Sen. LeAnna Washington Charged With Felony Theft of Services

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane Wednesday announced criminal charges against state Sen. LeAnna Washington (D-Philadelphia).

Washington is charged with one count of theft of services and one count of violation of the conflict of interest statute. The two felonies together carry a maximum sentence of 12 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $25,000.

“The evidence will show that Senator Washington pressured her staff into performing political activities using taxpayer dollars for her own personal benefit,” Kane said in a press release.

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Transportation
10:20 am
Wed March 12, 2014

Authorities, Lawmakers Point to Communication Breakdown in Turnpike Pile-Up

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is resolving to revisit communication procedures after last month’s chain-reaction pile-up in Bucks County involving 41 crashes and more than 100 vehicles.

At a Tuesday hearing called by the state Senate Transportation Committee, authorities described a number of reasons for rapidly worsening road conditions the morning of February 14: overnight snow and rainfall that began to re-freeze on the road, winds picking up around 7 a.m., and sun glare making it hard for motorists to see.

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Government & Politics
9:23 pm
Mon March 10, 2014

Lawmakers Propose Letting State-Owned Schools Peel Off

State lawmakers are set to introduce a bipartisan plan to let the largest schools leave the 14-member Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, amid skepticism from their colleagues and the system’s chancellor.

The legislation, not yet introduced, would allow schools with 7,000 students or more to leave the state system, which has been seeing declining enrollment and rising costs.

Supporters say the move would preserve the system while allowing its most successful colleges to continue to grow.

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