Government & Politics

Government & Politics news from 90.5 WESA.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto submitted Tuesday a $517.5 million operating budget for 2016 to the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority. The spending plan, which comes with no tax increases, is nearly $10 million, or 1.9 percent, more than this year’s budget. 

Supporters and opponents of House Bill 1506, which would make English the official state language in Pennsylvania, testified Monday at a House Committee hearing.

Under the legislation, introduced by Rep. Ryan Warner (R-Fayette), all state government documents would be required to be in English.

Court Suspends PA Attorney General's Law License

Sep 21, 2015
Matt Rourke / AP Photo

Pennsylvania's highest court on Monday ordered the temporary suspension of state Attorney General Kathleen Kane's law license, a step that could trigger efforts to remove her from office as she fights criminal charges.

The state Senate has passed what may be a doomed interim state budget meant to get public money flowing again to schools, social services providers, and a variety of other projects.

Debate wrapped up quickly Friday as the Republican-controlled Senate voted along party lines to pass the stopgap budget.

Gov. Tom Wolf has vowed to veto the package, criticizing the GOP’s concern for schools and social services as disingenuous.

Mary Wilson / WITF

  The state is trying to drum up interest in discounted phone service for the commonwealth’s neediest people.

More than 900,000 Pennsylvania residents signed up last year for the federal program known as Lifeline. Based on statewide poverty statistics, state officials believe many more people are eligible.

A coalition of social services providers is suing Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration for leaving them high and dry during the state budget impasse.

The Pennsylvania Council of Children, Youth and Family Services, which represents more than 100 private providers of child welfare and juvenile justice services in Pennsylvania, said the legal challenge filed Tuesday is an attempt to protect its members’ funding during state budget fights in the years to come.

The tone of state budget talks hit a new low this week as the governor promised to veto a stopgap measure meant to get state funding flowing to entities facing their own fiscal cliff due to the months-long standoff over a state budget.

GOP Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said a deal still seemed distant after a Wednesday meeting with Democrats and the governor. As a result, he said, Republicans would go ahead with a short-term proposal to fund schools and social services through October.

Officials debated in state court Wednesday whether pornographic e-mails exchanged by state employees on state computers should be released to the public.

Lawyers for the state Office of Attorney General told a panel of Commonwealth Court judges that the sought-after smutty exchanges among current and former OAG employees are not public records because they don’t document official agency activity.

“The question is: Was it sent in connection with commonwealth business?” said John Knorr III, Chief Deputy Attorney General, who argued on behalf of the office in court.

PA Auditor General Announces ICA Inquiry

Sep 15, 2015

The state's highest auditor launched an investigation Tuesday into the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, Pittsburgh’s state-appointed financial overseer.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto requested the audit in August, asserting the ICA has illegally withheld $12.8 million in state gambling funds the city earns by hosting Rivers Casino. The ICA was established in 2004 to help Pittsburgh avoid bankruptcy. It controls millions the state gives Pittsburgh every year and can disapprove city budgets.

A group of state House lawmakers tasked with finding a way “get to yes” on medical marijuana legalization is winding down its work. A spokeswoman for Rep. Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin) said recommendations would be delivered to GOP House Majority Leader Dave Reed in the next few weeks.

The House GOP’s working group was pulled together after a medical cannabis legalization measure passed the state Senate in May.

Braddock Mayor Enters U.S. Senate Primary

Sep 14, 2015
Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

Braddock Mayor John Fetterman announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate during a mid-day house party Monday.

“I would never pander to you by saying that I alone can fundamentally change Washington D.C. anymore than I could bring back the 14 furniture stores that Braddock once had,” he said,” But what I can promise you is that I will fight in a principled, collaborative way that my 14 years of service here in Braddock demonstrates.”

Kevin Hagen / AP Photo

The Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s office received a $254,437 grant to process previously untested sexual assault kits.

That money will go towards testing 160 kits the medical examiner’s office has backlogged and about 400 additional kits at police stations, hospitals and other facilities in the county.

Republican state lawmakers could put Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in a tricky spot with their next budgetary maneuver: they say they’ll be back in session this month to approve a temporary spending plan.

Flickr user the yellowrider

For many, pigeons are pests. Woody Allen called them “rats with wings” in the 1980 film Stardust Memories.

And according to Rebecca Reid with the animal advocacy group Humane Options Pittsburgh, that’s how the state and federal governments see them as well. Pigeons, or rock doves, are one of just three species not protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Aapo Haapanen / Flickr

  A legal battle over Gov. Tom Wolf’s seven-month death penalty moratorium lands in the state’s Supreme Court on Thursday.

The court’s ruling could disrupt Wolf’s plans to continue issuing reprieves to death row inmates, at least until a state task force finishes studying capital punishment in Pennsylvania. 

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

It’s no secret that Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is big on innovation. He transformed the city’s Computer Information Systems department into the Department of Innovation and Performance and hired the city’s first Chief Innovation Officer, Debra Lam.

But Lam said that when the mayor’s team started looking around at the most innovative cities in the world, they found that they were also some of the most exclusive.

Officials with the Pennsylvania’s eHealth Partnership Authority plan to grant about $10 million to hospitals and ambulatory providers in an effort to digitize and streamline medical services. They will be able to connect to the Pennsylvania Patient Provider Network.

This is a continuation of the grant program and effort they started last year.

AP

Vice President Joe Biden spoke to a group of union workers before the Labor Day Parade in downtown Pittsburgh Monday morning.

His speech was focused on the importance of organized labor to the health of the national economy and quality of life.

Stewart Black / Flickr

  Pennsylvania is bracing for a possible outbreak of what was once called the “fowl plague” – a highly contagious form of bird flu that devastated entire poultry flocks in the Midwest this spring.

The commonwealth saw severe cases of the bird flu in the 1980s. Since then, commercial poultry operations have become more complex, and keeping backyard hens is more popular –- as evidenced, perhaps, by a certain website purveying in rent-a-chickens.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell has a little advice for embattled state Attorney General Kathleen Kane: take a leave of absence.

“Let someone in her office be the one to call the shots for the attorney general’s office while she was getting ready for trial, preparing for trial with her lawyers, etcetera,” said Rendell on WITF’s Smart Talk on Wednesday.

Top state Democrats have called on Kane to resign in light of the criminal charges filed against her last month. Rendell said Kane could stop short of that while placating some of her critics.

An activist who has crusaded for a year to learn who exchanged pornographic e-mails within the state Office of Attorney General says he might be about to make headway — thanks to public comments made by Kathleen Kane herself.

Simon Campbell, founder of the Bucks County group Pennsylvanians for Union Reform, has been angling to uncover the identities of all the state employees who sent or received smutty e-mails found on OAG servers and computers. Kane's office unearthed the messages but fought numerous requests for their full release, citing union contracts and employee privacy.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Activists with the Allegheny County Jail Health Justice Project on Tuesday delivered a petition with more than 1,700 signatures to County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s office, asking him to fire County Jail Warden Orlando Harper.

Activists maintain that Harper — and Fitzgerald — are ultimately responsible for the death rate at the jail, which in 2014 was more than twice the national average at seven deaths. Four inmates have died at the jail so far this year, including Frank Smart, whose mother, Tomi Lynn Harris, spoke at a rally outside the county courthouse.

The state’s fiscal watchdog issued another growl about the state’s absentee spending plan on Tuesday.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a Democrat, said routine audits of school districts, starting now, will also consider the ramifications of the state budget impasse – like schools’ borrowing costs.

Finishing audits of all 500 school districts will take years, he said, so there's no exact estimate for statewide school costs to schools. That's why DePasquale said he’s putting negotiators on notice now. 

PA Budget Talks Go Underground

Sep 1, 2015

State budget talks are being kept quiet this week as Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf plans to meet with top Republican lawmakers without the press lurking outside.

The governor’s office said Monday the coming meetings will be smaller and more low-profile in an attempt to get closer to a deal.

Spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan said the impromptu hallway press conferences that have punctuated so many meetings over the past several weeks haven’t been helpful. The state spending plan is already two months late.

Ginny/Flickr

Pennsylvania lawmakers are trying, once again, to change the state’s anti-discrimination law.

A pair of bills have been introduced that would update the Human Relations Act, making it illegal for someone to be fired from a job, turned away from a business and evicted from or denied housing because of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act currently provides those protections for people on the basis of age, race, gender, disability, among others,” said one of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny), “but we believe that it is a glaring omission to not include people from the LGBT community.”

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Pennsylvania is becoming the 23rd state to allow its residents to register as voters by going online.

The paper registration forms aren't going anywhere, but now Pennsylvanians will have the option of online voter registration due to policy change by the Wolf administration.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

State budget negotiations are on ice as Gov. Tom Wolf considers the most significant offer from Republicans since talks stalled in June.

The proposal would let Wolf spend more money on schools, one of his campaign promises. But it would also scale back future pension benefits, delivering a kick in the pants to public sector labor unions, who have panned the deal.

Group Presses Casey To Support Iran Deal

Aug 27, 2015
Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

Twelve people gathered Downtown on Wednesday to deliver a letter to U.S. Sen. Bob Casey’s local office to support the Iranian nuclear deal because they "don’t want another war."

“If the only alternative to the current peace plan is war, then yes, the right answer is approving the plan,” said Joy Sabl of Point Breeze. “But the overwhelming message is that we have a lot of pressure to go to war and we are standing firm against that pressure. We’ve seen a lot of it, we recognize it for what it is and we don’t like it.”

Matt Rourke / AP

The state Supreme Court has unsealed a trove of documents that show as early as last November Attorney General Kathleen Kane was claiming that the investigation into her stemmed from her efforts to release pornographic and insensitive e-mails exchanged by her critics.

The documents unsealed by the high court Wednesday show that Kane made multiple appeals to quash the investigation into her, saying it was “trigged” by two critics and former prosecutors in her office: Frank Fina and Marc Costanzo.

Hillary H / Flickr

As temperatures creep back into the 90s next week, one state lawmaker says he's looking ahead to protect dogs and other pets from being left in vehicles unattended.

The Motor Vehicle Extreme Heat Protection Act would “prohibit the confinement of a dog or cat in an unattended motor vehicle in a manner that would endanger the health and wellbeing of the animal.” The violation would be a summary offense, which is the most minor criminal offense in the state and generally comes with a fine.

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