Government & Politics

College Savings
3:30 am
Mon December 23, 2013

Need a Last-Minute Gift Idea? PA Treasurer McCord Suggests Donating to a 529

While many holiday gift givers will be heading out to the stores Monday and Tuesday for a few last-minute gifts, Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord is offering another solution: give to a loved one’s college fund.

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Natural Gas Drilling
4:04 pm
Thu December 19, 2013

PA High Court Strikes Down Zoning Limits on Drilling

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Thursday struck down portions of a law that stripped some of the powers municipalities have to decide where the natural gas industry can operate — portions that the industry had sought from Gov. Tom Corbett and lawmakers.

The justices ruled the 2012 law unconstitutionally restricted the power of municipalities, although the 4-to-2 majority disagreed as to why it was unconstitutional.

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Pennsylvania
3:43 pm
Thu December 19, 2013

Corbett Inks Post-Sandusky PA Child-Abuse Bills

Pennsylvania enacted its first new laws Wednesday in the Legislature's wide-ranging response to the Jerry Sandusky and Roman Catholic clergy child sexual abuse scandals, a step that expands the nearly 20-year-old playbook for how caseworkers and investigators can handle reports of child abuse.

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Government & Politics
10:30 am
Thu December 19, 2013

PA Budget Chief Warns of $1.4 Billion Budget Shortfall Next Fiscal Year

The governor’s budget secretary is warning if the current financial picture holds, the commonwealth could face up to a $1.4 billion shortfall in the next fiscal year.

Charles Zogby said the budget deficit is due largely to rising personnel costs like health care and pensions.

But a reduction in federal funds for medical assistance and cost increases in the state’s prisons system are also contributing to the gap.

Zogby said the Corbett administration is still trying to avoid cuts.

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Government & Politics
4:26 pm
Wed December 18, 2013

Corbett Backs Gay Rights Bill On Discrimination

Gov. Tom Corbett is supporting a measure to ban the discrimination of Pennsylvanians based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The proposal would update the commonwealth’s anti-discrimination law to include what supporters call basic protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Pennsylvanians.

The governor insists he’s not changing his stance on the issue, claiming it’s the first time he’s had any kind of position.

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Government & Politics
4:10 pm
Wed December 18, 2013

One Year After Sandyhook, Mental Health Overhaul Offered

US Congressman Tim Murphy
Credit Tim Murphy / murphy.house.gov

The shootings and Sandyhook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. focused the nation’s attention on mental health care but now that the tragedy is a year behind us, debate on the subject has waned.

However, U.S. Congressman Tim Murphy (PA-18) is hoping to throw it back into the spotlight with a bill he is calling the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act.

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Government & Politics
3:34 pm
Wed December 18, 2013

PA Auditor General Urges Officials to Raise the State’s Minimum Wage

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is calling on Governor Corbett and state lawmakers to raise the state's minimum wage.
Credit Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is calling on Gov. Tom Corbett and the Legislature to raise the state’s minimum wage from the current $7.25.

“As the state’s fiscal watchdog, I think this would be good for the state budget," DePasquale said. "I believe it would help stimulate the economy and most importantly, it’s just the right thing to do to put money in the pockets of working families who have gone without a raise for far too long."

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Government & Politics
9:28 am
Wed December 18, 2013

Legislation to Shrink State Legislature Clears First of Several Hurdles

The state House is taking a step toward shrinking its membership.

Lawmakers have passed a proposal sponsored by the Republican House speaker to cut the 203-seat body to 153 representatives.

During debate, several House members voiced concern that reducing House districts would diminish the voice of rural Pennsylvania in the Legislature.

But Speaker Sam Smith says the measure doesn’t single out certain regions.

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Marcellus Shale
5:24 pm
Tue December 17, 2013

State Lawmakers Propose Marcellus Shale Severance Tax

A group of state lawmakers and advocates are calling on their colleagues to consider placing a tax on the production of natural gas.

Under Gov. Tom Corbett, the Legislature passed an impact fee, which put a levy on each well drilled.

Supporters of the severance tax idea point out Pennsylvania is the only state within shale formations that doesn’t tax gas yields.

Democratic Representative Harry Readshaw of Allegheny County notes such a tax would bring in more money than the impact fee, at a time when dollars are sorely needed.

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Economy
3:05 pm
Tue December 17, 2013

80,000 Pennsylvanians To Be Affected By Expiration Of Emergency Unemployment Funds

Emergency Unemployment Funds, which go to people who’ve been receiving unemployment benefits for more than six months, are set to expire Dec. 28.

“We estimate that 80,000 Pennsylvanians who are claiming emergency unemployment compensation benefits will lose those benefits as of the end of December this year because the federal government is not continuing that program,” said Sara Goulet, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

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Public Safety
5:04 pm
Mon December 16, 2013

Corbett Administration Launches Prescription Drug Take-Back Program

The Corbett administration has announced a medication drug take-back program, calling on Pennsylvanians to dump their old prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs in one of the scores of receptacles at police stations across the commonwealth.

Law enforcement and medical professionals say the abuse of prescriptions has led to a surge in the use of drugs like heroin.

Gov. Tom Corbett says getting rid of drugs that sit in medicine cabinets for years brings down the chances that they’ll end up in the hands of people who may misuse them.

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Government & Politics
10:32 am
Mon December 16, 2013

Facing a Crowded Field in Governor's Race, Dems Shore Up Support at PA Society

Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls took to New York over the weekend for the 115th Pennsylvania Society, a series of parties and networking with other big names in politics and industry.

Among the expected frontrunners is Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, who was one of the candidates to speak at an event before a largely Republican audience.

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Government & Politics
10:09 am
Mon December 16, 2013

In Weekend Event, Corbett Says He's Ready to Campaign for Second Term

At the 115th annual Pennsylvania Society weekend, when the state’s political and industry elite head to New York City for a string of high-end parties, Gov. Tom Corbett was hard at work to send the message that he’s ready to campaign for a second term.

The buzz may have followed the Democratic gubernatorial candidates, but the governor, not known for being an extrovert, made his way around the various parties and forums in midtown Manhattan.

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Sun December 15, 2013

PA Minimum Wage Battle Heats Up

As the national debate continues over an increase to the federal minimum wage, politicians on both sides of the aisle are speaking out about Pennsylvania’s version of the pay floor.

Currently, state law sets the minimum hourly wage at $7.25, which in line with the national law. Washington D.C. and 19 states have a higher minimum. 

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:08 pm
Fri December 13, 2013

Local Impact of Budget Cuts to Supplemental Food Programs

Holidays are a dire time for local food banks.
Credit Ian Britton / flickr

SNAP Loses Funding for the Poor

Last month, for the first time in its history, cuts were made across America to the food-stamp program known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

Pennsylvania's program has lost $183 million; for families and food banks, the impact can be felt most around the holidays.

Catherine Buhrig, Division Director in the Bureau of Policy for the PA Department of Public Welfare and Ken Regal, executive director of Just Harvest, educate people and help them apply for SNAP benefits. 

Buhrig sees firsthand the significance of these cuts to those families that live under the poverty line. 

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City Government
3:55 pm
Fri December 13, 2013

Controller Lamb: Pension Board Vote Was 'The Right Decision for Pittsburgh'

Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb said Thursday’s board vote to lower the pension fund’s projected rate of return was good financially for the city.

The fund’s assumed rate of return was lowered from 8 percent to 7.5 percent after a 5-2 vote led by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's allies. Supporters of Mayor-elect Bill Peduto then accused Ravenstahl of political maneuvering.

Ravenstahl was opposed to lowering the rate during most of his tenure.

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Government & Politics
10:32 am
Fri December 13, 2013

Under State House Bill, Hunters Could Collect Bounty for Coyotes

Hunters could be rewarded for killing and collecting coyotes under legislation that has passed the state House.  

The measure would allow the Pennsylvania Game Commission to fork over $25 for every coyote carcass brought in by licensed hunters and fur-takers.

The payouts could total as much as $700,000, all of which would come from the commission’s own coffers.

More than half of the agency’s annual revenues come from hunting license fees.

The Game Commission has not taken a position on the bill.

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Government & Politics
10:21 am
Fri December 13, 2013

As State Senate Adjourns, Budget Difficulties Loom

The state Senate has adjourned for the year on a somewhat frenzied note as lawmakers search for solutions to looming budget difficulties.

Most recently, Republican lawmakers have eyed the Pennsylvania Lottery as a potential source of additional tax revenues, by proposing legislation that would privatize its management and expand the games offered.

It’s an issue the Senate will take up again after its holiday break.

But Republican Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati says he’s aware the commonwealth may have reached its saturation point for gambling.

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Essential Pittsburgh
6:05 pm
Thu December 12, 2013

Sarah's Anti-Stalking Law Is Just The Beginning

Sarah Pesi was about 13 years old when she was stalked by a stranger. Because of state laws, she couldn't obtain a restraining order.
Credit Women and Girls Foundation

A personal experience with a stalker, as a pre-teen, changed Sarah Pesi’s life. Because the person involved wasn’t a relative or a former boyfriend, she couldn’t obtain a restraining order. In Pennsylvania, 60% of stalking victims do not fill the relationship requirement for restraining orders.

With the support of Heather Arnet, CEO of the Women and Girl’s Foundation, Sarah has sought to change PA law.

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Government & Politics
5:17 pm
Thu December 12, 2013

In PA Legislature, Package of Bills Addresses Issues from 'Revenge Porn' to Pay Equity

A group of Pennsylvania state lawmakers is gathering momentum on a package of bills that deal with issues as diverse as “revenge porn” and pay equity.

Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks County) said the overarching theme is that all seven bills deal with strengthening the lives of women in Pennsylvania. 

“When women are healthy and protected by Pennsylvania’s laws, Pennsylvania families will be stronger and more stable,” said Schwank, who co-chairs the Legislature’s Women’s Health Caucus. “This package is a major step in that direction.”

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City in Transition
5:03 pm
Thu December 12, 2013

Details of Proposed City Employee Buyout Program Released

A week after Mayor-elect Bill Peduto’s plan to offer some city worker’s an early retirement faced a veto threat from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Peduto’s staff announced a second plan that would operate separate from the pension.

On Thursday, more details of the plan were released: Those changes could expand the number of eligible workers.

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Pennsylvania
5:26 pm
Wed December 11, 2013

Lawmakers Consider Banning 'Personal Consumption' of Cats and Dogs

Legislation banning the slaughter of dogs and cats for private human consumption in Pennsylvania is before state Senate lawmakers, after its recent passage in the House.

The slaughter of dogs and cats for human consumption is more common than you might think.

"We've run across it occasionally," said George Bengal, director of law enforcement for the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA). "I think it goes pretty much unreported, but it does exist."

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City Government
4:49 pm
Wed December 11, 2013

Vote on Historic Designation of Produce Terminal Delayed Again

A vote on whether the Strip District’s Fruit Auction and Sales Building should be designated as a historic structure will be delayed another week.

Council’s newest member, Deb Gross, represents the Strip District, and is in favor of preserving the building to the fullest extent possible.

“Having said the word 'preserve,' everyone  understands that some modifications are going to be needed to that property in order for it to achieve a positive function in the Strip District and a positive function in the business mix,” Gross said.

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Same-Sex Marriage
4:38 pm
Wed December 11, 2013

Same-Sex Marriage Advocacy Campaign Kicks Off In PA

Campaign Manager Melissa Morris and Mayor-elect Bill Peduto speak at the launch
Credit Jessica Nath / 90.5 WESA

Marriage matters to Diane Polson and Dawn Plummer.

They have been together for 13 years, but the state will not allow them to marry. Same-sex marriage is legal in 16 states and Washington, D.C., but Pennsylvania is not one of them.

While a challenge to Pennsylvania’s marriage law makes its way through the courts, the ACLU launched its Why Marriage Matters campaign Wednesday.

Polson and Plummer are now plaintiffs in the ACLU’s lawsuit, a decision sparked by their 5-year-old son Elijah.

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Budget Savings
4:48 pm
Tue December 10, 2013

PA Dems Outline Budget Savings, Investment in Jobs, Education

Before the holidays, Gov. Tom Corbett is expected to deliver his mid-fiscal year budget update. 

Citing a November report by the Independent Fiscal Office that the commonwealth faces a projected structural budget deficit of $839 million, Senate Democrats Tuesday unveiled a savings and investment plan.

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