Government & Politics

Government & Politics news from 90.5 WESA.

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.

Judge Orders Occupy to Go

Feb 2, 2012

Occupy Pittsburgh has three days to leave Mellon Green adjacent to BNY Mellon's Pittsburgh headquarters. Allegheny County Judge Christine Ward ruled today that no law "permits a group of people to take over someone else's private property."

DeWeese Jury Deliberations Begin

Feb 2, 2012

The jury in the public corruption trial of former Pennsylvania State House Speaker and sitting state representative Bill DeWeese heard from the Green County Democrat on the last day of testimony and will now begin deliberations. When DeWeese took the stand in his own defense he became the first sitting lawmaker to do so in response to theft and conspiracy charges brought by the attorney general's office in an investigation that goes back more than five years.

On a rare sunny and mild January afternoon, several Democratic state lawmakers gathered at the Greenfield Bridge in Pittsburgh, calling on Governor Tom Corbett to take the lead on transportation funding. February 1st marks the six month anniversary of the governor's Blue Ribbon Transportation Commission releasing its report outlining options for the governor. The report included ideas such as uncapping the Oil Company Franchise Tax and raising license fees to support investments in highways, bridges, and mass transit.

Would-Be Candidates Plead for District Lines

Jan 31, 2012

Don O'Shell is currently the York County Clerk of Courts, but he planned to run as a Republican for the Senate seat being vacated by Dauphin County Republican Jeff Piccola. Now that the state Supreme Court has struck down the new legislative boundaries without issuing comment, O'Shell and others are in a holding pattern.

It may be some time before the state Supreme Court explains how a legislative redistricting map should be fixed.

Pennsylvania House Declares The Year of the Bible

Jan 31, 2012

You may have thought 2012 was the year of the dragon, but state House lawmakers have assigned a moniker.

With a unanimous vote last week, House members declared 2012 the "Year of the Bible."

The resolution recognizes the book that has shaped the Commonwealth and the "national need to study and apply the teachings of the holy scriptures."

Sponsoring Representative Rick Saccone (R-Jeffrson Hills) said he's been getting a bit of critical feedback on the measure.

Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Sam Smith has asked a federal judge to rule that district maps from a decade ago no longer be used for elections.

"He believes, as do others, that the 2001 legislative lines are out of whack and are unconstitutional, and violate the one person, one vote standard," said Smith Spokesperson Steve Miskin.

Pennsylvania GOP Makes Predictable Endorsements

Jan 30, 2012

All four of Governor Tom Corbett's picks for state and federal offices received the endorsement of the commonwealth's Republican committee over the weekend. Not all of the votes were easy.

During a forum of U.S. Senate candidates this weekend, Corbett could be found outside in the hallway, the top of his head barely visible from behind an armchair facing the wall in the corner. He was "shoring up support," said members of his staff.

Senate Democrats Outline Priorities for 2013 Budget

Jan 26, 2012

Senate democrats called for Governor Tom Corbett to keep certain priorities in mind before making his 2013 budget proposal next month.

The budget address will come on the heels of a state spending freeze announced after commonwealth revenue trailed budget projections by nearly $500 million midway through the fiscal year.

Lawmakers expect more cuts will be made in 2013, but Senate democrats maintained the governor should consider transportation, education, and fair taxes when making the budget.

But the top priority, democrats insisted, should be jobs.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Tosses New District Maps

Jan 25, 2012

A divided Pennsylvania Supreme Court is invalidating a plan to redraw district lines for seats in the state House and Senate, calling the redistricting approach "contrary to law."

The justices voted 4-3 to send the plan back to the Legislative Reapportionment Commission. The majority said their opinion in the case would be released later.

The high court's ruling throws into disarray plans by candidates and parties for this year's General Assembly races.

Democrat Erin Molchany has announced she will run against the incumbent, Dan Deasy, for Pennsylvania's newly-drawn 27th state House district.

Molchany said she hopes to take advantage of the reapportioned district.

"It's a virtually new district and I really feel strongly that we as citizens in this area deserve better representation, deserve attention paid to our issues, and deserve resources coming into our community to improve the quality of life," Molchany said.

Plan to Slash Number of State Representatives Advances in Harrisburg

Jan 24, 2012

A plan to shrink the ranks of state House lawmakers has made it out of a Pennsylvania House committee.

Several lawmakers say shrinking the legislature from 203 to 153 for the sake of cost-cutting and efficiency sets a good example to the rest of state government. Some have expressed concern the reduction would mean larger districts that make lawmakers rely less on shoe leather and more on big donors to win elections, while others say it's a debate they're ready to have.

Representative DeWeese Corruption Trial Underway

Jan 23, 2012

The trial against a former top Democratic leader in the state House for misusing taxpayer dollars for political gain has begun.

Representative Bill DeWeese (D-Greene County) has been charged as part of the Bonusgate political corruption investigation launched by the state attorney general's office in 2007.

United Steelworkers Endorses Critz

Jan 23, 2012

Congressman Mark Critz (D-12th) has won the endorsement of the United Steelworkers in the Democratic primary race for Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District.

The union backing is a plus for Critz, who faces a tough battle against fellow incumbent Congressman Jason Altmire (D-4th). The two were pitted against one another when Altmire's territory was combined with that of Critz in the 2011 congressional redistricting process.

USW International President Leo Gerard said the union didn't directly compare the policy positions of the two candidates before endorsing Critz.

PCN Airs First Live Coverage of PA Supreme Court

Jan 23, 2012

For the first time in its history, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has allowed live coverage of its court proceedings.

The Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN) is providing "gavel-to-gavel" coverage of the appeals on the state's redistricting plan, proposed by the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission and approved in December. The state has re-drawn its legislative districts to accommodate shifts in population as shown by the 2010 census.

Conference Readies Women to Run for Political Office

Jan 21, 2012

Women outnumber men in the U.S. according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but their numbers are few when it comes to elected office be it on the local, state or federal level. A national movement is trying to change that by teaching women about the political process. One such event was held in Pittsburgh over the weekend.

Pennsylvania Near the Bottom

After months of asking, members of the group One Pittsburgh finally had an in-person meeting with Republican Senator Pat Toomey. The coalition of community, faith, and labor groups, had been requesting such a meeting since August. The group went so far as to travel to Washington, DC in an effort get a meeting but it was repeatedly told the senator was unavailable.

Resignation of a Top Advisor Confuses Women's Rights Advocates

Jan 20, 2012

The resignation of a top advisor in the state Department of Public Welfare has women's rights advocates wondering why he was hired in the first place.

The Department of Public Welfare says Robert Patterson asked to keep editing the conservative The Family in America journal last fall, shortly after coming to work for the state.

The request was denied and he resigned shortly thereafter.

Chamber of Commerce: Don’t Rush Unemployment Decisions

Jan 20, 2012

Unemployment benefits for about 17,000 Pennsylvanians could be extended for up to 13 weeks under a proposal in the state Senate, but the commonwealth's business leaders don't want lawmakers to vote without first trying to address how to fix a system mired in debt.

Murphy Votes Against Debt Increase

Jan 19, 2012

Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA 18) was among the 239 Representatives who voted in favor of a resolution to reject President Obama's request for an additional $1.2 trillion to the debt ceiling. The President formally requested Congress to approve a second increase to the debt ceiling January 12th.

Under the Budget Control Act, the debt limit is automatically raised 15 days after the President notifies Congress unless lawmakers vote to deny the borrowing increase.