Deanna Garcia

General Assignment Reporter

Deanna fell in love with public radio in 2001, when she landed her first job at an NPR station: KRWG-FM in Las Cruces, NM, where she also attended college. After graduating with a degree in journalism and mass communications, she spent a summer in Washington, D.C. as an intern at NPR's Morning Edition. Following that, she was a reporter/All Things Considered Host at WXXI in Rochester, NY. Before coming to Pittsburgh, Deanna was the local All Things Considered host for KUNC in northern Colorado. In her spare time, Deanna enjoys watching movies and TV shows on DVD (the Golden Girls and Little House on the Prairie are among her favorites), bicycling, yard work, and reading.

 

Ways To Connect

National Institutes of Health / Flickr

Vaccines have garnered lots of national attention lately, due largely to a measles outbreak tied to Disneyland and an Illinois day care center.

In particular, more attention is being paid to anti-vaccination groups, those opposed to vaccines for reasons that are not religious or medical in nature.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

As Pittsburgh deals with single-digit temperatures and subzero wind chills, some organizations are looking out for the city’s most vulnerable — the homeless.

There are several warming centers open throughout the city, including the Greenfield Senior Center and the South Side Market house Senior Center. There are also numerous churches and shelters offering a respite from the cold.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

A task force charged with examining and recommending changes for Pittsburgh Public Schools has released its report after a year of work. It focuses on five areas: public safety, out-of-school-time programming, community schools, school funding and marking the city’s schools.

The continuing effort of Duquesne University adjunct professors to form a union got another boost this week.

The National Labor Relations Board denied Duquesne’s appeal opposing the effort; the university had asked for a religious exemption. But a similar case at Pacific Lutheran University set new criteria for qualifying as a religious institution.

United Steelworkers Organizer and Adjunct Professor at Duquesne, Robin Sowards, said the school doesn’t qualify, in part, because many professors don’t teach religious content.

Pennsylvania’s public schools are seeing declining test scores and increasing achievement gaps, according to a recent report from PennCAN, a statewide education advocacy group. Executive Director Jonathan Cetel said test scores declined for all grades according to state education data. More concerning, he said, is the widening achievement gap.

Following a report last week that affordable housing is getting harder to come by for low and very-low income families, a bill being introduced in Harrisburg would expand a program that improves rental housing in communities.

The Pennsylvania Housing Trust Fund was established in 2010 and first funded in 2012 with Marcellus Shale impact fees. It’s only available in Marcellus areas, but the expansion bill would extend the program statewide, without raising taxes or fees.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

After a violent few weeks in the Pittsburgh region, a local labor union is trying something a little bit different to get guns off the streets.

Many cities hold periodic gun buyback programs in which residents can drop off a gun without fear of arrest and get money or gift cards in exchange. With that same theory in mind, Boilermakers Local 154 is launching the “Guns for Opportunity” program. Through it, a firearm can be turned in, and in exchange, an individual will receive free training in the union’s welding program.

Each year VisitPITTSBURGH, the city’s official tourism and promotion agency, releases an Official Visitors Guide to Pittsburgh. This year there’s a change.

“What makes this a little bit different this year is that our visitors guide, we’re changing the orientation from a portrait type of orientation to a landscape, which makes it very different than all of our competitive cities,” said Craig Davis, president and CEO of VisitPITTSBURGH.

The effort to reduce the carbon footprint of older Pittsburgh buildings is expanding beyond downtown to the area called “the Bluff” which houses Duquesne University and UPMC Mercy.

The Pittsburgh 2030 District: Downtown has a goal of a 50 percent energy, water and transportation emissions reduction by 2030. This better connects downtown to Oakland – though there are no plans to expand into the area between.

Under the current law, parents of children who are chronically absent from school are subject to fines. If they can’t pay those fines, then they face jail time. State Rep. Mark Gillen (R-Berks, Lancaster) said he is trying to change the current statute from a “shall” provision because parents don’t belong in prison.

“We think that it needs to be changed to a 'may' provision,” said Gillen. “We’ve got 50,000 inmates in the Pennsylvania prison system. Currently we’re exceeding our capacity by 3,800 inmates.”

The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) is a federal law seeking to prevent, detect and respond to incidents of sexual harassment in prisons. The State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh is the first in Pennsylvania to meet the 43 requirements for compliance.

“They range from training and education of staff and inmates to how we handle investigations to how we handle data collection,” said Jennifer Feicht, PREA coordinator with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

Some of the measures in place include:

Doug Kerr / flickr

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to continue with several projects in the Pittsburgh region, thanks to the inclusion of $225.5 million dollars in President Obama’s proposed Fiscal Year 2016 budget.

“It’s about a 30-35 percent increase over 2015,” said Lenna Hawkins, deputy district engineer for the Corps’ Pittsburgh district. “It’ll do quite a bit for us as far as getting some major construction projects moving along.” 

If approved, it will go to two such projects.

Flickr user Martin

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ State Intermediate Punishment, or SIP, program aims to help non-violent offenders get needed treatment with the ultimate goal of ensuring they don’t become repeat offenders.

The latest report on SIP found the program does seem to be working.

“The recidivism rate for the SIP offenders is 10 percentage points lower than a comparable rate of a group of inmates who do not go through SIP, who go through traditional sentencing,” said DOC spokeswoman Susan McNaughton.

Allegheny County has responded to a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union and a woman who is caring for four children without receiving financial help. The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of Tracy Schaeffer who has taken care of her grand nieces and nephews since 2012. The suit alleges Schaeffer was not notified of her options to become a certified foster parent.

The American Red Cross Blood Services provides about 40 percent of the blood used in transfusions across the country. In honor of Black History Month, the organization is urging people of all ethnic groups to donate blood.

“Blood from a donor with a similar ethnic background as that of the patient is less likely to cause complications, particularly for patients whose chronic conditions require repeated transfusions,” said Marianne Spampinato, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross Greater Alleghenies Blood Services Region.

Allegheny County has launched an online information portal that will put in one place information from various departments.

“You can go into the Health Department, look at their air quality index, you can look at the courts as far as their records, of course we have the property assessment records, there’s treasury data,” said William McKain, Allegheny County manager.

Such portals have been used in other cities, according to McKain.

Following last year’s passage of a bill allowing licensed volunteer fire companies and social organizations to sponsor small betting pools, one state lawmaker spoke on the Senate Floor this week and said groups are still being punished for that with Superbowl or March Madness pools.

One of the challenges many veterans face when they re-integrate into civilian life is finding a job. Though many veterans operate heavy machinery, drive specialty vehicles or perform other specialized duties, additional training and testing is required before they can get a job outside the military. A bill introduced in the state House would change that.

Rachellynn Schoen / Heinz History Center

One of Pittsburgh, and America’s, most iconic figures, Mister Rogers, had one of the longest-running children’s programs on television. Now, for the first time, the sets and props from the show will be on display to the public.

On the fourth floor of the John Heinz History Center is the special collections gallery, which is organized by neighborhood: there is an Irish neighborhood, an African American neighborhood and a "Neighborhood of Make-Believe."

Hoping to increase the number of successful liver transplants, a new organ preservation system is being tested which uses what’s called a “machine perfusion” technique.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine say the new system pumps cooled, oxygen-rich fluid into donor livers. This keeps the organs in excellent condition for up to nine hours before transplantation.

Before he took the oath of office, Gov. Tom Wolf said that as governor he would push for legislation that would implement paid sick leave for employees of businesses with 50 of more employees. That has some business groups in the state concerned.

“We’ve gone through this issue before,” said Gene Barr, president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. “The problem isn’t in having people get sick time, it’s in government mandating or dictating exactly what that structure needs to look like.”

Human trafficking is the second largest criminal enterprise in the world, second only to drug trafficking, according the FBI.

Sex trafficking is the most common form of human trafficking, and in an effort to try and find and identify those involved in the crime, researchers at CMU are developing online tools that go after a major vulnerability for sex traffickers — the need to advertise.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly will go back into session Jan. 20 with new leadership at the helm. But much of the committee leadership is from outside of the Pittsburgh area. Of the 23 House committees, only two Republicans from the southwestern corner of the state are committee chairs.

“Committee chairs are very important positions,” said House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny). “It is driven by seniority. The chairs in both parties are the most senior folks.”

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Citywide, there were 71 homicides in Pittsburgh in 2014, well above the 10-year average of 55. The last time the number was in the 70s was 2008, when there were 74 homicides.

“This is a public health emergency,” said Chief of Pittsburgh Police Cameron McLay. “It’s having a disparate impact on our underprivileged and our communities of color.”

Twenty-six of the 2014 homicide cases have been cleared by arrest. There are 28 active investigations, eight cases with strong suspects and six pending grand jury or district attorney review.

The Obama administration laid out designs Wednesday to issue the first regulations to cut down on methane emissions from new natural gas wells, aiming to curb the discharge of a potent greenhouse gas by roughly half.

The White House set a new target for the U.S. to cut methane emissions by 40 percent to 45 percent by 2025, compared to 2012 levels. To meet that goal, the Environmental Protection Agency will issue a proposal affecting oil and gas production, while the Interior Department will also update its standards for drilling to reduce leakage from wells on public lands.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner is releasing an analysis of county-owned vehicles that she said reveals a number of issues including misuse, fraud, lack of oversight and major gaps in usage data.

In a summary of the audit, released Tuesday, Wagner said it took about a month for the county to give her office the number of vehicles in the fleet. She said that needs to be fixed.

Even before being sworn in on Jan. 20, Gov.-elect Tom Wolf is already working to ensure the transition from current Republican Gov. Tom Corbett to him is a smooth one.

A number of transition teams are taking on issues including aging, banking, agriculture, environmental protection and community and economic development. Co-chairing the economic development team is Dennis Yablonsky, president and CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Economic Development and his counterpart in Philadelphia, Rob Wonderling.

Citing efforts aimed at increasing efficiencies and reducing recidivism, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections announced a 908-person drop in the inmate population within the state prison system.

“This is the largest one year drop in the population since 1971 and only the fourth time in the past 40 years that the DOC population has shown an annual decrease rather than an increase,” said DOC spokeswoman Sue Bensinger.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Gov.-elect Tom Wolf has named director of Allegheny County Economic Development, Dennis Davin, as the secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. One of the reasons, Wolf said, is the Pittsburgh region’s economic growth.

“Basically what I’m trying to do and what I want to do as governor is capture the magic that really we see out here in Western Pennsylvania,” Wolf said. “In so many ways, the successes that everyone here as experienced in term so economic development is what I think we need to capture for the rest of Pennsylvania.”

Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay has continued to get national attention following the tweeting and going viral of a photo of him holding a sign reading, “I resolve to challenge racism @ work #EndWhiteSilence.”

McLay spoke to Katie Couric for Yahoo! Global News.

Pages