Erika Beras

General Assignment Reporter

Erika Beras was 90.5 WESA’s Behavioral Health reporter and now does General Assignment and Feature reporting. Her work has aired on NPR, the BBC and other networks. She has won local and national awards for her reporting; among them a fellowship from The International Center for Journalists to travel to Poland and report on shale and energy in 2012. Prior to coming to Pittsburgh Erika was a reporter at The Miami Herald. She is a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.


Ways to Connect

The city of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership announced Envision Downtown on Thursday, a public-private partnership that aims to create more “complete streets” downtown. That means a better experience for pedestrians, improved transportation and better use of land.

The city of Pittsburgh is looking for interns, and unlike in years past, all prospective interns must apply through the Department of Personnel and Civil Service Commission.

“It was not a centralized process or program at all," said Todd Siegel, director of the city's Department of Personnel and Civil Service Commission. "Each individual department should they have had a need for interns whether they be paid or unpaid went about securing their interns on their own.”

If they were paid, the personnel department was involved to process the paperwork.

State Sen. Sean Wiley (D-Erie) has introduced Senate Bill 128, which would address the cost and performance of cyber-charter schools that aren’t related to school districts. In those schools, each is paid the same amount per student per district. That fluctuates depending on the district.

In one part of the state you’d be paying $6,000 per student, and in other parts of the state the payment is as high as $15,000 per student. That adds up to over $400 million a year.

“This is a complete draw on our public school system,” Wiley said.

On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Pittsburgh is one of six cities designated as a pilot site for a national initiative to strengthen and improve the relationship between law enforcement and the community.

It's called the National Initiative for Building Community, and it’s a partnership between the Department of Justice and legal experts from institutions such as the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Yale Law School.

On Thursday, Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) and Carlow University signed an agreement allowing students to earn their associates degree at CCAC and then seamlessly transfer to Carlow University.

“In so doing, together our two institutions are helping to ensure that future graduates have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in our diverse and changing world,” said CCAC President Quintin Bullock.

Pennsylvania Sen. David Argall (R-Schuykill-Berks) recently introduced a bill which would limit insurers to a year to challenge a bill to a provider.

The legislation would require insurance carriers to review treatment plans, claim forms and bills within a year. It would also require a written statement from the insurer explaining the basis for any retroactive denial so the physician understands what the denial is.

According to the Pennsylvania Medical Society, inefficient claim processing and payment can take up 10-14 percent of work time for a physician.

Advocacy groups that work on behalf of prisoners' rights to free speech won a right to a trial on constitutionality of the Crime Victims’ Act, which was passed in October of 2014.

It was proposed and passed in the aftermath of when Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has spent the last 33 years in prison after being convicted in the homicide of a police officer, was invited to give the commencement speech at his Alma Mater, Goddard College via video recording of a phone call.

Abu-Jamal has maintained innocence.

Mike Mozart / flickr

Late last year, the Corbett administration increased the state's tax on liquefied natural gas, following a Department of Energy change in how LNG is measured at the federal level.

This week, Governor Tom Wolf reversed the tax increase and made it effective retroactively to January 1, 2015.

Coach Lewis / flickr

The University of Pittsburgh has strengthened its oversight of staff and volunteers involved with youth camps on its campuses. That’s according to a performance audit released Thursday by the Pennsylvania Auditor General.

“I want to commend The University of Pittsburgh for where they’ve come on this and the leadership they’ve shown on strengthening the safety of their camp structure,” said Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.

USDA Photo by Ken Hammond

 On Wednesday the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the King v. Burwell case. It’s the latest attack on the Affordable Care Act.  

King petitioners allege the IRS overstepped its authority by issuing regulations authorizing residents of states with federally run exchanges, such as Pennsylvania, to access premium tax credits. They say Congress limited access to tax credits to residents of state-based exchanges to encourage states to set up their own exchanges.

Ty Wright / Associated Press

A+ Schools, a non-profit that advocates for accountability in Pittsburgh Public Schools had a research firm conduct a poll in late January in which residents were asked targeted questions about what changes they would like to see to schools.

405 individuals were surveyed. 79 percent of them agreed with a statement that its possible for Pittsburgh to be known as a city whose public schools have high standards, great teaching and give all students, regardless of race or background, an opportunity for a great education.

When she stepped out of the Waterworks Theater Thursday afternoon, Pittsburgh Student Achievement Center 8th grader Denay Clemons called the movie Selma “an awesome portrayal.”

Denay was among approximately five hundred students from several Pittsburgh schools who were taken to see the movie about the marches in Alabama that preceded the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

“I only knew a little bit from school work and history but I learned a lot more about what happened actually like with conversation with the people who actually led the movement,” Denay said.

Morgue File

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has approved a six-week parental leave benefit for Allegheny County employees. The policy is modeled after Pittsburgh’s.

“We really like the policy as we look into it for our employees, we just really think paid leave policies really have benefits for children and families and we want to certainly be a family-friendly community,” said Fitzgerald.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

A duplex on a residential street in Brentwood will now be a rotating home for homeless male veterans with children.

It’s Project Journey for Men’s first shelter, and it's emergency housing is for veterans in transition. The housing comes fully furnished. The men will receive assistance in getting benefits and getting a job and then 60-90 days later they will move out.

Brian Primack, a physician and researcher at The University of Pittsburgh, is the lead author on a content analysis published Friday in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

According to the analysis, the 70 most popular videos that depict drunkenness on YouTube have more than 330 million views.

Primack and fellow researchers searched YouTube for words synonymous with alcohol intoxication: drunk, buzzed, hammered, tipsy and trashed.

The University of Pittsburgh has debuted a new crowdfunding site where people can make gifts to specific projects and campaigns.

Through EngagePitt, donors can fund a medical musical the fourth-year students at the Medical School are putting on, or if they want to give to the Pitt Men’s Glee Club, that too is an option.

The Code for America fellowship program has officially started in Pittsburgh. Fellows will look at city procurement, the process by which government buys everything, from pencils to bridges. They’ll look at how the government organizes public bids and requests for proposals.

“What it means for Pittsburgh is an ability to put us ahead of other cities around the world when it comes to the way that we spend taxpayer dollars,” said Mayor Bill Peduto.

A recent Art Institute of Pittsburgh graduate will be showing a fashion collection at New York Fashion Week.

“A lot of the clothes that I design are a little bit avant-garde or experimental, so the collection that I did for New York Fashion Week is all surrounded by experimental silhouettes and a lot of different textiles in use together,” said Romina Vairo, who has never shown at Fashion Week before.

A slew of city officials on Tuesday announced a new initiative that they hope will increase public safety and improve community-police relations.

Safer Together, the brainchild of Pittsburgh City Councilman Ricky Burgess, has five similar goals to build relationships of respect, cooperation and trust within and between the Department of Public Safety and the community. It also aims improve education, oversight, monitoring, diversity, accountability and hiring practices for the department.

US Sen. Bob Casey (PA-D) will introduce this week an anti-bullying bill aimed specifically at schools.

The Safe Schools Improvement Act would require school districts to develop and implement locally-driven anti-bullying policies to protect children. It would also require states to report data on bullying and harassment to the US Department of Education.

Pennsylvania Resources Council hopes to increase recycling rates at local apartment complexes.

They’ll host trainings with residents in select complexes and provide additional recycling bins to make recycling more efficient.

The Mackey Lofts in Uptown, will be the first of 15 complexes in the county to be a part of this initiative.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

At a lab in Carnegie Mellon University's Field Robotics Center, dozens of goggle-clad teenage girls are drilling, hammering and writing code.

They’re the Girls of Steel, and the goal is to build the mind and body of a robot in the next few weeks. Then the girls — and their robot — will enter robotics competitions.

"We picked a general overall design to really hashing out the details," said Sophia Lee, a junior at North Allegheny High School, who was drilling two pieces of wood together for an early prototype of the robot. "We know that we want to do this, but how exactly are we going to do, so what mechanisms are we going to use, like what kind of metal are we going to use what kind of parts are we going to use, is it going to actually work so this is basically the practice before we build the actual robot."

A year-and-a-half-old committee formed to find new ways to reduce violence and promote positive mental health and community well being in Allegheny County is just now making its recommendations to County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

The 24-member Public Health Commission on Preventing Violence and Promoting Community Mental Health is calling for the creation of an ongoing Public Health Collaborative. 

The Department of Human Services has established an electronic case management system that will keep track of the children served by the state.

Cathy Utz, the Deputy Secretary for Children, Youth and Families for the Department of Human Services, said there was previously no statewide database.

She said there was a gap in the system and caseworkers had to rely on a family or child to self-report if they had received services in another county.

Most other states have a similar system in place.

A road is being built over land that can be mined for coal, and a lawyer is trying to figure out how his client will be compensated.

Robert Lightcap is an attorney for Penn Pocahantas Coal Company which owns approximately 16 blocks of coal covering several thousand acres in Somerset County where Route 219 is being constructed.

The highway will go over the coal reserves owned by his client.

Some of the coal is in release to PBS Coals. They already had a planned, permitted mine in place. Lightcap says acres of coal will be lost because of the road project.

On Monday, nearly five years after UPMC shut down their Braddock hospital, competitor Allegheny Health Network and Highmark opened an urgent care clinic in the community.

“We believe everyone in our region should have the opportunity to live healthier, happier lives,” said Patricia Lieberman, chief operating officer of the Allegheny Health Network.

The 12-patient room facility is in a space that was once a surface parking lot for the hospital.

Psychiatric disorders, including autism, are diagnosed by behavior and through questionnaires. But new research out of Carnegie Mellon University, published in the journal PloS One indicate that a biological-based diagnosis might become a reality.

With technology the researchers are using, they can directly see when thoughts are altered and what is spurring that change.

The more public health data is shared, the better the world’s public health outcome.

So says an analysis that was recently released by a team of researchers, including several from The University of Pittsburgh. The analysis was published in the journal BMC Public Health.

At present, public health data isn’t always shared on a local, national or international data. Researchers wanted to know why public health data isn’t shared as widely as for example genomic data is.

This past year, the Allegheny County Health Department began monitoring air quality at Pittsburgh International Airport to gauge the potential health risks of fracking.

Jim Thompson, the deputy director of environmental health for the department said they’re monitoring at the Imperial Point Development, which is approximately 2,500 feet from well pad #2 at the airport.

Pittsburgh’s Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority for Cities of the Second Class met on Friday to address the resubmission of Pittsburgh’s proposed 2015 budgets and corresponding five-year plan.

They unanimously approved the $516.6 million operating budget and $76.6 million capital plan.