Jess Lasky

News Fellow

Jess was accepted as a WESA fellow in the news department in January 2014.  The Erie, PA native attends Duquesne University where she has a double major--broadcast journalism and political science.  Following her anticipated graduation in May 2015, she plans to enter law school or begin a career in broadcast journalism.

Fun fact:  "I own all the Pokemon GameBoy games...and still play them!"

Ways To Connect

AP Photo/Don Ryan, File

Heroin abuse has been on the rise in America, killing hundreds in Allegheny County last year. Public safety and public health officials are scratching their heads for a solution as nothing seems to be slowing down the drug.

Dr. Neil Capretto, medical director at Gateway Rehabilitation Center, said he’s watched the numbers grow.

“In 1985 there were 22 drug overdose deaths in Allegheny County," Capretto said. "Last year 2014, the count is already up to 299, they’re still working on those numbers. It’s probably going to be somewhat higher, and the vast majority of those are prescription medicine and heroin."

Attendees to every one of Pittsburgh's six summertime conventions are expected to generate about $1,000 each, says Jason Fulvi, executive vice president for VisitPittsburgh.

The group expects 40,000 to flood the Steel City for convention season, bringing in about $40 million total.

“We have more conventions and larger conventions than ever before," Fulvi says. "So (guests) will be able to really partake in the different activities, festivals and attractions that we have."

Pittsburgh should be a gracious host.

South Park’s Fairgrounds Oval hasn’t been updated since it was the home of the Allegheny County Fair in the 1960s, but this Sunday the park will celebrate the results of a yearlong renovation project.

Before the restoration the park’s bleachers had dilapidated, the track was weathered, and there was not that much activity in the area. Now the bleachers have been removed, the area was landscaped, the track was repaved, and three baseball/softball fields that can be turned into a football field have taken over the middle of the oval.

First Energy’s Unit 1 nuclear reactor in Shippingport was shut down Saturday for routine maintenance.

Unit 2 will remain online during this time. Every 18-24 months nuclear reactors must be turned off for upkeep.

State Rep. Peter Daley (D-Washington) believes he has part of the solution for the $41 billion unfunded state pension crisis in Pennsylvania.

Daley says that if the retirement age for teachers and state workers was lowered it would save the state money by phasing out higher paid teachers, and bring in new lower paid teachers with a 25 percent reduction in pensions.  

The 3rd annual Ultimate Play Day is taking place Sunday in Hazelwood to get families to enjoy the nice weather and play with a wide variety of games, puzzles, bubbles and more .

The minimum wage debate continues on after a study released Wednesday says that 1.2 million workers in Pennsylvania would benefit from a minimum wage increase.  

The study conducted by the left-leaning Keystone Research Center broke down the statistics of who was working for minimum wage in each county. They examined their gender, age, race, education, family income and family demographics.

Retired coal miners will gather around Consol Energy Center Monday to protest the revocation of health benefits for more than 1,200 retired workers.

In December 2013 Consol sold five coal mines to Murry Energy. With the sale Murry acquired $2.1 billion in employee retirement benefits, but only committed to paying for one year of health care. Now both companies are refusing to honor the benefits.

A major Pittsburgh street will be shut down to cars a few Sundays this summer, but open for parades.

From 8 a.m. to noon on the last Sundays of May, June and July, 4.2 miles of road from Market Square to the Allegheny Cemetery in Lawrenceville along Penn Avenue and Butler Street will be closed off to all motor vehicles and will be open for the public. People are encouraged to walk, run, dance, do yoga, or anything really.

Allegheny County is about to get greener with the help of a $200,000 grant from Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. TreeVitalize will use the grant to plant about 1,000 more trees this year.

“Communities that want trees for their neighborhood come to us, and they go through an application process, and we work with them with our foresters, and we work with the communities to plant the right trees in the right place,” said TreeVitalize Director at Western PA Conservancy Jeffery Bergman.

The Department of Environmental Protection is moving forward with a plan to clean up the Kuhn’s landfill in Darlington Township, Beaver County.

The landfill was used to dump municipal and industrial waste from 1964 until 1980 when the DEP shut it down on legal grounds. After that the DEP placed a ground cap over the site to keep various hazardous material contained. Since then other more potentially dangerous threats have kept the attention and funding of the DEP — until now.

Halfway houses and boot camps receive a portion of their funding from the state, but an audit of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections shows that funding levels have nothing to do with effectiveness.

The overall recidivism rate in Pennsylvania is about 43 percent, but 48 percent of people who graduated from Quehanna Boot Camp in Karthaus PA between January 2010 and June 2011 returned to jail by October 2013. The boot camp costs about $43,000 per inmate per year.

After a recent scandal involving student athletes receiving falsified grades for classes surfaced at the University of North Carolina, a state legislator is pushing to deter similar incidents in Pennsylvania.  

Representative Stephen Kinsey’s (D-Philadelphia) bill would make academic fraud a felony.

Via: WYEP.org

The Three Rivers Arts Festival has announced its headliners, giving Pittsburghers something to look forward to later this spring.

This year’s theme for the 10-day festival, June 5-14, is UNSEEN/UNHEARD and it focuses on musicians new to the festival, emerging artists, or with new music to debut.

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

The oldest park in Pittsburgh is getting a facelift. A section of Allegheny Commons around a popular Northside fountain will be rebuilt this summer.

The Allegheny Commons Initiative is a volunteer group, that up until recently was handling most park matters. The group wanted to undergo a multimillion dollar project that would restore the park to its heyday, but was met with some funding challenges.

So the Initiative partnered with Northside Leadership Conference, and with the Pittsburgh Park Conservancy.

A recent survey by Erie Insurance found that drivers are doing everything from playing the guitar to public displays of affection while driving.

The survey asked about 1,900 people what kind of distractions they found other drivers doing, and what behaviors they were engaging in themselves.

Saturday is the national opening day for trails, and even though the Three Rivers Heritage Trail stays open year round, the Friends of the Riverfront will be out planting trees to get the trail ready for heavy traffic.

The opening day also corresponds with the release of a survey conducted by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy to evaluate users and economic impact. It found that the Three Rivers Trail has one of the greatest numbers of yearly visits and has among the highest economic impact of the trails surveyed by Rails-to-Trails. The group, which advocates for turning old train rails into trails, has done about 14 economic impact and user surveys, mostly in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

  Despite Wednesday’s rain and a harsh winter the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental (DEP) has placed 27 counties on a drought watch for low levels of groundwater.

“Fortunately we have had a significant amount of snowmelt. That does help, but specifically we’re dealing with low groundwater levels, and groundwater takes a little bit more time to recharge then say surface water would,” said DEP spokeswoman Amanda Witman.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File

When Gov. Tom Wolf was campaigning, he said if elected he would place a severance tax on Marcellus shale gas in the commonwealth, and now he’s moving forward on a plan to do just that. The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, however, doesn’t agree with some changes.

Via: Justdrivepa.com

In the past five years, 128 people have lost their lives in work zone crashes, and PennDOT’s “#Slow4Zone” campaign hopes to put a face to road workers to prevent more lost lives.

The campaign starts during National Work Zone Awareness Week from March 23-27. During the week PennDOT will be posting stories on their Facebook and Twitter pages of workers who have been a victim of or seen work zone crashes.

Via: Happyacts.org

The weather is warming up, and maybe your demeanor is too. After a long harsh winter, this Friday brings the first day of spring and also the International Day of Happiness.

Three years ago the United Nations declared March 20 a day of happiness.

Mayor Bill Peduto recently traveled to DC for the National League of Cities and while there, he had a chance to meet with the President for two minutes. The Mayor told 90.5 WESA’s Essential Pittsburgh Host, Paul Guggenheimer, he wanted to make those minutes count, so he brought up two ideas for the city: autonomous cars, and localized energy.

Peduto told the President that Pittsburgh is the city for the autonomous car. With CMU’s research facilities, Uber’s dedication to developing the car, and Bombardier’s vehicle plant, Pittsburgh is the place to develop the technology.

If you’re one of the 230,000 people that use public transit daily, consider thanking your driver Wednesday for National Transit Worker Appreciation Day.

This national day is being celebrated for the first time in Pittsburgh, and Pittsburghers for Public Transit (PPT) is hoping that all 2,000 workers feel appreciated. The group will distribute cards with “Because you rock, I roll” and “Thanks for keeping us moving”, from 12-1 and 3-5 at the Wood Street T Station, and at Forbes and Bigalow in Oakland. Passengers can sign the cards and give them to workers just to show their thanks.

The relatively new product Palcohol, or powdered alcohol, has many concerned with its safety, including a Pennsylvania state senator who is looking to have the intoxicant banned.

Sen. Shirley Kitchen echoes the concerns of many that this product will lead to more problems with teen drinking. They believe the product would be easier to conceal and transport. Also some are concerned drinks could be spiked with the power, making them much stronger than intended.

There are laws in Pennsylvanians making it illegal to discriminate against someone for a wide array of reasons, from sex to ancestry, but the LGBT community remains unprotected.

A senate bill that will be introduced by Sen. Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia) could change that.

“Right now Pennsylvania is one of few states where discrimination is legal based solely upon who you love, and many of us on both sides of the aisle are ready to put an end to this,” said Farnese.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A new proposal from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) strengthens regulations on the oil and gas industry, while attempting to increase transparency and protect the general public.

“The release of today’s draft update to the commonwealth’s Oil and Gas regulations  in my view represents a great step forward for responsible drilling in Pennsylvania, and my definition of responsible drilling is protecting public health and the environment, while enabling drilling to proceed,” said Pennsylvania DEP Secretary John Quigley.

Even 23 inches of snow in 1993 was not enough to stop the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, so organizers this year are hoping for a great turnout with the spring-like weather being predicted for Saturday. 

The March 14 parade is expected to include 23,000 participants, making it the second largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the U.S.

The parade, which steps off at 10 a.m., will feature more than 200 units, including high school bands, bagpipers, drum corps, Irish dancers, Irish entertainers and groups of Irish organizations from throughout the region.  

Creative Commons Flickr User: B.

According to the group Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (AHAS),  hundreds of lives could be saved if Pennsylvania strengthened its driving laws. The comments are part of the “Lethal Loopholes” report.

“We selected 15 of the most important highway safety laws… based on research that has proven that each one of these laws saves lives and prevents injuries on the road,” said Cathy Chase, vice president of governmental affairs.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s (PWSA) monthly bills for January and February confused many with an “estimate bill” as a result of a new system that cannot read the old meters.

About 3,500 customers’ meters are now outdated, and as a result the meter could not be read electronically as newer models are.  So instead of a regular bill, the PWSA sent out estimates based on past bills.  

FracTracker

A new report shows that about 4 million Pennsylvanians live within a half mile evacuation zone in case of a train derailment.

The report comes from PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center, an environmental advocacy group, and FracTracker Alliance, which makes maps and analyzes data from the oil and gas industries.

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