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

The Allegheny County Controller is hoping a little preventative legislative action could stave off a scandal like the one involving lewd emails sent among members of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office and at least one State Supreme Court Justice. 

The measure being promoted by Controller Chelsa Wagner would create a zero-tolerance policy for any “misuse” of the county email system.

“When you look at the scandals that have really rocked Pennsylvania … I think there is a clear need,” Wagner said.

For years, heavy drinking was believed to be one of the main factors that led to pancreatitis, but after a 12-year study at the University of Pittsburgh, doctors have found a few genes that are the culprits in some cases.

Most heavy drinkers never pancreatitis, but many who don’t drink heavily are affected. The research found that genes determine if the pancreas will be susceptible to drinking, smoking and abnormal processes.

After nearly five years of incorrectly reporting water withdrawal rates, Range Resources will pay a $1.75 million settlement to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

All oil and gas companies are required to report the amount of water they use to the DEP, and it must be within a specified amount. During July 2009 until February 2014 Range was misreporting its numbers saying the company was not using as much as it was, and at times not reporting to the DEP at all.

Range approached the DEP with its mistakes and has since worked to fix them.

  The housing market made up for the rocky start for the Western Pennsylvania region in 2014, according to a year-end report.

West-Penn Multi-List, Inc. says the 13-county area’s home sale prices from January-December 2014 increased by 3 percent ($5,093) from the same period in 2013. New listings also increased by 1.5 percent (570 listings) this past year.

  People living closer to the equator have darker skin due to higher UV radiation, and this is passed down through generations of people having higher levels of melanin, but is the same true for flowers? Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh say yes, but it’s not noticeable to the human eye.

“Pigmentation patterns getting darker towards lower latitudes is ... an ecological rule called ‘Gloger’s Rule’, and it’s been formulated towards animals, so this is kind of the first extension of this ecological rule to plants,” said researcher and grad student Matt Koski.

For the seventh consecutive year Pennsylvania turnpike tolls will increase on Jan. 4.

The 5 percent increase affects both EZPass users and cash payers, but the EZPass will still save customers about 35 percent. Right now a person traveling from Pittsburgh (Monroeville) to Breezewood pays $8.97 with an EZPass or $12.60 with cash, and these prices will rise to $9.42 and $13.23 respectively.

New Year’s resolutions are often hard to stick with, and by February many forget about their resolution altogether. One of the most popular resolutions each year is to lose weight.

If you actually want to shed some of the weight added during the holidays, holistic health coach Emily Levenson suggests setting goals rather than resolutions.

Wednesday night marks the end of one year and the start of a New Year and downtown Pittsburgh will be celebrating with the annual First Night.

The event will start at 6 p.m. with a performance from the funk sax group Beauty Slap, fireworks and much more.

“The great thing about Highmark First Night Pittsburgh is the fact that there is so much diversity," said Ken McCrory, chair of the First Night Board. "I mean dance, music, comedy, magicians, fireworks. You name it, and we have it at First Night Pittsburgh.”

AP Photo/Darron Cummings

Every year doctors encourage nearly everyone to get a flu shot, but this year the vaccine is less effective and the strain going around is more deadly.

That's leading doctors to be even more vocal when it comes to encouraging people to get the vaccine.

 Giving to children this holiday season is not just limited to finding another Lego set; instead you can invest in a child’s future by setting up a college savings fund for them.

The Pennsylvania State Treasury is offering a way to save for college through tax-deductible investments, the 529 Plan. Through the month of December the treasury is also waiving the $50 enrollment fee.

  Travel is cheaper this year, with gas prices and plane tickets being less expensive than they have been in recent years, and this has led to AAA project a record breaking travel season.

“Well this year our holiday travel volume nationally and regionally broke all records, and we’ve been keeping track of this since 2001. So for the yearend holidays, which is Christmas and New Year’s, there’s going to be more people on the road than ever,” said Spokeswoman for AAA, Chelsea Pompeani.

Marcus Charleston / WESA

Gingerbread houses are part of what makes Christmas delicious and special, and this year the gingerbread game has been stepped up at the Grand Concourse with a tiny Pittsburgh village.

The display features the Duquesne Incline, the Smithfield Bridge, Heinz Field, the three rivers and many more miniature replicas.

“We wanted to do something different this year, and actually started planning it way back in January, after last year’s holidays, and [we] just started planning it out and about three months ago to really work on it and build it,” said Grand Concourse General Manager Milo Boering.

Executive Chef, Loren Halperin says they must have used about 50-60lbs. of gingerbread dough. Then after baking the dough in September the chefs had to let it completely dry out, which took about a month. Then in early November they began construction.

Commissioners of Somerset County have agreed to use drilling revenue to match any public donations to save Lake Somerset.

The lake has one of 12 “high hazard dams” in the state. The county is trying to save the dam to save the lake. The 253 acre lake’s water level has already been lowered by 6 feet to take pressure off the dam.

The county is also trying to make the land around the lake into a community park. It just has to wait for the Fish and Boat Commission to approve the plans, which Commissioner John Vatavuk thinks is very likely.

More affordable housing could be coming to Pittsburgh after the Allegheny Land Trust received a $200,000 donation from The Heinz Endowments to test the feasibility of a community land bank.

The community land bank would make housing about 25% cheaper by only selling the house on the property, and not the land. Right now the Trust is focusing on the Larimer neighborhood.

$40,000 dollars will go to researching, and the rest of the money will be used to set up the community land bank.

A new type of aluminum could change the way cars are made, making them lighter stronger and greener.

Pittsburgh-based Alcoa’s Micromill® takes molten metal and turns it into an aluminum coil in 20 minutes; previously the process took 20 days. It creates a product unlike any seen before.

Jess Lasky

This year’s First Night will be jam packed with events for the New Year right in the heart of Pittsburgh. Tens of thousands of celebrants are expected to crowd Downtown to enjoy events including fire dancers, musical performances, magicians, a parade and a lot more.

The event kicks off at 6 pm December 31st with a performance from funk group, Beauty Slap, and fireworks.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has released a draft of its long-range transportation plan and is asking for public feedback.

“This is a plan that looks far into the future to help set the vision and direction for where we want our transportation system to go,” said PennDOT spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt. “So it goes beyond a list of projects or future enhancements. It looks at things like where we want to go as a whole.”

Jess Lasky

With the slush, snow, salt, and ice, good shoes are a must for the winter, but for the homeless good shoes are not always easy to come by because often the donated ones are the wrong size or worn out.

That is why Our Heart to Your Soles spent Monday properly fitting brand new shoes to the needy right before the winter hits at its annual give away event.

They gave away about 400 pairs of shoes and anti-bacterial socks to anyone who needed them.

Gas prices averaging below $3 per gallon could spur many Americans to travel this for Thanksgiving, which might cause some traffic delays, according to AAA.

Chelsea Pompeani, director of public affairs at AAA east central, says the best way to avoid the increased traffic is to leave a little early.

City Council has declared Nov. 19 as “Healthy Together Day”, as part of an initiative to help the 2,000 uninsured Pittsburgh children enroll in affordable healthcare plans.

Healthy Together received a $200,000 grant from the League of Cities in July, and has been working with the Consumer Health Coalition and other organizations in communities that have a high concentration of uninsured children to inform parents of available healthcare plans for their children.

Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) are making progress in the graduation rate, and the number of students enrolled in AP classes, but that progress is not seen equally throughout the district according to A+ Schools 10th anniversary report on the 2013-14 school year.

The report examines all schools in several categories including: proficiency of teachers, per pupil spending (excluding transportation, principal salary and building costs), if students feel challenged and cared for, suspension rates, PSSA scores, and a breakdown of most scores based on race and income.

Teaching teens how to drive sometimes consists of crying, yelling, frustration and sometimes some new scratches on the car, but getting angry at teens for their bad driving could actually end up pointing the finger back at parents, according to a new study.

The University of Michigan and Toyota say parents are the number one influence on how a teen will drive.

Pittsburgh has battled the notion that the city is a dirty dusty polluted old steel mill town since the 1950’s, and finally it seems that the world is catching up with Pittsburgh’s environmental friendly initiatives. As a fighter in the battle to make Pittsburgh greener, Construction Junction in Point Breeze will turn 15 on November 12th, marking the changes that Pittsburgh has been making to respect the environment.

 Ten years ago the Children Museum’s “Lantern Building” began to illuminate the North Shore, and to celebrate the anniversary the museum will offer free admission Saturday.

As part of the festivities families can help the museum build a giant lantern. There will also be a family resource fair with booths from the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Center for Women and CEASEfire PA.

State Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny) has won his seventh consecutive two-year term in the Pennsylvania House, defeating independent Mark Brentley by an 86 percent to 13 percent margin.

Wheatley says that he will focus on three things this term: education, jobs and redeveloping neighborhoods.

Tuesday is  Election Day,  but what happens if you have trouble getting to your polling place?  The Black Political Empowerment Project (B-PEP) could give you a lift.

“We do not want to have people prevented in any way to vote, and that’s our mission as B-PEP,” said CEO Tim Stevens.

Most people are expected to stay at a job for about four and a half years, and yet millennials have been labeled as job hoppers, for leaving jobs much sooner. A new survey conducted by job placement company, Express Employment Professionals, found that recent college graduates stay in their first jobs on average for 7 months to a year.

In 2011, 29 Port Authority (PAT) bus routes were eliminated due to lack of funding, and some residents are questioning why the 2015 Allegheny County budget allocates PAT funds to build a PennDOT pedestrian bridge, instead of working to reinstate the old bus routes.

In 2009 a court ruling stated that the drink and car rental taxes could only be used for PAT expenditures , yet the $1 million bridge will be paid for with those taxes and built by PennDOT.

AP Photo/Vincent Yu

Halloween is supposed to be full of treats and colorful costumes and a few harmless scares, but health and safety advocates are warning about potential dangers for trick-or-treaters.

More than twice as many children are killed in pedestrian/vehicle accidents on Halloween than on any other day of the year. Dave Phillips, spokesman for State Farm Insurance, said government data shows that 115 children nationwide have died from being struck by a vehicle on Halloween from 1990-2010.

Ebola has killed thousands of people in West Africa — yet the absence of victims’ names and faces could be just one reason why large numbers of people have not been donating money to the fight the outbreak.

“Unlike many natural disasters that we have seen in the past with massive outpouring of donations support, we’re not seeing people making donations … it’s something that everybody’s talking about, but it’s not driving us to donate,” said Nicole Coleman, assistant professor of business and marketing at University of Pittsburgh.

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