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

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tom Wolf made a campaign trip to Pittsburgh Friday, and the topics of discussion were as diverse as the site of his stop.

Wolf toured the Bidwell Training Center in Manchester which offers students career-learning opportunities in fields ranging from chemical laboratory technician to the culinary arts, from horticultural to jazz.

Sporting a pair of Toms will sometimes make you feel like you’re helping out those who are less fortunate, and the clothing sold by the University of Pittsburgh could be headed in that same wholesome clothing direction. Pitt has given its apparel licensees an ultimatum that many hope will make safety a priority in factories where the clothing is made.

Since the fall of 2012 students with the Pitt chapter of Americans for Informed Democracy have been advocating for the University to make changes to its licensee agreement through the #NoSweat Coalition.

The Cultural District is adding to the “culture” with locally designed bike racks. The racks come in all shapes and sizes, including one that looks like the Fort Duquesne Bridge and another standing 6ft tall.  

The first of the bike racks will be installed on Tuesday, while the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust begins the search for more racks to be placed downtown.

In an effort to make Pittsburgh more welcoming, a 40-member-council has been formed to listen to ideas, implement changes and make new residents feel at home. 

“It’s part of what’s called ‘Welcoming America,’ which is a national movement to bring on cities and counties across the country to get them to commit to become more welcoming in their practices to their foreign born residents and really to encourage immigrant integration,” said Betty Cruz, nonprofit and faith-based manager for the mayor’s office.

Nearly $35.9 million in state funding has been approved for rail freight improvements. The grants will help support about 34,000 jobs in Pennsylvania.

“Freight rail is actually very important in Pennsylvania, because we have the highest number of short-line railroads in the entire country, and we’re in the top five as far as the number of miles we have of track,” said Penndot spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt, “so we need to keep investing in those resources, because they support good paying jobs and they keep goods moving through our state.”

There are still five weeks left before summer is over, but Pittsburgh is already gearing up for the holiday season and many more events throughout 2015 with zombies, quartets and craft beers.  

With Halloween not far off, nationally-recognized Scarehouse is amping up the Zombies.  Scarehouse is using their 100-year-old building, former "Elks Lodge No. 932" which is alleged haunted and taking the building back to the 30’s with props from the era.

Youth employment has been on a decreasing trend since 2000 and the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board (3RWIB) believes that educators and employers could work to get young people more engaged.

The number of 16-24-year-olds who work summer jobs in the region has decreased by 55 percent, and the level of youth employment overall has decreased by 39 percent in the past 14 years. Also, one of eight young people in the region does not work or go to school.

The Children’s Home of Pittsburgh has received a $1.5 million grant to be used in aiding the renovation of its Pediatric Specialty Hospital.

The Economic Growth Initiative Grant will be used to add 14 private hospital rooms and a new common area complete with a kitchen.

“Over the last couple of years we have been filling our beds, and what we don’t ever want is for a child who needs our services to be on a waiting list,” said Jennifer March, director of External Affairs at the Children’s Home.

The entire project will cost the hospital $5.3 million.

From clothes stores on East Carson Street on the South Side to the small back-street food vendors of Oakland, Pittsburgh is a hub of small businesses, but according to Thumbtack.com, local government could be a little friendlier to coffee shops, dog groomers and other retailers.

Thumbtack.com gave Pittsburgh a "D" rating for a multitude of reasons.

The Pittsburgh Biennial has begun at the Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA) with a local artist showcasing his two-and three-dimensional works, and the Pittsburgh Glass Center is about to join in on the Biennial with a wide array of glass ideas.

The Pittsburgh Biennial is held roughly every other year, 2011 was the last one, and gives local Pittsburgh artists a chance to be featured by the galleries around the city.

Allegheny County is making it easier to avoid road construction and get vaccinations now that its notification program has expanded to the Public Works and Health departments.

Allegheny Alerts is a program that will call, text, or email people who sign up about the four departments involved. The program began in April with the Parks Department and the Kane Regional Centers.

After a town meeting had to be moved to accommodate the 300 strong crowd, after five hours of debate and testimony, after a 90 day delay proposal, McCandless Town Council has approved an application by Walmart to build a superstore.

But many of the residents in McCandless are still fighting the approval of the 150,000-square-foot Walmart which will be built on Blazier Drive, just off of McKnight Road.

Electric cars have come a long way from having short ranges, and a wimpy top speed of 40 miles per hour. Now many electric cars can go upwards of 130mph, have a range of 250 miles, and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is trying to get more motorists to purchase one.

Along with pop bottles and cigarette butts, another big name is joining the roadside trash Pantheon, televisions.

In January 2013 the Covered Device Recycling Act became effective across Pennsylvania. The law made it illegal for municipal trash collectors to pick up devices such as TVs, computers, and even keyboards. The purpose of the law was to rid landfills of harmful materials usually found in these devices including cadmium, beryllium, and lead.

Community-minded volunteers will spread throughout the North Shore Thursday with paintbrushes and trash bags as part of the Community Action Project (CAP) that also will include food, music and family activities.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) partnered with the Urban Impact Foundation and Light of Life Rescue Mission for the event.

One of the last things people might think about on a beautiful summer day is giving blood, and the American Red Cross is starting to notice that the drop in donations could be serious.

Blood donations have decreased by 8 percent over the last 11 weeks meaning that the Red Cross is down by approximately 80,000.

“This shortfall is significant enough that without increased donor turnout we could experience an emergency situation in coming weeks,” said Marianne Spampinato, Red Cross’s External Communications Manager.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Another country concert is coming to Pittsburgh, and this time the city is preparing with new rules and increased law enforcement to gear up for Jason Aldean’s 38,000 fans at PNC Park this Saturday.

City officials announced Tuesday that parking lots will open at 2 p.m., instead of 11 a.m. and parking lot operators will be handing out trash and recycling bags to concert goers. The number of port-o-johns has been increased from 160 to 200. Tailgating once the concert begins is not permitted; anyone without a ticket at 7:30 p.m. will be asked to leave.

After an 18-month audit, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been called “outdated, understaffed and underfunded” when it comes to monitoring the impact of Marcellus Shale drilling on water quality. 

“For an analogy internally we believe it’s like firefighters trying to put out a five-alarm fire with a 20-foot garden hose,” said Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.

The audit resulted in eight findings with 29 recommendations. DePasquale said 18 of the recommendations would not cost tax payers any more money.

Pittsburgh was awarded $200,000 to insure children in the city through Healthy Together.

The money was granted from the National League of Cities and was given to eight cities that showed a quality and feasible business plan to increase access to healthcare. Cities could receive up to $260,000 for their efforts.  

Several downtown Pittsburgh streets will be closed Sunday to host Pittsburgh's  first Open Streets event, which will include Tai Chi, Zumba, dance classes and a rock climbing wall--all for free.

Open Streets was started 30 years ago in Colombia.  It is a time when cities shut down sections of roads so that pedestrians, and cyclists can move about freely.

In Pittsburgh, streets from Market Square to the Clemente Bridge will be closed for the event, but Mike Carroll, an events coordinator from BikePGH says traffic will not be impacted too heavily.

Homelessness among veterans has increased in Pennsylvania by 46.2 percent since 2009 according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. To combat this growing number, a bill was just passed unanimously by the state Senate which would give veterans preferential treatment for public housing.

Drivers who flee the scene of a vehicular homicide now face a stiffer sentence after Gov. Tom Corbett signed legislation last Monday that raised the sentence to a minimum of three years in jail.

“Kevin’s Law” is to honor a 5-year-old boy, from Wilkes-Barre, who was killed 18 months ago by a driver who drove away after the accident. Authorities finally caught the man who killed the boy, but he was sentenced to less than a year because of a loophole. Kevin Miller’s parents advocated for change.

As the housing market continues to rebound after the 2008 recession, some Pennsylvanian residents are still in need of affordable housing.

Currently in Pennsylvania there is a shortage of about 268,000 affordable housing units, according to Liz Hersh, Executive Director of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania.

Special series: This week we're exploring legislative action taken recently in Harrisburg on important bills that were overshadowed by the passage of the state budget.

Most cities are plagued by blighted and abandoned properties, but who is responsible to demolish them after the owner is nowhere to be found? Senate bill 1442 could solve these issues with a fee on foreclosed properties.

As PennDOT nears completion on the two-year long, $49 million rehabilitation of the Squirrel Hill Tunnels next month, it’s beginning work Wednesday evening on the first of three Parkway West (I-376) projects.

One outbound lane will be closed as workers install traffic control signs Wednesday and Thursday from midnight until 5 a.m.

This first project involves construction of a fourth outbound lane, about a mile long, from Rosslyn Farms to I-79. PennDOT spokesman Steve Cowan said he expects this part of the $3.72 million project to be completed by the spring.

Pennsylvania is home to 32,000 military kids who move around, don’t see their parents for months at a time, and are plagued with worry of a parent dying while in service of their country. That’s why YMCA Camp Soles in Somerset County offers a discounted week to kids in military families.

This week 65 kids ages 7-15 who are part of a military family get to enjoy zip lining, rock climbing, a nature center, arts and crafts and many more camp activities. Executive Director of the camp, Ryan Hove, says it gives them a chance to be normal kids.

Special series: This week we're exploring legislative action taken recently in Harrisburg on important bills that were overshadowed by the passage of the state budget.

For the first time bill to legalize medical marijuana has made it out of committee, and some state Senate members are confident that they can get it passed soon.

The Allegheny Health Department reported that 30% of school age kids in the county are obese or overweight, and a new Pittsburgh start-up aims to address this issue with animated characters shaped like food and 6 years of research at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).  

Fitwits combines stories, games, and instructions for parents and professionals on how to deal with the sensitive subject of obesity.

Flickr user smilin7h

Since 1990, the Clean Air Act has reduced emissions of six common pollutants by 41%, but according to a handful of environmental groups, Pennsylvania is not doing its job when it comes to haze.

Earthjustice, on behalf of the Clean Air Council, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the Sierra Club, has filed a second lawsuit against the EPA for its approval of a haze plan that they say does not meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act.

Passing the Keystone Exams might never become a requirement to graduate from high school in Pennsylvania. The State Senate Education Committee has approved legislation that would leave it up to school districts to determine the effects of not passing the exam.

Currently Pennsylvania has started to implement the exams, but if Senate Bill 1450 is not passed the tests will determine if a student can graduate starting in 2017.

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