Katie Meyer

AP Photo

At U.S. Senator Pat Toomey's various offices in Pennsylvania and Washington, the phones have been ringing off the hook for days.

Constituents are calling in droves, filling voice mailboxes with pleas for the Republican not to confirm President Donald Trump's cabinet appointees--particularly education secretary pick Betsy DeVos.

But the newly reelected Toomey seems to have his mind made up.

AP Photo

A proposal to extend the statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases is on a fast-track through the state Senate.

It's the exact same measure as a bill that died in the House last session, and for that reason, it's likely to see the same resistance when it reaches the House this time around.

The bill--sponsored by Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati--would eliminate time limits on childhood sexual abuse victims filing lawsuits against their abusers.

Katie Meyer / WITF

In one of the state Capitol’s busy lobbies, there’s a clock that tracks unfunded pension liabilities. All day and night, that clock ticks upwards, adding billions of dollars to Pennsylvania’s debts every year.

The clock’s overseen by a small, dedicated group of pension overhaul advocates and on Tuesday, they dragged it up to the Capitol’s main rotunda to make a renewed call to lawmakers: find a way to halt the clock’s rising numbers, once and for all.

evans.house.gov

Four out of Pennsylvania’s five Democratic congressmen have declared they’re sitting out President-Elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.

They join a growing contingent of more than 50 Democrats opting out of Trump’s ceremony.

One after another this week, Brendan Boyle, Dwight Evans and Bob Brady of Philadelphia, and Mike Doyle of Pittsburgh variously expressed opposition to Trump’s rhetoric and policies, and support for Georgia Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis.

Lewis prominently tangled with Trump over his own inauguration boycott.

Chris Knight / AP

The three top state row officers—all Democrats—have taken their oaths of office in separate ceremonies.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is beginning his second term, while Treasurer Joe Torsella and Attorney General Josh Shapiro are new to their respective offices.

Thanks in large part to the last elected Attorney General—Kathleen Kane, who has been convicted of perjury and obstruction—Shapiro’s election to the office has had the highest profile.

Pennsylvania Department of Corrections

In a surprise announcement last week, the state said it would close two of its prisons.

And while lawmakers and local leaders have begun discussing how the closures could affect their economies, civil rights groups have turned their attention to the conditions inside the prisons.

The state still hasn’t decided which two prisons will close, but the changes will push several thousand inmates into other facilities across the state.

Andy Hoover, with the American Civil Liberties Union, said it’s hard to know exactly how to interpret this.

Carolyn Kaster / AP

The state House has passed a resolution that makes significant changes to its ethics rules.

Scott Petri, a Bucks County Republican and former chair of the Ethics Committee, said the updates have been in the works for the past two years and provide some very necessary clarification. 

He also said it’s conceivable the new rules could have prevented a recent debacle surrounding Democratic Representative Leslie Acosta.

She secretly pleaded guilty to embezzlement in March, kept her seat and then finally resigned on Tuesday after being reelected.

Katie Meyer / WITF

New members have officially been sworn into the Pennsylvania legislature.

The first day of the new session saw further entrenchment of Harrisburg’s partisan divide. Republicans shored up their majorities in the House and Senate, where they’ve often clashed with Democratic Governor Tom Wolf.

Now, lawmakers are turning their attention to legislative priorities in the new session.

John Beale / AP

The Joint State Government Commission is recommending changes to a decades-old domestic violence protection law in Pennsylvania.

The group is pushing for updates that would, among other things, make it more difficult for abusers to access firearms.

Matt Rourke / AP

An independent report from an academic group has given Pennsylvania a dismal ranking in how well it conducts its elections.

The Electoral Integrity Project—which is based out of Harvard University and the University of Sydney—has the Keystone State tied for fifth-worst in the country.

The group ranked states based on 12 criteria, including electoral laws and procedures, media coverage, campaign finance, and district boundaries.

Matt Rourke / AP

The 2017 legislative session has yet to begin, but some lawmakers are already making plans for the new year, and casino-related laws are among those at the top of the list.

A closed-door meeting on Jan. 3 has been planned between lawmakers and representatives from all of the state’s 12 casinos.

When it was passed this summer, the state’s operating budget included $100 million in new gambling revenue, but no bill was ever passed to provide the money.

Baastian Slabbers / NewsWorks

This year saw the end of one of the most dramatic political roller-coasters in recent Pennsylvania history: the tenure of former state Attorney General, Democrat Kathleen Kane.

Kane was convicted of perjury this summer and stepped down from her post, but the controversy surrounding her far predates that.

Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

The state health department plans to start accepting applications for growers and dispensers in Pennsylvania’s newly-formed medical marijuana program on Feb. 20.

Gov. Tom Wolf / 90.5 WESA

Pennsylvania’s mid-fiscal year budget report has confirmed what the Independent Fiscal Office has been warning for well over a month: underperforming revenues are putting the commonwealth on track for a shortfall of around $600 million.

So how bad is that?

By all accounts, it’s a tenuous place for the state’s bank account to be. But it’s not without precedent.

Matt Rourke / AP

As the state legislature and governor contend with a mounting structural state deficit of more than two billion dollars, the topic of government spending—and the need to make it more efficient—has become inescapable around the Capitol.

Katie Meyer / WITF

The state Department of Banking and Securities has issued a progress report on a year-old program intended to educate Pennsylvanians about financial risks and management.

Katie Meyer / WITF

More than 500 people employed at three of Pennsylvania’s Unemployment Compensation offices are losing their jobs right before Christmas.

The reason was political, and has erupted into a partisan battle.

But behind the scenes at the Altoona, Lancaster, and Allentown UC centers, the furloughed employees and state officials are working make sense of the situation.

The news of the layoffs came November 16th, after the GOP-led Senate declined to vote on a funding bill that had been supported by Democratic Governor Tom Wolf.

Katie Meyer / WITF

Professors at Pennsylvania’s 14 state colleges and universities have voted to approve a contract agreement between the union that represents them and the state school system that employs them.

That contract was hard-fought—a standoff over its terms culminated in a three-day faculty strike in October.

Gerry Broome / AP

 

As the Green Party pushes for election recounts in key states, leaders of Pennsylvania's Republican Party have expressed concerns the delays could ultimately hold up President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration.

But, those fears now appear to be eased — a lawyer for the state GOP has said he's confident Pennsylvania's results will be validated on time.

States are federally required to settle controversies surrounding the appointment of their electors on Dec. 13. Otherwise, their electoral votes may not be deemed valid by Congress.

Katie Meyer / WITF

Green Party supporters were in Harrisburg on Monday to vocally back Jill Stein’s quest for a presidential vote recount in the commonwealth.

Stein, the Green Party candidate, has now filed suit in both federal and Philadelphia city courts.

David Amsler / Flickr

Republican state Sen. Scott Wagner is filing a Right-to-Know request over the layoffs of several hundred state employees.

The York County lawmaker is being blamed by Democratic Governor Tom Wolf and union leaders for being a major cause of the layoffs.

But Wagner contends that Wolf is at fault.

At the end of the 2016 legislative session last month, the GOP-led Senate decided not to vote on a funding bill for the state’s unemployment compensation program.

Matt Rourke / AP

After a yearlong review of more than 6 million emails sent in and out of the state Attorney General’s office, interim AG Bruce Beemer said Tuesday that there’s no evidence any of the emails would have impacted the fairness of the justice system.

“There is no evidence that prosecutors engaged in improper communication or contact with judges in this commonwealth that have affected the administration of justice or the outcome of cases,” he said.

Kevin McCorry / WHYY

 

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives held leadership elections Tuesday in preparation for the impending end of the legislative session. Republican leaders new and old said they're looking forward to having their largest majority in decades next session.

Most of the major changes in the House's majority GOP leadership are due to retirements—the chamber's appropriations chair William Adolf, of Delaware County, is stepping down, as is Susquehanna County Caucus Chair Sandra Major.

Patrick Semansky / AP

 

On Election Day, many Pennsylvania voters from both sides of the aisle watched in surprise, and in some cases, shock, as Donald Trump won the commonwealth and was elected the next president of the United States.

They weren't the only ones. Lots of political analysts in the state were also taken aback.

Most major polls never showed Trump winning Pennsylvania, let alone the election. The state was thought to be part of opponent Hillary Clinton's so-called "blue wall."

So what went wrong?

Elaine Thompson / AP

As the 2016 legislative session gets down to the wire in Pennsylvania, lawmakers are rushing bills large and small.

One of the measures that made it through the House Consumer Affairs Committee on Monday would make it illegal to tax plastic shopping bags in Pennsylvania.

The measure will likely face pushback from Democrats.

Bucks County Republican Frank Farry is sponsoring the bill and argues that bag taxes—which have become more popular in recent years—could compromise jobs.

Katie Meyer / WITF

 

Faculty members from Pennsylvania's state university system are rallying over the continuing lack of a contract agreement.

The professors at the 14 state-owned schools have been without one for more than a year, and negotiations between the system and the union aren't going well.

A walkout is scheduled for Oct. 19, and many think it's looking like a very real possibility.

As hundreds of faculty members carried signs in front of state higher education headquarters in Harrisburg, several students also milled around.

Matt Rourke / AP

After a long summer break, the state House is back in session—for now. But lawmakers aren’t expecting to tackle anything too divisive before Election Day.

The House will have just 12 voting days before lawmakers retire to their districts for the election. The Senate, which returns next week, will have nine.

Major items on the docket include decisions on expanded gambling and a state pension overhaul. Governor Tom Wolf is also seeking a joint session to address the opioid crisis.

AP

Officials with the Department of Human Services announced increased oversight for its major programs and said it’s paying off financially.

The department reported Thursday that savings increased by $65 million over the last fiscal year.

As DHS Secretary Ted Dallas explained, its programs can be complicated. 

Things like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and other state benefits involve a lot of paperwork, and Dallas said administrative errors are relatively common.

AP

The National Labor Relations Board recently ruled a virtual charter school in Pennsylvania should be classified as a private corporation, not a public institution. The decision only directly impacts that one school, but it could have farther-reaching legal implications.

 Liquor Reforms
Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

A Wegmans supermarket in Cumberland County has become the first such store in the state to sell wine. And the inaugural bottle was purchased by none other than Governor Tom Wolf.

Wolf was joined by state House Speaker Mike Turzai, as well as members of the Liquor Control Board and other lawmakers.

Turzai played a significant role in supporting the state’s liquor expansion, which went into effect early last month.

He says the change was a long time coming — it’s been commonly called the commonwealth's biggest liquor reform since prohibition. 

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