Katie Meyer

Zeevveez / Flickr

A contentious bill to prohibit municipalities from taxing or banning plastic bags has passed the legislature, and now faces a potential veto at the hands of Democratic Governor Tom Wolf.

Several manufacturers of the plastic used for disposable shopping bags are based around Pennsylvania, and employ over a thousand people. The Republican sponsors of the bill say that’s the main reason they’re supporting it.

Gov. Tom Wolf / 90.5 WESA

With a little over two weeks until the state budget is due, House and Senate Republicans have been holding closed meetings to hash out details.

Few concrete plans are available, but GOP leaders say they’re on roughly the same page on spending.

A few months ago House Republicans released their budget proposal, which would spend about $800 million less than Democratic Governor Tom Wolf’s blueprint and not raise taxes.

The Senate’s GOP majority hasn’t released its own plan yet, and it’s unclear if they will.

Matt Rourke / AP

A group of legislative Democrats are pushing no fewer than twelve bills on voter registration in the House and Senate. They would model expanded voting and voter registration in Pennsylvania after reforms already done in other states.

However, Democrats haven’t even been able to get the measures past the first stage of consideration in the GOP-controlled chambers—the House and Senate State Government Committees.

Gov. Tom Wolf / 90.5 WESA

Legislation’s being introduced in the Senate this week to change how Pennsylvania elects its lieutenant governor.

It was prompted by a scandal that hit Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack recently, which called attention to an apparent rift between himself and Governor Tom Wolf.

In its elections, Pennsylvania uses the relatively uncommon method of having the governor and lieutenant for either party run separately in the primary, and then together in the general election.

Matt Rourke / AP

The state House of Representatives quickly introduced and passed a sweeping new gambling bill Wednesday evening, which would significantly expand the industry.

Matt Rourke / AP

An impassioned group of advocates and lawmakers are pushing for two controversial pieces of legislation that would make it harder for women to access abortion services in Pennsylvania.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

After a recent audit found significant accounting, technology, and funding issues in the commonwealth’s unemployment compensation system, the Wolf administration is attempting to correct its course.

But it’s not going to be an easy—or quick—process.

Lawmakers are already expressing frustration with the amount of information they’re getting about the UC system’s financial decisions.

Katie Meyer / WITF

State senators gathered in the Capitol on Sunday evening to move a bill that's been dogging the legislature for the last four years, in various forms.

It would rework the structure of the state's two heavily indebted public pension systems, a change the bill's supporters say mitigates risk to taxpayers.

However, the proposal does little to reduce the state's massive pension debt.

Like several previous GOP pension proposals, it would shift the state's retirement plan to a three-tiered 401-k-style system--effectively reducing benefits for new hires.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

After years of back and forth, Pennsylvania has passed a law to bring its state IDs up to federal standards.

But compliance doesn’t end there.

It’ll still be a multi-year process to phase in the new IDs, and a lot of the timelines and costs are unknown.

The state says it tentatively plans to make the new federal “Real ID” compliant cards available around March 2019.

Elaine Thompson / AP

A Pennsylvania psychiatrist and his colleagues are noticing some troubling mental health trends related to joblessness among their white, working-class patients. And those trends seem inextricably tied with the current political climate.

Dr. Kenneth Thompson is the president of the American Association for Social Psychiatry. He’s based in Pittsburgh, and said many of his patients fall into a very specific category—they’re white, male, high school-educated former Democrat-voters who supported Donald Trump for president.

Matt Rourke / AP

Activists across the commonwealth are urging state lawmakers to take an uncommon step in order to move a bill that would place limits on the gifts elected officials can accept.

They’re putting together discharge petition—a measure that’s not often used, and even less often used successfully.

Such a petition can force a bill to move out of a committee to a floor vote if the committee refuses to act on it.

AP

Harrisburg lawmakers accepted over $145 thousand in hospitality, gifts, and other travel in 2016, according to recently-filed financial interest disclosure forms.

The commonwealth has one of the loosest laws for reporting those gifts in the country.

The filings are coming as advocates across the state make a renewed push to get lawmakers to impose regulations on the amount of money they can take.

Republican Representative Rick Saccone, of Allegheny County, said regulations governing what needs to be reported--like dinners--are also loose.

Mike Groll / AP

A bill to expand gambling and raise sorely-needed revenue is moving on to the House, after passing swiftly through the Senate last week.

Gaming has been a sticky issue for the legislature for several sessions, and the latest bill is expected to face pushback from several factions of House lawmakers.

The Senate-passed bill would chiefly legalize and regulate internet gambling. It would also let Pennsylvanians buy lottery tickets and bet on fantasy sports online, and fix a law that dictates how casinos pay out fees to their local communities.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

A bipartisan group of legislative leaders has been working on a major proposal to change how state employee pensions are structured.

The commonwealth’s roughly $70 billion unfunded pension liability has been dogging lawmakers for years. But the plan most likely to move forward won’t attempt to reduce that debt significantly.

Instead, leaders say the measure will look similar to one they attempted to pass last session, which disintegrated without a vote because Democrats refused to support it.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

At the behest of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and top Republicans, the state Auditor General is launching a formal review of how the Democratic National Convention’s host committee spent state money.

The state gave the DNC committee a $10 million grant last summer to help fund its event, which was held in Philadelphia.

Ultimately, the committee—which is chaired by former Gov. Ed Rendell—ended up with a $4 million surplus. Among other things, that money was used to give bonuses to staff members.  

Lawmakers argue any extra money should have gone back to the state.

Katie Meyer / WITF

The first wave of employees has been called back to work in the state’s unemployment compensation call centers, with more follow next week.

The move comes a week after the legislature passed a measure to temporarily restore the UC system’s funding. But many of the roughly 500 employees laid off last year over funding disputes are still out of a job.

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Around the state, advocates and frustrated Pennsylvanians are pushing lawmakers to change the rules governing how district lines are redrawn every 10 years.

The current process lets politicians the skew districts in their political favor—a process known as gerrymandering.

Mike Groll / AP

A state House panel is considering a plan to help fill significant budget gaps that have been left open for gambling revenue.

The Gaming Committee held a public hearing Monday on a longstanding proposal to legalize video gambling terminals in bars and other businesses.

The bill being discussed is House Bill 1010, which would allow up to 35,000 terminals in bars, social clubs, and other such businesses.

Proponents say it could earn $100 million in its first year, and $500 million annually once it’s fully implemented.

Rick Bowmer / AP

A bill that could potentially eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood facilities in Pennsylvania has passed a state Senate committee. 

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Governor Tom Wolf and state Treasurer Joe Torsella say they have a way to cut down on Pennsylvania’s mountainous pension costs: change investment strategies to cut down on fees to outside money managers.

Spokespeople for the state’s two biggest pension funds say they’re open to considering the idea, though they note, they’ve already been doing it to some extent.

The fees Pennsylvania pays to outside investors are among the highest in the country. In 2015, they made up almost $600 million of the money spent by the systems for retired state and public school employees.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

A GOP-proposed bill currently sitting in the state House is raising questions about who should be responsible for keeping Pennsylvania students safe.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

After long months of partisan debate over funding for Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation program, the legislature has passed a fix—of sorts.

Rogelio Solis / AP

The Senate Education Committee has advanced a bill that would give schools in Pennsylvania the option of allowing teachers and other staff to carry concealed guns.

Supporters say it’s a matter of letting schools make the safety decisions that fit them best, while opponents call it irresponsible and unnecessary.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

State House Republicans are attempting to chart a new course for liquor sales in Pennsylvania, pushing a traditionally state-run system further and further toward privatization.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Several House committees held the latest in a string of hearings Monday about Governor Tom Wolf’s plan to consolidate four state agencies.

Many lawmakers expressed the same concerns they’ve been voicing for weeks—they want more details before they make any decisions.

The combination of the departments of Drugs and Alcohol, Aging, Human Services, and Health is considered the biggest agency merger the commonwealth has ever done.

Indiana County Republican Cris Dush voiced a common complaint—that it’s all moving way too fast.

Keith Srakocic / AP

Over the last several years, three separate scandals involving three separate judges have hit the commonwealth’s Supreme Court.

These and other issues have prompted nonpartisan group Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts to release a report detailing the judicial discipline system’s shortfalls—and what the state can do to fix it.

The high-profile problems came one after another.

In 2013, Justice Joan Orie Melvin was found guilty of multiple felonies related to her use of state employees for campaign work.  

Daveynin / Flickr

The House GOP-led budget proposal—which passed on to the Senate last week—has drawn criticism from legislative Democrats, and Democratic Governor Tom Wolf for its austere tax cuts.

But it’s also seeing pushback from a more bipartisan group: the Pennsylvania County Commissioners Association.

For the last few budget cycles, state funding has stayed largely flat for a number of county-level programs—including probation services, behavioral health services, and the multi-use Human Services Development Fund.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

One of the more contentious parts of Governor Tom Wolf’s budget proposal is a bid to raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $12 an hour.

It’s currently $7.25—the lowest the federal government allows.

Chris Knight / AP

State lawmakers are making progress on next year's budget three months before their June 30 deadline.

But it's still a legislature prone to deadlock, so state Treasurer Joe Torsella is making preparations for a potential impasse.

Most of the time when Harrisburg misses its budget deadline, it's not a serious issue. A majority of state services can keep running for a time on the budget from the previous fiscal year.

But if lawmakers miss the deadline by a lot, questions arise. Namely, can the treasury keep paying out public money to the branches of government?

Associated Press

The state House has passed a bill to keep certain drug and violent crime offenders in prison longer.

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