Mary Wilson

Capitol Reporter

Mary Wilson is the state Capitol reporter for Pennsylvania's public 
radio stations, including WESA in Pittsburgh, WITF in Harrisburg and WHYY in Philadelphia. Mary came to the post after a year being a catch-all staffer for a Maryland politician.

Before that, she was a part-time show host and cub reporter at WFUV-FMin New York City. She covered the closing of the old Yankee stadium andnarrated the scene of Harlem on the night of the 2008 presidentialelection. Mary graduated from Fordham University in the Bronx withmajors in history and Italian.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

 An advocacy group focused on bankrolling conservative candidates for the state Legislature is flexing its muscles after the Pennsylvania primary.

The Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, commonly referred to as CAP, has run afoul of top Republican lawmakers for its “purist” views opposing organized labor and eschewing lawmaker perks, like pensions. But being likened to dictators hasn’t slowed CAP down.  

Matt Rourke / AP File Photo

The state’s top fiscal watchdog says another budget impasse would lead to a “backdoor tax increase” in Pennsylvania.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said Thursday that if lawmakers and the governor allow another lengthy budget stalemate to take place without “dealing” with the state’s projected structural deficit, the commonwealth will receive another credit downgrade, hiking the cost of borrowing.

David Amsler / Flickr

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers is backing new proposals to give a person’s low-level criminal offenses a limited shelf life in Pennsylvania.

Plans in the House and Senate would automatically seal low-level criminal records in Pennsylvania after a person has had no criminal activity for five to 10 years. The legislation builds on a plan enacted into law this year to let people with minor offenses ask a judge to seal their criminal records.

Matt Rourke / AP

A long-sought measure to retroactively change the statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases has been queued up for a final vote in the state House. 

The proposal would erase the statute of limitations in criminal cases of child sex abuse going forward, and extend the limit for civil cases from the victim’s 30th birthday to when he or she turns 50.

Victor Bjorkund / Flickr

Pennsylvania school board members came to the Capitol earlier this week, some of them downright weary.

“It’s been a grueling year,” said Nathan Mains, director of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. PSBA was in town for its annual legislative lobbying day. Its members wanted to underscore the damage caused by the budget stalemate.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

The state House is poised to consider major changes to the statutes of limitations on child sex abuse cases in Pennsylvania, one month after the release of a grand jury’s findings that the clergy of the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese covered up child sex abuse allegations for decades.

The bill, passed by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, would eliminate the time limit for bringing criminal charges in a child sex abuse case. It expands the timeframe for bringing civil suits, giving victims until they’re 50 years old, instead of 30.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

The state’s budget gridlock is over, but school districts are focusing on another piece of unwelcome news: after years of delayed reimbursements for state-approved construction and building maintenance, they’ll go without any state funding for such projects.

About $306 million in construction reimbursements was nixed when Governor Tom Wolf vetoed a budget-related piece of legislation known as the fiscal code last week.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

The state has an entire agency dedicated, at least in part, to the men and women who have served in the military.

The Department of Military and Veterans Affairs boasts 22,000 military and civilian personnel. It manages veterans homes and administers a variety of veteran benefits and outreach initiatives.

But for Joe Peters, Republican candidate for state attorney general, “it’s simply not enough.”

Carolyn Kaster / AP

  For Pennsylvania lawmakers, the problem of lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan has served as a rallying cry, a teachable moment and, now, a political cudgel.

This month, House and Senate members were determined not to waste Michigan’s crisis, invoking it to propel their own efforts to minimize lead exposure from old house paint and water pipes. But as some touted legislation, one House Republican criticized the governor’s office for not springing into action in the same way.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

A plan to allow medical marijuana in Pennsylvania may be further away from becoming law than supporters had hoped.

The legalization plan is before the Senate, after passing the House overwhelmingly two weeks ago. But key Senate supporters told Philly.com last week that the House made changes to the proposal that could prove to be problematic.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Democratic state lawmakers who were reliable backers of Governor Tom Wolf’s agenda during the budget impasse say they may not stick so closely to his side in the next year.

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa said his caucus will do some soul-searching ahead of the next round of budget negotiations, after coming away with so little from the budget impasse.

“We might go down a different path,” Costa told reporters Wednesday. “I don’t know where we’ll end up.”

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

When the state’s finances are the subject of partisan debate, it helps to turn to the analyses of the ratings agencies that judge creditworthiness – and two of the three major credit ratings agencies are warning that Pennsylvania’s fiscal problems aren’t over, even if its budget impasse is.

Gene J. Puskar / AP Photo

 

The state spending stalemate is ending, but lawmakers could face some unfinished budget business.

While Governor Tom Wolf will let the rest of a state budget take effect, he’s vetoing companion legislation known as the fiscal code.

The fiscal code is often referred to as the budget’s instruction manual. Wolf’s office said this one had directions the governor didn’t appreciate – like wiping out new gas drilling regulations and authorizing borrowing to reimburse school construction costs (the governor said the debt service will be too expensive at this point).  

Brian Turner / Flickr

  State senators on Tuesday urged their colleagues to advance their plans to change how judicial conduct cases are handled in Pennsylvania.

A proposed amendment to the state constitution would overhaul how the commonwealth’s court system metes out discipline for its justices and judges. The issue is particularly relevant this week, after the second resignation of a state Supreme Court justice over his exchange of offensive emails with prosecutors and others. 

The entire affair has led lawmakers to scrutinize the ways Pennsylvania’s court system judges its own.

Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

A plan to allow certain forms of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania has cleared a major hurdle, passing the state House and now heading to the Senate, where a similar proposal was approved last year.

Matt Rourke / AP

State lawmakers and Governor Tom Wolf could be headed for another clash over the Pennsylvania budget, now more than eight months late.

Top Republican lawmakers say they’ll pass a plan this week to restore funds vetoed by the governor late last year. The more than $6 billion proposal would bring the total state budget to about $30 billion, and the supplemental funding aims to make a variety of line items whole again – like the schools, rural hospitals, and agricultural programs on the brink of closing because they haven’t received all their state money.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

State budget hearings for the governor’s most recent spending proposal have drawn to a close, but not without an unusual bit of advice from a House lawmaker.

Rep. Pam DeLissio (D-Philadelphia) said it’s time for legislative leaders and the governor’s office to bring in some outside help to end the budget impasse: a third-party mediator.

“I am calling for mediation,” said DeLissio, testifying to the final, sparsely attended budget hearing by the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday. “I am concerned that things have been said that cannot be unsaid.”

National Guard Bureau / nationalguard.mil

The commander of the Pennsylvania National Guard has resigned after almost two months on an unexplained leave of absence.

Adjutant General James Joseph is stepping down after taking a paid leave of absence that was announced by the Wolf administration Jan. 14.

Governor Tom Wolf / 90.5 WESA

The state hasn’t had a full spending plan for more than eight months, but top lawmakers haven’t yet had a budget meeting with Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration in 2016, the House Appropriations Committee chairman said Thursday.

“We haven’t met since December,” said Rep. Bill Adolph (R-Delaware). “And we should have been.”

Topher I / Flickr

Pennsylvania’s capital city is looking to go down a path blazed by Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Harrisburg’s city council is exploring the decriminalization of marijuana possession with two public meetings this month.

Councilman Cornelius Johnson told reporters on Tuesday that even low-level criminal charges can prevent pot smokers from landing jobs or receiving financial aid for school.  

“In many instances, these arrests have had a direct impact on the trajectory of people’s lives based upon a mistake someone has made when they were young,” said Johnson.

Elizabeth Thomsen / via Flickr Creative Commons

A special investigation into objectionable emails exchanged from state computers has cost the commonwealth $67,000 and counting.

The revelation came from Attorney General Kathleen Kane on Monday as she answered questions from a state House panel.

The probe began in December, when Kane appointed a special prosecutor, former Maryland attorney general Doug Gansler, and hired his Washington, D.C. law firm, Buckley Sandler, to examine the emails and any impropriety among judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and others.

Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections

Pennsylvania’s prison system won’t run out of money this month, though it doesn’t technically have spending authority under the state budget.

Nearly half of the state corrections budget was vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf late last year, in a bid to force lawmakers back into budget negotiations.

That hasn’t happened, and now the treasury has stepped in to approve payments of prison operating expenses, including employee salaries, security and safety costs, health care and inmates’ food.

Chad Kainz / Flickr

A statewide grand jury has found that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown concealed the sexual abuse of hundreds of children at the hands of priests and religious leaders for decades, giving known child molesters the chance to prey on additional victims. 

Phil Whitehouse / Flickr

The state is trying to get the word out about a bullying prevention hotline that’s been up and running since before the beginning of the school year.

The 24-7 service takes messages from people concerned about bullying in Pennsylvania schools. Social worker Karla Joyce-Good handles responses as part of her job at a non-profit partnering with the state. She said there’s good reason to care about bullying.

Brett Levin / Flickr

  School superintendents holding out hope for an end to the state budget impasse may have to accept closing their doors, state Budget Secretary Randy Albright said Friday.

Albright's forbidding instructions outline nearly a dozen steps for school districts managing their own demise.

"We don’t expect anything until maybe later in the month of March or early in the month of April," he said. "We don’t know when that will occur. It’s something that we continue to simply monitor."

Rich Schultz / AP

A state House panel tasked with evaluating state Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s impeachability began its work Tuesday, hearing of possible complications ahead.

Democratic House Minority Leader Frank Dermody spoke to the House’s subcommittee on courts about his experience leading the 1994 impeachment of the late Rolf Larsen, a former state Supreme Court justice. He sees potential problems for this impeachment effort – namely, the fact that there’s now a definite expiration date on Kane’s tenure.

Elizabeth Thomsen / via Flickr Creative Commons

Budget hearings got off to a testy start in the state Capitol as the Wolf administration defended the governor’s spending proposal on Monday, the first day of three weeks of scheduled hearings.

The Capitol hasn’t fully emerged from last year’s budget stalemate over taxes and spending, but lawmakers are launching into this year’s planning process, even if it’s not clear how the Democratic governor and Republican-controlled Legislature can meet in the middle.

darrylkc

  State and local government officials are going to school on Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system to cut costs and crime.

A group of about three dozen people will spend the next year looking for ways to keep Pennsylvanians from entering the criminal justice system. The study aims to build on a review in 2011 that led to reforms credited with reducing the state’s prison population.

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

John Hanger, a top policy adviser and rhetorical brawler for Governor Tom Wolf, is stepping down from his post, the administration announced Friday.

Hanger said he’s leaving the governor’s office to spend more time with his family in Massachusetts, where his wife has worked since 2010. Keeping two homes and a demanding job, he said, have worn on him.

“My back is giving out,” said Hanger. “I’m not the kind of person, frankly, that can throttle back very well.”

Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

The head of the Pennsylvania State Police has confirmed an ongoing investigation into “suspected cheating” at the agency’s training academy.

State Police Commissioner Tyree Blocker said in a written statement Thursday that the review began last December into suspected cheating among cadets training to be state troopers.

Pledging to “leave no stone unturned,” Blocker said the investigation has included “dozens” of interviews and evidence collection.

“I will make sure that each and every person involved is held accountable,” said the commissioner.

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