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.

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Mon August 12, 2013

With Austerity Measures, PA Has Staved Off Court Closures

Tight state and local budgets have forced many states to close their courthouses or reduce operating hours, but in Pennsylvania, a number of austerity measures have staved off closures.
    
Lynn Marks, a court reform advocate, said it’s no small feat that Pennsylvania’s judicial system has weathered a recession without closures.

"Court funding is really a tricky issue," Marks said. "I mean, no one really thinks about the courts until they need them but when you have a case involving your family or your livelihood you know you want courts to be open and available.

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Government & Politics
4:03 pm
Fri August 9, 2013

Lawmaker Proposes Statewide Pension Plan for Local Police

One state lawmaker is proposing to create a statewide pension plan for municipal police officers.
    
The plan would not include automatic boosts in benefits known as cost-of-living adjustments and would mandate a 7.5 percent contribution from members.

Republican state Rep. Glen Grell of Cumberland County, head of the House GOP pension reform task force, said the statewide pension plan would only be optional for current local officers.

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Government & Politics
12:37 pm
Fri August 9, 2013

In Harrisburg, a Revived Effort to Downsize the State Legislature

Proposals to shrink the size of the state Legislature are back before lawmakers.

The Speaker of the House is reintroducing his plan from last year to cut 203-member House by 50 seats.
    
Last year his plan passed the House, but only after language to also reduce the size of the 50-member Senate.
    
The Senate didn’t advance the proposal.
    

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Government & Politics
2:16 pm
Thu August 8, 2013

County Commissioners Push Transportation Funding, Prevailing Wage Reforms

County officials remain steadfast in their support for more transportation dollars alongside reforms to the prevailing wage law.

The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania says the set wages unnecessarily boost the cost of road work for local governments.

Association president Christian Leinbach, a Berks County commissioner, said despite a coolness to linking reforms to a transportation funding bill, his group is still pushing for an end to prevailing wage.

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Public Safety
10:29 am
Thu August 8, 2013

Security at Public Meetings in Focus Following Township Shooting

The head of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors says the shooting this week at a township’s public meeting in Monroe County will refocus officials on safety and security.
    
Dave Sanko said additional funding to boost municipal safety measures would be nice, but it’s unlikely to come from the state, and it shouldn’t necessarily be the first thing on every township official’s mind.

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Government & Politics
10:25 am
Wed August 7, 2013

State Lawmakers Mull Changes to How Building Code Panel Operates

The state commission tasked with reviewing updates to Pennsylvania’s building codes may be in for a few tweaks in its operating procedure.

A 2011 law shifted the process for the panel to make it easier to reject than accept code updates, like energy efficiency and safety requirements.

Subsequently, the panel rejected all the most recent round of code updates, citing an inability to find consensus on some and an accumulation of too many costly updates over time.

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Education
10:41 am
Tue August 6, 2013

State Education Officials Try to Clear the Air Over PA Common Core

Corbett administration officials are waging a clean-up campaign to try to dispel some of what they call false claims about new Common Core educational measures the state plans to implement this fall.
   
Carolyn Dumaresq, with the state Department of Education, said the new measures will bring no mandated curricula or reading lists, and no nationally dictated tests.

She spoke to state lawmakers in an attempt to explain the new standards, which she says received the most intense public feedback on the standards in the past few months.

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Government & Politics
10:05 am
Tue August 6, 2013

How Much Is Voter ID Defense Costing PA?

Pennsylvania taxpayers still haven’t seen a final tab on what the state is being charged by a private firm to defend the voter identification law in court. In fact, a contract was not publicly available until the day after closing arguments were delivered in the case.

Philadelphia firm Drinker, Biddle and Reath hasn’t yet sent an invoice to the state for services rendered in 2013.

The hourly rate ranges from $325 to $495. Last year, the firm was paid more than $204,000 for defense of voter ID as judges considered temporarily blocking the law.

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Government & Politics
11:32 am
Mon August 5, 2013

State Lawmakers to Scrutinize Building Construction Codes

Building construction codes are coming under scrutiny by state lawmakers in an upcoming hearing.

The state’s approach to adopting updates to the codes has changed under the Corbett administration, leading a state commission to reject all of the most recent internationally-provided model updates.

A proposal by Democratic state Rep. Pat Harkins of Erie County would restore some of the ease of accepting updated codes for commercial buildings.

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Taxes
10:40 am
Fri August 2, 2013

PA's Tourism Businesses Want Change in Hotel Room Taxes

Pennsylvania’s tourism businesses want to see a change in the way counties tax hotel room stays and how they use the revenue.

The president of the Pennsylvania Association of Travel and Tourism told state lawmakers at a recent hearing the tax has gone too far afield from its original purpose to generate money to promote tourism.

Rob Fulton said some counties have been too quick to use the funds for other tangential expenses.

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Government & Politics
4:00 pm
Thu August 1, 2013

State Willing to Extend Temporary Block on Voter ID Law

The commonwealth is willing to extend the temporary block on the voter ID law through the upcoming general election in the fall.

The statement came from lawyers for the state during closing arguments in the Commonwealth Court trial of the constitutionality of the voter identification law.

Challengers argue it should be not just blocked temporarily, but struck down.

Jennifer Clarke, one of the lawyers arguing against the measure, said the commonwealth’s offer to extend the temporary block surprised her.

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Transportation
10:00 am
Thu August 1, 2013

PennDOT: Bridge Weight Limits Could Mean Longer Drives for Industry, Public Safety

As students start heading back to school this year, they may find their bus routes increasing to avoid weight-restricted bridges across the state.

The head of PennDOT says lawmakers will find out in the next few weeks which bridges will be limited to heavy traffic, due to the Legislature’s failure to pass a transportation funding bill.

Secretary Barry Schoch said the restrictions will affect industry trucks, school buses and emergency responders.

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Government & Politics
10:41 am
Wed July 31, 2013

Pew Report Examines Commonwealth's Act 47 Program

A new report points out to policy makers what some municipalities already know: Pennsylvania’s program for helping distressed cities has an unimpressive track record.

Called simply Act 47, the program has claimed 27 cities and towns, and only six have exited the program.

Kil Huh, an author of the Pew Charitable Trusts report, said when the state does step in, a plan for stepping back out should be outlined.

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Public Safety
7:27 am
Mon July 29, 2013

As Technology Advances, 911 Centers Struggle to Keep Up

State lawmakers want Pennsylvanians to be able to contact 911 via Skype on their computers or Facetime on their smartphones, but they haven't figured out how to pay for it.

A hearing on Tuesday will bring county emergency responders into the mix as lawmakers discuss how to change the funding mechanisms for the statewide network of county-run 911 response centers.

Rep. Steve Barrar (R-Delaware) said the scheduled end of one revenue source for the centers is prompting the evaluation of the overall funding model.

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Environment
3:30 am
Mon July 29, 2013

Bill Would Change Endangered Species Determination Process

Two state agencies are warning proposed legislation would strip their authority to determine which species are labeled endangered in Pennsylvania.

The measure would require the Fish and Boat Commission and the Game Commission, now independent agencies, to instead run their decisions through certain legislative committees and a state regulatory review agency.

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Government & Politics
10:57 pm
Thu July 25, 2013

Statisticians' Reports Paint Two Divergent Pictures In PA Voter ID Trial

Court is in recess for now in the trial over the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's voter identification law. The trial is scheduled to resume on Tuesday.

Questions of numbers and statistical techniques filled the ninth day of testimony. Lawyers spent hours questioning the state's statistician, William Wecker, who offered a critique of the estimate provided in testimony last week that half a million Pennsylvania voters don't have proper voter ID on record with the commonwealth.

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Government & Politics
7:27 am
Thu July 25, 2013

State Begins Case in Voter ID Trial

Eight days into trial, lawyers defending Pennsylvania's voter identification law still may ask the presiding judge to dismiss the case entirely.

Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, spokesman for the lawyers defending the requirement, said a motion may be filed to dismiss certain witness testimony and claims made by the challengers.

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Government & Politics
2:26 pm
Wed July 24, 2013

House Democrats Cry Foul on Lottery Profit Characterization

State House Democrats claim the Corbett administration isn't making fair comparisons in the push to lease the Pennsylvania Lottery to a British company.

The administration was unimpressed the Pennsylvania Lottery's profit report for 2013 showed a less than one percent growth over the year prior.

Revenue Secretary Dan Meuser noted that under a privatization contract (still being tinkered with since the state attorney general rejected the contract) the state could expect a 9 percent annual profit growth.

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Government & Politics
7:34 am
Wed July 24, 2013

For Voter ID, State Suggests Witnesses Should Ask Their Lawyers

State lawyers defending Pennsylvania's voter identification law are pointing out that those who claim they've been unable to get a valid ID haven't exhausted every possibility, even if that possibility comes from the legal team bringing them into court.

Challengers have presented several witnesses who testify they've been unable to get the proper ID for voting because they can't get to a PennDOT licensing center. They cite age, pain, disability and difficulty finding a ride.

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Government & Politics
7:34 am
Tue July 23, 2013

Memo Reveals Agencies Concerned Voter ID Would Disenfranchise Some

Testimony in the second week of a trial of Pennsylvania's voter identification law is digging into the documentation of how the language of the law was finalized.

Two state agencies suggested in 2011 that the voter ID legislation then making its way through the Legislature should make it easier for elderly and disabled voters to cast absentee ballots.

A memo from the Department of Aging and the Department of State points out the change would provide a way for such people to vote even if they had trouble getting photo ID because of illness or limited mobility.

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Government & Politics
7:28 am
Tue July 23, 2013

For State-Related Schools, Open Records Chief Sees (Sun) Light Ahead

A recent state court ruling is forcing the issue of transparency at one of Pennsylvania's four state-related universities.

Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln universities are largely exempt from the commonwealth's 5-year-old open records law providing public access to government information. It was for that very reason that the Office of Open Records dismissed an appealed records request filed by Ryan Bagwell.

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Government & Politics
7:16 am
Mon July 22, 2013

PA's Voter ID Trial Enters Second Week

The first week in the trial of Pennsylvania's voter identification law wrapped up with testimony about the commonwealth's efforts to educate voters about the new requirement.

The $5 million informational campaign, paid for with federal funds, came under scrutiny with the testimony of Diana Mutz, a professor of political communication at the University of Pennsylvania. The campaign deployed ads, direct mail and a website, but Mutz questioned its effectiveness, saying the state refused tried-and-true techniques to test whether the message was getting through.

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Business
7:13 am
Mon July 22, 2013

Merchants to Congress: How About e-Fairness?

Brick-and-mortar store owners across Pennsylvania are trying to put pressure on Congress to make online retailers collect state sales tax.

Right now, such vendors don't have to collect sales tax from out-of-state purchases, and many customers are unaware they're required to report the tax on their own.

Pennsylvania-based retailers say it's a loophole that gives online-only vendors an unfair advantage, allowing them to undercut prices at brick-and-mortar stores.

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State Government
9:43 am
Fri July 19, 2013

PA Lottery Lands Record High Revenue, But Modest Profit Growth

The Pennsylvania Lottery saw record-high sales in the fiscal year ending last month. But the modest growth over the previous year's profits is part of the reason the Corbett administration's interest in privatizing the lottery is as strong as ever.

In past years, lottery revenues have jumped by as much as 10 percent in a year. The fiscal year that just ended saw growth of less than one percent in net revenue. Revenue Secretary Dan Meuser said a contract drafted to lease the lottery's operations to a British firm would yield much greater revenue growth.

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Government & Politics
6:40 am
Thu July 18, 2013

As House Eyes Transparency Law Changes, Agency Chief Urges Caution

The head of the state's open records agency is urging lawmakers to proceed with caution as they propose changes to the measure that created the office.

The 5-year-old Right-to-Know law could be in for some considerable tweaks. An effort is already underway in the Senate to address well-documented problems with the law, which governs public access to government information and records.

Office of Open Records Director Terry Mutchler said she's concerned the approach taken by the House could compromise Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know law in the spirit of improving it.

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