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
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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State Government
3:28 pm
Wed July 17, 2013

In Latest Shake-Up, Two Top Corbett Aides Jump Ship

Gov. Tom Corbett says he's hiring his third chief of staff and his third secretary of legislative affairs in as many years as he struggles to improve his public image and his clout inside the Capitol.

Corbett made the announcement Wednesday.

Veteran Republican lobbyist and political strategist Leslie Gromis Baker will replace Steve Aichele as Corbett's chief of staff. Aichele was Corbett's chief counsel when he took office in January 2011, but became chief of staff last year in a separate shake-up.

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Voter ID Law
6:27 am
Wed July 17, 2013

Sparring Over Numbers in Voter ID Trial

The battle over numbers swells anew in the voter ID trial, headed into its third day in Commonwealth Court Wednesday.

Tuesday's testimony began with a statistician's analysis that more than half a million registered voters in Pennsylvania would have no valid ID issued by PennDOT or the Department of State in the upcoming general election.

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Voter ID Law
7:02 am
Tue July 16, 2013

Voter ID Challengers Hint at Telling Memo

Lawyers challenging the voter ID law say the governor knew it was trouble.

In the opening argument for the plaintiffs, attorney Michael Rubin, said he'll share a memo sent by state agencies to the Corbett administration warning the law would disenfranchise elderly and disabled eligible voters unless changes were made. The administration did not push lawmakers to make the suggested changes.

The memo, Rubin said, is from November 2011 — several months before the passage of voter ID.

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State Government
6:57 am
Tue July 16, 2013

State Lawmaker Says House Panel Should Focus on Poverty

A Republican state lawmaker says the next big focus of one House panel will be how poverty afflicts people across Pennsylvania and what can be done to make the problem better.

Rep. Dave Reed (R-Indiana), who chairs the House Majority Policy Committee, said he hopes his initiative is eye-opening to legislators on both sides of the aisle.

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State Government
9:38 am
Mon July 15, 2013

House Convenes to Finish Budget Item

State House lawmakers are coming back to Harrisburg to finish up budget business Monday. A final concurrence vote is expected to approve what's called the fiscal code, a bill full of key fund transfers.

The summer vote was prompted when the Senate took language out of the legislation that suggested the Legislature intended to legalize payday lending.

Such loans are controversial, and Republican Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi said it didn't belong in a budget-related item.

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State Pensions
3:30 am
Mon July 15, 2013

State Government Reform Activists Update Research on 2005 Pay Raise

State government reform activists are pointing to their annual update on the costs of Legislature-approved increases to their benefits as an illustration of why pension reform efforts are doomed.

Eric Epstein, founder of the group Rock the Capital, said the late-night pay raise lawmakers approved for themselves in 2005 has inspired the most ire among voters, but it's not the most costly thing lawmakers have done to boost their own benefits in the past 20 years.

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Law
4:49 pm
Sun July 14, 2013

Pennsylvania's Voter ID Law Gets Its Day In Court

The Penndot Drivers License Center in Butler, Pa., displays signs promoting the requirement for voters to show an acceptable photo ID at the polls. On Monday, a judge will rule on the constitutionality of the state's controversial voter ID law.
Keith Srakocic AP

Originally published on Sun July 14, 2013 11:13 pm

Pennsylvania's voter ID law will be back in state court Monday after more than a year of legal limbo. A state judge will decide whether the 2012 law — which hasn't been enforced — violates the state's constitution.

The measure requires voters to show a particular state-issued photo ID before casting ballots. Last week, civil rights advocates like the NAACP's John Jordan railed against the requirement.

"It's a ploy to take votes away from people who deserve them — veterans, seniors, students, people with disabilities, people of color and hard-working folk," Jordan said.

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Voter ID Law
7:46 am
Fri July 12, 2013

Opponents of Voter ID Rally Before Monday Trial

NAACP President Ben Jealous speaks in opposition of Pennsylvania's voter ID law at the Capitol rotunda Thursday.
Credit Mary Wilson / 90.5 WESA

Groups opposed to the state's voter ID law are gearing up for Monday's trial of the law in Commonwealth Court.

The full panoply of liberal political interests filled the Capitol rotunda Thursday. Roughly 150 people turned out — union members, environmental advocates and civil rights activists — all to protest Pennsylvania's law requiring people to have certain state-issued IDs to cast ballots.

The NAACP's national president Ben Jealous called Pennsylvania "ground zero for the fight for voting rights in the north."

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Wildlife
7:28 am
Wed July 10, 2013

Law Saves Boar Hunts, Knocks Back State Agency

So-called "canned hunts" of wild hogs aren't coming to an end in Pennsylvania, due to a new state law signed by the governor last month.

You might say state lawmakers came to the rescue of the roughly 20 wild boar hunting preserves in Pennsylvania — they passed a law taking away the state Game Commission's regulatory authority over the animals.

The agency had been trying to establish a statewide prohibition of feral swine, which have been known to rip up wild habitats and farmland and have been difficult to eradicate after they escape fenced-in preserves.

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Schools
11:23 am
Tue July 9, 2013

Grants for Guards Open to Public and Private Schools

Private schools will be able to compete for state grants to pay for armed security guards in Pennsylvania under a law recently signed by the governor.

Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati introduced the proposal in the wake of the school shootings in Newtown, Conn. His spokesman, Drew Crompton, said the state already gives money to private schools, so allowing them to compete for the grants isn't so far removed from current practice.

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Government & Politics
10:54 am
Tue July 9, 2013

Fiscal Code Outstanding Without a Vote in Sight

Republican state lawmakers are insisting the budget for this year was delivered on time, but a key companion bill called the fiscal code is missing, and no timetable has been set to send it to the governor.

The House has gaveled out for the summer, and a spokesman for the governor said Monday the House hasn't scheduled a day to come back to Harrisburg. For the time being, the earliest session day is September 23.

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Same-Sex Marriage
10:00 am
Tue July 9, 2013

Federal Suit Filed in PA to Force State to Allow Same-Sex Marriage

Susan Whitewood, of Allegheny County, speaks during a news conference about American Civil Liberties Union's lawsuit against the state's gay marriage ban.
Credit Mary Wilson / 90.5 WESA

The American Civil Liberties Union is filing a federal lawsuit in Pennsylvania to make the state recognize gay couples.

The suit comes two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal ban on gay marriage but left state prohibitions intact. Lawyers say this is the first federal case since to be filed challenging a state's gay marriage law.

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Transportation
3:30 am
Mon July 8, 2013

Bridges Could Be Weight-Restricted This Fall Without a Funding Plan

The state could put weight limits on aging bridges across Pennsylvania as early as this fall as a direct result of the failure in Harrisburg to pass a transportation funding plan.

The limit would require certain vehicles to find detours around bridges.

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Government & Politics
7:38 am
Thu July 4, 2013

State Senate, House at Odds Over Last-Minute Addition to Budget-Related Bill

State Senate lawmakers are sending a budget-related bill to the governor’s desk, after a committee went along with a House move to remove Medicaid expansion from the measure.
    
Republicans say adding the Medicaid plan back to the bill would have been wasted effort, since neither the House nor the governor is open to an expansion right now.
    
But Democratic Senator Vincent Hughes of Philadelphia said he’s disappointed, since the earlier Medicaid expansion language passed in the Senate with bipartisan support.  

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Government & Politics
7:38 am
Wed July 3, 2013

Lawmakers Urge Open Records Reforms for State-Related Universities

Pennsylvania's state-related universities have received mostly flat funding from the commonwealth for the second year running. With the struggle for their state aid long settled, some lawmakers are noting a tangential issue has been overshadowed: the level of transparency at the schools.

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Government & Politics
7:10 am
Mon July 1, 2013

State Budget Signed On Time, But Deadline Moves for Rest of Corbett's Agenda

Gov. Tom Corbett has signed an on-time budget, but he can claim zero victories on his other top priorities: liquor privatization, transportation funding or pension overhaul.
Credit Mary Wilson / 90.5 WESA

Gov. Tom Corbett has signed an on-time budget, but without any victories on his other top three legislative priorities.

Liquor privatization, transportation funding and pension overhaul will have to wait until the fall for further legislative action.

A transportation funding plan got stuck in the House. A bid to change how alcohol is sold in Pennsylvania stalled in the Senate. Pension overhaul is a plan neither chamber is ready to advance.

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State Government
3:30 am
Mon July 1, 2013

In Debate Over Tattoo Regulations, Arguments Have Been Inked Before

An effort to require tattoo artists in Pennsylvania to be licensed serves as an example of the kind of tug of war between those who support government regulations and those who see many of them as a threat to market competition.

Pennsylvania doesn't regulate tattoo parlors — something that Paul Garrison, owner of the Ink Splat tattoo shop in East Stroudsburg used to find quite strange.

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Liquor Privatization
10:18 am
Sat June 29, 2013

Alcohol Sales Overhaul Passes Senate on Party Lines

After days of negotiations, a plan to expand alcohol sales in Pennsylvania has the preliminary approval of the state Senate.

An amended proposal passed the chamber along party lines in the wee hours Saturday morning, with all 27 Republicans voting in its favor (the Senate voted to override its 11 p.m. curfew to pass the bill).

The proposal must clear another full Senate vote before it goes back to the House.

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Liquor Privatization
7:56 am
Fri June 28, 2013

Senate Republicans Search for Passable Alcohol Plan

The fizz hasn’t settled among state Senate Republicans over changes to a plan to expand the sale of beer, wine and liquor in Pennsylvania.

There are rumors — there are even bullet points of what Senate Republicans might change about an alcohol sales overhaul plan. Nothing’s solid.

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Transportation
3:49 pm
Thu June 27, 2013

Lawmakers Advance State Transportation Funding Bill

After days of false starts, a plan to fund Pennsylvania’s roads, bridges and mass transit has cleared a state House committee vote.
    
The roughly $2 billion proposal has received bipartisan support, though many Democrats say they still have concerns it contains too little money for mass transit.
    
Republican Transportation Committee Chairman Dick Hess said he’s open to more changes to the plan when it’s up for a vote before the full House.

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Government & Politics
7:15 am
Thu June 27, 2013

Plan to Change Charity Tax Law Clears First Big Hurdle

State lawmakers are one step closer to wresting control over tax-exempt charity decision from the courts.

The House has passed a constitutional amendment to put the Legislature in charge of deciding whether an organization qualifies as what's called a purely public charity. The distinction excuses title-bearers from paying property taxes.

A recent state court ruling limited lawmakers' power to broaden the definition. House Republicans argued Wednesday the proposed amendment is a simple way to reassert legislative authority.

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Transportation
7:18 am
Wed June 26, 2013

House Struggles with Transportation Funding

When it comes to money for fixing roads, bridges and mass transit, state House lawmakers are struggling to even get a plan out of committee.

What's clear is House Republican leaders want a transportation infrastructure funding plan that spends less than the $2.5 billion the Senate proposed. What's not clear is how they'll make the bill palatable to enough Republicans and Democrats to pass the bill out of committee, let alone the full chamber.

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Government & Politics
7:15 am
Wed June 26, 2013

When Will State Lawmakers Wrap Up the Spring Session? Depends Who You Ask

State lawmakers and the governor's office don't seem to be in agreement about when they'll break for the summer.

Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati said Tuesday he's not open to the idea of scheduling session days in July.

"We still have before us the ability and, I think, the will to get issues done," Scarnati said. "We will clearly be able to have the budget done and the accompanying bills before June 30."

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Government & Politics
6:55 am
Tue June 25, 2013

Seeing Double, Senate Panel Approves Alcohol Sales Plans

A plan to expand access to wine, beer, and booze is advancing in the state Senate, though more changes are likely, and Republican support is far from certain.

The Senate's counter-offer to the House's bid to privatize the state's liquor system cleared a key committee by a close vote. Technically, the panel signed off on two bills — identical twin proposals that would allow certain retailers to sell beer, wine and liquor, and allow for the Liquor Control Board to discern when to shut down state stores due to anemic profits.

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