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
6:50 am
Tue June 25, 2013

House Puts Off Panel Vote on Transportation Plan

State House Republicans are preparing major changes to a bill to fund roads, bridges and mass transit, despite warning cries from some of their colleagues in the Senate.

The $1.8 billion plan doesn't include any of the traffic violation fines or motorist fee increases lawmakers were grumbling about. But it still uncaps a tax paid by gas stations, doing so over 10 years, instead of three, as the Senate proposed.

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State Government
6:56 am
Mon June 24, 2013

Crunch Time for Corbett's Agenda, and State Budget

As the state budget deadline looms, lawmakers are still considering Gov. Tom Corbett's "big three" priorities: pension reforms, transportation funding and liquor reform.
Credit 90.5 WESA

The state budget deadline is days away, but the spending plan is practically an afterthought to lawmakers as Gov. Tom Corbett's other priorities remain unresolved.

A scaled-back pension overhaul proposal is advancing in the Senate and still needs House approval. But it's not the subject of intense disagreement between the chambers, as Senate GOP spokesman Erik Arneson notes is true of other items on the governor's to-do list, like transportation funding and liquor privatization.

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State Government
10:16 am
Fri June 21, 2013

Child Protection Bill Passes, But With Parent's Caution

A state House proposal to make it easier for some to report suspected child abuse is headed to the Senate, though concerns voiced before a final vote suggest some misgivings about legislating a solution to problems of child abuse — that doing so could interfere with parents who discipline their kids with a smack.

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Veterans
4:02 pm
Thu June 20, 2013

Bill Could Make Free Counseling More Available to Veterans

The state House is advancing a proposal to make it easier for military veterans to receive free mental health counseling in less formal settings.

The bill would change licensing rules to allow retired mental health professionals to volunteer their services through approved groups serving veterans and their families, as well as military personnel.

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Government & Politics
12:09 pm
Thu June 20, 2013

House GOP Drops Speeding Ticket Surcharge Idea

An effort to slap a $100 surcharge on speeding tickets to help fund mass transit in Pennsylvania looks to be dead in the water, as one House member said Wednesday.

The proposal is part of a $2.5 billion plan to fund roads, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure that has passed in the Senate. The surcharge revenue would be specifically routed for public transportation.

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State Pensions
4:36 pm
Wed June 19, 2013

Senate Panel Moves Scaled-Back Pension Overhaul

A state Senate committee has approved a scaled-down version of the governor's pension overhaul plan to address the commonwealth's pension debt.

The bill was re-written to include just one of the three prongs of Gov. Tom Corbett's proposal — one that has been said to be far more palatable to legislators. The measure would enroll most future state and school employees into a 401(k)-style plan, instead of the traditional defined-benefit plan that locks in payouts according to a formula known in advance.

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State Government
12:04 pm
Wed June 19, 2013

Squabble over Business Tax as School Problems Loom Larger

Three big issues have dominated the state budget debate, but with less than two weeks before June 30, one lawmaker is suggesting poor schools are getting short shrift.

"Pensions, transportation, liquor — they're being resolved as we speak," said Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia). "Education has not been resolved, and it can actually affect whether we get a budget or not."

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Government & Politics
7:41 am
Wed June 19, 2013

For House GOP, Repealing Wage Law 'Integral' to Transportation Bill

Negotiations over a $2.5 billion plan to fix Pennsylvania's roads and bridges could include getting rid of state-set wages that increase the cost of road repair projects.

Many House Republicans have long opposed of the state's prevailing wage law, saying it typically sets the pay for public works projects at union rates, and boosts costs to local governments by as much as 20 percent.

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Liquor Privatization
7:32 am
Wed June 19, 2013

Senate GOP Calls Its Alcohol Sales Plan A 'Starting Point'

State Senate GOP leaders have presented a counter-offer to the state House's liquor privatization plan, though they admit they don't yet have the votes to pass it out of their chamber.

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Liquor Privatization
4:58 pm
Mon June 17, 2013

Details Scarce as Senate GOP Wrangles Votes on Liquor Bill

State Senate Republicans are expected to offer their own counter-proposal to the House's plan to phase out state wine and spirits stores and privatize the state's wholesale operation.

But details of the proposal are still under wraps. When asked for a status update on the bill, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jake Corman (R-Centre) said, with a laugh, "That's a great question."

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State Government
11:51 am
Mon June 17, 2013

Gift Disclosures Here, But Not For Long

"If we decide if something doesn't have value and destroy it or don't take it, then it's gone forever," said State Archives Director David Haury. "This is a serious responsibility."
Credit Mary Wilson / 90.5 WESA

Anyone with Internet access will be able to read the 2012 financial interest statements disclosing gifts accepted by public officials — like Turkish robes for the governor and Waterford crystal for the lieutenant governor.

But after five years, the state Ethics Commission doesn't keep such records on hand. Within the past few years, the Pennsylvania State Archives decided it would stop taking them, and it destroyed old disclosure forms going back to 1979.

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Government & Politics
12:59 pm
Thu June 13, 2013

DCNR Chief's Resignation 'Asked For and Received'

Another member of the Corbett administration is out: Richard Allan, head of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, has resigned.

The news came in a press release from the governor's office, which said the resignation was "asked for" and would be effective immediately.

No reason was given for Allan's departure.

"It's a personnel matter so I can't discuss it, other than to say that it has nothing to do with any differences of public policy," said Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley.

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Transportation
9:45 am
Thu June 13, 2013

Speeding Ticket Surcharge May Be On Chopping Block

State lawmakers may take issue with making speeding tickets cost any more than they already do.

A proposal to tack a $100 surcharge on moving violations was the subject of questions at a Wednesday House Transportation Committee hearing on the $2.5 billion transportation funding proposal.

The revenue generated from the surcharge would be slated for mass transit, and with a number of rural House lawmakers already balking at funding mass transit systems, the proposal might be one of the least popular items in a bill full of unpalatable revenue generators.

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State Government
3:41 pm
Wed June 12, 2013

Corbett Pushes Liquor Privatization Ahead of Expected Action in Senate

At an umpteenth press conference called by the governor on liquor privatization, press aides futzed around, arranging a people asked to stand around the podium with ready smiles and applause.

The state Senate is next to act in this saga that began with a plan to close down the state wine and spirits stores.

State lawmakers have less than three weeks before the governor's deadline for passing a liquor privatization bill. Much is still unknown about how the process will unfold.

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State Government
7:19 am
Wed June 12, 2013

House Puts Off Budget Vote Until Wednesday

State House GOP leaders expect to send a $28.3 billion budget proposal to the Senate on Wednesday. The move is largely procedural, since closed-door budget negotiations are still ongoing.

The House was originally slated to vote on the spending plan late Tuesday afternoon. But since final remarks on the floor were expected to go on into the evening, the final vote was put off.

"We clearly have the votes. The votes aren't a question," said Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery). "There's nobody getting beat up tonight, there's nobody getting sequestered."

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Transportation
4:24 pm
Tue June 11, 2013

Cylists Call On State Lawmakers to Keep Proposed $2 Million For Lane Planning

Bicycle and walking enthusiasts took to the state Capitol steps Tuesday to urge lawmakers to maintain money set aside for lane and pathway planning in a transportation funding bill.

The state Senate's $2.5 billion transportation funding proposal includes $2 million for planning for pedestrian and bicycle lanes.

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State Government
12:26 pm
Tue June 11, 2013

Corbett, Counties Push Block Grant Expansion

Several county commissioners and state lawmakers are joining Gov. Tom Corbett in a push to expand a pilot program to change the way counties receive human services funding.

The proposal is one of the governor's lower-profile budget priorities. He wants to allow all counties to receive their state funding for seven distinct human services in a single block grant.

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State Government
6:54 am
Tue June 11, 2013

Union Rallies Against Corbett's Budget, Pension Plans

An estimated 350 state and public sector workers rallied at the state Capitol Monday to call for more funding for education and human services.

Members of the Service Employees International Union also urged Gov. Tom Corbett to drop his calls for pension overhaul, which would include reducing the future benefits of current state and public school employees.

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Transportation
9:40 am
Thu June 6, 2013

State Senate Passes Transportation Bill

The state Senate has passed a transportation funding plan, after years of calls for action and months of legislative discussions.

By the fifth year of the plan's implementation, the state would be yielding $2.5 billion. The money would come largely from higher driver's license and vehicle registration fees, surcharges on traffic violations, and the removal of the cap on a tax paid by gas stations.

"Or as some people like to call them, user fees," said Sen. John Rafferty pointedly on the Senate floor Wednesday.

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State Government
3:59 pm
Wed June 5, 2013

State Lawmakers Propose Expanded Definition of Child Abuse

State lawmakers are getting ready to move forward with proposals to expand the definition of child abuse in Pennsylvania in an effort to flag more incidents of suspected mistreatment.

The changes come at the suggestion of a task force convened last year to study child protection laws and issues.

Attorney Jason Kutulakis, a member of the panel, said the commonwealth’s legal definition of child abuse must be expanded and made clearer.

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Government & Politics
12:34 pm
Wed June 5, 2013

PASSHE Guns Review Continues, with Unclear Mandate

A task force's review of weapons policies at Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities could last through the beginning of the fall semester.

The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) is re-examining gun policies after state lawyers raised concerns that campus-wide bans of firearms possession could be vulnerable to state and federal constitutional challenges.

Kenn Marshall, a state system spokesman, says schools have been advised to create site-specific bans in the meantime.

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Liquor Privatization
4:46 pm
Tue June 4, 2013

Senate's Last Liquor Hearing Comes with Spirited Debate

Tempers flared at the third and final state Senate hearing focused on the governor's liquor privatization proposal and related plans to change the way alcohol is bought and sold in Pennsylvania.

By the end, the committee's chairman was barely closer to nailing down the details of a proposal, saying a final plan should allow Pennsylvanians to buy alcohol in "more places," while phasing out the state wine and spirits stores, and without necessarily getting rid of the state-owned wholesale system.

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State Government
10:48 am
Tue June 4, 2013

Silos May Be in the Offing for More Counties' Human Services Programs

The fate of a pilot program affecting county human services programs is getting more scrutiny this week as state lawmakers consider proposals to expand it gradually or scrap it altogether.

The pilot program allows 20 counties to collapse the funding of several distinct human services into one big funding pot, removing the constraints on each service’s designated silo of funding and giving administrators more control over how the money is divvied up.

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State Government
3:54 pm
Mon June 3, 2013

Senate Dems Offer Their Own Budget Proposal

As lawmakers in the state House teed up the legislative vehicle for a state budget Monday morning, Senate Democrats offered their view on what the final spending plan should look like.

The Senate Democrats' plan amounts to about $28.4 billion — roughly $56 million above what the governor proposed. It depends on the so-called modernization of the state's liquor system, keeping a business tax the governor wants to eliminate, and the state's participation in a federally authorized expansion of the Medicaid program.

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Pennsylvania
3:30 am
Mon June 3, 2013

Recently Installed Gas Tubes at Risk for Lightning-Caused Fires

A certain kind of gas tubing may be putting Pennsylvania homeowners at risk of gas leaks and fires in the event of a lightning strike.

Bright yellow, flexible gas tubing made of corrugated stainless steel has been linked to lightning-induced fires in states like Maryland, Indiana, Ohio and New Hampshire in what appears to be a case of industry code lagging behind the technology.

In recent years, both manufacturers and the national fuel gas code have adopted new guidelines for installing the tubing to rule out fires caused by lightning strikes.

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