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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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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State Government
12:14 pm
Fri May 31, 2013

State AG: Proposed Funding Increase Not Enough to Stave Off Furloughs

Pennsylvania’s top fiscal watchdog isn’t sure an offer from state House Republicans to hike his agency’s funding could prevent some of the layoffs planned for mid-June.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said the proposed $2.6 million increase wouldn’t be enough to bring back all 67 people throughout the state who are slated to lose their positions.

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Transportation
6:33 am
Fri May 31, 2013

Corbett Administration Again Pushes Transportation Plan

Gov. Tom Corbett is in call-to-action mode, urging passage of a transportation funding proposal for the second time in a week.

A $2.5 billion plan is expected to be passed by the full Senate within the next two weeks.

But the real question is whether House Republicans will vote for a bill that does things like hike driver’s license fees and uncap a tax paid by gas stations.

PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch said he’s been going to each House lawmaker to explain what’s at stake.

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State Government
6:21 am
Thu May 30, 2013

State Senate Pension Hearing Offers Few Answers

State Senate lawmakers are beginning the public vetting of a three-part proposal from the governor's office to deal with the state's multi-billion dollar pension debt.

Months of debate leading up to the hearing have only made the groups on either side of the issue seem as entrenched as ever.

Gerry Oleksiak, vice president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, reiterated the unions' position that the governor's plan to reduce the future benefits of current employees is an unconstitutional breach of contract.

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State Government
1:10 pm
Wed May 29, 2013

House GOP Unveil $28.3 Billion Spending Plan

If the governor's budget address is the overture to budget negotiations, a proposal from the House Majority leadership is Act One.

State House Republicans are putting a bill in place for legislative action as spending negotiations get underway. The $28.3 billion dollar outline comes in at about $110 million less than the governor's budget.

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Liquor Privatization
4:14 pm
Tue May 28, 2013

Lt. Gov. Calls on 'Deliberative' State Senators to Support Liquor Privatization Plan

A series of hearings on liquor privatization in Pennsylvania will soon come to an end in the state Senate.

Lawmakers next week plan to finish up a trio of gatherings spurred by the House’s passage of a plan in March to phase out the state’s wine and spirits stores.

Gov. Tom Corbett has blasted state senators for dragging their feet on the issue. But Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, who helped draft the administration’s privatization plan, has said the Senate has always been “deliberative.”

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Education
3:42 pm
Tue May 28, 2013

Special Education Funding Formula in the Spotlight

A new panel in charge of coming up with a different funding formula for special education in Pennsylvania is in place.

The commission of state lawmakers and a few members of the governor’s cabinet will attempt to find a replacement for the current formula, which doles out money based on a set percentage of each school district’s enrollment.

State Republican Representative Bernie O’Neill of Bucks County pushed for the panel for years.

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Tue May 28, 2013

A Capitol Pastime, Linkage Becomes a Fighting Word

Rumblings of horse trading, linking issues and leverage have the Senate's minority leader up in arms. Democrat Jay Costa said recently he's worried the Pennsylvania House will hold transportation funding hostage.

It's not the first time Senate Democrats have voiced such a concern. But Costa was especially emphatic discussing it during a Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon in Harrisburg last week.

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Open Records
9:26 pm
Mon May 27, 2013

State-Related Universities Raise Concerns Over Transparency Proposals

One key question at the heart of a push for more transparency at Pennsylvania’s four state-related universities may keep legislative proposals in park for some time.

Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln are all largely exempt from the state’s open records law, while Pennsylvania’s state-owned universities are held to the standard.

Proposals to get rid of the exemption have been proposed in the House and Senate. The universities have raised concerns or outright opposition to the plans.

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State Government
9:09 pm
Mon May 27, 2013

Plan Would Give Pennsylvania Schools Letter Grades

A state House proposal aims to make the state attach a simple letter grade to each school and school district in the commonwealth.

The A through F grades would be based on data that’s already being collected.

National education reform organization StudentsFirst supports the proposal.

State director Ashley DeMauro said the report cards would be based on student and teacher performance, relative progress and things like attendance and graduation rates.

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Government & Politics
9:28 am
Fri May 24, 2013

Governor Asks for Backup on His To-Do List

Gov. Tom Corbett is asking for help pushing through the major items on his legislative agenda: liquor privatization, transportation funding and an overhaul of the state's pension systems.

During his Thursday morning address to the capital area chamber of commerce, he banged on the podium as he issued his first call to action on the plan before the state Senate to phase out state wine and spirits stores.

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Veterans
6:32 am
Thu May 23, 2013

Casey Reintroduces Tax Credit Bill for Veterans

Pennsylvania's Democratic U.S. senator is taking another whack at knocking down the unemployment rate among military veterans with a proposed tax credit.

Sen. Bob Casey said Wednesday the tax credit would help veterans or their spouses purchase franchises. They would be able to write off 25 percent of the franchise fee, or up to $100,000.

In a conference call with reporters, Casey likened the tax credit to the GI bill funding veterans' college education, saying it's another way to help veterans establish themselves as civilians.

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Standardized Testing
11:09 am
Wed May 22, 2013

Corbett Orders Short Delay to Tweak Common Core

Gov. Tom Corbett has ordered a delay in the adoption of new high stakes standardized tests for public schools in Pennsylvania.

The new Pennsylvania Common Core standards were supposed to be implemented in July. The class of 2017 would need to pass the subject-specific tests before graduating.

But Education Department spokesman Tim Eller says the postponement won’t result in any major changes.

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Environment
7:21 pm
Tue May 21, 2013

Game Commission to Track Newly Hatched Peregrine Falcons in Harrisburg

The Pennsylvania Game Commission Tuesday affixed special tracking bands to the legs of peregrine falcons that have hatched atop a state office building in Harrisburg.

The agency has been monitoring the offspring of falcons nesting on the building ledge since 2000 as part of an effort to help the recovery of a bird that is on the state’s endangered species list.

Game Commission biologist Art McMorris said the falcon population may improve enough to come off that list in the next decade.

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Government & Politics
7:09 am
Tue May 21, 2013

PA Senators Wait for Answers from IRS

Members of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee will put their questions to the IRS acting commissioner Tuesday, and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey says he wants to know who first authorized extra scrutiny of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.

The ranking Republican and Democrat on the committee sent a letter last week to acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller asking 41 questions.

The letter refers to an inspector general's report that found improper screening of groups began in 2010, stopped in 2011, and then began again early in 2012.

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Government & Politics
5:38 pm
Mon May 20, 2013

Reform Activists Get Head Start on Campaign to Oust PA's Top Judge

Government reform activists say they’re getting a head start on their campaign against Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille.

The group Rock the Capital is listing 10 problems with Castille’s tenure, blasting the judge for what they  describe as unethical behavior and incompetence in running the state’s court system.

Report author and longtime activist Tim Potts said he wants to hold debate-like forums with the Chief Justice on judicial administration and ethics, and why he thinks Castille should not get to stay on the bench.

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Government & Politics
11:19 am
Mon May 20, 2013

Polls Show Rising Support for Legalizing Medical Marijuana in PA

Gov. Tom Corbett won’t be budged by public opinion polls when it comes to marijuana.

Support is high for legalizing the drug when obtained with a doctor’s prescription.

But Corbett has said making medical marijuana legal will not rule out abuse of the drug, because prescription drugs are abused now.  

"This is a gateway to many other drugs," he said. "I believe we have a drug problem in this country. We have a drug problem in the state of Pennsylvania."

Corbett made his remarks on the Radio Pennsylvania “Ask the Governor” program.

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State Government
3:30 am
Mon May 20, 2013

PA Senate Dems Push Medicaid Expansion with Procedural Maneuver

State Senate Democrats are trying to compel the state to participate in a Medicaid expansion by using what's called a discharge resolution.

Senate staffers on both sides of the aisle are at a loss to remember the last time this kind of maneuver was successful. It doesn't preclude the majority party from sidestepping a vote on the measure in question.

But that's not stopping Sen. Vincent Hughes.

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State Government
6:01 pm
Fri May 17, 2013

Open Records Chief Calls Charter Schools Scofflaws

The head of the state's Office of Open Records is pointing a finger at public charter schools for being the "cancer" of the state's Right-to-Know law.

The testimony comes as lawmakers are in the midst of an effort to tweak the state's five-year-old law, which lets citizens request government records starting with the presumption that all such documents are public, putting the burden of proof on agencies, not citizens.

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George M. Leader, 1918-2013
4:28 pm
Thu May 16, 2013

Family, Friends Gather to Remember Former Gov. George Leader

Family, friends and fixtures of state politics are remembering former Pennsylvania Gov. George Leader for being a tireless tinkerer — a man inspired by new ideas and always ready to go on to the next thing.

Leader died at age 95 last week. At a memorial service Thursday in Hershey, Dauphin County, his children recounted stories of their father and poked fun at his memory, at turns resisting and then contributing to a growing legend about one of the state’s most beloved governors.

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