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
9:28 am
Thu September 25, 2014

Medical Marijuana Bill Heads To House

A bill to legalize medical marijuana has passed the state Senate with overwhelming support and now heads to an uncertain future in the House.

The GOP House majority leader opposes the measure.

But one Republican in House leadership is on the record in favor of medical marijuana. And within the past week, Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery) has scaled up his ambition for pushing the plan. It used to be a next-year priority. Now, Vereb is trying to send it to the governor within the next month.

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Government & Politics
5:33 pm
Wed September 24, 2014

Corbett Signs Philadelphia Schools Cigarette Tax Bill

Gov. Tom Corbett has signed a long-awaited measure to let Philadelphia levy a tax on $2-per-pack tax on cigarettes to raise money for its schools.

Supporters heralded the bipartisan effort required to pass the tax authorization. The tax, along with a city sales tax increase and borrowing, will help the Philadelphia school district bridge an $81 million deficit.

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Government & Politics
10:41 pm
Tue September 23, 2014

PA Senate Poised To Pass Medical Marijuana Legislation

A proposal to legalize certain kinds of medical marijuana will go to the full Senate for consideration Wednesday.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi said he expects the measure to pass after it received overwhelming and bipartisan approval from the Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday afternoon.

The panel's lengthy debate revealed concerns that there hasn’t been sufficient medical research on marijuana. But supporters said their sympathies are with parents of children afflicted with seizures who are desperate for a better treatment.

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Election 2014
8:05 am
Tue September 23, 2014

Corbett Shows Spunk In Debate, But Perhaps Too Late

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, left, and Democrat Tom Wolf shake hands at the end of a gubernatorial debate hosted by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry on Monday in Hershey, Pa.
Credit Matt Rourke / The Associated Press

The stakes were high for Republican Gov. Tom Corbett going into his first debate with Tom Wolf, his Democratic challenger.

An averaging of recent polls shows the governor trailing by double digits.

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Government & Politics
7:54 am
Tue September 23, 2014

Wolf: PA Cities Need More Than Pork

It’s not easy being a city in Pennsylvania.

But Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf said part of the problem is inside our own heads.

“We now think cities are sort of basket cases,” said Wolf on Monday. “They’re not. Cities are the wave of the future. Dense population centers are what people really want ... one of the things that we have to start with is the assumption that cities really have a strong future.”

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Mon September 22, 2014

Would-Be Reformers Get An I.O.U. On Gift Ban

Government reform advocates have long pushed for tighter ethics laws, and indignation was in abundant supply this year after state lawmakers were dogged by scandals.

But after much talk, the leader of the Senate GOP is pledging to support a full gift prohibition — next year.

The ban, proposed by a couple Senate Republicans, would apply to public officials and public employees across the state.

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Government & Politics
5:37 pm
Wed September 17, 2014

State Audit Expanded To Review Tomalis

The state’s top fiscal watchdog says an ongoing audit of the state Department of Education will now also look into certain employees, including Ron Tomalis, the former secretary and special advisor to the governor who resigned under a cloud of criticism this past August.

Democratic Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said the in-progress audit will review special advisors, contractors and short-term employees.

“It’s not just about Mr. Tomalis,” DePasquale said. “It’s an issue broadly about are people being hired and they don’t have an actual role to play?”

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Government & Politics
10:34 pm
Tue September 16, 2014

Advocates Applaud Stronger Human Trafficking Penalties

Two weeks into the implementation of Pennsylvania's new law to crack down on human trafficking, supporters took a victory lap in the state Capitol rotunda.

The law clarifies what constitutes labor and sex trafficking, sets harsher penalties, and allows law enforcement to differentiate offenders from victims.

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Government & Politics
10:31 pm
Tue September 16, 2014

Corbett Says He's Not Convinced Racy E-mails Exist

With a judge considering whether to release allegedly inappropriate e-mails circulated by attorney general employees, Gov. Tom Corbett said he's still not positive the e-mails exist as they've been described.

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Government & Politics
8:07 am
Tue September 16, 2014

Medical Cannabis Gets A Hand From Top House Republican

The state House may not snuff out a medical marijuana legalization plan, after all.

A top House Republican is supporting an effort to legalize medical cannabis in Pennsylvania, in the first indication that the opposition of the chamber’s majority could thaw.

At a rally on the Capitol steps Monday, Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery) said his change of heart on the issue came after seeing footage of seizure-stricken children whose severe epilepsy could be treated with cannabis.

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Government & Politics
8:03 am
Tue September 16, 2014

State To Borrow From Treasury To Pay Bills

For the second year in a row, the state will have to borrow money from its treasury to cover basic operating expenses.

The Corbett administration’s budget office has taken out a line of credit with the state’s Treasury Department, authorizing transfers of as much as $1.5 billion.

Gary Tuma, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Treasury, said the state hasn’t resorted to this kind of maneuver so early in the fiscal year before.

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Election 2014
7:54 am
Fri September 12, 2014

Poll Shows Wolf Having a 'Prohibitive' Lead Over Corbett

A recent poll of likely voters in Pennsylvania finds Gov. Tom Corbett trailing his Democratic challenger, Tom Wolf.
Credit Matt Rourke / The Associated Press

A Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters in Pennsylvania finds Gov. Tom Corbett is 24 points behind his Democratic challenger, Tom Wolf.

Fifty-nine percent of respondents said they would vote for the York County businessman, with 35 percent supporting Corbett. The figures include people leaning toward voting for either candidate.

Fifteen percent of respondents said they could change their minds.

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Government & Politics
7:58 am
Thu September 11, 2014

Medical Marijuana Proposal Faces An Uncertain Future

A plan to legalize medical marijuana could be taken up by the full state Senate in the four weeks the Legislature is scheduled to be in session this fall.

The measure to create a regulatory framework for growing and prescribing medical cannabis got a key Senate committee vote in June.       

GOP Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi said Wednesday that his caucus will discuss next week whether they can pass the plan.

“It has broad support in the caucus,” Pileggi said. “I haven’t counted heads, and I can’t tell you if it’s 13 or 23.”

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Transportation
9:54 am
Wed September 10, 2014

PennDOT’s First Public-Private Effort Hits The Road

The state is rolling out its first public-private partnership since a 2012 law allowed such joint efforts for transportation infrastructure and services.

A nearly 20-year-old highway safety truck service now has a private sponsor in State Farm, which is paying 11 percent of the annual $4 million cost for the roving patrols on highways in and around Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, the Lehigh Valley and Harrisburg.

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Health Care
7:52 am
Wed September 10, 2014

Would Full Medicaid Expansion In PA Cause Coverage Glitches?

The federally-approved waiver for Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania is set to begin covering hundreds of thousands of newly eligible Pennsylvanians in January. Depending on who’s governor-elect at that point, there may be some changes.

Democratic nominee Tom Wolf has said he would implement a full Medicaid expansion if elected governor in November.

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Government & Politics
8:10 am
Tue September 9, 2014

State Police Say Proposal To Change PA Liquor Laws Misses The Point

Pennsylvania State Police tasked with enforcing the commonwealth's liquor code say a new proposal to make it OK to buy booze across the state border misses the point.

A new state House plan would allow Pennsylvanians to buy alcohol across state lines and bring it back for personal consumption — or to be reimbursed for the now-contraband beverages they buy for friends and family.

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Election 2014
8:03 am
Tue September 9, 2014

Wolf Contends He Can Gain Support From GOP-Dominated Legislature

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf speaks at a campaign stop in Dauphin County Monday.
Credit Mary Wilson / 90.5 WESA

At a campaign stop in Dauphin County, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf said he’s not concerned about the prospect of working with a Republican-dominated Legislature.

“It’s leadership. It’s bringing people together,” he said. “It’s actually getting up out of your chair, getting out from behind your desk, walking down, bringing people together, giving people a compelling vision about what we need to do to make Pennsylvania better, and working with them to come up with solutions – not just sitting back at your desk.”

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Mon September 8, 2014

LGBT Group Looks to 2015 for Ban on Discrimination

The General Assembly's fall session doesn't begin until Sept. 15, but the state's leading advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Pennsylvanians is already closing the book on an anti-discrimination measure that picked up unprecedented, bipartisan support.

"At the current moment, with nine days left in the session, I don't hold out a lot of hope that the bill will pass this year," said Ted Martin, head of Equality PA.

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Pension
10:41 am
Fri September 5, 2014

Report: State Worker Pensions Set 'Arbitrarily'

It seems that every few months Pennsylvania’s famously underfunded public pension systems receive some new low ranking or grade. The latest reproach takes issue with the way pension payouts are determined – based on age and years worked.

A report by the nonpartisan Urban Institute calls the rules setting state retirement benefits arbitrary. It restricted its analysis to employees hired in 2013 who will receive pension benefits through the State Employee Retirement System, or SERS:

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Health
7:55 am
Fri September 5, 2014

Doctors Eye Prescription Tracking Bills

For about a year, state lawmakers have considered how to make it easier to track prescription drug abuse in Pennsylvania. Supporters say a plan to expand a patient database may be close to final passage.

The commonwealth already has a database to track the drugs most prone to abuse. Pending legislation would expand the tool to include prescriptions that treat migraines, seizures, and anxiety, as well as some cough medicines. Once in the database, those prescriptions would be subject to a dragnet by doctors, pharmacists, and (to an as yet unknown degree) law enforcement.

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Health Care
8:10 am
Wed September 3, 2014

PA’s Medicaid Enrollees Could See Benefit Cuts

Policy analysts are staying tuned for additional changes to Medicaid benefits for current enrollees in Pennsylvania.

Federal officials set aside Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposal to curb Medicaid benefits when they considered his overall plan to expand health care coverage for the working poor by using private insurance plans. But the changes still under negotiation could limit things like wheelchairs, homecare visits and physical therapy for Medicaid enrollees.

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Environment & Energy
7:50 am
Tue September 2, 2014

State Senate Candidate Calls For Drilling Extraction Tax

Another Republican, this time a candidate for state Senate, is voicing support for a tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas drillers, largely a pet issue of Democrats.

Tom McGarrigle, running for a Delaware County seat, joins several sitting GOP senators who also support an extraction tax  to raise money for schools, infrastructure or pension obligations.

But it doesn’t mean an extraction tax is imminent.

Slapping natural gas drillers with a new tax is something more frequently proposed by Democrats.

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Mon September 1, 2014

PA Lawmaker Says State's DUI Penalties Are 'Too Slight'

A tragic car accident that claimed the life of a teenage girl in Lancaster County has moved Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster) to call on his colleagues to help toughen up Pennsylvania's laws against drunk driving.

"The consequences for offenders still seem far too slight in contrast to the pain of the families who lose loved ones, or who must deal with those whose lives are forever changed and limited by the kind of serious injuries that have been sustained," Smucker said.

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Mon September 1, 2014

How the Rate of Return Affects State Public Pension Debt

The state owes about $50 billion to its two public pension funds, which pay out retirement benefits to state and public school employees.
               
But the debt would be larger if one little figure were adjusted: the rate of return.

It’s what the pension funds assume they’ll make on investments. The higher it is, the less the commonwealth must pay up front for retirement benefits.

The current rate is seven-and-a-half percent, and some economists say it would be more realistic if it were lowered.

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Health Care
4:13 pm
Thu August 28, 2014

Feds Approve Corbett’s Alternative to Medicaid Expansion

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett
Credit Matt Rourke / The Associated Press

The federal government has approved Gov. Tom Corbett’s alternative to Medicaid expansion, the culmination of a roughly year-long negotiation to use federal money to subsidize private insurance plans for low-income Pennsylvanians.

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Education
8:02 am
Thu August 28, 2014

Teachers Union Says Less Money Equals Lower Test Scores

A report compiled by the state’s largest teachers union is linking education funding cuts to lower student achievement.
 
The Pennsylvania State Education Association says standardized test scores dropped in reading and math for third through sixth graders from the 2010-11 through 2012-13 school years, according to state data.
 
The examined period includes the year before Gov. Tom Corbett took office and the first two years of his term.
 

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Government & Politics
7:58 am
Thu August 28, 2014

Poll Shows Summer Stasis, With Wolf Still Ahead Of Corbett

The Pennsylvania gubernatorial race hasn’t tightened, despite a summer of campaigning and a steady stream of television ads for both candidates.
 
A new Franklin & Marshall College poll shows incumbent Republican Gov. Tom Corbett trailing his Democratic challenger Tom Wolf by 25 points.
 
Forty-nine percent of registered voters surveyed said they’d vote for the York County businessman, with 24 percent favoring Corbett. Responses among likely voters, said Poll Director Terry Madonna, showed no difference. Nor has the needle moved much since F&M’s June poll.

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Education
7:58 am
Tue August 26, 2014

Study Finds 'De Facto' Segregation Among PA Charter Schools

Charter schools in Pennsylvania are defined by their flexibility and freedom from many state regulations.

A new study shows they’re also marked by their lack of diversity.  

Penn State researchers found “de facto patterns of school segregation along racial and ethnic lines” in a study of brick-and-mortar charter schools.

“They’re sorting themselves into homogenous schools,” said Erica Frankenberg, a member of the research team and an assistant professor at Penn State’s College of Education.

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Higher Education
5:18 pm
Mon August 25, 2014

PSU President Mum on Board Reforms

The new president of Penn State is staying mum on proposed reforms to the school’s Board of Trustees.

Legislation to whittle down the current board from 30 to 23 voting members cleared a state Senate committee in June, but Eric Barron, named president in February, refused to offer his own opinion of such a move.

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Government & Politics
10:33 am
Wed August 20, 2014

Lame-Duck Sessions Unlikely in PA Legislature, For Now

It doesn’t look like lame ducks will vote in the state Legislature this year.

Of course, that could change. House leaders say they haven’t discussed whether they would hold votes after the November election. Senate leaders have said they may call a lame-duck session for some kind of emergency.

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