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.

The state Senate is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a proposal to legalize medical marijuana, a move that would send the measure to the House for the second time in two years.

The bill poised for a vote would allow doctors and nurse practitioners to recommend medical marijuana as treatment for more than a dozen ailments, including epilepsy, Crohn's disease and chronic pain.

The state Senate GOP's plan to change to the state's pension system is a heavy political lift that remains untested in the Legislature.

After months of silence on the details of a pension overhaul proposal, Republican leaders are gearing up for a fast and furious week. They expect to receive an actuarial analysis Tuesday on how much their proposed changes could save for the retirement systems' collective $53 billion liability. By the end of the week, they expect to hold a final vote on the bill. The measure would close the traditional pension system to any new workers and ask more of the employees enrolled in it now.

Mary Wilson / WITF

State Senate Republican leaders want to make current state and school employees pay more toward their retirement to help shore up a severely underfunded system.

The same plan would also enroll future state and school employees in a 401(k)-style retirement plan more common in the private sector, closing the state's defined-benefit pension system to new entrants.

State House lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to shrink their 203-seat chamber down to 153 posts. Members also passed a plan to take the Senate from 50 to 37 seats.

Similar attempts to shed some seats in the state legislature haven't been successful for the past few years.

Proponents of the changes say the House, in particular, is too big to do its job efficiently. 

The state’s Independent Fiscal Office is not revising its estimated commonwealth spending gap of $1.6 billion for the current and upcoming fiscal years.

That’s in spite of a spike in revenues observed in the IFO’s latest report.

Tax collections have yielded $594 million more than the agency expected, but the lion’s share of that money is from corporate net income taxes, and it’s still a mystery why the haul is so large.

A panel tasked with creating a fairer way of doling out state funding to school districts in Pennsylvania is expected to wrap up its work in early June, just weeks before the state budget deadline, when lawmakers expect a crush of issues to crowd the negotiation table.

For the past year, the Basic Education Funding Commission has spent the past year studying funding methods and developing its suggestions for funding Pennsylvania education — a system with the largest gap between rich and poor school districts of any state in the country.

Gov. Tom Wolf is opening his cabinet’s expense books up to the public. Department heads and select top aides have put their fuel costs, car leases, hotel bills and other expenses online.

Spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan said this is the first governor’s administration in Pennsylvania to share its expenses.

“The governor is very much committed to restoring the public’s trust in government,” said Sheridan. He said the expenses will probably be updated on a monthly basis.

Backers of a state law struck down by a federal judge who said it would trample on free speech rights say they're hoping for a re-do.

The overturned law would have let victims and their families ask a judge to make offenders stop any behavior that is upsetting. Opponents called it baldly unconstitutional, and a U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner agreed, calling it the "embodiment of content-based regulation of speech."

State Senate Republicans plan to roll out a proposal to overhaul public pensions in early May, the first step toward making good on their promise to address pension debt before negotiating a commonwealth budget.

Caucus leaders have repeatedly suggested switching future hires into a 401(k)-style retirement system. Last month, the Senate majority leader said he might try to scale back unearned pension benefits for current state and public school employees.

AP Photo/Marc Levy

The Independent Fiscal Office was created five years ago to provide number-crunching with no spin, but it isn't getting the last word in the state budget debate.

Gov. Tom Wolf's administration has vigorously disputed the IFO finding that the governor's spending plan would stick even the poorest Pennsylvanians with a tax increase.

Pennsylvania State Police are sending about 300 troopers to Baltimore beginning Thursday in a response to Maryland’s emergency request for help restoring calm to the city’s streets.

State police spokesman Trooper Adam Reed said the deployment is expected is cost $200,000 a day, which the state of Maryland will pay back later.

Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities must do more to comply with federal laws meant to ensure campus safety, according to a new report from the state auditor general.

The audit finds uneven adherence to Title IX, which bans sex-based discrimination among the 14 universities that make up the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

Chancellor Frank Brogan said inconsistent policies the federal law could lead to poor enforcement or even a willingness to skimp on oversight.

State Senate GOP leaders aren't in Gov. Tom Wolf's inner circle, and they aren't happy about it.

The Senate's top Republican said last week the governor should have consulted his caucus before nominating a state treasurer.

"Who wants to be nominated by the governor that's going to go to the Senate and be voted down because the governor refuses to have a conversation with the Senate?" said Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson). "That's a ridiculous position to take to try to recruit, nominate and confirm qualified people for these positions."

AP Photo/Marc Levy

Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration is disputing an independent report finding his budget proposal would amount to a net tax increase for Pennsylvanians of all income levels.

John Hanger, a top aide, told reporters Friday that the Independent Fiscal Office is relying on shaky data, and overlooking the potential for economic growth under the governor’s proposed reductions in business taxes.

Gov. Tom Wolf has said he just wants to give in-home care workers a voice.

Under a partial injunction issued Thursday, that voice would be somewhat muted.

Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini has ruled that direct care workers can still elect a representative, who can still meet with state officials about things like standards, training, working conditions. But Pellegrini barred the parties from putting any agreement in writing.

Gov. Tom Wolf said Thursday he would veto a state proposal to eradicate local sick-leave laws in Pennsylvania if it reaches his desk.

The measure, which passed the Republican-controlled state Senate with bipartisan support last week, aims to preempt a Philadelphia law requiring businesses with 10 or more employees to give workers an hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked.

The man picked to run the commonwealth's Department of State for the second time is facing criticism from lawmakers who didn't like how he performed the first time on the job.

But Gov. Tom Wolf is defending his nominee, saying the concerns being voiced about Acting Secretary of State Pedro Cortés are baseless.

Acting Education Secretary Pedro Rivera began his remarks to the Senate Education Committee as he would before a classroom.

“Good morning,” Rivera said, to muffled greetings in return.

“Wow, can I try that again?” said Rivera. “I feel like I’m in front of my students.”

The back-and-forth improved from there. Before the panel voted unanimously to advance Rivera’s name for consideration, multiple lawmakers praised him for being responsive to their questions over the past few months.

Mary Wilson / WITF

Legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle are speaking in unison on state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who is under threat of indictment.

Their message? We're not getting involved.

Spokespeople or leaders from all four legislative caucuses said recently that they're not calling for Kane to step down.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Gov. Tom Wolf has asked various groups to start planning on increases in state funding for education, and the move is prompting criticism from Republican state lawmakers who oppose the governor's spending plan.

A proposal to give night owls a couple more hours at the bar doesn’t appear to be on the fast-track in the Republican-controlled state House.

The plan would let bars and restaurants apply for the power to keep serving alcohol until 4 o’clock in the morning.

“I’m not sure keeping bars open ‘til 4 a.m. is a priority in the House right now,” said Reed. “We’ve got bigger issues to deal with,” said GOP House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana). “I represent a college town so I’m not sure I want to keep the bars open an extra two hours with 15,000 college students.”

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

State budget negotiations are starting to take shape in Harrisburg. The backbiting has subsided for now, as meetings pick up between Gov. Tom Wolf and legislative leaders.

The governor rankled Republicans recently when he said he was prepared to work on a state budget long after the June 30 deadline.

House Republican Majority Leader Dave Reed took umbrage at the remark, calling it "premature" and suggesting Wolf said it because he was "new at this process." By Wednesday, things had been smoothed over in a meeting Wolf held with GOP legislative leaders the day before.

When House Republicans presented their own proposal to cut local property taxes, the sponsoring lawmaker threw down a gauntlet along with it.

Rep. Stan Saylor (R-York) said he doubts Gov. Tom Wolf's property-tax relief plan has support within his own party.

"Nobody over there has introduced his plan," said Saylor. "If he thinks his plan's so good, I would love to see a Democrat introduce his plan. And they've had more than, what, two months to do it."

The state Senate is advancing a plan to expand law enforcement’s ability to collect people’s DNA once they’re arrested for certain crimes, but before they’re convicted.  

The measure would let police and prosecutors collect your DNA if you’re arrested for criminal homicide, sex crimes, any felonies, and certain lesser crimes like criminal trespassing and assault.

State lawmakers are faced, once again, with a plan to revamp the commonwealth's organ donation procedures.

Supporters of the changes say Pennsylvania once set the national standard for organ donations, but has since fallen behind. Proposals to increase education about being a donor and streamline the organ procurement process have failed to gain approval in the past two legislative sessions. Backers of the latest proposal are hoping third time's the charm.

The state Department of Health says a newly-authorized system to track powerful painkillers and other drugs won't arrive on schedule.

The prescription drug monitoring program was signed into law last October to establish an online database by June of this year. But that's not going to happen, and there's no word on when the new system will be ready.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

The Republican-controlled state House will press ahead in the coming weeks with a plan to cut local school property taxes across the commonwealth.

A series of hearings in the state House are making one thing clear: medical marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania is no done deal.

State senators overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana last session. The governor supports its legalization as well. A Quinnipiac University poll of Pennsylvanians last month showed 88 percent of respondents want medical marijuana legalized.

House members don't appear as quick to pass such a plan.

A venture-capitalist with a penchant for helping minority-owned businesses is Gov. Tom Wolf’s pick to step in as state treasurer.

Tim Reese, a resident of Montgomery County, said Tuesday that he brings more than two decades of experience in finance, most recently as a managing partner at Forge Intellectual Capital and founder of the National Minority Angel Network, which sought to invest in and provide financial literacy for companies owned by minorities, women, and veterans.

Two health care associations and people who receive and provide in-home aid have sued Gov. Tom Wolf over an executive order they say paves the way for unionized caregivers.

The challenges filed in Commonwealth Court this week take issue with a February executive order allowing direct care workers paid through state programs to recognize a representative who will then meet with state officials to discuss things compensation, training and other standards.

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