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.

State lawmakers are spending the next month getting ready for the new legislative session beginning this month, lining up committee assignments and preparing the proposals they’ll introduce.

A bird’s eye view of the two-year session that just wrapped up in November finds that a total of 369 proposals were enacted.

House lawmakers introduced 3,610 measures (and 1,091 resolutions), and senators introduced 1,981 proposals (and more than 500 resolutions).

A bipartisan duo of state senators is looking to make it a bit more painful for lawmakers to pass a late state budget — by putting top officials’ pay on the line.

Under the measure backed by Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny) and Sen. Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin), a budget passed after the end of the fiscal year on June 30 would trigger a suspension of pay for state lawmakers, the lieutenant governor, the governor and his cabinet. A similar measure introduced in the latest legislative session suspended pay for only the governor and state lawmakers.

Advocates for assisted suicide are promoting legislation that allows doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients who request it.

The national debate was set off earlier this month with the death of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard. She publicized her decision to take drugs to end her life after learning she had terminal brain cancer.

Gov. Tom Corbett and Gov.-elect Tom Wolf are doing a bit of interregnum sparring over how to add hundreds of thousands of low-income Pennsylvanians to the state's Medicaid rolls.

There's a simple question at the center of their disagreement: should the guy in charge push his policies, or defer to the new guy's preferences?

Wolf favors full Medicaid expansion, authorized by the federal health care overhaul and designed to open up federally-covered health care benefits to Pennsylvanians whose income is 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

A housing advocate says Pennsylvania is falling behind neighboring states in its efforts to combat blight.

Nearly two years ago, the state passed legislation for what's called land banking — a set of new tools for cities and counties to grab up derelict properties and speed their return to productive use. Sometimes that means flipping houses, sometimes it means demolishing a structure to turn the plot into green space or storm water management.

Seven land banks have been established in the commonwealth, but a lack of funding has made the process slow-going.

Medical professionals and public officials are making their annual effort to raise awareness of the best ways to ensure infants' safety while they sleep.

Improper sleeping conditions put babies at risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Doctors advise parents and other caregivers to place infants alone, on their backs, in an unadorned crib to avoid suffocation.

As hunters prepare for the start of deer season on Monday, one group is making its annual pitch to remember Pennsylvania's hungry and donate part of their haul.

Hunters Sharing the Harvest collected nearly 100,000 pounds of donated venison last year for food pantries across the commonwealth.

Advocates say the need for venison is greater this year because of the rising cost of high-protein meats.

The Corbett administration has to come up with a plan to reopen state health centers after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled it can’t close any of its 60 public health hubs statewide.

“We are still reviewing the ruling in full to determine the implications to the plan moving forward and will be providing additional communication to the public and to our staff as soon as that review is complete,” said Aimee Tysarczyk, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health.

Most Pennsylvania counties use voting systems that election experts now say are unreliable and a bit shady, but replacing voting technology would be costly, and not all election directors like the look of alternative devices.

Governor-elect Tom Wolf is fleshing out another part of his transition team.

Wolf announced his steering committee Tuesday, a group that includes a former U.S. attorney who worked in Gov. Bob Casey's administration, a diversity consultant, current and former university presidents and the head of the state's largest health care workers union.

A panel created to examine how the state can better serve and protect elder Pennsylvanians has finished its work after 18 months with more than 100 recommendations.

The Elder Law Task Force, made up of lawyers, prosecutors, judges, advocates and program administrators, issued its final report Monday. Suggestions range from requiring legal guardians to receive training on ethics and liability to increasing funding for legal aid to low-income seniors.

The head of the state’s high court says a review hasn’t wrapped up on any inappropriate emails that may have been exchanged by members of the judiciary.

Chief Justice Ron Castille said Monday that the Judicial Conduct Board is still looking for answers in regard to a batch of 4,000 sexually explicit emails identified by the Office of Attorney General as involving some jurists.

When several school districts sued state officials recently over education funding, they re-lit a torch that advocates have been carrying for decades. The lawsuit is a follow-up to a similar legal challenge filed in 1991 and tossed out in 1999, without a resolution.

Judges in the Commonwealth Court and the state Supreme Court said they couldn’t measure whether districts were delivering a sub-par education because of inadequate state funding.

Pennsylvania's nonpartisan agency for budget analysis is pinning a number on the anticipated budget deficit next year: $1.85 billion.

The Independent Fiscal Office's figure comes in a report that clearly outlines what has been referred to in generalities since the passage of this year's roughly $29 billion state budget in July.

State lawmakers say only time will tell how Republican leadership changes will alter the House and Senate majority caucuses and the Legislature's relationship with the incoming administration.

The success of the Governor-elect Tom Wolf's ambitious policy agenda came into question as the election night tallies last week showed Republicans grew their majorities in the House and Senate. But many looked forward to Wednesday's leadership elections as either another nail in the coffin or a glimmer of hope.

State Senate Republicans have a new majority leader for the first time in eight years.

Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre) will lead the 30-member caucus for the next two-year legislative session along with Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati of Jefferson County, who was re-elected to his post Wednesday.

Corman ousted Senator Dominic Pileggi (R-CHester), who had been criticized for not advancing conservative policies, and who many say has clashed with Scarnati.

The state House and Senate could return to session next year with new faces leading the Republican majority and Democratic minority caucuses. Leadership elections scheduled Wednesday could change the direction of each chamber for the next two-year session.

Mary Wilson / 90.5 WESA

Governor-elect Tom Wolf is imposing an ethics code on the people tasked with shaping his administration.

The code of ethical conduct is a relatively recent pre-requisite for gubernatorial transition teams. Governor Corbett had his 400-person team pledge a similar oath. Franklin & Marshall College pollster Terry Madonna said it's a sign of the times.

Following a southeastern high school that curtailed its season after allegations of hazing, a midstate lawmaker is seeking to criminalize such rituals.

Pennsylvania is one of 44 states with anti-hazing laws, but the commonwealth’s statute applies only to institutions of higher education. Rep. Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin) said hazing penalties should apply to schools and clubs, as well.

“They should be penalized,” Marsico said. “I mean, they’re old enough to know. If they’re over 13 years of age, they should know better.”

Unofficial statewide tallies show Tuesday’s voter turnout dipped compared to the last gubernatorial election in 2010. Still, Democrat Tom Wolf was able to beat Republican Gov. Tom Corbett with a 10-point margin by piling up votes in the state’s urban centers.

Both candidates lost their home counties, but for Wolf, winning the populous Allegheny County more than made up for losing his home turf in York County.

An election law progress report finds Pennsylvania is a mediocre student when it comes to heeding the advice for improving the voting experience.

Common Cause, the liberal-leaning advocacy group behind the report, surveyed 10 states with tight gubernatorial or congressional elections to see if they had implemented any of the January 2014 recommendations of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

The Democratic candidate for governor in Pennsylvania launched his political campaign with a television ad blitz and has never trailed in the polls in the race against incumbent Republican Tom Corbett.

Tom Wolf has been knocked as a tax-and-spend liberal with ill-defined policy plans, but the biggest question is how he’ll work with a Legislature likely to remain in GOP control. The York County businessman points to his experience serving his community in the midstate as his credentials.

Call it a “prebuttal” — a chance for the state GOP to respond to President Barack Obama’s visit to Pennsylvania before it happens.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf is scheduled to appear with Obama in Philadelphia at a rally on Sunday, and Republicans are treating it as an opportunity to make some of the president’s low poll numbers stick to Wolf.

Most polls show Wolf has a wide lead over Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, but indicate the president is far less popular.  

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

From the very beginning of the 2014 campaign, Gov. Tom Corbett was fighting an uphill battle. His approval ratings were low, polls consistently showed him running far behind potential Democratic candidates, and the controversy over fracking and school funding were grabbing headlines on a weekly basis. 

Corbett staked his first campaign on fiscal discipline and a no-tax pledge. He had a GOP-controlled Legislature but faltered on most of his major policy priorities. 

Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has one vacancy now, with another one to materialize at the end of the year. The state Senate, which confirms interim judicial nominees, is waiting for a signal from Governor Corbett on whether he’ll try to fill the first right away, or wait to fill both at once.

The governor’s office has given no indication he wants to nominate someone to fill an empty slot on the state’s high court anytime soon. The seat was vacated by Justice Seamus McCaffery, a Democrat, whose retirement this week ended an investigation into a slew of allegations against him.

Mary Wilson / WITF

A new Franklin & Marshall poll shows Gov. Tom Corbett has made gains in his race for re-election, but Democratic hopeful Tom Wolf maintains a double-digit lead among registered and likely voters surveyed.

The York County cabinet magnate is 13 points ahead of Corbett among self-reported likely voter respondents. It's a narrowing lead, and it reflects the work Corbett has done to appeal to his base. 63 percent of surveyed Republicans say Corbett deserves re-election, up from 39 percent in August.

No one in Pennsylvania has been diagnosed with the Ebola virus, but the state is closely watching possible cases under the direction of the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Suspended state Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery has stepped down, effectively immediately, the court said Monday.

McCaffery’s retirement, as the court referred to it, ends an investigation into allegations McCaffery e-mailed sexually explicit images to people within the state attorney general’s office and threatened a fellow justice. The Judicial Conduct Board said he promised not to try to become a senior judge or run for elected judicial positions.

Another ethical imbroglio, another call for reform.

The state Supreme Court's suspension of one of its justices has prompted reform advocates to question why Pennsylvania uses partisan elections to choose its appellate court judges.

Pennsylvania cities will have about two months to scrap local gun restrictions that could leave them open to lawsuits under a state proposal headed for the governor's signature.

The measure gives gun owners and groups like the National Rifle Association standing to sue municipalities (and collect attorney fees) over gun ordinances that go beyond state law.

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