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.

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.

Pigeon shoots can live on in Pennsylvania, and cats and dogs can still be eaten in the privacy of your own home.

That’s the state of affairs now that state lawmakers have left town without passing a state proposal banning both activities.

A House bill banning only the slaughter of dogs and cats for private human consumption began its legislative life with unanimous support last year.

Things got complicated.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery has been benched over his recent admission of sending sexually explicit e-mails with people in the state attorney general's office, along with other imbroglios over the past few years. The suspension is effective immediately, though McCaffery will still receive pay.

Three Pennsylvanians were on a Monday flight with a nurse now known to be infected with Ebola, Gov. Tom Corbett said during a Friday news conference on the state’s response to the Ebola outbreak.

The three people were on a flight from Cleveland to the Dallas area with a Texas nurse who had a low fever at the time and was diagnosed with Ebola two days later. The plane carrying them reportedly made five more trips before it was grounded.

Corbett said state officials are making daily phone calls to the three commonwealth residents on the flight.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery is punching back after being named by the court’s chief justice for swapping sexually explicit emails with “longtime friends” working in state government.

McCaffery was named Wednesday by Chief Justice Ron Castille, who said a review of emails provided by the Office of Attorney General (OAG) found that McCaffery had exchanged hundreds of sexual or pornographic images with an erstwhile employee of the OAG. Castille hinted the high court might take action against McCaffery for the emails.

A long-sought expansion of the state system for tracking prescription drugs is expected to hit the governor’s desk this week.

The broadened database would monitor opioids, the powerful painkillers whose abuse has been linked to a spike in fatal heroin overdoses.

State senators are making a lunge for power in the waning legislative session.

Keno drawings and internet games offered by the Pennsylvania Lottery would need the General Assembly’s approval under a proposal amended by the state Senate. The same measure would outlaw video or monitor-based games. 

State lawmakers expect to pass a bill this week that would allow the courts to muzzle criminal offenders if their behavior causes mental anguish for their victims.

Supporters say the measure carefully skirts infringement on free speech rights, but people on either side of the issue are bracing for a lawsuit, should the bill receive the governor’s signature.

Elizabeth Thomsen / via Flickr Creative Commons

The state Legislature convenes this week in Harrisburg for its final two days of voting scheduled before the November election.

Longtime legislative observers say the proposals that advance this close to an election are more about politics than policy.

Red meat issues abound. There’s a plan to scale back regulations protecting high-quality streams. Another bill would let gun owners sue cities over local gun laws.

Some bills have omnivore appeal, like the measure adding a couple jury duty exemptions to include breastfeeding mothers and people 75 or older.

Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration is taking another run at raising the fee for lobbyist registrations.

A state panel will consider hiking the lobbyist registration fee from $200 to $300.

Many lobbyists have balked at the prospect of another increase to the registration fee. It was last raised in 2011 from $100.

A skirmish is unfolding in the final days of the state legislative session.

It's over an effort to change who approves state grants for economic development projects, so often touted by lawmakers.

Opponents call it a legislative power grab.

Senate Republicans have voted to put economic development spending in the hands of a little-known state authority with an abysmal record on transparency.

But, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa says the governor’s office should maintain control of which projects get funding.

Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ron Castille on Friday will find out more about whether bawdy e-mails traded among current and former state employees went all the way to the state judiciary.

Jim Koval, a spokesman for Castille, said the chief justice will meet with an agent from Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane's office. Castille requested more information specific to any "top jurists" who sent or received sexually explicit e-mails in a letter to Kane two weeks ago.

State lawmakers could send to the governor a plan to make doctors test for hepatitis C among patients most likely to have it – baby boomers.
 
The mandatory screening for people born between 1945 and 1965 would address another medical issue contributing to rising health care costs.
 
Hepatitis C causes liver failure if left untreated. Most people don’t know they have it.
 

State House lawmakers plan to hold at least one hearing on medical marijuana, which will likely put off any final votes on legalization until next year.
 
House GOP leaders say a Senate-backed plan to allow certain kinds of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania needs to be more thoroughly vetted before it’s lined up for a vote.
 
“What exactly does it do? Do you guys know what it does?” said House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin, addressing reporters. “Do you know it sets up a whole new bureaucracy and industry?”
 

A comprehensive and rational drug policy in Pennsylvania may be elusive for some time, warns one academic.

State lawmakers have considered a few different remedies to the spiking rates of heroin overdoses in Pennsylvania. In the next few weeks, they'll turn their attention to the abundance of painkillers. If abused, such opioids can turn people on to heroin.

For the past week, Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane has released information in a piecemeal fashion about bawdy e-mails exchanged by current and former state employees years ago. Some say the office has done little to quell criticism that the bit-by-bit disclosures show political motive.

Chief Justice Ronald Castille called it a “show and tell” last week — the way the attorney general revealed raunchy images sent or received by eight men who worked under Gov. Tom Corbett when he helmed the AG’s office. All the men named by Kane’s office are Republicans.

Gov. Tom Corbett heads into his second debate with Democratic challenger Tom Wolf with renewed energy, after a strong performance in the candidates’ first debate last week.

But Wednesday morning’s debate will air on radio and TV stations in the Philadelphia area, where most of the state’s Democratic voters reside.

“The geography of this certainly favors Wolf,” said Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll and a political science professor.

It’s not clear how much debates can shake up a statewide gubernatorial election in Pennsylvania.

State lawmakers are working out the details of a plan to overhaul Act 47, shorthand for the much-maligned program that to rehabilitate municipalities with money problems.

Cities lingering in the state program would be given deadlines to exit. The state would expand early intervention efforts for municipalities sailing toward fiscal cliffs. Smaller communities would have new ways to disband if residents agree they’re just not viable.

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.

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.

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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