Pennsylvania General Assembly

Veterans courts go above normal courts, offering veterans charged with non-violent crimes options for treatment for drugs and alcohol or other issues that could have led them to being charged with a crime. Legislation introduced in Harrisburg would increase the number of veterans treatment courts.

“Right now about 16 counties have those courts, but 50 do not. We would like to require it,” said Sen. Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin).

As a legal challenge to Governor Tom Wolf’s moratorium on the death penalty advances, state lawmakers are planning their own review of the capital sentencing system.

The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments over whether the governor can issue reprieves in each death penalty case, effectively imposing a moratorium on state executions.

Wolf cited concerns over the costs and flaws of the capital sentencing system.

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The largest purchaser of supplies and services in Pennsylvania is the state itself. But, for small businesses, particularly those owned by minorities and women, getting contracts to fulfill those needs can be difficult. Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny) has introduced a bill to help address that.

“House Bill 85, which enables minority and women-owned and disadvantaged businesses to compete with larger businesses for state contracts,” said Wheatley.

Among other things, the bill would provide the state authority to waive employee limits; give alternative certification when needed; establish a surety bond guarantee program and the Surety Bond Guarantee Fund; and, in contracts for public works, further provide for contractors' and subcontractors' payment obligations.

Following a report last week that affordable housing is getting harder to come by for low and very-low income families, a bill being introduced in Harrisburg would expand a program that improves rental housing in communities.

The Pennsylvania Housing Trust Fund was established in 2010 and first funded in 2012 with Marcellus Shale impact fees. It’s only available in Marcellus areas, but the expansion bill would extend the program statewide, without raising taxes or fees.

Under the current law, parents of children who are chronically absent from school are subject to fines. If they can’t pay those fines, then they face jail time. State Rep. Mark Gillen (R-Berks, Lancaster) said he is trying to change the current statute from a “shall” provision because parents don’t belong in prison.

“We think that it needs to be changed to a 'may' provision,” said Gillen. “We’ve got 50,000 inmates in the Pennsylvania prison system. Currently we’re exceeding our capacity by 3,800 inmates.”

One of the challenges many veterans face when they re-integrate into civilian life is finding a job. Though many veterans operate heavy machinery, drive specialty vehicles or perform other specialized duties, additional training and testing is required before they can get a job outside the military. A bill introduced in the state House would change that.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is taking a strong stance against a bill making its way through Harrisburg that he says would “would hurt city taxpayers & hamstring efforts to cooperate with nonprofits.”

The state’s finance committee passed and sent to the Senate floor last week Senate Bill 4 , which would clarify the Purely Public Charity Act of 1997 to make the legislature the sole body to determine what qualifies an organization as a charity.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly will go back into session Jan. 20 with new leadership at the helm. But much of the committee leadership is from outside of the Pittsburgh area. Of the 23 House committees, only two Republicans from the southwestern corner of the state are committee chairs.

“Committee chairs are very important positions,” said House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny). “It is driven by seniority. The chairs in both parties are the most senior folks.”

There are only six session days left on the calendar this session for the Pennsylvania General Assembly, and municipal police are lobbying for a set of bills that would allow them to use radar guns.

Senate Bill 1340 and House Bill 1272 would allow all police officers in the state to use the devices, not just state troopers, who have been using radar for more than 50 years. Neither has received a vote.

Municipal police departments have multiple options when it comes to catching speeders.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

The Allegheny County Crime Lab is a full lab that performs a wealth crime-related tasks, such as DNA testing and crime scene analysis, but it’s funding has been cut by the state in recent years.

If the lab continues to receive no state funding, it’s in danger of closing. On Tuesday, a joint legislative hearing heard from a list of speakers about why the lab should be a funding priority. Allegheny County Medical Examiner Karl Williams said, for starters, it’s a one-of-a-kind facility.

It’s not uncommon for individual municipalities to set a minimum wage that is higher than the state- and federally-mandated rate. As of Jan. 1, San Franciscans are making at least $10.55 an hour, compared to the California minimum wage of $8.

Now, state representative Seth Grove (R-York) wants to make that kind of municipal legislation illegal in Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania State University Board of Trustees would be decreased from 30 voting members to 23 under legislation unveiled by state Sens. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne County) and John Corman (R-Centre County).

Yudichak said, in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the school is facing its greatest challenge.

'Sarah’s Amendment' Faces Vote in Harrisburg

Nov 18, 2013

About 60 percent of stalking victims aren't currently able to obtain a restraining order in Pennsylvania, according to numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Under current law, PA victims can only obtain one if their stalker is a relative or someone they dated.

While people continue to drop landlines in favor of cell phones, especially in urban areas, many households in rural areas still rely on landline service.

Pennsylvania House Bill 1608 would allow phone companies to stop offering landline service if at least two other companies offer services in the area. A report from the Keystone Research Center states such a move would be harmful in rural areas.

A bill that would require all public school buildings in Pennsylvania to display the national motto, “In God we trust,” passed in the House Education committee Wednesday morning.

Republican Rick Saccone, who represents parts of Allegheny and Washington counties, is the bill’s sponsor. He said the bill is meant to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the U.S. mint printing the motto on our nation’s currency.

Saccone called the tale of how the motto got onto the currency “a Pennsylvania story.”

The Pennsylvania General Assembly gaveled into session this week after a long summer break, and on the agenda are items related to the use of natural gas from Marcellus Shale.

But the package of bills aimed at expanding use of the resource has some environmental groups concerned.

On the heels of PennDOT’s announcement that it is weight restricting 1,000 bridges statewide, one state lawmaker is proposing to take revenue from natural gas development and use it for bridge repairs.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

When people hear the term “dangerous jobs,” the top occupations that come to mind may be fireman or police officer, but one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States is that of a refuse worker.

Using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, several recent articles list refuse and recyclable materials collector as the fourth most dangerous job in the country.  

Gov. Tom Corbett has signed into law a bill that is aimed at filling a hole in the unemployment compensation fund left by a cut in federal dollars.

House Bill 26 will provide the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry funding from the employee UC tax.

A vote is looming in a state Senate committee on legislation to potentially expand Medicaid eligibility to hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians under the 2010 federal health care law.

“I cannot say enough about the importance for those individuals who don’t have health insurance, who are working every day, about a half a million people in Pennsylvania, how significant it could be for their lives, and for all of us,” said Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-PA-7.)

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Cities throughout Pennsylvania, regardless of size, are facing similar issues such as blight, aging infrastructure and unsustainable pension systems. To learn more about the future of municipalities, the state Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee held a hearing Wednesday to better assess needs.

The first person to address the committee was Pittsburgh’s 8th District City Councilman and Democratic mayoral candidate Bill Peduto. He said there are four main issues facing the city: pensions, economic development, education, and infrastructure and transportation.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5/WESA

The Senate Democratic Policy Committee gathered in Pittsburgh Thursday to hear from the public and other elected officials on proposed changes to voting in the commonwealth. State lawmakers are considering measures that would allow for online voter registration and expand early voting.

“Also same-day voter registration, so you can just go to the poll, register to vote, and then vote on that particular day,” said Sen. Matt Smith (D-37). “No fault absentee voting would allow people to get their absentee ballot and then send it back in to their local county division of elections.”

The annual audit report on the General Assembly’s internal finances shows lawmakers spent nearly $307 million last fiscal year and have continued a number of practices that auditors discourage.

Auditors are making some familiar recommendations to the General Assembly about how it manages its money. Legislative staff say 36 checkbooks are scattered throughout General Assembly offices. Auditors found they were riddled with errors, and at least one of them was used to pay an employee’s parking ticket.

A bill approved in the Pennsylvania Senate would allow local governments to enter into stormwater authorities.

The bill’s sponsor, Senator Ted Erickson (R-PA-26), said municipal leaders are looking for tools to help them respond to the rising costs of stormwater management.

“After the last round of flooding we had about a year ago, it became evident that we needed to plan on a watershed basis, which means you have to cross municipal boundaries," Erickson said. "So if you had an authority that did that, it would be extremely helpful."

A bill to be introduced in Harrisburg would allow parents of newborn children to receive up to 12 weeks of paid leave.

“This is a policy that’s in effect in almost the entire industrialized world and in a number of states in America as well," said sponsor Sen. Daylin Leach. "It’s a standard benefit of employment.”

The bill would only apply to companies with more than 20 employees and to employees who work more than 20 hours per week. The Federal Family and Medical Leave Act allows for 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but that is not an option for many low-income workers.