Monday, June 30, 2008

Pittsburgh Fireworks Task Force to Crack Down on Illegal Explosives

The Pittsburgh Fireworks Task Force hopes to make this Independence Day quieter. Officers from the bureaus of police, fire, and building inspectors will patrol neighborhoods in pairs from June 27 through July 4 looking for the airborne flash and bang of illegal fireworks. Pittsburgh Fire Chief Darryl Jones says illegal fireworks consist of any projectile firework or any firework that explodes. Last year the task force made 19 citations, 4 physical arrests and issued over $15,000 in fines. Director of Public Safety Michael Huss stresses that the objective of the task force is not to spoil holiday fun, but to protect people. More fires are reported on Independence Day than on any other single day of the year and over half of those fires are the result of fireworks. People are encouraged to call 911 with tips if they witness someone using illegal fireworks. Officials also urge citizens to view public firework displays rather risk safety by using illegal fireworks.

Duquesne Light responds to County Councilman's Request for Investigation

Duquesne Light has responded to Allegheny County Councilman Matt Drozd's request for an investigation into the utility. Duquesne Light spokesperson Joeseph Vallarian said the council member was misinformed when he made his claim that utility's owner might not be investing enough in its infrastructure. Vallarian also says over the weekend, there were three separate severe storms that made their way through the region, and the Duquesne Light call center had 4,800 trouble calls on Sunday alone.

CCAC Ranks No. 2 in Nursing Grads

The Community College of Allegheny County is ranked 2nd nationally when it comes to the number of nursing associate's degrees awarded. The only school ranked higher is Miami-Dade Community College which enrolls over 100,000 students. CCAC is also ranked 5th nationally when it comes to awarding associate's degrees in health care. CCAC President Dr. Alex Johnson says that about 60% of nurses employed in the region are CCAC grads. The school will try to improve its ranking by utilizing a $1 million dollar grant it recently received to promote diversity and to help disadvantaged and minority students.

DCED Awards Gaming Revenue Grants in Washington County

$8.2 million of the first funds available from the Meadows Casino in Washington County has been doled out. The Department of Community and Economic Development has slated the money for 26 projects within the county. DCED spokesman Kevin Ortiz says the revenue from the casino, some of which is required by Act 71 to be reinvested into the community, will go toward revitalization efforts and projects that will have a long-lasting impact. A Washington County review committee evaluated proposals and chose which projects would receive the grants. The appropriations fell into the four categories of economic development, job training, community improvement, and public interest, including $1.3 million set aside to improve infrastructure.

County Councilman wants investigation of Duquesne Light

Allegheny county councilman Matt Drozd has requested an investigation into Duquesne light by the public utility commission. The request comes after a string or recent power outages across the region. Drozd said he feels like there have been more power outages since Duquesne light was sold to a foreign company, and wants to ensure the proper resources are being invested in the region. Councilman Drozd says he has been unable to reach personnel at Duquesne light and said the county's 911 center has had problem reaching the power company in the past.

Friday, June 27, 2008

State Treasury creates fund to help small business money managers

Pennsylvania Treasurer Robin Wiessmann has created the Treasury Opportunity Fund, which will focus on investing in Pennsylvania-based emerging and/or minority money managers. The fund was established as a way to increase the overall health of the state's investment portfolio. The fund will focus on smaller money managing companies that Wiessmans hopes will grow with the investment, resulting in increased business for the state and small business.

Regions locks and dams to get much needed repair

The United States House has appropriated a total of $68.6 million for local dam and lock repair. $40.8 million dollars are marked for improvement of the lower Monongahela locks and dams, $25.8 million is intended for the Emsworth dam and $2 million is earmarked for a study of the locks and dams at Emsworth. This money will fully fund the port of pittsburgh commission's requests, and keeps them from having to delay much needed work on the regions locks and dams that have been deteriorating over the years.

The senate appropriations energy and water subcommittee will take up the funding issue in July. If approved at that time, the money will be made available to the Port of Pittsburgh Commission.

Public hearings set for proposed Highmark, Independence Blue Cross consolidation

On July 8TH the State Insurance Department will be holding the first of three statewide public information hearings regarding the proposed consolidation of Independence Blue Cross and Highmark. The meetings will be held first in Pittsburgh, second in Harrisburg and lastly Philadelphia. The state's Insurance department Will then look to address the concerns that have been expressed before anymore consolidation efforts go forward.

New Medicare Competitive Bid Program Debuts July 1

A new Medicare initiative designed to save money and prevent fraud in payments for durable medical equipment starts July 1st in Pittsburgh and 9 other locations, where Medicare beneficiaries must begin to use approved suppliers.

Vendors in each area submitted competitive bids for ten items, such as wheelchairs, walkers, hospital beds, oxygen equipment. Medicare Acting Administrator Kerry Weems says prices came in nationally at 26% less than scheduled fees, and since beneficiaries pay 20% of such costs, they will share in the savings. By the time the program is implemented nationally in two years, Weems says Medicare will save a billion dollars a year.

In addition to lower prices, approved vendors had to meet quality and financial standards. If a beneficiary has been getting supplies from a vendor not approved for the program, the company may in some cases be grandfathered in at the lower price.

For answers to any questions about Medicare, call 1-800-MEDICARE. A list of Medicare-contract suppliers is on the web: "Find Suppliers of Medical Equipment in your Area".

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Muslim Physicist Sues Department of Energy

A Muslim nuclear physicist is suing the Department of Energy after losing his job in West Mifflin. Born in Egypt, Dr. Moneim El-Ganayni became an American citizen in 1988. In 1990, he got a job with the U.S. Department of Energy. An outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policy, El-Ganayni had his security clearance revoked in December 2007, forcing him to lose his job. When he appealed the ruling, he was told the matter was a concern to national security, and that he was not allowed to know why his clearance had been taken away. El-Ganayni hopes to return to work soon, but if he loses his suit, he says he may return to Egypt.

Study May Help Predict Transplant Success

UPMC doctors may have made a major breakthrough in the field of organ transplantation. Researchers say they may have found the first successful method for predicting organ viability. They say the presence of a certain protein in organs could dictate whether the transplants will be successful. Researchers evaluated data from 30 brain-dead organ donors. They then followed up on the 91 donated organs to gauge their outcomes. What they found was that organs that contained higher concentrations of the protein interleukin-6 were more likely to fail. Lead author Dr. John Kellum says this study may be a huge step forward for organ donation and transplantation, but the findings need to be confirmed in a larger study.

United Way Campaign Raises $31 Million

The United Way of Allegheny County received over $31 million in donations last year--a 4% increase from the previous year. More than 60,000 individuals and groups contributed. The United Way offers programs designed to solve critical issues in local communities. President Robert Nelkin says the money will go toward the organization's two current Impact Programs: "Succeed in School" and "Preventing Youth Violence."

House Moves Closer to Rejecting Real ID

A bill that that would direct Pennsylvania not to comply with the Federal Real ID Act is awaiting a final vote in the House. The federal law was passed in 2005 to standardize states' driver's licenses and would require common data and the inclusion of biometrics, which is a computerized face scan that can be translated into data.

Sam Rohrer, Republican State Representative of Bucks County, says he has a number of serious concerns related to Real ID, including the incursion of the federal government on states' rights, identity theft, the cost of implementation, and, most of all, the invasion of privacy. He says the Rendell administration and PennDot have a contract with a company that has been collecting biometric data through the issuance of driver's licenses since 2006. A number of states have rejected Real ID, and Pennsylvania may soon join their ranks.

Autism Bill Sees Movement in Harrisburg

A House bill that would mandate health insurance companies to cover up to $36,000 worth of care and treatment for people diagnosed with autism is moving in the state Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, and could be on the Senate floor as soon as Monday for a final vote.

Currently, insurance companies routinely deny coverage to those with autism by classifying their disability as a mental health disorder, rather than a neurological disease. The costs for treatment are then shifted to the state Department of Public Welfare. If House Bill 1150 is approved, the Governor's budget office estimates the state will save around $85 million a year.

Bakery Square project recieves funding

Development Capital Investors Inc. has received a $10 million loan from the state to help fund the Bakery Square project. Located in East Liberty, Bakery Square is the former home of the Nabisco Bakery plant, but has been vacant for years. The Bakery Square project will create a mixed use commercial property that developers say will create over 1,000 new jobs. Plans call for four green buildings on the site.

Groundbreaking on Spray Park Tonight

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl will celebrate the start of construction of Pittsburgh's first spray park tonight. It will be located in Troy Hill. Spray parks are essentially playgrounds with built-in water sprayers. City Councilman Patrick Dowd chairs the Committee on Urban Recreation. He says spray parks are a highly cost-effective addition to summer recreation. The parks do not require a lifeguard or any city employees. The first park is set to be completed in August.

Schenley High School to Close

The Pittsburgh Public School board voted last night to close Schenley High School. It also rejected a voter referendum that would have put the issue on the November ballot. Superintendent Mark Roosevelt says this decision will allow the administration to focus on the district's future. Next year, most Schenley students will attend classes at the Reizenstein building. The school board also last night created a citizen advisory committee that will explore future options for the Schenley building.

Carnegie International: What's the value?

The 55th Carnegie International has been open for nearly two months and has been drawing crowds and mixed reviews. DUQ's Mark Nootbaar looks at how the importance of such a show can be measured.

Listen to the full-length story here.

Carnegie International: What’s the Value?

When man first started putting paint on cave walls some 32-thousand years ago there was probably not much debate over its value or impact on the art world. Today a curator cannot open a show without a throng of critics making a wide variety of comments. So how should one judge the worth of the 55th Carnegie international? There are several ways.

In 1896 the Carnegie International, under a different name, was launched at the same time as the Carnegie Museum. Andrew Carnegie told his curators to search out the old masters of tomorrow, put them in the show and buy their art before it got too expensive. That was how he was going to fill his museum. Former Carnegie art museum director Jack Lane says they did a good job of building the collection quickly and the shows can be judge a success by that yardstick.

The museum’s ability to purchase art from the shows has ebbed and flowed over the years and the critic’s reception of the instillations has been up and down as well. However, the critic’s have usually agreed on one thing, the show caries great weight in the art world.

Since the opening, reviews have been coming in from big cities like New York and L.A., small town newspapers like the Monessen Valley Independent and international newspapers including one in France and another Canada. Fallon and Rosof’s ‘The Art Blog” writer Andrea Kurs says for critics and art lovers the Carnegie International a destination. In fact, the Greater Pittsburgh Convention and Visitors Bureau is counting on it.

Bureau Marketing Director Beverly Morrow Jones says travel writers have been brought into to town to see the show with the expectation that their stories will lead to more visitors who will spend the night and eat some meals. Jones say it is impossible to tell just what impact the show has on the local economy but she knows it will be big.

But administrators, critics and tourism promoters are just hangers on in the art world. The real impact should be measured by the artists themselves. Tim Blum and Jeff Poe run Blum and Poe gallery and serve as the connection between artists and the buying public. Over the years the gallery has represented a hand full of International artists and have seen their career take off following the opening.

Mark Grotjahnz was featured in the 2004 international. He says being in the International is “huge.” Before the Carnegie International Grotjahnz had not had a solo show outside of a gallery. Nearly overnight, his works went from selling for hundreds or thousands of dollars to being worth millions.

Artists are not the only ones who can be profoundly and forever impacted by the Carnegie international. Thousands will see the show this year and there is no telling how many will be like Jill Krause. She saw her first international in 1970 as a freshman at CMU and feel in love with art. She eventually left Pittsburgh to work as a designer and 10 years later began collecting art. Krause’s collection has grown to the point that now museums, including the Carnegie, borrow works from her as they mount shows.

Krause says people in Pittsburgh are often surprised to learn just how well known the Carnegie International is worldwide and the impact it has on the museum, the art world and the local economy.

Listen to a longer version of this story.

To hear all of the stories in the series click here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Kennywood President Wants Apology

Kennywood President Peter McAneny says he's irked by comments from three Pennsylvania representatives. The comments from representatives Tony DeLuca of Penn Hills, David Levdansky of Forward, and Bill Kortz of Dravosburg came during discussion of a bill that would eliminate the amusement tax.

DeLuca says he mentioned that a Spanish-owned conglomerate--Parques Reunidos--had bought Kennywood. He says he supported removing the amusement tax when Kennywood was a family-owned business, but has changed his mind now that the park is owned by an international corporation. He says he doesn't think he said anything inappropriate.

But McAneny says the issue should not be who would benefit from removal of the amusement tax (Parques Reunidos owns 3 of 7 parks that would be affected), but rather the people the tax currently hurts. McAneny asked for an apology by the three representatives and wants them to be reprimanded by the House.

Flights Cut at Pittsburgh International

Pittsburgh International Airport has announced an 8-9% cutback in flights this September. A spokeswoman says the cuts are only temporary, because September is a slow travel month. Other airports are experiencing more drastic cuts; the national average is 11%. Pittsburgh International expects to have some flights return in time for the holidays. The cuts come as airlines struggle to manage high fuel costs.

Bill Promotes Brownfield Redevelopment

A measure to promote brownfield development has received the unanimous approval of the state Senate. The legislation would reimburse developers up to 75% of the cost of brownfield cleanup. Bill sponsor Rob Wonderling says the best part about the bill is that it will cost nothing to taxpayers. Developers would be reimbursed based on their ability to generate new tax revenue in communities where they build.

Preservation Pittsburgh Announces Community Impact Project

Preservation Pittsburgh, a non-profit funded by state grants, foundations, individuals and members, presented its Community Impact Project to the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group today in the Hill District. The project, now in the development phase, uses historic preservation as a vehicle for community empowerment and revitalization. The project will focus on neighborhoods that have experienced population loss, high unemployment, low household income, and low home ownership rates. Preservation Pittsburgh Executive Director Steven Paul says the first step is to identify a preservation district that includes the most important neighborhood assets, as determined by community members themselves, who may have had little say in the past.

Within the preservation district, Paul says there will be incentives for residents and businesses to rehab the buildings, together with a job training program, lasting for perhaps two years, to train residents in the preservation trades: carpentry, electrical, plastering, etc. Paul expects support from workforce development agencies, foundations, corporations, and state agencies as the project progresses.

Taxi Passengers Continue to Pay Surcharge

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has approved an extension to a statewide fuel surcharge for the passenger motor carrier industry. The surcharge was introduced in 2004 as a temporary fix for rising gas costs, but has been renewed every year since its inception because of the continued rising cost of gasoline. The surcharge can be used by taxicabs, paratransit and airport transfer automobiles. The surcharge price changes depending on the price of gasoline and can be found at the PUC's website.

Lawmaker Wants Strike-Free Education

State Representative Daryl Metcalfe, a Republican from Butler County, submitted a letter to House Labor Relations Chairman Robert Belfanti asking him to hold summer hearings on the Strike-Free Education Act. The act (HB 1369) would prohibit teacher strikes and teacher lockouts from schools. Metcalfe says he's seen the devastation of teacher strikes in his own district. More than 7,500 students in the Seneca Valley School District are still in classes as a result of a strike last fall. Pennsylvania has had more teacher strikes over the last four years (82), than all other states combined (55). Thirty-seven other states already have anti-strike legislation.

Providence Day Care Center to Close

The Providence Day Care Center South, which is operated by the Sisters of the Divine Providence, will be closing on June 30Th. The announcement came in April as a result of low enrollment. The center was not able to meet its expenses. The center has operated for more than 100 years and expanded its service to include infants in 1997. The news of the center's closing came as a shock to parents who were happy with the care provided.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pittsburgh Promise gets $1 Million Grant

The Massey Charitable Trust has donated $1 million to the Pittsburgh Promise. The trust was established by Harris and Doris Massey before their deaths. The trust's Executive Director says he was not interested in the Pittsburgh Promise until UPMC made its $100 million challenge grant. He hopes the gift will encourage other groups and citizens to donate. The Pittsburgh Promise provides scholarships to Pittsburgh Public School students who meet requirements and go on to a state college.

More Than 100 Arrests in Western Pa.

Operation FALCON (Federal And Local Cops Organized Nationally) took place in western Pennsylvania from June 15th through June 21st, resulting in more than 100 arrests. The effort targeted people who had warrants out for their arrest and brought in $70,000 in cash, 153 stamp bags of heroin, and 100 grams of crack cocaine. The effort was a collaboration of 41 separate law enforcement agencies. This was the third time the program operated in western Pennsylvania.

Proposed Merger Gets Public Hearing

Pittsburgh City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed merger with Allegheny County. The date for the hearing has yet to be determined, but City Council President Doug Shields says the meeting will happen soon. He is not happy that members of City Council have not thus far been included in the debate on the proposed merger. Shields says the merger as now proposed would eliminate City Council. He says he is all for shared services, or a merger that would keep the city as a separate entity.

City Council Receives Climate Action Plan

The Pittsburgh City Council's Green Government Task Force has presented recommendations for becoming more eco-friendly. The Climate Action Plan recommends, for instance, looking for ways to reduce the environmental impact of the city's vehicle fleet--perhaps with the purchase of more hybrid vehicles. A bill introduced today would create a trust fund for green initiatives. Councilman Bill Peduto hopes to have a resolution supporting the Climate Action Plan and the trust fund approved by the time the Council adjourns for its August recess, so that the city can start to implement this fall.

Onorato Unveils Property Recovery Program

Allegheny Couny Chief Executive Dan Onorato announced an expansion to the property recovery program today. The expansion hopes to recover 15 properties within the year located within 6 targeted communities--Etna, Harrison Township, Heidelberg, Penn Hills, Swissvale, and Turtle Creek. Since 2004, the program has recovered about 500 properties. Individuals and community groups can apply to purchase vacant properties that have been tax-delinquent for at least three years. The applicant must provide a plan for use of the property and purchase the land at its appraised value. To supplement the program, Jones Day will provide pro bono legal services and the Allegheny County Department of Court Records will waive its filing fees--an estimated $6,000 to $7,000 per parcel. Onorato says that by lowering the cost and difficulties associated with purchasing blighted properties, he thinks more people will recover these lands. At least 2 parcels of land will be recovered in each of the targeted communities.

Johnstown Prepared for Thunder

The 11th annual Thunder in the Valley motorcycle rally will kick off this Thursday in Johnstown and run until 5:00 p.m. Sunday. The event is set to draw well over 200,000 people.The rally will be held primarily in downtown Johnstown. A variety of entertainment events are scheduled including appearances by the Budweiser Clydesdales, an AC/DC cover band, and the signature biker baby contest. Lisa Rager, Executive Director of the Johnstown Convention and Visitors Bureau, says you don't need to ride a motorcycle to enjoy the rally. She says it's exciting just to come to see the bikes and enjoy the friendly atmosphere. The region expects to benefit economically from Thunder. Many of the bikers come from across the east coast and need lodging. Rager also says that bikers spend more money then regular visitors and tip well.

PennDot's Tar and Chip Program Resumes

After putting the tar and chip program on hold due to faulty emulsion, PennDot is resuming the process that fills-in and seals cracks in the pavement on a number of roadways in Allegheny County. PennDot had already processed 18 miles of road using emulsion from Marathon Petroleum Co. out of Findlay, Ohio when they noticed that the mixture was not working properly. PennDot spokesperson Jim Struzzi says the "emulsion failed to harden and actually seeped up into the pavement and caused it to chunk-up."

They suspect that the company provided them with defective sealant, but Struzzi says the matter is still under investigation. Meanwhile PennDot has commissioned Russell Standard of Bridgeville to supply the new batch of emulsion and are beginning the tar and chipping process on the 132 miles of road that have yet to be repaired. Struzzi says they are also correcting the roads that were treated with the bad emulsion.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Two Former Duquesne Basketball Players File Suit

Two former Duquesne University basketball players who were shot on campus are now suing the school. The suit says the lives and careers of Shawn James and Kojo Mensah are forever changed because the university failed to provide adequate security at a school dance in 2006. James and Mensah were among five basketball players who were shot by two non-students as they left the dance.

Attorney Teresa Toriseva says the shooting affected the ability of James and Mensah to play basketball. She says James was once projected to be the 17th pick in the NBA draft this Thursday, but now does not expect it to go well.

The lawsuit also alleges that the basketball players were forced to play again before they had fully recovered from their injuries. Toriseva says James was told to take off a boot he was wearing for his foot injury and play with the team because NBA scouts were in town.

Another former Duquesne basketball player who was shot, Stuard Baldonado, filed suit against the school earlier this year.

Pro Choice Groups Mark 35 Years of Roe v. Wade

Several local groups (the Women's Law Project, the National Council for Jewish Women, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, the Women and Girls Foundation, NOW, Pennsylvanians for Choice, and People for the American Way) are marking 35 years of Roe v. Wade with an event in Pittsburgh June 24th. The main speaker is Kathryn Kolbert, current head of People for the American Way and co-counsel of the legal team which argued Planned Parenthood v. Casey challenging Pennsylvania's Abortion Control Act in 1992.

That challenge resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court sustaining the essence of Roe versus Wade. The justices upheld the 24-hour waiting period and parental consent for minors in Pennsylvania's Abortion Control Act, but struck down the spousal notification requirement.- Tatiana Margolin, staff attorney at the Women's Law Project, says the program will stress the importance of the 2008 election to the makeup of the Supreme Court and, therefore, to women's lives.

Margolin says President George W. Bush's two conservative appointments have led to many 5-4 decisions recently and may impact future decisions about abortion.

Shields to Call for Council to Pay Lawyer's Fee

Pittsburgh City Council President Doug Shields will motion to make a $10,706 lawyer bill a city expense. The fee was originally incurred during the challenge of a permit granted for Lamar Advertising to construct a billboard downtown by Shields and fellow Councilmen Bruce Kraus, William Peduto, and Ricky Burgess. When they sought to have the city pay for it, the Law Department issued a 13-page opinion which said that if the four men voted on making the fee a city expense, they would create a conflict-of-interest situation, and may be required to "immediately forfeit their office." In response, Shields has gotten a counter-opinion. His 4-page report comes from Marvin A. Fein, a former deputy solicitor. This opinion states that "The City Solicitor did not have a legal basis to preclude Council from discussing or voting," nor for "threatening them with forfeiture of office." Shields says the most egregious part is that the councilmen were threatened with removal from office even though municipal leaders cannot be removed without evidential hearings and a senatorial vote. The Council President may bring the fee up for vote tomorrow.

Sewickley Firm Explores Options in South Africa

Several Pennsylvania companies are participating in a trade mission to South Africa this week aimed at addressing that country's power shortage. Sewickley-based BPL Global is one of those companies. BPL has developed software utility companies can use to manage the power on their grids. For example, utilities can shut off or reduce service at certain times of the day to conserve energy and prevent brownouts. BPL also makes products that can "scramble" electricity to customers who tap into a power grid illegally.

BPL Chairman Sam Zacharias says power management software can help South Africa on a temporary basis as the country tries to catch up with demand. Zacharias says the problems in South Africa are not unique; worldwide, he says demand for electricity is growing by about 14 percent annually, while generation is growing only about 5 percent.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Program Pinpoints Locations of Photos

Graduate Ph.D student James Hays has developed a computer program that can estimate the geographic location of photos. The program analyzes the composition of the photo, as opposed to language on street signs or landmarks. The computer then searches a database of photos that have a GPS coordinate attached to them, and narrows down the possibility of where the picture is located. The program operates at 16% efficiency, which is three times greater than what Hays had anticipated.

FEMA to test emergency preparedness

During the week of June 23rd, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Association will evaluate an Emergency preparedness exercise at the Beaver Valley Power Station. An official report will then eventually be made available to the public on the NRC's website. These drills take place every two years and in the past the Western Pennsylvania region has faired well, and been given positive recommendations.

15,000 Pittsburghers Yet to Receive Stimulus

About 5.2 million potential recipients of government-issued economic stimulus payments have not yet filed for their checks. That includes 15,105 people in Pittsburgh. To help with the filing process, the IRS will send out packages that include a sample 1040A form and a real 1040A form to show how to file for the checks. IRS spokesman Gregg Semanick says many people who haven't received the checks are seniors and disabled veterans who don't have any taxable income--so they don't typically file returns. The IRS also encourages people to help out in their community by asking seniors if they have filed for their stimulus payments and reminding them to do so. October 15 is the last day people can file and still receive their payment this calendar year. The Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 provides for payments of up to $600 ($1,200 for couples filing a joint return) to eligible citizens.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bennington Jabs Colleague With Amendment

A proposal for sweeping changes to animal cruelty laws in Pennsylvania could make even boiling live lobsters illegal. But State Representative Lisa Bennington of Morningside says she's not really expecting anyone to take her proposal seriously. Her proposal would amend a bill by House Judiciary Chairman Tom Caltagirone, which calls for certain procedures on dogs to be performed only by veterinarians. Bennington is proposing her amendment as part of a feud with Caltagirone over another piece of legislation she's sponsoring. House Bill 1137 would give victims of child sex abuse more time to sue perpetrators. Caltagirone says he won't allow the bill to move forward. Bennington says it's "egregious" that Caltagirone is making dogs a greater priority than victims of sex abuse.

Bennington is leaving the House after one term. She says it's because of her frustration over this bill, and another one that would have required hospitals to inform rape victims about the availability of emergency contraception. That bill never reached the full House for a vote.

Committee Concerned about Gaming License Suitability

The House Republican Policy Committee held a public hearing today to discuss financial suitability standards for licensees by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB). Representative Mike Turzai of Allegheny County says there were 3 primary recommendations made at the hearing: 1) that all parts of the licensing process be public including background checks, 2) that there be a specified list of documents that must be examined of all applicants, and 3) that a prospective licensee have at least 33% of his proposed building and operation expenses in equity funds. Much of the discussion in the hearing was based on the licensing of Don Barden whose Majestic Star Casino will require a loan of nearly $800 million while the company is already in debt. Turzai says to expect legislation to be drafted in support of all three recommendations in the near future.

House Votes Against Turnpike Lease

The Pennsylavania House of Represntatives voted 185-12 against an amendment that would have allowed Governor Ed Rendell to move forward on a bid to lease the Pennsyvlania turnpike. A Spanish company submitted a bid for 12.8 billion dollars to lease the turnpike for the next 75 years. But Representatives on both sides of the aisle soundly rejected the legislation. Chairman of the House Transportation Committee Rep. Joe Markosek of Monroeville says his reasons for voting against the amendment were threefold. He said he felt the bid undervalued the lease, that he was uncomfortable with a foreign entity running the turnpike and that he and many colleagues were turned off by Rendell's closed door manuevering and the lack of information. Markosek says he is sticking by Act 44 and thinks it is a reasonable piece of legislation that raises tolls, but won't cost taxpayers.

Allegheny County Health Dept. to hold public hearing on new Coke oven battery

On Thursday June 19Th, at the Clairton Municipal Building, the Allegheny County Health Department will hold it's final public hearing on the proposed coke oven battery. The coke oven battery will replace three older batteries and will be equipped with state-of-the-art controls that will limit pollution. This is the first of two proposed coke oven battery's for U.S. Steel's Clairton Coke Works. The first battery is expected to be installed by 2011 and the second by 2014.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Report Highlights Pittsburgh's Global Warming Solutions and Pennsylvania's Shortcomings

PennEnivronment released a new report today that details more than 20 examples of programs being used to reduce global warming pollution. Pittsburgh's commitment to "green buildings" and improved commuter transit between Harrisburg and Philadelphia via AMTRAK were the two Pennsylvania solutions highlighted. PennEnvironment spokesman Nathan Willcox says Pennsylvania is improving its global warming solutions and he hopes that the governor will announce a comprehensive global warming plan for the state. Despite improvements, Pennsylvania still produces more global warming pollution than every other state except California and Texas. One reason for that is the fact that Pennsylvania is a leading exporter of electricity.

Mayor Awards $100,000 to Green Initiative Trust Fund

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl awarded a $100,000 check to the Pittsburgh Green Initiative Trust Fund, announced the formation of a Pittsburgh "Green Council," and created a position to head the two. The money is a result of money saved when the city purchased its energy in bulk. Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Green Building Alliance Rebecca Flora says that the green movement in Pittsburgh benefits the environment and the economy. She cites the creation of green jobs through green action in the city and how energy efficiency promotes cost efficiency in business. The Green Government Task Force has finished the "Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan" and will release that report next week. According to Ravenstahl, the Green Council will analyze the report and try to make its recommended changes. Flora says the group will focus on emissions. Both Flora and Ravenstahl like the idea of having created only one position for the Green Council so the city can utilize its resources in the non-profit and higher education sectors of the city. The $100,000 will also act as leverage to show the cities support for green improvements when applying for future grants.

New Legislation to Propose Mortgage Rescue Fund

State Representative Peter Daley, a Democrat from Washington County and fellow lawmakers Dwight Evans and Michael McGeehan of Philadelphia, announced legislation today that would create a housing trust fund and a mortgage foreclosure rescue program. The bills call for a $25 million fund to pay for new mortgage assistance programs through the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency. According to the measures, the money would be drawn from the state budget. Representative Daley emphasized that the mortgage foreclosure rescue program was not a grant, but a loan to those in danger of foreclosure. He says that the idea is to take the adjustable rate mortgages the homeowner's currently pay, and transform them into set rate mortgages. 38 other states have already enacted similar measures.

Report: Cost of Living in Pennsylvania Rising

Pathways PA issued its biennial report detailing the cost of living throughout Pennsylvania's 67 counties. The Self-Sufficiency Wage for a family with two adults, one pre-schooler, and one school age child rose over $5,000 in all counties. In Allegheny County that cost is estimated to be about $42,000. President and CEO of Pathways PA Carol Goertzler says that the biggest cost increase was seen in health care and child care. Every facet of life has seemingly gone up in cost according to the report. Goertzler also predicts that the 2010 report will show its biggest cost increase in transportation due to recent gas price increases.

PAT says "dump the pump" tomorrow

The Port Authority of Allegheny County is hoping to see a spike in ridership Thursday. PAT is marking the third annual “dump the pump day” Thursday by giving away a monthly pass but spokesperson David Whipkey says that is just the beginning to what a bus rider can save. The average mass transit commuter save 15 hundred dollars a year in gas costs alone. Whipkey says in the last two years the Port Authority has seen a bump in ridership on “dump the pump day” and he expects the numbers to be even bigger this year with rising gas prices driving up the cost of a daily commute. Whipkey says there is a “mystery” that surrounds ridding the bus or “T” and once people get over that hurdle they often find its is a very easy process.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Pittsburgh City Council approves Domestic Registry

Pittsburgh City Council gave final approval to a domestic registry that would allow straight and gay couples who are not married, but "mutually committed" to each other. The bill passed by a 7-1 vote, with council member Ricky Burgess voting no, and Bill Peduto abstaining because he is out of the country currently. The legislation will allow any two city resident to register unless they are too closely related to be married under state law. They must show documentary evidence of their commitment and pay a $25 fee.

Onorato talks to Southwest Airlines

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato returned from a trip to Dallas to meet with southwest airlines officials to tell the media he was optimistic about the airline’s future at Pittsburgh international. He says the goal of the meeting was not to sign a deal but to remind the airline what was available at the airport and to get feed back from Southwest officials. Onorato says the company is interested in expanding at Pittsburgh international but must first deal with the growing cost of fuel. He says Southwest would not committee to any specifics but he feels that if US Airways pulls more flight Southwest would be interested in filling that void. Onorato says he also spoke to airline officials about what would be needed in the way of additional gates and baggage handling facilities if they were to expand. The County executive points out origination and destination traffic has increased as US airways has reduced the number of flights in and out of Pittsburgh international which he says is due to the increasing number of flights being offered by low cost carriers.

Onorato fires back at "rebellion"

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato says he is ready to fight the so-called “whisky rebellion 2” with his own “property tax rebellion.” He says the state has given the county the option to either fund the county’s $30-million commitment to the Port Authority with drink and car rental taxes or fund it with property taxes. He says the only other option is to do away with the Port Authority. He says cutting spending by $30 million is not an option and he would have to increase property taxes by more than 20 percent to keep the budget balanced. Onorato says he is not even sure the proposed ballot question is legal because it does not offer offsetting spending cuts to keep the budget in balance. The home rule charter requires a balanced budget. Onotato says the only way to find other funding options for the Port Authority is to convince the state legislature to approve new taxes.

Whiskey Rebellion 2 to hold rally

The Whiskey Rebellion 2, is holding a rally tonight against the Allegheny County 10% drink tax. The group has sold over 700 tickets at $20 a piece for the event and is starting it's petition to put a referendum on the November ballot in an effort to "Axe the Drink Tax." The group will be meeting at the Priory's Grand Hall on the North Side. To get a referendum on the ballot the group believes they will need close to 24,000 signatures.

State Senate approves tax cuts

The Pennsylvania Senate approved a $240 million tax cutting package Monday. The legislation would lift the forgiveness limit on the state's personal income tax every year for three years. It would also raise the cap on losses that a business could carry forward to offset taxes on future profits to $5 million or 20%, and it would double the income tax break to $50,000 that businesses could claim on the purchase of equipment and machinery. The cuts would add up to $96 million in the first fiscal year and $246 million in the 2010-2011 fiscal year. The bill, which was passed by a Republican-controlled Senate, now makes its way to a Democrat-controlled House.

Allegheny Bar Association to Combat Gender Inequality

The Allegheny County Bar Association announced today the formation of the Institute of Gender Equality. The program comes as a result of a 2005 report on gender equality in the legal profession in the county that showed no improvement since 1990. The Institute will hold classes for legal employers and Duquesne University and University of Pittsburgh law students. President of the Allegheny County Bar Association Ken Gormley says that he hopes the institute will narrow the gap between men and women in the legal field, develop a list of "Best Practices" to continue to promote gender equality, and boost Allegheny County as the national frontrunner when it comes to tackling the issue. The Institute is set to begin classes in the first quarter of 2009. All members of the bar association are invited to attend.

Monday, June 16, 2008

State rep. calls for Flood damage protection

Secretary of the State Department of Environmental Protection Kathleen McGinty was joined by State Representative James Wansacz of Lackawanna, Luzerne, and Susquehanna counties, for a conference call regarding the state's flood protection. Rep. Wansacz has a bill in the state house that would create funds to for multiple flood mitigation projects across the state. The plan is to use money from insurance providers. Secretary McGinty said that if the bill passed it would allow for multiple flood mitigation projects, that have been backstopped due to lack of funding, to start up. According to McGinty floods, and flood damage are more dangerous than many Pennsylvanians think.

West Nile virus confirmed in a Mosquito

Pennsylvania has it's first reported case of West Nile Virus. In Luzerne County a mosquito was found to test positive for West Nile. The area in Luzerne County will now be sprayed with a material known as BTI which has been concentrated so it will only affect mosquito's. Last year there were only 10 reported human cases of West Nile, with cases occurring primarily in late summer and early fall. Pennsylvania has an aggressive campaign against West Nile virus as opposed to other states who only start spraying pesticide after a human case is reported. Pennsylvania begins its spraying after the first positive case is documented.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Bus Driver Run Over, 3 Injured

At 11:10 this morning a 74A Homestead-Squirrel Hill outbound bus ran over its driver and crashed into a tree injuring 3 of the 4 passengers. The bus stopped to pick up a handicapped person and the driver realized that the chairlift would not raise back up. The driver, whose name has not been released, went out to examine the lift when the bus began to roll backward. The driver then tried to jump back onboard the moving bus and consequently had his legs run over by the front right tire. The bus then came to rest when it struck a tree. The driver was taken to UPMC Presbyterian for leg injuries and 2 passengers treated for minor cuts and bruises. One other passenger was treated on the scene. Port Authority Spokesman David Whipkey says the bus has been taken back to the station and the incident is currently under investigation. The accident will not affect traffic and riders on the 74A route should not expect any delays.

State DEP holds summit on drilling rules and regulations

The State Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty held a summit today that was attended by approximately 150 representatives of the oil and gas industry. The meeting was held as a result of a discovery by the state DEP of various violations at drilling sites operated by companies located outside of Pennsylvania. The meeting was held to inform drilling companies of the rules and regulations of the state that are in place to protect and preserve the states natural resources and natural beauty.

Robotic Device used in surgery

Allegheny General Hospital and West Penn Hospital each have their own Da Vinci Surgical System. The Machine was originally designed by NASA and used by the Dept. of Defense in battlefield operations. The Da Vinci Surgical Machine has 6 robotic arms that are controlled by a surgeon from an interactive console. Offering 3 dimensional images of up to 15 times optical zoom, a surgeon can make smaller incisions and perform invasive procedures with more accuracy and increased safety to the patient. Dr. Eugene Scioscia has used the device and says it has increased the movements available in invasive procedures. It takes approximately two months of training on the two million dollar machine before a surgeon will use it on a patient. Currently the machine is used in treatment of prostate cancer and various gynecological conditions. The machines effectiveness in cardiac surgery is currently being explored.

County Council President Discusses Smoking Ban

Democrat Rich Fitzgerald says the new law is a good first step, but communities should be allowed to go further. The Allegheny County State Senate delegation got a commitment from legislators that the county will be allowed to re-instate restrictions passed last year but disallowed by the courts. Philadelphia is the only community now permitted to impose stricter standards, but Fitzgerald says all areas of the state should be treated the same way. Legislation extending the privilege should pass by the end of the year, he says.

On a long list of exemptions to the ban, the one that bothers him most is for casinos, where 25% of a facility can be "smoking"--or up to 50% if business suffers. The Allegheny County law treated casinos like other businesses, which is how Fitzgerald thinks it should be.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

UPMC South Side to merge with Mercy uptown

UPMC South Side will be merging with Mercy Hospital over a five year period, UPMC announced. The merger will begin in July of 2009, with Mercy Uptown receiving $75-$90 million for expansion projects. The renovations will include a rehabilitation "center of excellence." The merger is not being done for financial reasons, considering each hospital made a profit last year. Employees who do not move from the South Side to Mercy will have the option of obtaining other positions throughout the UPMC network.

Peduto: Schenley Can Be Saved

Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto announced his plan that could potentially save Schenely High School from closing. Pittsburgh Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt says 5 different studies estimate the cost of renovations to be $76 million dollars, and since the district cannot afford it, he recommends closing the high school. Peduto suggests the old Reizenstein school building be sold for around $15 million dollars and developed into a residential area. Councilman Peduto who represents Schenley and Reizenstein's district, says that the residents want that area to be developed residentially. His plan suggests that the $15 million would then become a part of the $40 million renovations that Schenley needs through a "design-build-lease" financing project. This means that the high school would be leased to a private firm which would finance the renovations, and then be leased back to the district which would continue to pay the firm until the building expenses are repaid. The plan was submitted to Pittsburgh Public Schools superintendent and the school board for consideration.

Families USA report gives Pennsylvania failing grade in protecting health insurance consumers

A Families USA report gives Pennsylvania a failing grade in protecting consumers in the individual health insurance market. The report found that Pennsylvania, among other things does not protect against "cherry picking". A process where health insurance providers pick only the healthiest consumers. The report also found that Pennsylvania has no limits on how much insurers can increase premiums based on an individuals health status.The report looked at all 50 states and found that most states do not do enough to protect consumers from unfair treatment.

Financial performance review of State Hospitals released

The Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council released their latest Hospital specific financial performance numbers for the fiscal year 2007 and found some promising numbers for the states hospitals. One negative the report found was that the amount of uncompensated care that hospitals provide grew over 12%, from $604 Million to $678 Million. Although some larger hospitals can afford to absorb that cost many of the smaller and medium hospitals with smaller budgets are forced to shift funding. 25% of PA hospitals lost money overall, That number has not improved since 2006. Commercial health insurers have also continued to provide an increasing share of hospital revenue, and outpatient care was the main cause for those numbers.

Neighborworks holding Community events

Neighborworks, is holding two events that will be open to the public that will assist in reducing debt, and influencing smart home ownership. "Neighborworks Week" is having their first event "Escape the Debt Trap" Thursday June, 12Th from 6-8pm at 1410 Fifth ave, and their second event is a "Home buyer Workshop" aimed at informing and guiding smart decisions when thinking about buying a home. Neighborworks which is located in uptown is also conducting a neighborhood cleanup on Saturday that will span much of the uptown neighborhood. Neighborworks is conducting the clean up as a part of an effort to be a good neighbor.

CCAC and Allegheny County Partner Up

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato and Community College of Allegheny County President Dr. Alex Johnson outlined a new strategic partnership to identify, train and retain workers in Allegheny County. Onorato says he wants to keep the pool of qualified workers growing in sectors like "health care, biotechnology, tourism, recreation and environmental reclamation," as well as retrain incumbent workers in areas like automotive and information technology. He is hoping businesses will be attracted to the region's ready-to-go work force.

They also unveiled a new scholarship program to entice voluntary fire fighters into service. The program, called the Allegheny County Fire Volunteer Education, Service and Training Scholarship Program, or FireVEST will award 200 full-tuition scholarships for an associate's degree or certificate program at CCAC in exchange for a five year commitment to service in Allegheny County. Details of FireVest will be finalized September 1, 2008. Scholarships will be awarded beginning spring semester 2009.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Lawmakers Unveil "No Sanctuary" Legislation

State Representative Daryl Metcalfe revealed new additions to the illegal immigration reform package. House bills 2627 and 2628, both sponsored by the Butler County Republican, crack down on municipalities promoting residency of illegal aliens. Under these measures, the Pennsylvania Secretary of State would have the authority to investigate municipalities believed to promote illegal alien sanctuary. The offending municipality's state appropriations would be held in escrow accounts until sanctuary ordinances are removed and damages incurred to citizens by illegal aliens would be required to be repaid by the municipality. Metcalfe says other states have enacted similar legislation and that Pennsylvania must also. He says that states without these laws look appealing to aliens and, as a result, have a higher illegal alien population. The measures are a follow-up to recently passed laws that revoke public benefits for illegal aliens and penalize employers who knowingly employ illegal aliens.

City Council Holds Hearing on Northside CBA

Concerned community members voiced their opinions at a Pittsburgh city council public hearing to discuss a potential community benefits agreement between Northside residents and Continental Development. Mary Cantoro, Executive Director of the Stadium Authority, explained the developer's desire to re-work a current contractual agreement between Continental and the Stadium Authority for development of a hotel. However, Councilman Bill Peduto says that contract has already expired and re-negotiating would violate the law. Northside United members agreed with Peduto and continued to argue that a new deal be reached between the two which includes a community benefits agreement. Through many Northside resident testimonies, the group expressed its commitment to fighting for a new agreement and vowed that they are "not going away" until a new deal is reached.

Region Wins Pilot Program for Electronic Health Records

Pittsburgh is one of 12 regions in the country chosen to pilot a five-year Medicare program by the Department of Health and Human Services that gives incentives for physicians to initiate electronic health records.

Secretary Leavitt says 100 practices in Western Pennsylvania with between three and ten doctors will participate because that is the size practice least likely to have invested in electronic record technology--it is expensive. He says each physician might get up to $56,000 and each practice up to $295,000 over five years, but even that might not be enough, so local collaborators, like private insurance companies, are being asked to help. Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield will give $29 million in grants to local physicians.

The Pittsburgh Regional Health Initiative will be the federal government's local partner in carrying out the program. In addition to the 100 practices selected for incentives, there will be another 100 used as a control group.

85% of medical records in the U.S. are still paper, though electronic health records reduce errors and increase efficiency and quality.

Allegheny County Deputy District Attorney Testifies in Congressional Hearing

Deputy District Attorney Laura Ditka gave her testimony at a House Education and Labor Committee hearing concerning the Education Begins at Home Act, a bill which provides at-home visitation from trained family resource personnel to troubled families. Ditka, the chief of Allegheny County's Child Abuse Unit, provided anecdotal evidence of the need for at-home visitation. She also provided statistics on families who already receive the visits. Ditka says that in houses where there has been visitation, 60% of children and 60% of mothers are no longer arrested. She urged committee members to enact the legislation to eliminate child abuse stemming from neglect by uneducated, ill-prepared parents.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

PA Atty. Gen gets bad foreclosure grade.

ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) has released a report card of all 51 US attorneys general on how well they are combating the home foreclosure crisis. PA A.G. Tom Corbett earned an “F.” The report card was based on performance in 9 categories including advocating for individuals, fighting for legislative reforms and launching outreach efforts. Out of 25 possible points Tom Corbett received 4. ACORN Financial Justice Center Director Austin King says if he had Corbett’s ear he would ask him to use his bully pulpit to intervene on behalf of those facing foreclosure. He says the PA A.G. did get points for signing a letter to preserve state’s rights to deal with predatory lenders and he has filed suit against scam artists looking to take advantage of home owners about to be foreclosed on by their lenders. King says while on average Democrats did better than Republicans the strongest correlation to grade was how hard hit the state was by the foreclosure crises. He says there were no bad grades in the 5 states hit hardest but the Attorneys General in the state where the foreclosure crises has not been extreme have done little to help.

UPMC to Offer Free Car Seat Safety Checks

Thursday, June 12, UPMC Mercy will offer free car seat safety checks to parents. Nurse Educator Michelle Burchesky explains that certified UPMC associates will inspect child safety and booster seats to verify proper installation and check if the car seat has been recalled by its manufacturer. The safety checks will be held in the Gibbon Street entrance to the parking garage at Duquesne University from 3 to 6:30 p.m. It is encouraged that participants schedule an appointment, but drive-ups will be accepted, as well. To schedule an appointment, call 412-881-9221. Pennsylvania State Law requires that all children under age 4 must be in a child safety seat when riding in a car, and ages 4-8 must use a booster seat.

Quarterback Jim Kelly to Participate in Rally

Hall of Fame Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly will stand along side State Senator Jane Orie today in support of House Bill 883, the "Newborn Child Testing Act." The measure would mandate that all newborns be screened for 29 genetic disorders at birth. Currently the state requires that only 6 disorders be screened for. Orie, an Allegheny County Republican, says that every other state has enacted legislature similar to HB 883. She also says that the program will only cost $1 million in state funds to start and will save children's lives and the Commonwealth money in the long run. Jim Kelly has rallied for legislation requiring newborn testing across the country since his child, Hunter, died at the age of 8 of Krabbe Disease which could have been diagnosed and treated if he had been tested as a newborn.

Tech Council goes "artsy"

The Pittsburgh Technology Council launches its first venture into the world of art this week when it opens its “15 minutes” gallery exhibition. The Tech Council put out a call for artwork from Southwestern Pennsylvania residents in an effort to show how innovation plays a roll in both the world of technology and the art world. 74 works from 46 artists will be on display at the Tech Council’s office on Technology Drive through August 29th with an opening gala Thursday. Tech Council Art director Kim Harvey says the council was so pleased with the response that it hopes to take other stabs at melding the art and technology worlds. The title of the show is a play on the Andy Warhol 15 minutes of fame quote.

Search Continues on the Youghiogheny

Officials continue the search for the body of a Canonsburg man who was swept down the Youghiogheny River in Ohiopyle State Park Friday afternoon. 26-year old Esker Cottrill III was swimming in the river when strong currents swept him downstream several hundred yards and over an 18-foot waterfall. Ohiopyle State Park Assistant Manager Stacy Faust says the river, which is normally about 1-2 feet deep at the point in which Cottrill was swimming, was about 7 feet deep that day. Coroner's Office Cadaver Search Dogs, helicopters, ground search parties, and a dive team have been involved in the search. Meanwhile, the Cottrill family has stayed in the park area receiving hospitality from local restaurants and hotels. They are currently seeking donations for the newly founded Esker Cottrill III Memorial Fund.

Bill to help small businesses pay insurance introduced

US Congressman Jason Altmire of the North Hills is one of ten sponsors of legislation being introduced Tuesday aimed at helping small business that want to provide health insurance to their workers. The measure would charge the National Association of Insurance Commissioners with putting together a list of plans that business owners can buy into at rates lower then they would be able to negotiate on their own. The business would not see rates increase if one worker had a serious illness. Altmire says often small business are dropped by insurance companies or see their rates skyrocket when none employee gets a serious illness. That practice is known as redlining. The bill will also give tax credits to small businesses that pay at least 60-percent of their employee’s insurance premiums. The tax credit would be capped at 18-hundred dollars for an individual employee’s insurance policy and twice that for family coverage.

Monday, June 9, 2008

A+ Schools to hold public forum on the budgeting process

A+ Schools is holding a public forum on the budgeting process of the Pittsburgh Public Schools on June 9, 2008 at Life's Work on Forbes Ave. The discussion is aimed at informing parents on how the school district goes about it's budgeting process. Carrey Harris, The Executive Director of A+ Schools, says the school district has been very helpful in the past in organizing and arranging meetings and speakers. There will be a light dinner tonight as well as child care for children over the age of 1.

Pittsburgh to hold first ever Shared Services day

On June 10Th 2008 the City of Pittsburgh will hold it's first shared services day at the IBEW Hall in the Southside section of the city. The shared services day will bring together representatives of the counties 129 boroughs and municipalities in an effort to explore possible cost savings achieved through the sharing of services. Much like the Sharing of Waste removal in Wilkinsburg. The success of the Wilkinsburg trash removal has led to this event. Pittsburgh is not alone in sharing services, some of the northern municipalities have combined police forces, and other borough's and municipalities have expressed interest in sharing services with the city.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Montour Trail to go to airport

The Allegheny County Airport Authority Board has voted to approve an extension to the Montour Trail that would enable cyclists to bike to the airport. There has been interest in this trail extension for some time but it has been put on hold because of post 9/11 security concerns. The trail would not enter the airfield or even go near it but would end at the land terminal. There need to be some improvements made to the road and signs and crosswalks need to be installed before the trail is open to the public.

Port Authority Gets Bids for North Shore T Station

The Port Authority of Allegheny County received four bids for the new Allegheny T Station on the North Shore ranging from $39 to $42 million. Although a contract will therefore exceed the original estimate of $30 million by about 30%, it could have been worse, according to Winston Simmonds, Rail Operations and Engineering Officer. Concrete and fuel prices are up, he says, and fabricated steel is 50% more costly this year.

Simmonds says the Port Authority is trying to mitigate costs in any way possible, e.g., by allowing a concrete alternative (to steel) for the Allegheny Station bid and by closing the Gateway Station completely during construction so the contractor can save money by having complete access.

The Port Authority will review the low bid of $39.8 million from Brayman Construction of Saxonburg, PA, along with a prior bid for the Gateway Station, with the goal of seeking board approval in July for awarding both contracts. Simmonds says the North Shore Connector will be a valuable regional asset, opening up opportunities for possible northward expansion in the future.

Members of City Council and Mayor Ravenstahl agree to Review of Departmental Goals and Objectives

Pittsburgh City Council and the Mayor have agreed to submit departmental goals and objectives prior to the start of the budget process. All city departments will be required to submit their mission statement along with a list of goals and objectives for the upcoming year. The objectives will be due by July 31st, 2008. Council members Patrick Dowd and Bill Peduto requested the performance statements and have said it will increase transparency during the budget process and allow city council to see exactly what tax payers money will be used for.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Bill to Cut Science Center State Grant Removed

House Bill 2327, a proposal that would have cut an annual $254,000 state grant for the Carnegie Science Center, has been tabled. The legislation was first proposed as leverage to encourage House Democrats to push through House Bill 2299, a measure that would require county officials to approve any exhibit that would show human corpses. According to 2299, organizers would be forced to provide paperwork detailing where the body came from and prior consent from the person that their body may be put on display. State Representative Mike Fleck, a Democrat from Huntingdon County and leading proponent of both bills, says the threat to the Science Center's state grant has diminished now that 2299 is set to come up for vote June 24th. All of this is in response to Premiere Exhibit's controversial "Bodies" display, which ran at Carnegie this spring.

State Representative Looks into Voting by Mail

House State Government Committee Chairwoman Babette Josephs recommends that Pennsylvania amend its constitution to allow citizens to vote by absentee ballot without needing an acceptable reason. The Philadelphia County Democrat's suggestion could be the first step on Pennsylvania's way to all-mail voting. Josephs is currently entertaining the idea of universal mail-in ballots. She says that Oregon is the only state with all-mail voting and that process has increased participation, decreased the likelihood of voter fraud, and saved the state money. However, she did concede that mail-in ballots take away the nostalgia of travelling to voting booths. She also said that mail-in ballots did not restrict exit polling in Oregon.

Tree Rivers Arts Fest Opens

The Three Rivers Arts Festival opens Friday at noon with the 80’s and 90’s tribute rock band “Blindsider.” 100-150 artists will be in the artist’s market in gateway center each of the next 17 days. A total of 300 artists will pass through the market at various times. Three stages on Stanwix Street and in Market Square will feature performances each afternoon and evening. This weekend the Artist’s market will play host to “Turning Ideas into Art.” Various artists will show how they create their arts and crafts. Tom Sarver will bring his Art Olympics to market square the next weekend. The Arts Fest is also trying something new. “Container” uses old shipping containers as galleries. Ten of these containers once used on ocean going ships will be set up on Forbes between Stanwix and Market Square.

Ravenstahl warned to not sign campaign finance reform

A campaign finance reform watchdog group has sent Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl a letter encouraging him to veto recently passed legislation that would limit campaign contributions in city races. Center for competitive politics president Sean Parnell says the bill would not take corruption out of politics and it might be unconstitutional. The bill passed this week limits individual contributions to $2,000 and limits political committees to $5,000 per election cycle. There is an exemption for candidates running against candidates who spend more than a quarter of a million dollars of their own money on a campaign. A similar provision in federal law has been argued before the US Supreme Court. Parnell says Pittsburgh ordinance would chill free speech, further entrench incumbents because challengers would not be able to get out their message and it would not limit corruption. He says politicians will still feel the pressure to get endorsements and other special interest group support.

City Controllers office releases audit of Pittsburgh's EMS

City Controller Michael Lamb released an audit of Pittsburgh's Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and found that the city's EMS were meeting desired response times in priority calls at 60% compared to the national standard of 90%. Standard response time is below 9 minutes after the emergency call is placed The audit also found that Unit hour Utilization (UHU), which is the ratio of number of hours spent delivering EMS service as compared to total number of hours a system could deliver is higher that national standards. The acceptable levels for UHU are between .40 Unit hours - .50 Unit hours. The audit found the UHU for the city at .54 in 06, and .56 in 07.

Lamb cited high volume of non emergency calls as the problem for the EMS, and has contacted local health care and service providers with the recommendation of creating and instituting a program that informs the public on what constitutes an emergency health need. Lamb said the city did not need to hire more EMS personnel or have more units available because if non emergency calls decreased then the current number on the force would be appropriate. Pittsburgh's EMS is operating under act 47 guidelines.

UPMC to take Second Shot at Hanging Letters

If you gaze up at the top of the U.S. Steel tower in downtown Pittsburgh, you may notice something "M"issing. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's (UPMC) hanging of their signature letters was postponed in early May due to inclement weather leaving the letters U, P, and C, at the top of the 64-story building and the "M" grounded. The first 3 of the 4 letters, which weigh between 2,000 to 3,000 pounds each, were successfully attached to the top of the tower via helicopter. Winds and rain kept the "M" on the ground where it has remained in storage. UPMC will try to hang the "M" again this weekend. Spokesman Paul Wood says that as long as the weather remains nice, it will be put up. Workers saved the "M" for last because it is the letter with the largest surface area and the letter most affected by wind. The project will eventually have the letters "UPMC" hanging from the top of all three sides of the U.S. Steel tower. UPMC leases about one-fifth of the building.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Cyber School Reform Bill Would Benefit Allegheny Co.

State Representative Karen Beyer wants to lower the rate at which public schools would reimburse cyber schools in their geographic area. The Republican Lehigh County lawmaker says her bill would save school districts statewide roughly $20 million dollars with Allegheny County districts benefiting from the biggest savings at $5 million. The bill was approved by the House Education Committee and has been "held up" in the Appropriations Committee. Beyer says she hopes the measure will reach a floor vote by the end of the month.

Three Rivers Regatta Returns

The Three Rivers Regatta will be held this year from July 3rd to the 4th. The festivities will be on the north shore this year with the Pittsburgh pirates having their kid zone set up at the entrance to the Clemente bridge. There will be a concert on a barge in front of Heinz field, and for the first time in a couple years the F-1 Champboat series will return to Pittsburgh. There will also be fireworks and a laser show to end the two day festival. This will be the 31st year for the Regatta. Heinz field and PNC Park are partners with the Regatta this year.

PA Has Green Job Future

Pennsylvania's job market future A Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) report outlined the future of green jobs within the state. The report took into account the current level of green job opportunities and the potential for future green jobs. It determined that the creation of green jobs in Pennsylvania would not necessarily mean a shift from its staple industries--steel and manufacturing--but would change what these industries produce. Clean Air Council Executive Director Joseph Minott says that these industries will be producing the materials for wind power, solar power, energy efficient cars, building retrofitting, and a variety of other environmentally-friendly products. Wind power giant Gamesa has already yielded over 1,000 green jobs.

Rendell says Clinton will concede soon

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell says he thinks Senator Hillary Clinton will concede later this week. He says he does not think she will heed the call of some supporters that she suspend her campaign and then mount a fight on the floor of the convention in August. Rendell thinks Clinton is still the best nominee and he points to her victories in the last few months of the campaign including her ability to capture about 55-percent of the vote in the later primaries. However, he says she will now put her support behind Sen. Barack Obama and he thinks the same will be true of 90-95 percent of the democratic primary voters. To the Clinton supporters who say they will not vote for Obama, Rendell reminds them that the next president may name as many as three supreme court justices and that should not be left to Sen. John Mc Cain.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

CCAC Nursing Program Receives $984,275 Grant

Community College of Allegheny County received over $980,000 in federal grant money from the Health Resources and Services Administration to go toward its RN Achievement nursing program. RN Achievement encourages and recruits high school students to enter the CCAC nursing school. The grant will promote recruitment efforts, help disadvantaged students enter and complete the program through academic and financial aid, increase nursing program retention, and provide cultural diversity training to faculty and students. CCAC Vice President for Institutional Advancement and External Relations Nanci Lee Burzachechi says there was strong competition for the funds and that CCAC received the grant from within a pool of 90 applicants. CCAC has $225,000 of the money slated for financial aid alone.

Domestic Partner Registry legislation introduced

City Councilman Bruce Kraus introduced legislation today that would create a domestic partner registry to assist domestic partners is obtaining benefits available to them by their employers. The city already offers benefits to domestic partners but does not have anyway of verifying and maintaining records of those couples. The registry would be mutually exclusive to the city but would allow domestic partners who register to obtain the proper paperwork to take to their employer that would verify their relationship status. The legislation was modeled after that of Urbana, ILL. The idea for this registry came after council president Doug Shields was auctioned off for charity. The winning couple won dinner at the Council Presidents house where the idea was introduced.

Councilman Disapproves of Committee-Passed Smoking Ban

Allegheny County Councilman Rich Fitzgerald agrees with State Senator Robert Mellow of Lackawanna County--that a smoking ban bill, passed by a House-Senate Conference Committee, is unfair to Allegheny County. The bill which was approved by 5-1 vote (Mellow being the only dissenting vote) banned smoking in most workplaces and public places, including restaurants and office buildings. The measure also grandfathered in the Philadelphia smoking ban which took effect in September 2006 on top of the state ban. Fitzgerald feels that it is unfair that Philadelphia can enact its own smoking ban, but Allegheny County cannot. Allegheny County's smoking ban was overturned in court last year.

Working America hits Altmire's district

A grassroots organization affiliated with the AFL-CIO is upping its membership drive efforts in key congressional districts across the country including Pennsylvania’s 4th. The group “Working America” focuses on issues it feels are important to working families including minimum wage, better access to health care and the right to organize. The group says it fights for “workers who do not have a union on the job.” Members will be canvassing in Congressman Altmire’s district and other neighborhoods in southwestern Pennsylvania. Jen Jannon is the state director of working America. She says they often get people to sign up on the spot and write letters or make a call before they leave the porch. Jannon says nation wide the organization has 2 million members and 400-thousand of them are in Pennsylvania. She says people are yearning to have their voices heard in Washington and by gathering under one organization they feel they have that power.

City Council adopts Campaign Finance Reforms

Pittsburgh City Council today approved new campaign finance rules. With a 5-4 vote the bill has been sent to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. The bill bars candidates for city office from taking more than $2,000 per election from any individual or partnership and no more than $5,000 from any political action campaign.

Voting yes on the bill were, Bill Peduto, Doug Shields, Bruce Kraus, Patrick Dowd, and Ricky Burgess.

Voting no were Tonya Payne, Jim Motznik, Darlene Harris, and Dan Deasy.

All members of council voiced support for the reform bill but also made sure to express their own feelings regarding the fact that Pennsylvania does not have any statewide limitations or reforms coming. Members who voted in the negative said they would support a statewide reform bill that places everyone on an even playing field.

Counterfeit Penguins Jerseys

U-S Postal inspectors in Pittsburgh say they've seen a dramatic increase in the number of counterfeit products that are being shipped to the area related to the Penguins. In one day alone this past month, inspectors confiscated 78 boxes of counterfeit jerseys with the Penguins logo estimated to be worth $250,000 on the retail market. Andrew Richards, Postal Inspector in Pittsburgh, says the unlicensed clothing is coming primarily out of China. He says the individuals who did the ordering have been confronted and a determination will be made later by prosecutors about whether any criminal action will take place.

Investigators want to warn consumers that the counterfeit items are in the area. Richards says it's difficult to identify knock-off products because the manufacturers are more sophisticated. He says before you could look for NFL or NHL holograms to denote genuine articles. But Richards says on the fake jerseys they are producing counterfeit holograms. He says a tip off is when an item is being sold for considerably less than what can be found in normal retail outlets. He also says if you buy from someone on the street, chances are they are not a licensed vendor. The counterfeit sports items show up throughout the year, but Richards says it's when a team is doing well, such as now with the Penguins in the Stanley Cup championship, that they see an influx of the fake goods being shipped into the area. Postal inspectors are helped in their efforts to track down the fake items through the help of the NHL and and sports teams.

Murphy Seeks End to U.S. Energy Embargo

U.S. Congressman Tim Murphy, a democrat from Allegheny County, sent a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Republican leader John Boehner today calling upon them to forget party lines and end the American energy embargo. Murphy, a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, asks Congress to implement an American Energy Action plan. He says the United States is rich with billions of barrels of oil within its borders, but will not allow drilling. He also says that citizens are fed up with the high costs of gasoline and food, and are growing frustrated with the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs. Murphy insists that U.S. oil can be drilled safely to prevent major environmental damage, and that an increase in supply coupled with conservancy could provide relief at the pump and jobs for the workforce. The average price of gasoline in Pittsburgh has reached $4.00 a gallon and oil is trading at around $128 per barrel.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Parkway North Improvements Begin

An $11.2 million construction project on Interstate 279 (Parkway North) began today. Work starts with the reconstruction of the HOV lanes which will remain closed until after July 4th. PennDOT spokesman Jim Struzzi says the construction is part of preventative maintenance on the roadway. As a result of the HOV lanes closing, Struzzi also advises that drivers be prepared for heavy traffic on the Parkway North. Work on the HOV lane is stage I of a 3-stage reconstruction project aimed at preventing deterioration of the 19 year-old interstate. The HOV will be used to carry one lane of mainline traffic when work begins on the southbound, or inbound lanes of the Parkway North between Exit 7 Route 28 and Exit 15 Camp Horne Road. The majority of the roadwork will be at night and on weekends. After Labor Day, the work will switch to the outbound lanes.

Atlantic 10 Conference gets new Commissioner

The Atlantic 10 Conference has a new commissioner, Bernadette McGlade has replaced Linda Bruno who served in the capacity for the last 13 years. McGlade has spent the past 11 years working in the ACC Conference spending 9 years as the associate commissioner. McGlade says she is humbled by the position and not worried about any perceptions people may have about the conference. She has also worked in NCAA and ACC oversight committee's including sportsmanship, officiating, equity, and television. She is also the current president of the national association of collegiate women athletic administrators.

Entrepreneur's Conference To Be Held At Duquesne University

Duquesne University will be hosting it's 10Th annual Entrepreneur's conference on June 5Th. The conference will have two keynote speakers, Andy Masich, President and CEO of Sen. John Heinz History Center, and Andy Litinsky who was on NBC's "The Apprentice." The conference is hosted by Duquesne University's Small Business Development Center. The conference offers many workshops for conference goers. Some are, "Why Entrepreneurial Thinking is the Only Way", All in the Family: Preserving Your Family's Business Legacy and Profitability", and "Confession of a CEO." The conference is expected to have 500 people in attendance.

Smoking ban get tweeked

Pennsylvania State Senator Robert Mellow of Lackawanna County will introduce legislation this week that would at least in part preserve local control when it comes to a statewide smoking ban. Local ordinances in several counties and municipalities including Allegheny County have been struck down as being unconstitutional. Under Mellow’s plan those municipalities would be allowed to re-approve those ordinances if the state institutes a statewide ban. The only exception would be if the state law is more restrictive than the municipal ordinance. Governor Ed Rendell continues to say he will veto any bill that would strike down Philadelphia’s smoking ban. He says he would like to see all local initiative rights preserved but he would consider the Mellow amendment if it gets to his desk because he feels it is important to get a smoking ban passed.

International Bridge Conference looks for funding options

Bridge builders and designers from around the world are in Pittsburgh today for the international bridge conference and much of the focus is on federal transportation spending. US Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Thomas Barrett says rising construction costs and an aging highway system will continue to put more demand on the federal budget. He says there needs to be new approaches to funding maintenance and new construction including the use of private investment. Barrett says the private money could come in the form of financing, toll road leasing and uses of new technologies. He says if the funds are not captured by US projects the money will flow to India, China and Europe. Congress is debating a new round of long term federal transportation funding and many of those gathered at the conference feel there will be a fight to get funding levels increased. Barrett says the D-O-T does not support an increase in the gas tax. The new transportation bill will not be approved until after a new president and congress are sworn in.

Birmingham Bridge Repairs Begin Today

PennDOT crews began working today to repair the Birmingham Bridge which was damaged when a 60-foot pier shifted this winter. Problems began February 8 when the superstructure on the southbound lanes shifted downward and, after inspection, it was determined the bridge pier had moved as well. PennDOT spokesman Jim Struzzi says there was no way to predict the bridge shift. Traffic will not be impacted while repairs are made to the northbound pier nor while the rocker-bearing system is replaced by neoprene pads. In December, when work begins on the southbound pier, lanes will shift, but traffic will remain a single lane in each direction. Southbound work includes the removal and replacement of the 1,050 ton pier. In response to the Birmingham Bridge incident, PennDOT has begun inspecting the other 1,741 bridges in its district 11 region. Of those, 241 have similar rocker-bearing systems. 5 bridges in the district with that system are currently being addressed.

Braddock Locks and Dam Opens After Repair

The Army Corps of Engineers re-opened the large chamber at the Braddock Locks and Dam in the Monongahela River Sunday morning after emergency repairs that took 53 hours and cost half a million dollars.

The Braddock Locks and Dam date back to 1906 and had a major rehabilitation in 1953. Dave Sneberger, Chief of Locks and Dams for the Army Corps of Engineers, says locks on all Pittsburgh's rivers, and indeed the whole country's river system, are old and haven't gotten the resources to maintain them adequately.

Barge traffic had to be diverted to the small chamber, according to Sneberger, which increased lockage time from one hour to as much as eight hours, costing the towing industry hundreds of thousands of dollars. Rehab is scheduled in the next few weeks to strengthen the other gates in Braddock.