Sunday, May 31, 2009

GOP Lawmakers to Fight New Bid to Toll I-80

Pennsylvania House Republicans along the Interstate 80 corridor say they will fight the Rendell Administration's renewed effort to toll I-80. PennDOT Secretary Allen Biehler, who was also recently named as chairman of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, told a House Democratic Policy Committee that PennDOT and the commission plan to submit a revised application for the toll proposal to the federal government later this year. State Representative Scott Hutchinson of Venango County says the I-80 Republicans are unified against this plan which he says would devastate rural northwestern Pennsylvania and transfer money to urban areas...."So we are renewing our fight to stop the tolling plan on Interstate 80, including chopping the Turnpike Commission down to size and maybe eliminating it altogether. I think they have a poor track record, a patronage history and a history of corruption we should end."
Hutchinson says tolling the interstate would hinder the state's economic recovery.

Drug Might Not Help Early Stage Colon Cancer

Researchers from Allegheny General Hospital (AGH) say a drug that's been approved to treat advanced colorectal, breast and lung cancer might not be effective in dealing with early stage colon cancer. Avastin interferes wit the growth of cancer cells by cutting off blood flow to the tumors. Dr. Norman Wolmark, the principal investigator for AGH's Department of Human Oncology, says they had hoped that using Avastin in early stage colon cancer would improve the survival rate, but it did not. However, Dr. Wolmark says the drug might be more effective if administered for more than 1 year. Researchers reported their findings yesterday at a national conference in Orlando.

Specter to Address PA Democratic Committee

When five term Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Arlen Specter announced in April that he was switching parties and would run in the Democratic Primary in 2010, he received the backing of President Barack Obama and Governor Ed Rendell. This week he will try to court Democratic officials at the local levels. Specter is to address the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee Friday in Pittsburgh. Over the last two weeks, Specter has been participating in conference calls with groups of regional and local Democratic officials to discover their concerns. A spokesman says the senator and his aides have been working on Friday's speech for a week. Congressman Joe Sestak of suburban Philadelphia, who is expected to challenge Specter in the Democratic Primary, says he'll be on hand for Specter's speech.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Mayor Not Happy About Reporters Laughing at Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl says he was “somewhat insulted” when he heard that reporters were snickering when Pittsburgh was announced as the host location for the G20 meeting in September. Ravenstahl says the city has been trying to overcome that image for a long time and this event will help. He says the battle is getting people to Pittsburgh because once they visit they always leave raving about how great the city is. Ravenstahl says work on forming a host committee for the event is underway. He says the committee will include “the leaders of Pittsburgh” including corporate leaders, non-profit leaders and government officials. He says the planning for an event like this needs to be very detailed. He says that ranges from logistics and public safety to selecting locations to take visitors outside of the summit’s meetings. He says there are plenty of things in the region that he would like to highlight for the visitors but he will leave the final choice up to the host committee. Ravenstahl says he has already started getting calls from businesses and community leaders who say they are excited about the potential income tat will be generated by the event itself and the potential for stronger businesses ties with the rest of the world.
Ravenstahl says the selection process started about three weeks ago and it was hard to keep it under wraps but he says the White House said if there was a leak Pittsburgh would fall out of contention.
Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Michael Huss says he is working closely with the Department of Homeland Security and will be calling in support not only from federal agencies but from other police departments in the region as well. He says they will be ready to handle the security needs of the officials and the potential crowd control needs. He says at this point he is not going to tell people to avoid downtown during the meeting. He says he “sees no reason why the city should stop just because we are having this event.” Huss says all officers are being informed that they should plan to be on duty during the two-day event. Right now there are no plans to change the date of the Great Race. It is scheduled for just two days after the last G20 session.

Onorato Seeks to Sell Airport Parking

County Executive Dan Onorato announced his intent to privatize parking at the Pittsburgh International Airport. Onorato’s spokesman Kevin Evanto says the deal, estimated to be worth $500-700 million, would allow the airport to pay off its heavy $500 million debt and therefore make operating from the airport far less expensive. This in turn would lower ticket prices and most likely attract more airlines to Pittsburgh. Evanto says that his office has spoken with everyone who would be involved – the airport, the parking lot workers’ union, the company that manages the parking, and prospective buyers – with a “positive response” from all. The County Executive’s goal is to make Pittsburgh’s the least expensive airport in the country, says Evanto. Evanto adds that any written agreement would protect the cost of parking at the airport – to a degree. “You could structure it in different ways, but we would ensure that travelers wouldn’t be gouged, but at the same time make it possible for the company to increase rates over time so they could continue to make money,” says Evanto.

Pittsburgh City Council Holds Public Hearing On Curfew Center

Pittsburgh City Council today held a public hearing regarding the provision of funds for a curfew center. All of the speakers supported the creation of the center. Council members, speaking to the public, said while a curfew center can address some of the issues regarding criminal behavior in youth, more programs are needed. Council President Doug Shields said he would not be voting for the curfew center because of the difficulty in enforcing curfew and in the proven inadequecy of the law. He said more attention has to be paid to truancy because the majority of crimes being committed by minors takes place during the day. Other council members present said they would support the creation of the curfew center.

Governor Invests $76 million in Road and Pedestrian Improvements

Governor Rendell has allotted $76 million throughout the state to further road and walkway initiatives. Penn DOT spokesperson Rich Kirkpatrick says $59.2 million will be dedicated to Smart Transportation-related projects and $16.8 million for Safe Routes to School projects, respectively. Of the state money, roughly $15 million will be used within the Pittsburgh region. This will go toward projects such as improving walk ability around Fifth and Forbes Avenues in Oakland, installing corridor enhancements on the Point Park University campus and creating sidewalks and signs at a few nearby elementary schools. Kirkpatrick says these projects are to create thousands of jobs, and will also provide more traveling options for people to get from one place to another.

Questions Raised at Defense Contractor Show

A Pennsylania defense contractor to whom Congressman John Murtha of Johnstown had directed millions of dollars in "earmarks," has been blocked from doing business with the Navy amid allegations of fraud. Word of the suspension came during Murtha's 19th annual defense contractor trade show in Johnstown. At a brief news conference, Murth rebuffed questions about the suspension of Kuchera Defense Systems. That Windber firm and its officials have contributed $60,000 to Murtha's campaigns and political action committee since 2002. When asked about Kuchera, Murtha responded "What do you think, I oversee these companies?"
Federal investigators raided the offices and homes of the comapany owners Ron and Bill Kuchera in January.
At today's trade show, Murtha announced that $110 million in defense contracts had been awarded to three area firms. C-T-C received 2 contracts totalling $66 million for a Marine Corps data program and for services to the Department of Defense; JWD Defense Systems got a $24 million contract to assemble military vehicles; and, Martin-Baker America received a $20 million dollar deal for ejection seats for the Air Force.

Uptown Residents Envision the Future

An event tomorrow aims to get more people to think about Uptown as a destination rather than a place to drive through. Pop Up Pittsburgh! will include musical performances, public art and a barbecue competition. Artist James Simon will unveil his newest sculptures, two big dogs made out of concrete (see photos).

The block party comes just as a neighborhood group wraps up work on its first-ever visioning plan. As development from downtown and Oakland squeezes in, the group Uptown Partners has led discussions on what residents want their neighborhood to look like.

Of course, according to the city of Pittsburgh's map, Uptown is technically not a neighborhood--it's the "Bluff." That's not the only designation that may surprise you. Do you really live and work where you think you do?

Listen to Katherine Fink's full story on Uptown here.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Proposed Legislation Would Create "Land Banks"

State Representative John Taylor has introduced legislation that would create authorities throughout the state's cities and municipalities that have the ability to purchase vacant or tax delinquent properties. The "Land Banks" would then be able to do what they feel is most beneficial to the community with that property. Taylor said he wants this legislation to pass because he is seeing to many developers purchase property who do not have a vested interest in the community.

City-County Looks to "Showcase" during G20 Meeting

Shortly after the White House announced that it would host a mid-year meeting of the G20 in Pittsburgh, the city and Allegheny County issued a joint statement touting the meeting as a great way to “Showcase Southwestern Pennsylvania to an international audience.” County Executive Dan Onorato says, "During the past few years, we've transformed Southwestern Pennsylvania into a hub for next-generation jobs and 21st Century innovation. We've also made great strides in cleaning our air, water and land, as well as promoting smart growth, sustainable development and green jobs. I want to thank President Obama for giving us this remarkable opportunity to showcase our accomplishments and transformation on a world stage." Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl says, “We are honored to have this tremendous opportunity to showcase Pittsburgh to the rest of the world. We're especially proud that Pittsburgh was chosen because of our status as a symbol of economic transformation as well as our leadership in the green movement.” The city and county are in the process of forming a host committee and public safety officials are already working with the Secret Service to formulate plans to handle officials, support staff and protestors. A spokesperson for the mayor's office says the city was informed about the meeting just this morning.

Pittsburgh City Council Holds Meeting On Stimulus Spending

Pittsburgh City Council today held a post agenda meeting to discuss stimulus funds and infrastructure. Council finance committee chair Bill Peduto called for the meeting and invited representatives from the finance department, public works, bureau of building inspection, the urban redevelopment authority, the housing authority, the water and sewer authority, and the governors office. Also at the meeting was State Representative Chelsa Wagner. A main point made by members of council was the need to have discussions with the Mayors office before decisions are made on how to spend the stimulus dollars. Council asked the different departments to highlight how they plan on using the stimulus dollars they receive.

G20 coming to Pittsburgh

The White House has announced that the Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors (G20) will meet in Pittsburgh September 24 and 25. The meeting is planned as a meeting of “deputies” according to the G20 website. The full session meets once a year with several smaller meetings held throughout the year. The group is made up of leaders from the world’s 19 largest economies and the European Union. The G20 was formed “as a response both to the financial crises of the late 1990s and to a growing recognition that key emerging-market countries were not adequately included in the core of global economic discussion and governance.” The website lists a mandate for the group of, “The G20 is an informal forum that promotes open and constructive discussion between industrial and emerging-market countries on key issues related to global economic stability. By contributing to the strengthening of the international financial architecture and providing opportunities for dialogue on national policies, international co-operation, and international financial institutions, the G20 helps to support growth and development across the globe.” In the past, thousands of protesters from around the world have gathered in the cities hosting the meetings. In April, London hosted the annual meeting where mostly peaceful protests turned violent when a group began smashing windows and looting a Royal Bank of Scotland office.

Athletic Disclosure Bill Introduced to Enforce Equality in Schools

Sen. Mary Jo White introduced The Pennsylvania Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure Act which would force schools to publicly report the gender, race and ethnicity of all 7th to 12th grade players and the amounts athletic directors spend for uniforms, equipment and coaching.

Its designed to make sure schools are complying with Title 9.

They are modeled after federal requirements for the NCAA.

"We spend a lot of money in our schools on sports and a lot of time. And if we think its important then it should be important for girls as well as boys,'' she said.

Hill District Program Looks to Revitalize Neighborhood

The Hill District Neighborhood Partnership Program is entering its first year of operation. Over $495,000 in funding has been provided by BNY Mellon to the organization to launch nine community revitalization projects over the first year of the six-year effort. $3 million will be provided over the length of the program. First-year efforts include:

* Granting scholarship money
* Addressing school achievement gaps
* Increasing financial services for residents
* Helping with those struggling with drug addiction
* Rehabilitating homes
* Violence prevention
* Increasing Green Spaces

The groups that will receive the initial funding are: ACORN, Center for Family Excellence, Central Outreach Resource and Referral Center, Find the Rivers, Freedom Unlimited, the Hill District Federal Credit Union, House of the Crossroads and One Vision One Life. The Hill House Association will also receive $50,000 for administration of the Hill District NPP.

Terri Baltimore of the Hill House says this effort will have tangible results. "This is not a paper partnership... As somebody who's been a part of the process, I can say 'Yes, it has served the good of the neighborhood,'" says Baltimore.

The Neighborhood Partnership Program was started statewide by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) in 2005; the Hill District-specific program began in 2007, when the One Hill CBA Coalition formulated a "Blueprint for a Livable Hill." The DCED offers tax credits to corporations that invest in distressed neighborhoods; BNY Mellon decided to sponsor the Hill District.

Wander Falls Short

The Republican Party’s efforts to mount a last minute write-in campaign for a mayoral candidate has fallen short. Republican Committee of Pittsburgh Chair Bob Hillen says they were not able to get enough votes to put Josh Wander on the November ballot. Not only did Wander apparently not reach the 250 votes required to be nominated as a write-in candidate, he also received fewer votes than life-long Democrat and sitting mayor Luke Ravenstahl. Wander launched his write-in effort the Friday before the May 19 primary. Ravenstahl had sent out a mailing to registered republicans weeks before. Hillen says if they had more time he thinks the party would have been successful. He points to the write-in effort that put Mark DeSantis on the ballot 2 years ago. Hillen says the party has very little money to support a candidate and that made it hard to recruit someone to run. He says, “When you run for office in this city you have to commit a year to a year and a half of your life.” He says if there is not enough money to support ads and mailings the campaign will have to include hours and hours of door knocking “and that means a lot of time away from your family.” Hillen says it is unclear if the party will support former Republican Kevin Acklin who is running as an independent. Hillen says Acklin has not asked for the endorsement but the committee would be happy to support him if the Allegheny County Republican Party approves.

Senator Proposes Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage

A state senator from Montgomery County wants to legalize same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania. Senator Daylin Leach says since same-sex marriage has been legalized in Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont and Iowa either through legislation or court rulings, there has never been a better time "for Pennsylvania to embrace equality and enshrine the civil rights of all Pennsylvanians to marry."
In 1996, the Pennsylvania legislature passed the Defense of Marriage Act which defines marriage as a union of a man and a woman. Because of a few court rulings overturning similar laws in other states, some legislators want to strengthen Pennsylvania's marriage law. Senator John Eichelberger of Blair County says he will introduce legislation calling for a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage and polygamy. Thirty states and their voters have approved similar constitutional bans.
However, Senator Leach called the current Pennsylvania marriage law "archaic" and says maintaining it "denies the reality of same-sex families."
Leach says his measure cannot require a religious institution to perform or sanction a same-sex marriage. Under Leach's bill, Pennsylvania would also recognize same-sex marriages conducted in other states.

Crisis Intervention Officers

Some Pittsburgh Police officers are learning to respond to youth with mental health disorders.

The officers, who have all undergone a forty-hour crisis intervention training undergo an additional eight hour training where they take a crash course in child psychiatry -learning about social and emotional development, mental health disorders and what services are available for children and teenagers in the county. They also learn how to speak to children and about medications and their side effects.

Youth with mental health problems often come in contact with the police for behavior that can be the result of their disorders.

The training is a partnership between Allegheny County's Department of Behavioral Health and The Pittsburgh Police Bureau.

Fifty officers will be trained in the youth portion of the problem.

Listen to a longer version of the story HERE

New Name in Dem Sen Primary Ring

Suburban Philadelphia Congressman Joe Sestak says he’s preparing to challenge incumbent Arlen Specter in next year’s Democratic senate primary. The two-term Congressman says he intends to enter the race, but adds he’s putting off an official announcement so that he can discuss the decision a bit more with his family. Democratic grassroots activists have been urging Sestak to enter the primary and challenge Specter’s commitment to liberal issues. Sestak says Specter’s vote against President Obama’s budget was a major factor in his decision to run. He says, “This is now how he had indicated he might vote, for the good of Pennsylvanians. Because in that budget is exactly what we need for the educational opportunity [and] for the energy security.” Specter switched to the Democratic Party in late April, and was immediately supported by President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Governor Rendell and other party leaders. Potential Democratic candidates Josh Shapiro and Joe Torsella have backed away from the race since Specter’s switch, but Sestak says party leaders “anointing” Specter as the Democratic nominee concerned him.

AG Files Veon Charges Again

Less than a week after a judge dismissed corruption charges against a former Democratic lawmaker, Attorney General Tom Corbett's office is refiling them but with a new court. A spokesman for the Attorney General is rejecting the idea that the dismissal of corruption charges against Beaver County Democrat Mike Veon was a political setback for Corbett, who's likely running for governor next year. Kevin Harley says Harrisburg District Judge Joseph Solomon applied a higher standard of proof than required during last week's ruling, and prosecutors want a Common Pleas judge to review the refiled charges. Harley says the dismissal wasn't a reflection on the strength of the case against Veon and his aide, Annamarie Perretta-Rosepink. “Obviously at a preliminary hearing the commonwealth doesn't present all of their exhibits, all of their witnesses or all of their evidence. Because we're not required to at a preliminary hearing,” says Harley. Perretta-Rosepink is still facing six charges, though prosecutors have now dropped nine of the 28 claims initially made against Veon. Both defendants are facing charges on theft, and conspiracy as well as other counts, for allegedly misusing taxpayer dollars awarded to the nonprofit agency Beaver Initiative For Growth. Veon's lawyer says he's confident the charges won't stand because his client has done nothing wrong. He says they're politically motivated.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bettis "Returns" to Pittsburgh, in Every Sense of the Word

The Bus stopped at Duquesne University this afternoon--Jerome Bettis congratulated 38 students from the Pittsburgh Rooney Accelerated Learning Academy on the North Side, who were awarded free computers by his Bus Stops Here Foundation for completing an 8-week computer camp at Duquesne's Learning Skills Center. Last year's campers were from Weil Accelerated Learning Academy in the Hill District.

The students learned by tearing down and re-assembling a computer with guidance from Duquesne tutors on Saturday mornings. Each one also prepared a Power Point presentation.

Gloria Bettis is Jerome's aunt and the Executive Director of his foundation. She says the Foundation wanted the program to help kids become literate and technology- savvy, like children all around the world.

The Bus signed autographs and posed for pictures with each child. He admitted he's torn when the Detroit Red Wings play Pittsburgh for the Stanley Cup, as he thinks will happen again. This year, he wants everyone in Pittsburgh to know he's rooting for the Penguins.

Point Great Lawn Open

The Great Lawn at Point State Park has been reopened. The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has completed the second phase of its multi-year renovation of the park. Work on the Great Lawn included re-grading and reseeding the lawn, adding LED lights to the outline of the original Fort Duquesne and restoration of the medallion and paving stones marking the location of the fort. Along with the renovation of the Great Lawn, Phase II included work in the Woodlands areas on both sides of the grass. That work included removing hazardous and dead trees, raising the planting beds, resetting the field stone edge, adding irrigation and planting more than 54,000 native plants. The DCNR says those plantings are representative of the types of plants that would have been found at the point in the mid-1700s. Visitors will have to stay out of those plantings until they have time to become better established. Phase III will launch next summer with work set for the wharf areas and walkways along the rivers. Point State Park is where the French Fort Duquesne was built in 1754. The French abandoned the fort in November 1758 when the British arrived to claim the Point for Great Britain.

City Enters Into Agreement With URA

Pittsburgh City Council Today agreed to a cooperation agreement with the URA to apply for a $500,000 grant. The grant would help fund a test track project by Bombardier Transportation Holdings. The test track would be 3/4 of a mile long and would help the company develop more efficient automatic people movers similar to the people movers at Pittsburgh International Airport. The test track will be developed at an old steel coke plant site in Hazelwood.

Stimulus Funds Bridge Project in Beaver

The state has launched its first Federal Stimulus funded road project in Southwestern Pennsylvania. PennDOT began work on the Route 51 Beaver-Rochester Bridge. Governor Ed Rendell says, "This project simply would not have happened if stimulus funds were not available.” The bridge project will use $10 million of the $1 billion in federal transportation stimulus funds. The state says bridge over the Beaver River between Beaver and Rochester carries between 10,000 and 15,000 vehicles a day. The repair project includes painting, expansion dam and rocker bearing replacements, steel and concrete repairs and other rehabilitation efforts. The project is to be completed in late 2010. Eventually a total of seven projects in District 11 will be funded by stimulus funds.

Energy Company plants Deeper Roots in Region

Direct Energy is an international business that established its North American corporate headquarters in Pittsburgh last year after acquiring the Pittsburgh-based company Strategic Energy. To further invest in the region where about 230 of its employees work, Direct Energy President Maura Clark says the company is committing $2.5 million in programs that help conserve energy, promote alternative energy and other green initiatives over the next five years. Governor Ed Rendell met with company officials this morning to support the program. Direct Energy sells gas and electricity for commercial, industrial, and governmental use.

Northside United Calls For Special Hearing On North Shore Development

Northside United presented Pittsburgh City Council with a petition for a special hearing regarding development of a master plan for the north shore. Members of Northside United spoke during public comment about the need of a community benefits agreement with Continental Development. Members of the community group said that the development company have not met with the community to discuss the formation of a north shore master plan.

City Councilman Wants Commission To Oversee Use Of Stimulus Funds

Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto plans on creating a commission to provide city council with oversight and guidance on the city's use of stimulus funds. Peduto will introduce the legislation that calls for a 7 member panel next week and expects his bill to pass within a week. Peduto wants the commission to be made up of community members, engineers, economic development experts and an environmental representative. Peduto wants the commission to be formed by June 30th.

PNC Meets Stress Test Demands

Pittsburgh based PNC Financial Services says it has met the demands of the US Treasury Department following its so-called “stress test.” PNC was asked to raise $600 million in common equity. PNC CEO James Rohr says, "I am pleased that were we able to raise the required $600 million… at market prices and in a relatively short time frame." The Treasury Dept. had given PNC and other financial institutions 6 months to raise the equity. The company issued 15 million shares of common stock through an "at the market" offering. PNC launched that offering May 14. Rohr says, “PNC expects to continue to increase its common equity as a proportion of total capital through growth in retained earnings and will consider other capital opportunities as appropriate.” The company says it has no plans to convert $7.6 billion in preferred shares held by the U.S. Treasury Department into common stock.

Evacuation Kits

During a major unexpected emergency, there's nothing like having pillows, cots and personal hygiene products for comfort. The American Red Cross is providing evacuation kits for evacuation teams in several communities with these necessities, thanks to an $80,000 grant from U.S. Steel. The company had given a grant before and is back to give a second installment. Each kit will contain a trailer of these items to provide for up to 100 people. Regional Red Cross Emergency Services Director Michael Adametz says these teams are great for the community, and they become vital in times of disaster. He says in 2004, when Hurricane Ivan affected many local communities, the American Red Cross had gotten about 40 requests for shelter and assistance in one evening. "We did not have the capacity to handle anything that grand of a disaster," he says. Now that this program is established, dealing with any kind of emergency event is much easier to handle.

PA Licks Chops Over Potential Broadband Funds

More than seven billion federal stimulus dollars have been earmarked toward improving broadband access but there is still a big question mark over how to capture and spend the funds. Pennsylvania officials are coordinating with private companies in an effort to strengthen the commonwealth's funding application. Next month, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration will release the details on how states can apply for stimulus funding aimed at expanding high-speed Internet technology into rural and underserved regions. Pennsylvania Office of Administration Deputy Secretary Charles Brennan says a portion of that money will be used to encourage more people to use the web to its fullest potential. He says, “People think it's oh, just go out and surf the net. They see the kids surfing the net. But they don't understand that's where the jobs are. That's where the newspapers are. That's where the information is. That's where you apply for jobs.” “It's not about the Facebooks of the world. It could be about visiting museums around the world. You can go to the Louvre. You can go up to the Vatican now-I just read the Pope's going to have his own website. So there's a lot you can do with broadband,” says Brennan. Brennan says once Pennsylvania officials secure the federal funding, they'll hand out service contracts to private companies. Brennan recently met with communications professionals in Harrisburg, as part of a series of public informational meetings the Office of Administration and other agencies are holding to explain the broadband funding. It is still uncertain how the federal government should handout the money. Brennan says, “One of the questions that came up at the meeting is, would this be a block grant. Pennsylvania would actually prefer a block grant. Because we have one of the most elderly populations of any state. We also are one of the more rural states. So we think that if it was a block grant, we'd actually make out better.”

Schenley Students to Visit Germany

Eight Pittsburgh Schenley High School students will travel to Pforzheim, Germany, this summer as part of the school's first-ever exchange program. From June 10 to July 1, the sophomores and juniors will live with host families, attend the German equivalent of high school, and take trips to German cities. Students will take classes of their choosing for ten days. Gary Harger, German teacher and chaperone of the venture, says one excursion in particular piques his interest -- going to Berlin. "This is of course the 20th anniversary of the [Berlin] Wall coming down, so it's exciting to make that the central point. We also are going to see a lot of the imperial German past and also the dark years of the Nazi period, so I'm really excited about that," says Harger. As part of the exchange agreement, from October 18 to November 2, eleven students from the Hilda Gymnasium in Pforzheim will partake of a similar itinerary in our region. The exchange is sponsored by the German American Partnership Program (GAPP), which gave a stipend to the students; the remainder of the money due was raised by the students themselves. The Carnegie Mellon Modern Language Department also funded a trip to Rothenburg an der Tauber, an idyllic, medieval-style German town.

Sotomayor Debate Begins in PA

Hispanic communities in Pennsylvania are excited about Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court. None of the 110 Supreme Court Justices in United States history have been Hispanic. Philadelphia lawyer and the president of the Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania
Teresa Rodriguez says Hispanic representation on the court is overdue, but adds that even without this historic factor, Sotomayor is a dynamic court nominee. She says,” This is a person with great educational fortitude. Someone who also brings diversity of perspective. And someone who has led an amazing, incredible and compelling personal story.” Interest groups are already gearing up for the nomination process. Liberal advocate Keystone Progress is urging supporters to email Pennsylvania Senators Arlen Specter and Bob Casey, to ask them to support Sotomayor's nomination. The nomination is stirring groups on both sides of the political spectrum. Michael Ciccocioppo, the president of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, says he's concerned Sotomayor will be another vote in support of abortion rights, and a judicial activist. He says he disagrees with President Obama's call for a Justice with "empathy." “That's not the role of the Supreme Court, to be empathetic. The role of the Supreme Court is to look at the Constitution, to look at the law, and then to decide whether the law is Constitutional or not” says Ciccocioppo. The liberal group Keystone Progress has already begun an email campaign directed at Pennsylvania Senators Bob Casey and Arlen Specter. They're asking supporters to contact the two Democrats to urge them to support Sotomayor's nomination.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

E-cycle Event Questioned

The Basel Action Network(BAN) alleges that an E-cycle event held in Allegheny County during March and April was a fake. Most of the electronic materials could be dropped off for free at county parks and the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society's headquarters on the North Side. BAN says it followed trucks that contained the e-waste to two area warehouses, and then observed the waste being reloaded onto 40-foot ocean-going containers. BAN then tracked 6 of the containers to Hong Kong and 1 to South Africa.

Jeffrey Nixon is CEO of EarthEcycle, which held the event. He says his company did nothing wrong, and that materials in good enough shape to be re-used were shipped to purchasers overseas. Nixon says waste that contained toxic materials had yet to be properly recycled, and is still in a warehouse in Monroeville. Nixon said that $150,000 was raised for the Humane Society and he expects to be able to pay the organization within a month.

The Humane Society is expecting a payment of $150,000 by June 10th. The organization stood to get $10,000 for every 100,000 pounds of e-waste collected.

PA Grant Helps Returning Vets get Jobs

A state grant from the Department of Labor and Industry will give 80 veterans returning from service the chance to train for welding jobs. Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato says the $311,000 grant will go toward providing a 96-hour class offered for veterans. It will not guarantee placement into trade programs, but their prior experience in service and the class will provide an edge over others. Two veterans, Ryan Vatovec of the Marines and Stewart Battle of the Army, both said they were thankful for the opportunity to get involved with Steamfitters 449. Both of them are now first year apprentices as a result of the class.

Lincoln Exhibit to Open at History Center

Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and his impact on the US constitution will be explored in a new exhibition set to open this weekend at the Heinz History Center. The traveling display will be augmented with a local twist. Visitors will see the History Center’s addition of a recreation of the hotel room where Lincoln slept in Pittsburgh on his way to his first inauguration. The bed, chamber pot, dresser and other items were saved when the Monongahela House was torn down in 1935. They were transferred to a museum in South Park. That museum closed during World War Two and the items were placed in storage. History center Executive Director Andy Masich says a fire destroyed a county building where they artifacts were believed to have been stored and everyone thought they were lost forever. All of the furniture was discovered by a maintenance work just a few years ago in a different county owned building as he was investigating a leaky roof. Blueprints of how the room was configured at the time of Lincoln’s visit were discovered in the drawer of the dresser. The traveling portion of the exhibit from the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia investigates how Lincoln used the constitution during his presidency and how his actions and the war transformed our understanding of the document. The exhibit explores issues of state sovereignty, civil liberties and slavery. Visitors are asked if they think Lincoln went too far in his interpretation of the constitution including his decision to suspend the writ of habeas corpus… a topic being hotly contested today. The exhibit also includes a slew of photographs, two life masks and several interactive exhibits where visitors are asked to decide if Lincoln’s action as president were fair interpretations of the constitution. See more ictures and listen to a preview tour on our Facebook page.

Allegheny County's West Nile Status Assessed

The Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) is hoping to determine the strength and pervasiveness of the West Nile virus in the area through its annual surveillance initiative. ACHD spokesman Guillermo Cole says this effort is fueled in large part by public cooperation in limiting standing water where mosquitos may breed and reporting certain species of dead birds. "Those species include crows, hawks, owls, blue jays, and falcons, so anytime someone sees a dead bird of that species, we ask them to report that. In addition, if anyone sees five or more dead birds of any species, we'd also like to know about that," says Cole. Though annual reports of bird and human instances indicate the decline of the virus in the area, Cole says mosquitos are still testing positive for the virus and thus the threat of human infection remains. Mosquitos pass the virus on to birds and birds back to those insects, but birds cannot pass it to humans; only mosquitos can do that. If an infected bird is found in a particular area, Cole says mosquito control work will be done in that community. Anyone who wishes to report a dead bird should call ACHD at (412) 687-2243 or visit the department's website at

Hiking Week Strikes Its Course

The eighth annual Hiking Week is currently taking place in Pennsylvania. 100 different planned trails are available to hikers at the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website. Spokeswoman Chris Novak says the hikes vary in length and difficulty. She says there are also specialized hikes that include pet walks, night hikes, geology and wildlife walks, and so on. Novak says DCNR started this effort 8 years ago with the Keystone Trails Association to get Pennsylvanians more active and involved with nature.

PA Awards $58 Mill for Water Infrastructure

Nearly two-dozen dam and flood control projects across the commonwealth will benefit from the first round of grants awarded through the H-2-O P-A program. They come nearly a year after Governor Rendell signed the initiative into law, setting aside $800-million for infrastructure efforts. Of that amount, nearly $47-million will be spent on 17 dams deemed to be "high hazards." Scott Dunkelberger, who heads the Commonwealth Financing Authority, says they also awarded funding for five flood control projects, totaling about 11-million dollars. Dunkelberger notes the next round of grants is to be awarded in July. Those will focus on drinking water and wastewater plants. Among the High Hazard Dam projects approved in the first round;

$1 million to the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission for the Upper
Hereford Manor Lake Dam renovation and $2.2 million for the Lower Hereford Manor Lake Dam renovation project, both in Franklin Township, Beaver County.

$2 million to Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission for the Canonsburg Lake Dam renovation project, North Strabane Township, Washington County.

$4.5 million to Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission for the Dutch Fork Lake Dam renovation project, Donegal Township, Washington County.

$483,831 to West Leechburg Borough to assist with the $646, 831 West
Leechburg Dam removal and Passive Park project, West Leechburg Borough, Westmorland County.

$2.7 million to the Highridge Water Authority for Sugar Run Dam rehabilitation, St. Clair Township, Westmorland County.

Included in the five flood control projects is $2.12 million to Indiana University of Pennsylvania to assist with Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex flood control project, White Township, Indiana County and $750,460 to Hempfield Township to assist with Fort Allen Watershed flood protection, Hempfield Township, Westmoreland County.

State Budget Source of "Endless" Debate

The budget proposal passed by the Republican-led Senate is going under the microscope in the House Appropriations Committee this week. The measure calls for nearly $1.7 billion less in spending than Governor Rendell's blueprint. Matt Brouillette, president and C-E-O of the
Commonwealth Foundation testified in favor of the bill last week. He says it's important to remember that the state has no money of its own to spend -- rather only what it takes through taxes and amasses in debt. But Sharon Ward, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, says the cuts in the Senate bill would go too far. She says the cuts eliminate programs that reach the state's most vulnerable citizens. Ward says instead, the budget should dip into the rainy day fund and health care provider retention account. She also notes that 33 other states have either raised taxes or are considering such proposals. Some lawmakers are suggesting an increase in the state income tax.

Peds and Car Need to Get Off the Tracks

An international group focused on keeping people off rail lines has launched a campaign in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Operation Lifesaver will try to educate residents about the consequences of trespassing on railways, driving to beat trains and other hazardous behavior.
State Coordinator Jack Hubbard says railroad safety is a serious problem in the commonwealth. He says, "Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is one of the top 15 states for trespass fatalities. We are actually number five, and in 2008 we had 23 fatalities with pedestrians." Hubbard says the organization is inviting police, government officials and members of railroad-related agencies to hop on board a Norfolk-Southern train traveling from Altoona to Lewistown, Mifflin County on June 3. A similar trip was made earlier this month between Harrisburg and Hagerstown, Maryland. Railroad trespassing is against the law and violators may face fines or arrest.

Monday, May 25, 2009

"Remembrance Park" Plans Unveiled

Parades and events are being held in communities throughout southwestern Pennsylvania today, Memorial Day, to honor the service and sacrifice of military personnel.
The 72nd Memorial Service was held at noon at the Soldiers' Memorial in Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh. Prior to that, the annual parade was held in the Lawrenceville section of the city with marchers making their way to the cemetery.

Events are being held throughout the day at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial and Museum in Pittsburgh. Plans were unveiled today for the building of "Remembrance Park," on the existing front lawn. Designer Michael Cherock says the park will consist of 3sections including a re-worked lawn that will feature a circular path with 6 stations: one for each branch of the service. After walking along the circular path, visitors would come to the Honor Garden, which will display artifacts and be centered around a statue honoring those who have died in the war on terror. After the garden, there would be a plaza that is much larger than the current one and be more accessible...especially for those in wheelchairs.
Museum Executive Vice President John McCabe says the original estimated cost was about $1 million but it's more likely to cost $4 to 5 million. McCabe says there is no timetable but he expects the project to take 4 to 5 years to complete.

More Roadside Assistance Anticipated

Triple-A expects to see an increase in motorists needing roadside assistance during the coming summer travel season. Cindy Brough, a spokeswoman with the automobile club, says several factors are expected to contribute to the rise..."Lower gas prices are putting more vehicles on the highway, and consumes are holding onto their cars longer, therefore they have higher maintenance costs and needs, and some folks because of the economy are actually cutting major repairs out of their household budgets."
Brough says they anticipate roadside assistance calls to rise by 1 and a half percent this summer compared to last year at the same time. In order to avoid becoming part of those statistics, she recommends motorists take their vehicles in for routine maintenance. She says a mistake people commonly make is to weigh down their vehicles with too many belongings when going on vacation.

Budget Delay, Forfeit Pay

One Pennsylvania state lawmaker has a suggestion on how to get the budget process moving. State Representative Ron Marsico of Dauphin County says there needs to be an incentive to speed up the process of crafting a new spending plan. Marsico says the governor, several executive-level staffers and lawmakers should be the ones to feel the impact when July 1 rolls around and there is no spending plan in place "The governor has had a tendency to hold up the budget and has held state employees hostage. Maybe if the governor and some of those folks do not get paid during a budget impasse, they will have a personal incentive to get it done in a timely fashion."
Governor Rendell introduced his budget plan the first week of February. His spokesman Chuck Ardo says Marsico's legislation targets administration staffers who have little impact on budget passage...yet does not impact legislative staff.

Healthcare Groups Look for Help

Hospital executives are reminding lawmakers that medical centers are an economic anchor in many Pennsylvania communities. Lobbyists say proposed cuts to hospital Medicaid payments will lead to job losses across the Commonwealth. The budget approved by the Republican-controlled Senate reduces Medicaid funding to hospitals by nearly $280 million in combined federal and state money. Barry Freedman is CEO of the Albert Einstein Healthcare Network....“These cuts in Medicaid reimbursement proposed by both the Governor and the Senate hit the state's urban area's the hardest. More than 75 percent of the $280 million in cuts will affect hospitals in the state's two largest counties.” Freedman says medical centers in Allegheny County would get about $50 million less in the coming fiscal year under the current spending plan. Capitol observers say the Senate budget is a negotiation starter that won't likely reach the House floor for serious debate.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Soldiers and Sailors to Hold Memorial Day Events

Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum will hold its annual Memorial Day Celebration on Monday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. A ceremony will be held for those Pennsylvanians who fought and died in the Middle East in recent years at 10:30. Afterwards, Pittsburghers are invited to picnic on the lawn and take part in the food, beverage and activity booths that will be stationed around them. Also, the first ever "Miss Soldiers and Sailors" competition will be held.

Veterans to be Honored in Somerset County

Memorial Day in Somerset County will be celebrated at the County Courthouse at 9:30 a.m., in the annual ceremony sponsored by the Somerset Memorial Day Committee. Former Commander Charles H. Prince of the Pennsylvania Department of the Veterans of Foreign Wars will speak. Prince is a U.S. Navy veteran who served on the USS Missouri during World War II. In addition to the speaker, wreaths will be laid at the county’s war monuments and a 21-gun salute will sound. The yearly Memorial Day Parade will follow the ceremony; Somerset County Comprehensive Plan Coordinator Kerri Burtner says the procession’s Honor Guard is special this year. “We’ve been able to find local soldiers who have recently returned from Afghanistan or Iraq who will be carrying the flags and the rifles through the town for the parade, and we’re real pleased with that,” says Burtner. The parade will proceed for about 6 blocks west along Main Street in Somerset.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Stimulus $ Should Be Widely Distributed

Allegheny County is set to receive $377 million in federal stimulus funds including grants for PennDOT projects already underway. County Executive Dan Onorato met with minority leaders and says he wants to make sure the process for deciding on projects is inclusive. $5.5 million will be spent on housing improvement like demolishing blighted buildings, rehabilitating homes and counseling people who are having problems paying their mortgages. Another $6.7 million would help provide more housing for the homeless. Onorato says he has 3 goals in mind when putting stimulus dollars to use: the projects can be started in the next 12 to 18 months; they create jobs; and, there is an ongoing benefit, such as sewer and water line projects that are a longterm help to the environment.

New Commissary for SW PA

The Department of Defense has given final approval for a new commissary in the Pittsburgh region. It will be built near Pittsburgh International Airport and replace the Charles E. Kelley Support Facility which was included in the last round of base closures and realignments. Congressman Tim Murphy from the South Hills was pleased by the final approval...."This is great news for the hundreds of thousands of military members and their families, who will now continue to have the services that were guaranteed to them."
Without the new facility, the nearest commissary for the veterans and their families would be a 4 hour drive. Congressman Mike Doyle of Swissvale called the decision "a major victory."
12.2 million in federal funding has been secured to build the new commissary and post exchange which will serve 168,000 eligible veterans and active military from Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland. The Kelley facility will remain open until the new commissary is built.

3rd Confirmed Case Of Swine Flu in County

A student at Carson Middle School in the North Allegheny School District has been diagnosed with swine flu: the third confirmed case in Allegheny County. The County Health Departemnt says the student has been recovering at home and no family members show signs of the illness. The North Allegheny District has not noticed higher levels of absenteeism, so Carson Middle School will remain open. The other county residents diagnosed with swine flu have recovered.

High Court Asked to Stay Reassessment Order

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato has asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to stay for 180 days its order for Common Pleas Court to determine a timeline for a countywide property reassessment. Onorato asked the high court for the delay to allow the legislature time to approve changes that he says are needed to make the assessment system fair in all 67 counties.."during these difficult economic times, families across Pennsylvania are worried that unfair property tax increases will make it even harder to stay in their homes."
On April 29, the state Supreme Court ruled that Allegheny County's 2002 base year system treated property owners unfairly. However, many other counties in the state also use a base year system.

Friday, May 22, 2009

State University Faculties Asked to Accept Pay Freeze

The State System of Higher Education is asking its employees to accept a pay freeze for the coming year, in place of their scheduled 3% raise. The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, the largest of the handful of these employees' unions, says it does not have enough information on enrollment numbers and has never entered into a collective bargaining agreement before. No decision has yet been made; however, State System spokesman Kenn Marshall says that information will not be known until the school year begins, whereas any such agreement would need to be reached before July 1, the start of the fiscal year. Marshall says the System has already made $200 million in budget cuts in recent years and the only other option is to raise tuition, which it is loathe to do.

State Rep Wants Prison System Reviewed

A review of the state's criminal justice system is the aim of a new bill introduced by State Representative Kenyatta Johnson (D) of Philadelphia. Johnson says his bill would require the state to scrutinize the prison system and form recommendations from their findings. "We want to also look at reentry as it relates to inmates coming back into society and what types of programs are available to them. We want to also look at the issues of mental health and drug abuse within the prison system," says Johnson. The representative says he'd like to study what makes people likely to be jailed multiple times as well. Johnson says the measure might help with the state's budget problems. "We also want to look at the costing aspect of incarcerating prisoners throughout the state of Pennsylvania. I think if we reform our system we probably would save more money at this particular time in our society as well," says Johnson.

PA Unmployment Numbers Held Steady in April

Pennsylvania's unemployment rate remained unchanged in April at 7.8 percent because fewer people are looking for work. And though the state's job losses continued in April, the rate of loss eased during the month. The state Department of Labor and Industry said Thursday that Pennsylvania's employers slashed an estimated 17,300 nonfarm jobs in April. But that's after cutting more than 30,000 in both February and March. Since the recession began in December 2007, Pennsylvania has lost more than 155,000 jobs, or one in every 37. At 5,654,800, the state job total fell to its lowest level since August 2004. Before April, the state's unemployment rate had risen for 14 straight months. The national unemployment rate is 8.9 percent.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bill Introduced To Increase Renewable Energy

State Representative Greg Vitali has introduced legislation that would require by 2026 a portion of all energy provided in the state come from renewable sources. The bill also would require that 3% of energy from coal use carbon sequestering. The bill provides amendments to the alternative energy portfolio standard by adding the new requirements.

Simple Changes Could Boost Parental Involvement

The Center on Race and Social Problems at the University of Pittsburgh gathered experts in the field of racial disparities in public education today for a daylong conference that included a look at strategies to build parent involvement. Ann Levett is the executive director of the School Development Program at Yale University. She says while there is a perception that African American parents are less involved in their children’s schools, the research shows that is not true. She says parental involvement among African Americans, like all races, is dependent on income. Levett says that is partial due to the “middle-class bias” in the public education system. She says schools assume parents can come to mid-day or early evening events and parent-teacher conferences. Levett says schools need to understand that most lower income parents can not get off work in the middle of the day, may have transportation problems in the evening and often need child care assistance at any time of the day. She says schools can easily address all of those issues by changing teacher and administration schedules and expectations and by partnering with other organizations to offer more family friendly events. However, Levett says most schools are so focused on academic achievement and test scores that helping parents be more involved is seen by teachers as, ”just one more thing they have to do.” She says the focus on parental involvement needs to be found and embraced at all levels. Levett says the effort is well worth it. She says the research clearly shows that tests scores, grades and graduation rates increase in schools where the level of parental involvement is high.

Local Fathers Invited to Area Schools

Tomorrow is “Take a Father to School Day” at Pittsburgh Public Schools. This 11-year tradition will entail public school students taking their fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and other adult male role models into school for breakfasts, tours, and myriad other activities. School Board member Mark Brentley Sr. says he created this program over a decade ago in response to the pervasive lack of school involvement from Pittsburgh-area fathers. Brentley says since then, teachers and administrators have reported a large increase in male enrollment in PTA and PTO meetings. “We’ve actually heard a couple of stories of men reuniting with their former young ladies or women or wives, and some who have recommitted themselves to raising the children. Even though they may not be together as a couple, they’ve agreed to do that. It’s been wonderful,” says Brentley. He adds that its important to remember that sexism is in no way implied – he just wants area men to “do their part” in raising their children.

Survey says CVS Pharmacies in 9 States Sell Expired Products

Surveyors affiliated with Change to Win recently visited 310 CVS Pharmacies in nine states, and found that almost 60 percent of those stores were selling expired items, including milk, allergy medicine and products for infants and children. In the Pittsburgh region, 20 out of 30 CVS stores had found this problem.

Ken Love, Pastor of Kerr Presbyterian Church in Penn Hills, spoke at a downtown protest in front of the Smithfield Street CVS store. He finds the news to be appalling. He says this issue is something the public needs to know about, and he wants the Allegheny County Health Department to do something about it. Some stores, like the Smithfield Street location, have more of this issue than stores in Upper Saint Clair or Mt. Lebanon. There is a trend that more of these products sold after the expiration dates occur in poorer neighborhoods, and Love says he blames corporate greed.

It's important that pharmacies sell up-to-date products, because over time, medications can lose potency after an expiration date, or sometimes gain potency, says Hal Sanders, of the Western Pennsylvania Single-Payer Health Care organization. It is a hazard for consumers.

Nettie Pelton was personally affected by the situation. She says she bought an allergy product at the downtown pharmacy a few weeks ago, and it had been stamped months past its expiration date. The product was not as strong as it should of been, and she now keeps an eye out for such issues.

Calls made to the CVS District Manager in Pittsburgh have not been returned.

9th Annual Southwestern Pennsylvania Smart Growth Conference Held

"Sustainable Urbanism" is one of the messages that came out of the 9th annual southwestern Pennsylvania smart growth conference. Civic leaders and community planners were part of a large group of people who were looking for ways to spur sustainable building projects. Keynote speaker and author of "sustainable urbanism" Douglas Farr says before sustainable projects can be achieved local zoning ordinances need to be updated. Different ordinances are controlled or regulated by multiple entities. Farr said to achieve the changes in zoning laws that lead to sustainable neighborhoods you need to have elected officials who are passionate about sustainability, non-profits or community groups that support the elected official and private enterprise. An example of zoning laws that run counter to sustainability is that some neighborhoods require a certain amount of off street parking. Farr said that by requiring extra parking spaces the walkability of a neighborhood or business district is not considered. Farr advocated for sustainable neighborhoods because he says they have an enduring value and offer a higher quality of life.

National Aviary to open Penguin Exhibit Saturday

Believe it or not, one won't have to leave Pittsburgh, let alone the continent, to catch a glimpse of the threatened African Penguin anymore. On May 23, The National Aviary's will open its newest exhibit called Penguin Point. The Project Director of the exhibit, Erin Estell, says the area will showcase the rare birds from a 360 degree perspective. Visitors can view the penguins from inside the aviary or outside, in the same airspace as the penguins.

"You can actually hear them, you can smell them, you can get splashed by them as they're swimming in the pool," Estell says.

Also, there is a crawl-through space just for kids, where they can see the penguins swim underwater or on land close up.

The $1.7 million Penguin Point has intentions to breed the threatened species as part of the African Penguin Species Survival Plan. Admission to the exhibit is included in the regular aviary admission price. The Aviary's summer hours, beginning May 23, will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. everyday.

Volunteer Psychiatrist Offers Free Services Downtown

Six months ago, Catholic Charities free health clinic recruited a psychiatrist who sees patients one day a week.

Earl Brink had been retired from the practice for eleven years. He had worked in private practice and at hospitals throughout his career.

The clinic opened in late 2007 and has seen roughly 3,500 patients, mostly for physical and dental services. They serve people who make enough so that they don't qualify for free health care but not enough that they can afford to buy plans. In the Pittsburgh area, there are roughly 70,000 people who fall into that category.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

New Show Set To Film In Pittsburgh

Three Rivers, the television pilot shot in Pittsburgh in April has been picked up by CBS and will air on Sunday nights in the fall. The show will film scenes in the Pittsburgh region and will bring some jobs to the region because crews will be needed to film and help produce the show.

VO Ties Fun, Exercise and Civics

Venture Outdoors is teaming up with a Pittsburgh City Councilman to launch a series of outdoor adventures that will combine exercise, education and public policy. The monthly outings begin June 14th with a Kayak trip on the three rivers. That trip will be followed by a downtown bike tour July 5th and a hike in Schenley Park August 2nd. A team of experts on design and urban development who will talk not only about the history of the land and buildings but also the area’s potential for the future will narrate each trip. Venture Outdoors Assistant Executive Director Sean Brady says the tours are more than the usually guided tours because the participants will be engaged in a discussion about what they are seeing and what they would like to see in the future. Councilman Bill Peduto is lending his name to the “Pedal, Paddle, Peduto” series. He says it is a way to “join forces to create a unique new opportunity for people to hike, bike, and kayak through Pittsburgh, while also learning about riverfront development, civic design, architecture, urban design and the environment. More information including registration can be found online.

Public Hearing on Mortgage Foreclosures Held

The state House Commerce Committee held a public hearing on legislation requiring mortgage lenders to meet with troubled homeowners before a judge permits a foreclosure. Bank representatives, local officials, a former president judge, lawyers and community activists voiced their opinions on House Bill 1042, which was introduced by Representative Michael McGeehan (D) of Philadelphia. Committee chairman Representative Peter Daley (D) of Washington and Fayette said McGeehan's bill would require the Court of Common Pleas in each county to establish a residential mortgage foreclosure conciliation program to assist lenders and borrowers in achieving a solution other than foreclosure.

Allegheny County's former President Judge Joseph James says this bill would give the borrower less trouble in finding a person with authority at the lending institution, because it requires a name, address, and telephone number of such a person in each seperate case. James adds, though, that current state homeowner assistance programs such as HERO and HEMAP are not being used very much; he says public outreach is needed to determine why, and to determine how it might turn out differently with this bill.

Sheriff William Mullen of Allegheny County says since 2006, despite the economic downturn, foreclosures have been down in his district. He says that southwestern Pennsylvania is coping with the economic situation better than other parts of the state, though, and other parts of the state must be considered. In Pittsburgh, many mortgage foreclosures are coming from unexpected areas, such as Bethel Park, says Allegheny County Assistant Manager Pete Havern. "People just bite off more than they can chew," says Havern.

Brentwood Bank President and CEO Tom Bailey says not only are bankers and other lenders "constantly available" already, but they are required to meet with troubled homeowners already as well -- under the HEMAP legislation that was edited in 2006. Bailey says the lack of time restraints in the bill could cause the foreclosure process to take months longer than need be. "Such a delay in foreclosure process potentially could lead not only to blight... but also to monetary harm to the lender, who would not yet have legal right to physically protect the property that is collateral for default of residential mortgage," says Bailey.

Housing Director Dawn Williams of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh says the bill should specify that every county in the state have the same regulations, to make sure nobody is treated unfairly. She also says that often borrowers try to contact their lenders already, to no avail. "They are met with frustration," she says. She adds that attorneys' fees in mortgage situations are also adding to the problem of foreclosures, because they are virtually unlimited under current law.

Public Hearing Held At Point Park On State Budget

The State House Appropriations Committee held a public hearing at Point Park University today. Committee chairman Dwight Evans led the meeting and said there can not be just one solution to solve the projected $3 billion revenue deficit. Evans said that to begin fixing the problem Pennsylvania needs to focus on five areas; program cuts, increased efficiencies, federal stimulus, taxes and the rainy day fund. Evans added that in order for the budget process to work both Democrats and Republicans will need to make compromises on each of their proposed budgets. The Senate Republicans have proposed a budget of their own that passed the Senate and is now in committee in the State House.

PA Crime Efforts Get Federal Cash

$72 million in Recovery Act funds have been allocated to Pennsylvania to help prevent crime and shore up the criminal justice system. The funds from the US Department of Justice will be given to the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency as an Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant. (JAG) Last year the JAG program handed out $170 million nation wide, this year the program has grown to $4 billion thanks to the additional recovery act funds. 60% of the funds will stay with the commission and the rest will be awarded to local agencies. The funds can be used for a wide range of programs including weed and seed, juvenile reporting centers, community supervision programs and specialized courts. Commission spokesperson Tara Mead says the expectation is that the funds will be used to help save programs that would have otherwise fallen to the budget ax in the tight budgets being crafted at then state and local level. Mead says the goal is to get the funds distributed as soon as possible to keep those systems working.

Regional Planning Panel To Meet

At 6:30 tonight at the New Hazlett Theater City Live will present a regional visioning panel called Your Region Your Vision. The panel will discuss the challenges that face the Pittsburgh region in the next 40 years. The panel is a part of a larger regional visioning project. Some members of the panel include the Mayor of Turin, Italy - Valentino Castellani - and Maureen McAvey the Executive Vice President of initiative for the Urban Land Institute. McAvey says that population growth, especially in urban centers, is the biggest issue facing cities across the country. She says that in order to succeed in the future regions like Pittsburgh must find ways to collaborate with neighboring municipalities and the county. She said governmental merger may not be needed if the regional government can find effective ways to work together.

15 Down to 7 Seeking 5 Seats

There were 15 candidates on the ballot for 5 seats on Allegheny County Common Pleas Court. 10 of the 15 were cross-filed and appeared on both the Democratic and Republican ballots. 3 of the 10 won nominations from both parties: Magesterial District Judge Susan Evashavik DiLucente, attorney Phillip Ignelzi and attorney Arnie Klein. Common Pleas Judge Joe Williams, who was appointed to the court last November, and State Representative Dona Walko of Pittsburgh won the 2 other Democratic nominations. Republicans nominated attorney Alex Bicket and attorney Michele Zappala Peck, daughter of former State Supreme Court Justice Stephen Zappala and sister of Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala, Jr. That means 7 candidates will battle it out for the 5 vacancies on Common Pleas Court in the November General Election.

State Appellate Court Races Wrap-UP

An 11-year veteran of the Superior Court bench is one step closer to moving up to Pennsylvania's highest court.
Republicans have chosen Joan Orie Melvin of Pittsburgh to oppose Democrat Jack Panella in November for the open seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Orie Melvin, who had been endorsed by the Republican State Committee, opened up a wide lead early in the evening and never looked back at her two opponents, Superior Court Judge Cheryl Allen and Philadelphia Judge Paul Panepinto. Orie Melvin captured well over half of all votes cast in the race.

As for Superior Court, the Democrats advancing to the November ballot will be Robert Colville, Kevin McCarthy and Anne Lazarus. All 3 Republicans on the ballot won nomination: attorney Temp Smith, attorney Sallie Mundy and Allegheny County Judge Judy Olson.

Both parties had races for nominations to Commonwealth Court. The fall contest will see Democrats Linda Judson and Barbara Behrend Ernsberger take on Republicans Patricia McCullough and Kevin Brobson.

Rivers Casino to Hold Vendor Fair

The Sheraton at Station Square will host a Vendor Fair for the Rivers Casino today, where casino staff will present different possibilities for businesses on which to bid. Companies will learn the process of becoming licensed with both the Rivers Casino and the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. Spokesman George Matta says this process is not complicated, but can be rather lengthy. "Depending on the level of total gross sales, there's different types of licensing that's required by the state gaming board. Since casinos are new to the Pittsburgh area, some vendors don't realize what you need to do to become a licensed vendor, and we are not permitted to deal with vendors that don't go through the processing," says Matta. Matta says everything from snow removal to valet parking will be on the table. No special treatment will be given to local or minority businesses, he says; rather, the most competitive bids will receive the contracts.

Independent Lawyer Files for Mayoral Run

Local lawyer Kevin Acklin gathered the requisite amount of signatures to run as an independent candidate in the November 2nd Pittsburgh mayoral election. Acklin says he wants to see Pittsburgh become more competetitive, not only against cities like Charlotte and Chicago, but against local towns like Cranberry as well.

In addition to being a lawyer, Acklin serves as Executive Director of Renew Pittsburgh, a non-profit organization that works with Pittsburgh neighborhoods. "We've done everything from cleanups to rehabilitating parks, we've also done a lot of pro bono legal services for community groups. I personally do a lot of pro bono legal services for victims of domestic violence," says Acklin.

Acklin, who lost in 2007 run for County Council, says he has since spoken with community leaders and officials and learned more about the issues facing the city. Acklin will have at least one more rival than the major party nominees: Franco "Doc" Harris, son of the famous football player, will also be running as an independent.

Pittsburgh Councilwoman Upset

Pittsburgh's City Council District 6, which includes the Hill District, the Bluff, downtown, an part of the North Side, will be getting another new representative. Four years ago Tonya Payne upset veteran Councilman Sala Udin in the Democratic Primary. Tuesday night, Robert Daniel Lavelle, a former aide to Udin, returned the favor and upset Payne. Lavelle, who is now chief of staff for State Representative Jake Wheatley, received 44.5% of the vote to 39% for Payne and 16.5% for Mark Brentley. Lavelle's boss Wheatley and Payne have been political foes and Lavelle claims it was Payne who brought up the the issue of divisions in the Hill District. Lavelle says he will bridge any gaps and will make the high uenmployment rate in District 6 a top priority. There was no Republican in the race and that means Lavelle is the likely winner in the November General Election.

In City Council District 2, Theresa Smith captured the Democratic nomination in an attempt to win a 4 year term. Smith won a special election February 3rd to fill out the last 9 months of the term of Dan Deasy who was elected to the Pennsylvania House in November. Smith received 56% of the vote, Georgia Blotzer got 33%, and Robert Frank 11%.
Smith says she's very fortunate and "blessed." Smith plans to focus her efforts to slow the high rate of home foreclosures in Sheraden and to make residents feel safe in their communities. There was no Republican on the ballot in District 2.

District 4 is getting a new council member. Incumbent Jim Motznik opted against a reelection bid and instead won the nomination for a district judge's seat.
Natalia Rudiak beat out 3 other candidates to win the Democratic nomination. Rudiak received 35.7% of the vote; Patrick Reilly pulled in 32.7%; Anthony Coghill 30.2%; and Richard Weaver, 1.5%.
Rudiak, a Carrick native, community organizer and consultant, says she wants to help rebuild the business areas in District 4 and wants to restore the public trust in city government. There was no Republican on the ballot in District 4.

Ravenstahl Not Magnanimous in Victory

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl grabbed 59% of the vote in yesterday’s three way democratic mayoral primary for the city of Pittsburgh. Councilman Patrick Dowd came in second with 28% and Lawyer and former Pittsburgh Police officer Carmen Robinson rounded out the field with 13%. Ravenstahl says keeping the budget in the black will continue to be a top priority of his administration but he has an 11-point blue print for the city that includes other items such as public safety, diversity and government transparency. Ravenstahl says the city is poised for a third renaissance and he is looking forward to rolling up his sleeves and getting to work like those who have come before him for the last 250 years. He says its residents have built the city in the past and the residents will do it again. At his election night party, Patrick Dowd, told supporters he wants to "continue the conversation" that began during his mayoral campaign. Dowd was a schoolteacher before he entered politics and he says this election was kind of like taking a test. He says he's looking forward to seeing the final tallies so he can see where voters liked him, and where he could have done better. It's all a learning experience, he says. And one thing Dowd says he's already learned is that it's hard to compete when your campaign war chest is so much smaller. Dowd says the candidates had their differences and that was a good thing. He says, "it was important to get in and take a stand on these issues, and make sure Pittsburghers had a choice on these issues. And I think we had three good choices in this election." Carmen Robinson says she is also ready for more after running her first campaign. She says she was pleased with the campaign she ran but was disappointed at voter turnout levels. She says running for office is “in her blood” and she cannot wait until four years from now to try again. During his acceptance speech Ravenstahl congratulated Carmen Robinson for her campaign but did not mention Patrick Dowd with whom he clashed regularly on the campaign trail and on Grant Street over the last several months. Ravenstahl says his mother taught that if he had nothing nice to say he should say nothing at all and that is what he chose to do election night.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Study Shows Varied Results in Education Disparity

A recent study done in each state by the Schott Foundation shows that racially and socioeconomically disadvantaged students have smaller opportunity to a solid education than their counterparts. Disadvantaged students include those of African-American, Hispanic and Native American descent, and also those in low-income families. Schott Foundation CEO Dr. John Jackson says that Pennsylvania provides a "moderate-proficiency education" for most students but there is not always access to these schools in providing education to disadvantaged students. He says 35 percent of Pennsylvania students are academically proficient in top public schools, but only 36 percent of historically disadvantaged students have access to those schools. All states were placed in one of three categories: low-proficiency low access education, low-proficiency high access education or moderate-proficiency low access education. Jackson says there have been strides since the turnover of Brown vs. Board 55 years ago, but there is still some students that have better opportunities than others, still making the system unfair and unequal. For the full report, click here.

Bill to Aid Those in Kids' Health Insurance Crunch

Two Pennsylvania Congressmen have joined together in a bill that will help families ailing during the economic crisis with supplying health care for their children more effectively. It's called the Children's Health Insurance Accessibility Act, and it would eliminate the waiting period to join CHIP low-income health insurance. Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy says a family should never have to make a choice between paying utilities or providing health insurance for their children, and out-of-pocket medical expense would be no more than 10 percent of the parents' current income. Republican Congressman Tim Murphy says the bill will help those affected by a job loss. Rachel Klein, health policy Deputy Director of Families USA, says states implemented waiting periods in order to prevent users from dropping CHIP to go to a private provider.

Solar Rebate Program

Home and small business owners who go solar can recover 35% of their investment through a new Pennsylvania program. Governor Ed Rendell says he expects the $100 million approved for the Sunshine Rebate Program to be claimed quickly. Rendell says this will help small businesses and homeowners who may have found solar energy costs to be prohibitive in the past..."they'll be able to generate their own power in a cleaner and increasingly more cost-effective manner. And by using less power off the grid, especially during times of peak demand when the sun is shining and it's hot out, they'll help lower costs for all consumers."
Rendell says the state rebate plus federal tax credits for installing solar energy systems can give Pennsylvanians up to a 50% discount. The average 5-kilowatt residential system costs about $35,000 to $40,000. Energy savings are estimated at $620 annually.

Low Turnout for PA Primary

Polling places across Pennsylvania are reporting light turnout for today's Pennsylvania Primary. The polls will remain open till 8 p.m. Voters are choosing nominees for mayor, city and county councils, school board members and local judges. The only statewide races are for nominees for 1 seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, 3 openings on Superior Court and 2 on Commonwealth Court. The hottest of the appellate court races is a 3-way battle for the Republican nomination for Supreme Court. The candidates are Superior Court Judges Joan Orie Melvin and Cheryl Allen, both from Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Paul Panepinto. The winner will face Superior Court Judge Jack Panella, who is unopposed for the Democratic nomination, in the November General Election.

Group Pushes for Sestak

Now that Philadelphia civic leader Joe Torsella has exited the Senate primary, a small but growing group is pushing hard to convince a fairly well known name to jump into the race against Sen. Arlen Specter who recently switched his party affiliation. Organizers of the online "Draft Sestak" movement say the eastern Pennsylvania congressman is the best bet liberals have to put an early end to Specter's reelection campaign. Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg is the editor of political blog Young Philly Politics, and helped put together the "Draft Sestak" website. He says a strong primary challenge would force Specter to move to the left, “I think if he runs, at worst he will keep Specter sort of more in line with Democrat-Democratic positions on labor and health care and the economy.” He goes on to say, “I think if he gets out, all of a sudden Specter has the freedom to do whatever he wants to do.” Allegheny County Representative Bill Kortz says he's staying in the Senate race, but Urevick-Ackelsberg argues Sestak would have better fundraising abilities, and could give the longtime incumbent a real challenge. Governor Rendell, President Obama and other party leaders have all rallied behind Specter's primary campaign, saying the recently converted Democrat deserves another six-year term.

Peregrine Falcons Banded

Two Peregrine Falcon chicks will be banded today. The chicks were hatched at the Gulf Tower in downtown Pittsburgh. Peregrine Falcons are on the endangered species list in Pennsylvania. The birds had been on the national endangered species list until 1999. The peregrine falcon suffered losses in population because the pesticide DDT caused a thinning of their eggs that resulted in the crushing of their eggs during incubation. The birds will be banded and given a veterinary exam before being released back to their nest.

Online Liberals Try to Draft Sestak to Challenge Specter

With another potential Democratic Senate candidate dropping out of the 20100 primary, online liberal activists say they're ramping up efforts to get Congressman Joe Sestak to challenge incumbent Arlen Specter next year.
Now that Philadelphia civic leader Joe Torsella has exited the Senate primary, organizers of the online "Draft Sestak" movement say the eastern Pennsylvania congressman is the best bet liberals have of defeating Specter's reelection campaign. Specter switched parties last month and announced he would run in the Democratic primary next year.
Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg is the editor of political blog YoungPhillyPolitics, and helped put together the "Draft Sestak" website. He says a strong primary challenge would force Specter to move to the left.

"I think if he runs, at worst he will keep Specter sort of more in line with Democrat-Democratic positions on labor and health care and the economy. Judges, the core stuff. I think if he gets out, all of the sudden Specter has the freedom to do whatever he wants to do."

Allegheny County State Representative Bill Kortz says he's staying in the Senate race, but Urevick-Ackelsberg argues Sestak would have better fundraising abilities, and could give the longtime incumbent a real challenge.
Governor Rendell, President Obama and other party leaders have all rallied behind Specter's primary campaign, saying the recently converted Democrat deserves another six-year term. According to Specter, Mr. Obama indicated he would come to Pennsylvania to campaign for him.

Center Matches Hill Residents With Arena Jobs

If you want a job at the new Penguins arena or in the hotels and shops that will be located nearby, your best bet will be at the First Source Center in the Hill District. The center is now under construction in the first floor of the Hope Square building on Centre Avenue. The community benefits agreement reached between the Penguins, local governments and residents of the Hill District required the creation of the jobs center in order to help the neighborhood gain from having the development. The CBA also requires that the First Source Center get job notices one week before they're distributed anywhere else.

One week isn't a lot of extra time. Evan Frazier with the Hill House Association, which is overseeing the First Source Center, says that means they'll have to be aggressive in recruiting job seekers, documenting what skills they have, and giving them any additional preparation they need to have a successful application. And even though the CBA was drafted with the goal of helping Hill residents, Frazier says the First Source Center will help anyone who shows up.

Ken Nesbit directs the First Source Center. Since it's not open yet, Nesbit says he's been distributing job notices through Hill District and other organizations. He also recently held a trade fair where residents could learn about apprenticeships and other training programs. The First Source Center is expected to open later this summer.

Photo: Evan Frazier and Ken Nesbit stand outside the still-under-construction First Source Center.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Internet Job Scams

Attorney General Tom Corbett says there have been many complaints about job scams on web sites like Craigslist that offer high pay for part-time work. He says young people in search of summer work should especially be wary. The jobs have a few common themes: consumers work from home, cannot meet with employer in person and need to respond to advertisements quickly. But the one aspect that sets these scams apart from actual jobs is that consumers will be asked to wire-transfer money to another person. Corbett says these "employees" are depositing counterfeit checks or money orders into their bank accounts and then wire-transferring that money to scam artists overseas. Once the counterfeit checks are returned, banks turn to the consumer to repay the money withdrawn.

Pittsburgh Defies Trend with Balanced Budget

Although Pittsburgh is the only city out of 13 American cities studied in a recent survey to have a budget surplus, it does not necessarily mean that Pittsburgh should be a model to others.

“This report is a snapshot,” say Larry Eichel, Project Director of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia Research Initiative. “In many cities, things are changing from day to day.”

Eichel says Pittsburgh is in a favorable position now because of drastic changes that were made about 5 years ago, during a serious fiscal crisis. As a result of those changes and state supervision, the city’s operating budget is fiscally sound. Eichel adds that the operating budget does not reflect the pension problems and other financial problems Pittsburgh faces.

On the other hand, all other cities surveyed that vary from a 5 percent deficit in Seattle to a 20 percent deficit in Detroit, are trying to find ways to make ends meet. Eichel says city officials are typically doing one of two things: they are turning to broad-based tax hikes, or they are emphasizing service cuts, layoffs and salary freezes. A follow-up report is to be conducted this summer. For the full report, click here.

Mobile Hospital Demonstrated

Hospital administrators and Emergency Response officials gathered in Allegheny County Monday to learn about the “Surge Resources” available in the Commonwealth. A “surge resource” is capital in the state that is at the ready to help in the case of a medical emergency such as a flu outbreak, natural disaster or biological attack. Tom McElree is the Executive director of the regional E-M-S council in southwestern Pennsylvania. He says a great example is the 50-bed mobile hospitals the state acquired about two months ago. He says they have their own generators, heating and cooling systems and air handling systems. McElree says the mobile hospitals can take the overflow from a hospital and can even serve as an isolation unit. Along with the hospitals the EMS regions have access to Medical Surge Equipment Trailers that have all the equipment needed to turn a gym or other large building into a 50-bed hospital. There are also ten-bed short-term triage stations ready to be deployed to provide emergency care as patients are waiting to be transported to other facilities. All of the equipment will be used in a biological attack drill next month. Listen to a 15-minute tour of the facilities here.

State Bill Would Require GPS for Sex Offenders

Two Pennsylvania senators are re-introducing a bill that would take Megan’s Law registry to a new level. Senator Jane Orie says the legislation would keep better tabs on sex offenders who refuse to register on the Megan’s Law web site. If passed, offenders who have not registered with Megan’s Law and those with more than one sexual offense would be required to wear GPS bracelets. According to a study done by the New Jersey State Parole Board, criminals who wear the devices have lower recidivism rates. Orie says the legislation may eventually evolve into a requirement for all sexual offenders, since it is likely that someone caught once has done it many more times. The bill would also punish criminals who tamper or try to tamper with or remove the bracelets.

Miracle League of Southwestern Pennsylvania Opens

The Miracle League and Field of Southwestern Pennsylvania opened on Saturday in Cranberry Township.

The League is open to all children in the region with physical or cognitive disabilities. It gives them the opportunity to play baseball in an organized league, with the assistance of a buddy who is on the field at all times.

It took nearly three years for the field and league to be built. Donations came from non-profits and from corporations, including Pirates Charities, the Philanthropic Arm of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Among the donors was second baseman Freddy Sanchez who was born with a clubbed foot. He was at opening day, along with his family and several teammates.

136 children are enrolled in the league. The children play on a rubberized surface made of ground-up tires. It is all one height so there are no tripping impediments and children in wheelchairs or who use walkers can access it.

City Council District 6 Race

City Council's District 6 includes Perry South, North Side, Downtown, Hill District, Strip District and South Oakland, where Councilor Tonya Payne is met by two Democratic challengers: Mark Brentley and Robert Daniel Lavelle.

During her first term in office Councilor Payne says she has made many promising strides, particularly in the Hill District with the upcoming grocery store, the newly opend Carnegie Library branch and a YMCA Center. She also cites more housing developments, noting Bedford Square and others. If re-elected, Payne plans to continue with these projects, as well as making the neighborhoods safer and continuing to focus on what the people in her district want. She claims the current City Council has made more progress in three years than the preceding council made in ten years, and Payne doesn't think it's a kind of progression that either Brentley or Lavelle can beat.

However, Challenger Mark Brentley, who serves as District 8 Chairman, says he decided to run against Councilor Payne because of her lack of involvement with the new Penguins arena and casino development. He says there were many missed job opportunities she overlooked, and there could have been district-fixed employment had there been more involvement. He says he wants to unify the district between the Hill District and North Side. Both neighborhoods have many of the same problems, and both should be taken into consideration when voting.

Challenger Robert Daniel Lavelle agrees that there should've been more involvement with the new arena, and he says that is a direct result from the leadership in council. Lavelle says stimulating economic development is most important in his campaign, and he wants to strengthen the business district to accommodate it to minorities and women.

Parents Could Keep Kids On Health Plan Longer

The first Pennsylvania law of 2009 is a measure allowing children to remain on their parents' insurance plans through age 29. That's welcome news to uninsured twenty-somethings.
With companies downsizing and imposing hiring freezes, many recent graduates have had a hard time securing steady employment.
No job often means no health insurance, but the bill passed by both chambers would allow Pennsylvania residents in their twenties to stay on their family plans.

That's welcome news to Jess Doban, a 24-year-old uninsured Philadelphia resident who's held a series of jobs since graduating from college two years ago.

"Everyone I know bounces around so many jobs at this point, and everybody's new at the company so, you know, last one in is the first one out. So everybody's always a bit panicked that they're going to lose their job with the economy, with the way it is. Something to fall back on would be very nice."

Administration spokesman Chuck Ardo says Governor Rendell will sign the bill into law.
Though Ardo adds Rendell is surprised it's taken until mid-May for the General Assembly to get a bill to his desk.

Daily River Water Advisories

The Allegheny County Health Department is restarting it's daily river water advisories, going from now until September 30 to align with the recreational boating season. ACHD Spokesperson Guillermo Cole says the alerts are to provide a warning for those on the water for when sewer overflows contaminate rivers, and to avoid river water contact as much as possible, particularly for those with weakened immune systems. He says this happens after a significant amount of rainfall. The amount of rainfall has a direct correlation on how many alert days there are. For instance, Cole says there were 13 alerts issued last summer, but were relatively short in length, totalling to 47 days during the entire boating season. However, in 2004, there were only six alerts issued, but lasted 125 days during the season.

Advisory updates are available at ACHD's River Water advisory hot line at (412) 687-ACHD or at

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Company Hired to Develop High School Graduation Test

The Rendell Administration has hired a Minnesota company to develop a high school graduation exam, even though the legislature has not approved the idea of a mandatory test before a student could get a diploma. The administration has approved a 7 year, $201 million dollar contract with the company to develop the exam, a model curriculum, teacher training and tools to monitor student progress in 10 subject areas. Some legislators say they are offended the administration would sign without a program in place. The House and Senate will have some say because money for the contract would have to be included in the budget that is now under discussion.