Monday, November 30, 2009

Tuesday is World AIDS Day

At a news conference tomorrow morning, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and AIDS activists in Pittsburgh will remind people there is still a problem right here in Allegheny County.

Kathi Boyle, Executive Director of the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force says 93 new cases were diagnosed last year, but 25% of people with HIV don't know they are positive. Those who don’t know they have HIV are responsible for 70% of new infections each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control, so it’s important for everyone to be tested.

Free, confidential testing is always available at the AIDS Task Force in East Liberty and other locations. Tomorrow, the Allegheny County Health Department mobile testing unit will be at 4th and Grant Steet from 10 to 5. Boyle says both UPMC and Allegheny General offer free treatment and medications that are either free or at a reduced rate.

With early treatment, Boyle says people with HIV can live long lives.

Public Hearing Held On Proposed Student Fair Share Tax

Pittsburgh City Council today held a public hearing on the proposed 1% student fair share tax. Over 100 hundred students from Pittsburgh Colleges and Universities packed the Council Chambers and spoke out against the proposed tax. City Councilman Jim Motznik addressed the students before the hearing began and told them that Pittsburgh is only targeting them because the non-profits and universities in the city are not giving their fair share. Councilwoman Darlene Harris shared that sentiment saying that she doesn't want to have to tax students but has to find a way to fill the $15 million budget gap. Students who spoke at the hearing tried to paint a picture of a future Pittsburgh with less students attending college as a result of the tax. Many students spoke about how education is a right and not a privilege. University of Pittsburgh Student Government Association board member Charles Shull says it is obvious to him that Pittsburgh has mishandled its budget and is taking it out on students.

Council is set to take a preliminary vote on the measure December 9th and final vote on December 15th. The proposed student fair share tax is Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's attempt to fill a $15 million budget gap to fund the city's ailing pension fund. The proposed tax would apply to any student that attends a university or college in Pittsburgh and would vary student by student depending on the amount of their tuition. City Council is split on the legislation but currently has enough support to approve it by a 5-4 vote. Riefenstahl's budget, which included the proposed tax, was shot down by the state appointed Inter Governmental Cooperation Authority. The Mayor has urged members of Council to approve the tax even though questions on the tax's legality abound.

"Cyber Monday"

Today is “Cyber Monday”—a designation originating a few years ago when consumers returning after Thanksgiving to their speedy work computers caused a huge spike in online holiday sales.

Actually, according to Duquesne University Marketing Professor Audrey Guskey, online shopping will be pretty steady from now on, but the busiest days will be from December 5th through the 14th, when there's still plenty of time to receive delivery before Christmas. And "Black Friday" is not usually the biggest day for traditional retailers--instead, the Saturday and Sunday before Christmas see the highest sales volumes.

Guskey says more than half of online retailers expect their holiday numbers to be up at least 15% this year—the one bright spot in a landscape where brick and mortar sales are expected to be either flat or slightly down.

Even with the huge growth in e-commerce, Guskey says it’s only 8% of holiday sales—most shopping is still done in stores where decorations, music and crowds contribute to the holiday mood.

Rendell Again Urges Lawmakers to Pass Table Games Bill

Governor Rendell says legislative leaders have all but agreed on a 16 percent tax on table games in Pennsylvania casinos. He’s urging the General Assembly to send a bill to his desk in the coming weeks. Rendell says the tax would include a share for counties and municipalities hosting casinos.
Spokesmen for House Democratic leaders say negotiations are “in the ballpark” of the sixteen percent rate, but that details might change as talks continue. Under one plan being discussed, municipalities would receive one percent of casino’s table games profits, and counties would also get a one percent levy.
Rendell says he’s talked to legislative leaders about whether or not the bill would increase the number of slot machines allowed at “resort casinos,” or whether the state would issue more category three licenses.

"I said if they wanted to expand, I would sign the bill. That’s not a deal breaker for me. That’s up to them, but they have to get this done. They have to get this done when they return on the seventh of December. They simply have to get this done."

However, a month ago the governor said he wanted the bill on his desk November 9th when the legislature returned from an election recess, and lawmakers ignored that date.

Rendell has refused to sign a bill authorizing funding to state-related universities until table games legislation passes. This year’s budget relies on 200 million dollars from the

Pitt Group Helps Vets With Facial Injuries

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of medicine have picked up $1.6 million to perfect a fat grafting technique that the team hopes will help wounded soldiers return to a more normal life. Associate professor of surgery J. Peter Rubin is the head of the team awarded the Department of Defense grant. The doctors will use new regenerative tissue technologies and new medical instruments to transfer fat from one part of the patient’s body to his or her face. Rubin says, “As many as 26 percent of wounded soldiers suffer some kind of facial injury, which can have a huge impact on quality of life. While we can reconstruct bony structures very well, it is the surrounding soft tissues that give people a recognizable face. This project will investigate how soft tissue grafting can more precisely restore facial form and improve the lives of our wounded soldiers.” Rubin says the wounds received in combat are often very destructive involving shrapnel and burns. Rubin says the underlying tissue is often very scared and the work is done in “tight spots.” That leads to the need for new techniques and interments. About 20 patients will be treated in Pittsburgh under this grant. Doctors at military hospitals will then be taught the techniques and eventually offer the reconstructive work to more veterans. The first surgeries will be performed in January. The team of doctors doing the work includes a psychiatrist to help the patients with the transition and measure the impact the injuries and the new surgeries have on returning vets.

Johnstown Artwork to Close for Winter

The Art Works in Johnstown center is temporarily closing on Dec. 1 to furnish the building green features and other much needed amenities. The Art Works center’s goals are to provide an affordable studio place for artists to create and sell art. Also, it strives to bring more culture to the Johnstown region.
Over the winter, Johnstown Art Works Director Theresa Gay Rohall says they will complete a $1 million construction phase to the 19th century building. Phase 3a will focus on interior needs. This includes preparing for and building a living roof, framing the shell of the second story, which will hold offices, a kitchen and a classroom. Also, plumbing and a bathroom will be installed during this phase. Rohall says they currently use running water and a bathroom at the neighboring building. The welcoming gallery and entrance will also be finished.
Rohall says the exterior was redesigned in a previous phase. She expects the Art Works to reopen in the spring, either in April or May. There will be one more phase after phase 3a is completed. She says they will seek a Gold LEED certification when construction is done. It will be the first building in Cambria County to have a living roof, and the first green building in the city of Johnstown.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Study Says PA's Tax Rate is Regressive

A new study says Pennsylvania's tax rate is one of the "most regressive" in the nation.
Sharon Ward of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, a liberal think tank, says that's because every commonwealth resident pays the same 3.07 percent personal income tax, no matter how much money he or she is bringing in.
Ward says that means lower earners end up paying out a much higher portion of their finances into income, sales and property taxes.
She wants lawmakers to consider charging a higher income tax rate to the wealthy, so that lower and middle-income taxpayers can catch a break. Ward says that's feasible.

"It's important to note that we're--our tax rate is much lower than the surrounding states. Our top income tax rate is much lower than New York, New Jersey, Delaware, even West Virginia. Very high income earners--people over 500,000 dollars--pay twice as much income taxes in West Virginia."

According to the data, families earning 19-thousand dollars or less are spending 11 percent of their income on taxes, compared to the 5 percent that families earning more than 1.3 million dollars are shelling out.

The national study was put together by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Blood Donations Likely to Drop

The Central Blood Bank predicts a drop in blood donation this holiday season. Spokesperson Lisa Cassidy says its a perennial problem caused by the bustle of the holidays.

"Traditionally, the busiest time for everyone else is the slowest time for us," says Cassidy.

The blood bank tries to counteract this by sponsoring special events and drives. The Enjoy Book Drive is around Thanksgiving, the Steelers Locker Room Drive is after Christmas, and January is National Blood Donors Month. Cassidy says these special programs try to help resuscitate declining winter donation levels.

People interested in donating can call 866-366-6771 or visit the Central Blood Bank website.

Local Institutions Enjoy Surge in Attendance

Many local venues like the Heinz History Center, the National Aviary, and the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium have reported record attendance during the last year, despite the troubled economy.

Professor of Hospitality Denis Rudd of Robert Morris University says people are cutting down on travel costs this year, causing them to stay close to home during their time off. He says this has sparked a renewed interest in local history and landmarks, which is good news for venues like the Heinz History Center and the Phipps Conservatory. Rudd says places like that would normally raise prices during a recession, but they aren't this year due to high attendance.

Rudd says parks may also have more visitors come spring, but reduced funding could put a damper on that.

Casey Wants Changes to Obama Health Care Overhaul

Pro-life Democrat Bob Casey says he wants to see changes to President Obama's health care overhaul, but he's confident the measure will pass the Senate by year's end.
Casey says Democrats don't have the votes they need to pass health care legislation yet, but argues the reform movement has gained momentum, and will clear the Senate in December.
Casey supports a push to make sure the proposed public option doesn't use public dollars to fund abortions.

"I think there's a consensus in the country not to have federal tax dollars pay for abortions and I think that's the intention of people in both parties here in Washington. But I don't think we're there yet in the current version of the bill."

Casey didn't say whether he'd support barring private plans offering abortion coverage from the public exchange, saying the proposal "complicates" things.
He says since there's no template for that type of initiative, it's difficult to tell whether the Hyde Amendment would apply.
Both Casey and Democrat Arlen Specter voted to begin debate on health care this past weekend.
Specter says health care may not pass this year--but he's confident it will pass the Senate.

"We're going to work at it, but it is more important that it is done right than it is done fast. We're dealing here with a big chunk of the economy. We're dealing with health care for America, and we're going to do it right. And if it takes a little longer we are going to take our time."

Specter says he thinks the final bill will include a public option.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Hanger: DEP Working to Minimize Pollution from Drilling

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger says he's "not surprised" fifteen Susquehanna County residents are suing Cabot Oil and Gas for contaminating their drinking water.
DEP officials say Cabot's natural gas drilling contaminated thirteen wells in Dimock Township over the past year.
Residents have filed a federal lawsuit against the company in an attempt to stop future extractions.

Hanger wouldn't comment whether or not he supports the legal effort, but said DEP has taken a number of actions against the company.

"One was to literally tell them they couldn't frak (use chemically treated water under high pressure to break the shale to release the gas) for a period of time, and they had to come to the department with a plan to ensure their future operations would be in compliance. We've also issued two different fines."

Cabot is one of several companies drilling for natural gas in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale formation. Officials first became aware of the leaks and contamination on January 1, when a gas leak caused a well to explode in one Dimock resident's yard.

Hanger says officials are working with other drillers to minimize pollution.

"We're also encouraging reuse and recycling so there isn't a discharge back to streams, and more and more companies actually are moving to reuse and recycle water to limit what water would need to be treated.

Both Hanger and Governor Rendell say they're satisfied with DEP's inspection and oversight efforts.

PA Sets a Thanksgiving Table

When you look down at that plate full of Thanksgiving dinner today you might be surprised to learn just how much of it could have come from Pennsylvania. The Keystone State ranks number nine in the nation in turkey production and number three in the production of butter. Pennsylvania State Data Center Director Sue Copella says the state also holds its own in wheat and corn production. 124 million ponds of sweet corn were produced in the state in 2008. Copella says at $35.40 per one hundred pounds that adds up to a big impact on the Pennsylvania economy. She notes turkey production is a $138 million industry in Pennsylvania with more than 5,000 workers in the poultry processing industry. Even before you get to the table there is a reason to be proud of the state. If you watch the Macy’s parade today you should know that it is not a tradition that started in New York. Gimbel’s in Philadelphia held a Thanksgiving parade in 1920, four years before Macy’s.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

PA Turnpike Braces for Thanksgiving

The Pennsylvania Turnpike will make adjustments to construction and patrol schedules to accomodate Thanksgiving traffic this week. Most road work and construction will be suspended to allow for maximum traffic flow, while State Police will be on the watch for aggressive and drunk driving.

Spokesperson Carl DeFebo says commuters can call the turnpike's special emergency number, *11, instead of 911 to report emergencies.

DeFebo says traffic will be busiest from about 3:00 to 8:00 p.m. Wednesday, and again from noon to 8:00 p.m. Sunday.

He says motorists wishing to relax during a long drive can stop at the Allentown or Sideling Hill Service Plazas for "Take a Break" activities. He says these activities will showcase the Turnpike's response crews and will give commuters a chance to sign up for EZ-Pass and Missing Child Services.

Report On Excellence For All Campaign Released.

Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt has released a four-year update on the Excellence For All Campaign. He says that while improvements have been made work still needs to be done. Roosevelt says that out of 38 categories in the plan, eight were met or exceeded. Roosevelt added that there was improvement in 23 other areas. One area that has not met expectations has been 11th grade performance on the PSSA's. Roosevelt said that he does expect to see those scores increase because for the last three years there have been increases in 8th grade PSSA scores. According to Roosevelt the next step in the Excellence For All Campaign is to update it.

New Battery Technology May Help In Developing The New Power Grid

A CMU Professor has received a $5 million grant from the Department of Energy. The money is part of recovery act funding and will go towards the development of a high-volume battery that can store power from the electrical grid. By storing power a power station will be able to avoid wasting of energy and save money. Currently the power grid has to turn on extra power stations when there is peak demand for energy. By storing power a power station would be able release extra energy when demand is high. By giving power stations the ability to store power it would also allow for stations to buy energy at night when costs are lower and use it during the day when costs are higher. CMU professor Jay Whitacre, who is developing the battery technology says that it would also help if renewable energy sources start to come online because sources such as wind and solar fluctuate in their output and the battery would be able to save the energy to provide a more consistent output.

Emergency Shelter to Provide Cold-Weather Lodging

The Allegheny County Department of Human Services is again opening a Severe Weather Emergency Shelter with the Pittsburgh Mercy Health System’s Operation Safety Net.

During heavy precipitation or extreme temperatures, the shelter will provide lodging, food, medical and case-management services to as many as 120 people.

Operation Safety Net Program Administrator Linda Sheets says this refuge is primarily for people living on the streets.

“The shelter is provided for those individuals that will not or cannot stay in the area shelters, or if there is an overflow,” says Sheets.

Sheets says the service helped to house over half of the people who used the shelter last year, so she expects a smaller turnout this year. She says there are fewer rules imposed at this facility than at other shelters because safety is the main concern.

To find out if the shelter at the Smithfield United Church of Christ is open, call 412-779-1329.

Allegheny Institute Doubts G20's Economic Impact

The Allegheny Institute says it does not think as much money was left in Pittsburgh during the G20 as some have estimated. The conservative think tank has released a policy brief regarding VisitPittsburgh's claims of a $35 million economic benefit to the the Pittsburgh region as a result of the G20 economic summit. The Allegheny Institute claims that the projection is unreasonable. The group looked at two indicators of economic impact for the region. They looked at RAD (Regional Asset District) revenues and hotel tax revenues. According to the policy brief RAD revenues were down in September of 2009 as compared to 2008, but hotel tax revenues increased by $600,000 representing an additional $8.5 million in hotel spending. Allegheny Institute senior research associate Frank Gamrat says the picture is incomplete because they were only able to analyze two sources but he believes the $35 million impact projection is still unreasonable because of the difficulty in quantifying the actual impact to the region.

Visit Pittsburgh has released a written response saying in part; "The Allegheny Institute fails to note that most of the 33 delegations associated with the Pittsburgh Summit were exempt from paying any taxes. These delegations represented over 3,500 attendees. In addition, security forces were also exempt from paying taxes. Used as the cornerstone for the Allegheny Institute’s faulty analysis, tax collections in this case are not a meaningful measurement of direct spending relating to the Pittsburgh Summit." "VisitPittsburgh stands behinds our estimate of $35 million in direct spending as a result of the Pittsburgh Summit."

Rendell Angry Over Delay In Hearing from TMI

Governor Rendell says he’s angry it took more than five hours for Exelon Nuclear to notify Pennsylvania officials about a minor radiation leak at Three Mile Island this weekend.
Low levels of radiation—the equivalent of a few X-rays—were detected inside Three Mile Island’s Unit One reactor on Saturday afternoon, around four.
Governor Rendell says he’s irked state officials didn’t find out about the incident until after nine PM.
He says his frustration is compounded by the fact Exelon officials didn’t tell authorities about a series of false alarms on Monday night until the next morning.

"Pick up the phone and call PEMA. And say, look, we think this is a false alarm. We’re going to monitor the level to see if there’s any unusual radiation. We’ll get back to you as soon as we know that. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be notified. And probably the Dauphin County EMA folks should be notified, as well, and the NRC should be notified."

Saturday’s radiation levels were below the legal requirement for notification, but Exelon spokeswoman Beth Archer says the company “appreciates” Rendell’s concern.

"While this wasn’t an emergency at Three Mile Island, we fully support the governor’s goal of timely notification. We certainly appreciate the governor’s concern. And that is exactly why we’re going to sit down with state, local and federal officials to do a lessons learned meeting."

Rendell says Exelon should have notified state and federal officials of the incident right away, noting he would have had to mobilize the National Guard in the event of a serious emergency.

Motorists Hit the Road for Thanksgiving

Drivers will flood Pennsylvania’s highways and interstates over the coming days. Transportation Secretary Alan Biehler says the Thanksgiving weekend is one of the busiest—and most dangerous—stretches of the year.
He says last Thanksgiving saw more accidents than any other holiday, but notes PennDOT will try to ease congestion.

"Our road construction, in general, will be shut down during the holidays. There might be a few jobs continuing, depending on the type of work, but for the most part our work will be shut down during the holidays."

Pennsylvania drivers can get updates on traffic, weather and road conditions by dialing 5-1-1. Biehler is asking motorists to stay alert behind the wheel, and keep distractions to a minimum. He’s also reminding Pennsylvanians to wear their seatbelts and nominate a designated driver if holiday celebrations involve drinking.

PennDOT Launches Thanksgiving Safety Program

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has launched Operation Safe Holiday, a campaign designed to cut down the high number of car crashes during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Spokesperson Alison Wenger says both state and municipal police forces will amp up their patrols and set up checkpoints around areas with high crash rates.

According to PennDOT, 53 people died and more than 5,300 crashed their cars in Pennsylvania during the Thanksgiving season last year, making it the most dangerous holiday to drive.

Wenger says commuters can call 511 from their mobile phone for weather and traffic updates to help reduce those numbers.

County Health Department Offers Food Safety Tips For Holiday

The Allegheny County Health Department has offered some food safety tips for the Thanksgiving holiday. When handling food you should make sure to wash your hands thoroughly both before and after you handle the food. You should make sure that all utensils and cooking materials are cleaned both before and after each use. When thawing your turkey you should allow for one day in the refrigerator for every 4 or 5 pounds or 30 minutes in cold water for every pound. When cooking for you should always use a meat thermometer to check for an internal temperature of 165 degrees. When storing food you should make sure that food is refrigerated within two hours of being served.

County Health Department Offers Food Safety Tips For Holiday

The Allegheny County Health Department has offered some food safety tips for the Thanksgiving holiday. When handling food you should make sure to wash your hands thoroughly both before and after you handle the food. You should make sure that all utensils and cooking materials are cleaned both before and after each use. When thawing your turkey you should allow for one day in the refrigerator for every 4 or 5 pounds or 30 minutes in cold water for every pound. When cooking for you should always use a meat thermometer to check for an internal temperature of 165 degrees. When storing food you should make sure that food is refrigerated within two hours of being served.

AAA Releases Travel Expectations For Thanksgiving Holiday

AAA has released its projections for travel during the holiday weekend. AAA is projecting a 1.4 percent increase in travel nationally this year. 38.4 million people are expected to travel over 50 miles from their homes for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. 33.2 million are expected to travel by automobile and 2.3 million are expected to travel by air. The remaining 2.9 million are expected to travel by train, watercraft, buses and other means of transport. 904,000 Pennsylvanians are expected to travel this holiday which is down 4.7 percent from last year.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Specter: Good Health Care Reform Coming

U.S. Senator Arlen Specter says he is not worried about Republican efforts to “Sink” health care reform legislation as it moves through the Senate. “They have become the party of no,” says Specter, “Republicans are vowing to sink everything. They tried to sink the stimulus package, they are trying to sink health care reform. But there are 60 votes in the Senate and we are moving it along.” Specter says the nation will get, “a good healthcare reform bill.” He says, “I believe we will have the public option one way or another and we will be insuring millions of Americans and we will save money.” Those savings would come through more people seeking preventative care and help during the early stages of illnesses. Many of those watching the debate closely are using the end of the year as a milestone. Specter says he does not want to put a time line on the process. “It is more important that it is done right rather than done fast," says Specter.

Minor Incident at Beaver Valley Plant

Earlier this morning, the Beaver Valley 2 nuclear power plant had a minor incident, designated as an “Unusual Event”.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission Spokesman Neil Sheehan says the reactor coolant system had unidentified leakage, at 3:03 a.m., at the rate of more than 25 gallons leaking per minute. Sheehan says it was because of a misalignment and an open valve. The problem was spotted within nine minutes, and the unusual event terminated at 4:04 a.m.
The leakage had not been in contact with people, but had it continued, it would have leaked into the containment building. The system has been realigned. Inspectors went to the plant to ensure that workers properly took care of the incident.

Housing Authority gets 5.9 Million From HUD

The Allegheny County Housing Authority will use $4.4 million to help make the Prospect Terrace development in East Pittsburgh a bit greener. The money will be used to add geothermal heat pumps to each of the 94 units. The heat pumps and other renovations including new “cool-roofs” are expected to cut heating and cooling bills by at least 50%. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan was in town to award the grant that comes from the federal stimulus package. He says heat pumps are a cutting edge technology that several other housing authorities are investigating and he says the Allegheny County Housing Authority is setting the pace. A similar project funded by the housing authority and private investors at the Dalton’s Edge senior housing facility in Brackenridge has lowered energy consumption by two thirds since it was installed in 2007. Special plantings, downspouts and other renovations are expected to help lower the amount of water consumption and runoff at the development.
Sec. Donovan also announced that the authority won grants of $750,000 to do work on G.W. Carver Hall in Clairton and West View Towers in West View through the same round of competitive stimulus funding. Donovan says it is remarkable that an authority the size of Allegheny County’s would win three competitive awards in one round of funding. Donovan says the work at Prospect Terrace will create 175 jobs for about a year and a half.

Candidate Gerlach: 2 Year Budget Cycle

Republican Jim Gerlach says if he’s elected governor of Pennsylvania, he’ll push for a two-year budget cycle.
Congressman Gerlach, who’s running against Attorney General Tom Corbett and State Representative Sam Rohrer in next year’s GOP primary, says a two-year budget cycle would give lawmakers more time to hold state departments accountable and inspect their spending.
He says he’d also push for what he calls “results-based budgeting,” which would place every agency at a zero-base funding level when the appropriations process begins.

"Programs would have to meet clearly defined performance goals and objectives before any new budget increase would be approved. And if the program fails to meet its targets over a multi-year period, the program would be ended and the funding pulled."

Gerlach’s reform package would also dock the governor and lawmakers’ pay if a budget isn’t passed on time. Several former statewide office holders, including Governors Tom Ridge and Mark Schweiker, have endorsed Corbett, but Gerlach says that won’t deter his run. He says party officials boosting up one candidate before the primary “creates a disservice” to voters.

Investigation Continues into Radioactive Dust at TMI

A Three Mile Island official says teams are still trying to determine why an unexpected change in air flow stirred up radioactive dust during work at the nuclear power plant Saturday. Spokesman Ralph DeSantis says public safety was never endangered by the incident in which a dozen workers were exposed to radiation, The unit has been shut down since October 26 to refuel the reactor and replace steam generators. DeSantis says the radiation came from reactor cooling system pipes that were being cut by workers. He says a radiation monitor at an entrance to the building "temporarily went up slightly." But he says a later check detected no contamination outside.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Neil Sheehan says the investigation continues..."We do expect our radiation experts to be out there (today) if not later in the week."
DeSantis says workers are back on the job..."Most of the contamination that occurred inside the building has been cleaned up. Our workers have returned to work and we're doing the maintenance work on the building."

Monday, November 23, 2009

PAT Applies For Stimulus Cash For Rapid Bus

The Port Authority of Allegheny County is hoping to get federal stimulus funds to speed up its efforts to launch a “rapid bus line.” PAT has applied for $80.7 million in federal economic stimulus funds for the project to link Downtown and Oakland with the new service. PAT spokesperson Jim Ritchie says this is not another busway, “This is bus service on streets that already exist but only stopping every few stops.” He says that would make the commute much faster. He says the authority is already moving forward with the plan using existing capital dollars. It will take several years to build up the needed funds but the stimulus dollars would allow for the implementation immediately and the expansion of the effort to include more real-time monitoring of the system. Ritchie says the goal would be to use a different kind of bus than the ones used on the traditional routes, “We envision using buses that have more seats, we envision using buses that are more distinct in color or shape or something like that, that people would instantly recognize coming down the street.” The system would also include new shelters with special message boards updating the status of the next bus. Ritchie says the authority should know this spring if it has the won the competitive grant.

Fontana Wants Fee For Nonprofits

Lawmakers in Harrisburg are being asked to consider legislation that would strip away some of the tax benefits of being a nonprofit organization in Pennsylvania. The measure sponsored by State Sen. Wayne D. Fontana of Brookline and State Rep. Timothy J. Solobay of Washington would leave the first 50,000-square feet of floor space owned by a nonprofit organization tax free and then a $100 per 1,000 square foot fee would be assessed on any remaining space. The idea is to hit the large nonprofit organizations while leaving small churches and charities out of the tax. Fontana says when he first talked about the amendment to the Institutions of Purely Public Charity Act there was not much support but now that Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has brought up the issue of schools paying their “fair share” through a tuition tax he thinks he will have more support. Fontana says this may not be the best plan but it is a starting point for debate. Fontana says, “It’s my opinion that they have a financial obligation to the city or municipality for the services they get and the services they receive. Many of them have accumulated vast amounts of real estate and those things are hurting our tax base.” The bill would allow nonprofits and municipalities the option to continue with existing voluntary agreements, to impose a fee based on total square footage of properties, and to establish a limited real estate tax for properties owned by institutions. Rep. Solobay says, “It isn’t just big cities affected by tax exempt real estate properties. We have similar issues in the City of Washington and Washington County which I represent as the number of tax exempt properties grows and the burden of paying for services falls on the shoulders of property owners who do pay taxes. The intent of this bill is to help combat this problem by having non-profit/tax exempt entities pay a partial tax.”

CLP Board Chair Will Ask Members to Hold Closures

Several state, county and Pittsburgh elected officials gathered in the regional enterprise tower this morning in an effort to find a way to keep the four Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh branches open for at least another year. The Library says it needs about one million dollars to keep the branches open in 2010. State Senator Jay Costa called the meeting. He says, “The task is now in our hands. The public officials need to work … to be able to develop the proceeds we need to keep them open.” Library Board Chair Jacqui Fiske Lazo says she will ask the board at its December meeting to put the closures on hold while the elected official look for the needed cash. She says if legislation is not in place by the February board meeting they will need to move forward with all portions of the cost saving plan. She says, "A check would be best. But we need some sort of firm commitment. We understand there is a process that the public officials need to go through. We would like to respect that." Costa is pushing for the use of table game revenues to fund the library’s shortfall next year. Legislation being debated in Harrisburg would give one percent of the taxes generated by expanded gaming to the host county and one percent to the host municipality. He says that would put about $860,000 into to city’s coffers and he would like to talk about how much of that would go to the libraries. Costa says he would like to see a portion of the county’s take to be earmarked for suburban libraries.

Costa’s money would only keep the libraries open for 2010. Lazo says the budget gap will grow to $2 million in 2011 and continue to get larger in the out years. To deal with the growing number Costa is putting together a taskforce to look at long term solutions. He says the taskforce would be made up of elected officials, library staff and community representatives. He says they need to take a look at more private funding, the city and state’s roll in the funding mix and how libraries of the future should look and be run. The Senator says the taskforce would spend the better part of 2010 grappling with those issues.

Restoration Begins on Beardon “T” Mural

The Port Authority of Allegheny County has begun the process of removing the tile mural that hung on the wall of the Gateway “T” station. The mural by the late Pittsburgh artist, Romare Beardon was commissioned for the station when it opened in 1984. It has been valued at $15 million dollars. Now that the station has been closed crews are removing the 13-foot by 60-foot mural piece by piece. The work will be sent to a restoration company in Ohio to be cleaned and remounted on 13-foot by 2-foot panels. It will be hung in the new station before it opens. Over the years the mural has received some water damage. Jerry Marinzel is the project coordinator for PAT. He says each tile has been numbered and photographed and the workers are in the process of scoring between each tile with a diamond tipped saw. They will then cut an inch behind the tiles and leave the cement intact to make sure no tiles are damaged. The removal process is expected to take two months and the restoration work will take about year. In all, the project is expected to cost $1-million. Marinzel says some of the money came from the portion of the station’s budget set aside for artwork and the rest has been covered by private donations. The mural titled "Pittsburgh Recollections" tells the story of Pittsburgh. Marinzel says educational materials will be created to let “T” users gain a better appreciation for the work. One of the 780 tiles was installed upside down. Marinzel says the artist supervised the instillation of the mural and the Port Authority assumes he intended the tile to be mounted upside down so when it is reinstalled it will remain upside down. More pictures of the work can be seen here.

Proposed Change to Self-Defense Law

Critics say a bill aimed at broadening the right to self-defense would have unintended consequences, making it harder for prosecutors to convict murderers. Pennsylvania law justifies the use of deadly force in self-defense, but requires people outside their homes or workplaces to try to retreat first, if they think that’s safe and possible. A bill before the House would eliminate that provision. It would read that a threatened person “has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his ground and use protective force, including deadly force.”

National Rifle Association state liaison John Hohenwarter supports that. "You know there’s nothing more dangerous than turning your back on a violent criminal. There’s nothing more dangerous than doing that. That’s why we’re looking at changing 'duty to retreat to stand your ground.'"

Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico says if the bill passes, it would open up a loophole and allow drug dealers charged in shoot-outs to claim a legitimate defense.

"The defense attorney’s going to have a tool to raise, and that’s going to be that he didn’t have the duty to retreat, that he acted in self-defense. And we’ll have that guy—probably an illegal gun carrier—he’ll be acquitted and released back on the street to purvey violence, to provide more drugs. That’s what’s going to happen."

Marsico says the bill is “well-intentioned,” but would have “disastrous effects.”

Allegheny County Parks Foundation Executive Director Announced

The new Executive Director of the Allegheny County Parks Foundation, as announced this morning by County Executive Dan Onorato, is Christine Fulton.

Fulton is a Pittsburgher with 25 years experience in major fundraising—ten of those years with her alma mater Northwestern U. in Chicago and with the U. of Chicago—before she returned to Pittsburgh and worked with Pitt’s McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and in the private sector, for the Soffer Organization at South Side Works.

Fulton says the county has one of the largest park systems in the state, with 12,000 acres in nine parks. Though the parks are well used, she says they're not affordable with taxes alone so many maintenance needs have gone unmet, and there have been no resources for new projects and programs.

The county is giving a million dollars to get the foundation going and ten million dollars to attract matching funds from foundations, corporations, and individuals or groups. The foundation will also explore ideas for generating revenues in the parks.

Wagner: He & Corbett Can Do Jobs & Still Campaign

Auditor General Jack Wagner says he and Tom Corbett are capable of running for governor of Pennsylvania while keeping their day jobs.
Now that both Wagner, a Democrat, and Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett have formally declared their campaigns for governor, opponents have stepped up their criticism each time the men announce high-profile audits or charges.
Democratic candidate Tom Knox says it’s wrong to run for statewide office while holding another post, and Republican Jim Gerlach says Corbett’s legislative corruption investigation is a conflict of interest for someone who wants to be the next governor.
Wagner dismisses the complaints.

"Tom Corbett is elected at Attorney General. I’m elected as Auditor General. He’s a prosecutor, I’m a fiscal watchdog. The way I view it we’re both doing our job. That’s what the people of Pennsylvania elected us to do."

Corbett has repeatedly said he won’t step down, and he’ll keep looking into corruption charges.
His latest opponent, State Representative Sam Rohrer, says he applauds the ongoing investigation, which recently charged ten Republicans.
"Does it conflict potentially with what he’s doing? I think by the mere fact there’s been so much press and so much concern, there is a possibility, definitely, of conflicting with what he does. So he’s going to have to weigh very carefully what he and how he chooses to pursue this investigation, or what he does."

Rohrer deflected questions about whether Corbett should step down, saying that’s up to the Attorney General.

Pittsburgh School Board Rated

A+ Schools, Pittsburgh's education watchdog group released its first report card of the school year based on observations by its Board Watch volunteers.

The school board got a B-, the same grade they got last school year but Carey Harris, the group's executive director says it is a stronger B- because the group showed improvement in several areas.

At least three volunteers attend agenda reviews and legislative meetings and judge the bard members on five criteria. They are how well they manage time, transparency, conduct, role clarity and competency.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Officials Meet Monday on Library Funding

State and city of Pittsburgh elected officials will meet with members of the Carnegie Library Board Monday morning to discuss short-term and long-term funding solutions to avert library branch closings.
Earlier this fall, the Library Board announced plans to shut down branches in Lawrenceville, Hazelwood, Beechview and the West End and merge those in Knoxville and Carrick because of a projected $1.2 million shortfall in 2010. That led to criticism from those communities and politicians.
State Senator Jay Costa of Allegheny County says he wants a promise from the Library Board "that if we in fact are able to get resources for the next year, that they will make a commitment on December 14 at the Board meeting to defer the implementation of the branch closure part of their plan to allow us to engage in discussions over the next year to address our long-term needs."
Costa says those long-term needs are funding and accountability because the library system faces a $6 million deficit over the next several years..."we'll be looking to the state, the city, the corporate community and private citizens to put together a long-term funding stream that allows as many communities as possible to receive library services."
A spokeswoman says the Library Board is willing to defer the closures if agreement can be reached on funding for 2010 and a long-term dedicated funding source.
He says something has to change including the structure of the system "do we need a large facility?"
Costa says he's hopeful that they will come out of Monday's meeting with a consensus of "here's where we're at, here's what our respective responsibilities are, and go from there."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Swine Flu Vaccine Clinics Today

The Pennsylvania Department of Health is offering free swine flu vaccine clinics for high risk groups starting today. Spokeswoman Stacy Kriedeman says they continue to target at-risk groups, including pregnant women, people between 6 months and 24 years old, care givers for babies less than 6 months old, health care personnel, and people between 25 and 64 with underlying conditions. However, those at-risk groups comprise about half of Pennsylvania's 12 million residents. To date, Pennsylvania has received 1.7 million doses of vaccine and is getting about 400,000 to 500,000 doses each week.
The clinics in Allegheny County today are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Chartiers Valley High School in Collier Township, McKeesport High School, North Allegheny High School in McCandless, and Pittsburgh Schenley High School in East Liberty.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Regional Homeless Children Summit

A summit was held on Friday at The Rivers Club in Pittsburgh. Titled "Summit to Ensure Quality Education of our Homeless Children and Youth," it focused on the on the barriers homeless children face in getting an education, such as transportation to school from homeless shelters, tutoring, mentoring and accessing health services.

There are about 600 homeless children living in shelters in the Pittsburgh area. Over the last ten years, the homeless children's education fund has established learning centers in ten Pittsburgh-area shelters and provided after-school and summer activities.

About 75 social service providers, education specialists and others attended the summit.

PennDOT Releases Veterans License Plates

Pennsylvania veterans can now get a special license plate denoting their military branch and veteran status. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is offering these plates for a $20 fee. They display the seal of the veteran’s branch of service on a blue background. Interested persons should visit the PennDOT website to download an order form.

Fayette County Changes Windmill Ordinance

Fayette County Commissioners voted 2-1 yesterday to allow windmills as a regularly permitted structure in agriculture, light industrial and heavy industrial zones, rather than a project that needs special permission.

Commissioner Vincent Vicites says this will open the door for green energy in Fayette County. He says he supports this measure because it helps his county do its part to reduce the United States’ dependence on foreign oil.

Vicites says right now there are just two windmill sites in the county – the completed Mill Run Project on Laurel Ridge, and the pending Iberdrola Renewables project on Chestnut Ridge.

North Shore Trail Link

A half-mile section of the North Shore Trail that’s bumpy with old rail ties is receiving an upgrade for a smoother path. Friends of the Riverfront Executive Director Thomas Baxter says construction will begin within a week of Nov. 20 and finish up around the first week of April. This area is located between the Millvale boathouse and the 31st Street Bridge. The total cost will be about $5 million.

“It’s a very tight corridor along the riverfront,” Baxter said. “Instead of laying trail right on the ground, this is actually a suspended trail--sort of one long bridge along the riverfront.”

During construction, a pathway will be accessible for trail goers.

Unemployment Compensation Funds

Despite a steady 8.8 percent unemployment rate in Pennsylvania last month, the demand for unemployment benefits is forcing the state to borrow more money from the federal government. Between the 435,000 residents receiving unemployment compensation in Pennsylvania, between $70 and $75 million are being paid out each week. In order to keep up, state officials plan to increase the amount of money borrowed from the federal government this year to $1.85 billion.

Senate Labor and Industry Committee Chair John Gordner says there is one startling statistic shows that Pennsylvania's unemployment compensation system needs reform.

"We are second in the nation in the amount of unemployment comp benefits paid," he said. "We are only behind California, and we are certainly not the second or third or fourth-largest state."

Unemployment compensation is funded through employer taxes, but the Senate Labor and Industry Committee is exploring how to make changes that lead to solvency. Gordner says there needs to be an increase in revenues from employers, contribution from employees who benefit from the system when they have a job and something needs to change in regard to benefit issues.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pittsburgh Schools Receive Teaching Grant

The Gates Foundation has announced a new initiative to improve teaching in American schools, with $290 million in grants and $45 million toward effective teaching research. The grants are focusing on four communities; Pittsburgh Public Schools has been slated a $40 million grant. Hillsborough County, Florida, Memphis Tennessee and Los Angeles College-Ready Promise charter schools have also been chosen for the grant.
“Each of these sites will implement groundbreaking approaches to recruit, retain and reward effective teachers,” Gates Foundation Co-Founder Melinda Gates said. She added that this is the largest domestic investment the Gates Foundation has made since its inception in 2000.
“The work that they do over the next few years has the potential to serve as national models for boosting teacher effectiveness,” Gates said.
There were many reasons cited as to why Pittsburgh Public Schools were one of the chosen communities. This included the observation component to teacher evaluations, the equitable distribution for the pay for performance plan and the Pittsburgh Promise.

Stem Cell Treatment for Heart Attack Patients

Researchers at Allegheny General Hospital have begun a clinical trial to explore the safety and effectiveness of an adult stem cell therapy for heart attacks. AGH is 1 of 38 hospitals across the country involved in the study using stem cells from the bone marrow of healthy adult donors. Dr. Robert Biederman is the Director of AGH's Cardiovascular MRI Center and the hospital's
principal investigator for this study.
Biederman says they are hoping the treatment reduces the enlargement of the heart following the attack....
"That has been one of the strongest predictors of outcome, meaning hospitalization, death and requirement of other interventions. We're hoping that it improves the heart function. If we can interfere with the natural decrease in function after the heart attack, that would be very advisable."
Dr. Biederman says they also want to reduce the heart scarring, the damage to the heart muscle. He says the stem cell treatment will be given 3 to 7 days after the patient, who has a modest heart attack, undergoes angioplasty to open the blocked vessel and receives the traditional medicines.
He says it's a one time I-V infusion through the arm and doesn't require a catheterization nor any needles into the heart itself for infusions.
A 53 year old Scott Township woman became the first patient in the study at AGH and Biederman says she is doing very well. She will have follow up MRI's to check for heart function and scarring at 3, 6 and 12 months.
Biederman says this may be a paradigm change in the treatment of heart attack patients. He says it's possible the FDA could approve the treatment in 2 to 2 and a half years.

Ravenstahl: We’ll Pass The Tax

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl says he is going ahead with his 1% tax on tuition paid to Pittsburgh colleges and universities and he will let the lawyers sort it out in court. Ravenstahl says he will be separating the 2010 budget and the tuition tax and moving forward with both at the same time. The mayor will build a balanced budget without the $16 million from the tax and submit that to council and the oversight boards. He says that budget will be full of one-time revenues sources and Band-Aids but it will not include major cuts to city services. At the same time, the 5 members of council (Ricky Burgess, Darlene Harris, Theresa Kail-Smith, Tonya Payne, Jim Motznik) on his side will pass what he calls the “fair share tax.” In the New Year the city will try to collect the tax and Ravenstahl says he expects the schools to file suit to stop him. He says, “We will win that fight.”

The administration will also have to submit a 5-year plan. Ravenstahl says that document will also not include the tuition tax but it will have to include cuts to public safety, parks and public works.

The mayor and the 5 council members say they are willing to negotiate with the non profits in the city to find a way to add $16 million to the $1.6 million already expected in the form of payments in lieu of taxes. They say if that happens they will kill the tuition tax altogether. Ravenstahl says, “I hate the tax,” however he says he feels he has no other choice. To his critics, Ravenstahl says if they have a better plan he wants to hear it.

Ravenstahl says he is focusing on the universities because they use more city services than the hospitals and other non-profits. He will not be asking the state legislature to approve the tax. He is not taking that route partially because he feels there is no need to get the authority and partially because he feels there are better options if the legislature is to get involved. He lists an increase of the commuter tax from $52 to $144 a year and an extension of the payroll prep tax to non-profits among them.

Councilman Jim Motznik says if students and their parents want to be mad they should not look at the mayor or council, they should look to the universities that have not been paying their fair share.

Pittsburgh School Board Approves $40 mil. Gates Grant

Earlier this year Pittsburgh was one of ten school districts and charter school groups selected to apply for a portion of the $500 million fund created by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to promote teacher effectiveness. In September they were revealed to be one of four chosen to receive money, and last night the school board voted to approve a $40 million grant, which is a part of a more than $85 million effort to change the way teachers are hired, trained, evaluated and compensated. John Tarka, head of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers says they have been behind the project from the beginning. He acknowledges that the similar programs have been opposed in other districts, but he's confident that Pittsburgh teachers will be supportive after the collective bargaining nuts and bolts have been worked out. He says Pittsburgh has some great teachers and they are looking forward to harnessing those skills and replicating them across the district.

The teacher effectiveness initiative will include a teacher training academy, introduce pay for performance and incentive based pay for teachers who choose to tackle difficult assignments. It would also rework the tenure system and introduce more outreach for teacher recruitment.

Hillsborough County, Florida, Memphis Tennessee and Los Angeles College-Ready Promise charter schools have also been chosen for the grant.

“Each of these sites will implement groundbreaking approaches to recruit, retain and reward effective teachers,” Gates Foundation Co-Founder Melinda Gates said. She added that this is the largest domestic investment the Gates Foundation has made since its inception in 2000.

Some PA Residents to Get Free H1N1 Vaccine

After weeks of delays, the Pennsylvania Department of Health is offering free clinics to provide H1N1 vaccines to high-risk groups.

Those groups are pregnant women, people under 24 years old, medical and health care personnel, people who care for children younger than six months, and anyone aged 25-64 years with a serious medical condition.

Department of Health Spokeswoman Stacy Kriedeman says this is a crucial time for vaccinations, because the H1N1 threat is far from over.

“It’s important that people, particularly those in the recommended groups, continue to get vaccinated against H1N1,” says Kriedeman. “We also anticipate there will be a third wave of this pandemic, so we don’t want people to get complacent.”

Vaccines can be found in the injection and nasal spray form at eighteen sites across the state. Anyone who wants vaccination must download and complete a consent form online at < >.

Southwestern Pennsylvania sites for H1N1 vaccination:

• Richland Township Fire Department
1321 Scalp Avenue, Johnstown PA, 15904
(Cambria, Somerset, and Indiana Counties)
• Mon Valley State Health Center
Eastgate 11, Monessen PA, 15062
(Fayette, Greene, Washington, and Westmoreland Counties)
• Butler County State Health Center
100 Brugh Avenue [Suite 201], Butler PA, 16001
(Butler, Armstrong, and Beaver Counties)

Allegheny County H1N1 vaccination sites:

• Chartiers Valley High School
50 Thoms Run Road, Collier
• McKeesport High School
1960 Eden Park Boulevard, McKeesport
• North Allegheny High School
10375 Perry Highway, McCandless
• Schenley High School
129 Denniston Avenue, East Liberty

New Light Up Plans This Year

With Market Square under construction and access to the point a bit difficult due to construction of the new T station, the Pittsburgh downtown partnership has made some big venue changes to this year’s Light Up Night. The biggest change may be the best place to watch the fireworks. The fireworks have been moved up the Allegheny River from just off the Point to the area near the 7th Street Bridge. A concert will be held on the 6th Street Bridge starting at 5:30 and the fireworks begin at 9:15. Partnership President and CEO Mike Edwards says it was simply going to be too hard to get people in and out of Point State Park so it made sense to move the launch up river. He says the new location will provide a great backdrop, “There is no other place in the world like it with the city and the sister bridges.” Edwards says the north shore will be another good viewing area. Also new this year will be a parade through the golden triangle. The marching bands will step off from PPG Place at 6:45 and work its way to the Clemente Bridge. Edwards says they waned to make sure revelers would know to make their way to the bridge. He says, “430 kids playing Christmas music as loud as can be through marching bands would be a good way to do that.” Light Up Night activities will also be found at Oxford center, Macy’s and Fifth Avenue Place. The entire Light Up Night line up can be found online.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Onorato To Hold Public Hearing On UPMC Braddock

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato will be holding a public hearing Wednesday in Braddock regarding the announced closing of UPMC Braddock Hospital. Onorato says he was only given six hours notice before UPMC made the announcement and he wants to work with UPMC to find a solution that will keep the hospital open. He says he does not want the hearing to be a screaming match because residents have already voiced their opinions but he wants to work towards finding a solution that will keep the hospital open.

Pennsylvania Autism Census Released

Governor Edward Rendell released The Pennsylvania Autism Census today. According to the report, Pennsylvania will see a rise in the number of people with autism.

Prior to the report, the state had no accurate means to determine how many people were in need of services. They now have an idea of how many people there are and where they live.

The state will face a crisis as the number increases and those that are under 18 become adults.

In 2005 about 20,000 people in the state were living with autism. The number will be 25,000 by next year.

In 2005, more than 1,400 adults were living with autism in the state. That number will increase by 179% to more than 3,800 in 2010 and more than 10,000 by 2015.

Rendell says this report is a good tool in determining where services are needed and what they should be.

Friends of the Fountain Campaign Challenge is Coming to a Close

On November 24, the one million dollar matching challenge grant pledged by the Colcom Foundation for Riverlife’s Friends of the Fountain campaign will expire.
Colcom pledged to match up to one million dollars to save the 30-year-old Fountain last November.

Exectutive Director of Riverlife, Lisa Shroeder, says since the pledge, the campaign has raised over 550 thousand dollars, and Colcom has matched every penny.

Shroeder says that remaining 450 thousand is “just waiting to be grabbed by generous Pittsburghers pitching in during this final week.”

She says anyone can sign up and donate online, or find the Friends of the Fountain booth near the Roberto Clemente Bridge on Light Up Night—Friday, November 20. Any amount is accepted, but those who donate at least 20 dollars will receive a Fountain Duck. She says these little rubber duckies will have a special message about the Fountain, and are meant to be brought to the Fountain dedication ceremony in 2011.

She says without these donations, the Fountain is likely to stay off for the year of 2010. She says the site of the fountain rising from the point has been the symbol of Pittsburgh for three decades, and without it, Pittsburgh would not be the same.

Shroeder says the Fountain’s renovations will include fixing the underground water pipes, creating a sitting base around the fountain as well as a splash pool for children. There will also be new lighting technology and granite stones.

Riverlife Task Force is taking donations online.

New Austin's Playroom

The 16th Austin's Playroom opened today at A Child's Place at Mercy Health Center. The playroom project came about when former hockey player Mario Lemieux's wife Nathalie, had a premature son. While she was in the hospital, she wished there was a place for her other two children to play.

The rooms are typically cheerful, child-friendly and filled with toys, games and computers. At A Child's Place, which serves children who have been neglected or abused or in the foster care system, the playroom is the waiting room.

Nathalie Lemieux says she is pleased with the feedback she has gotten about the rooms.

Charter School Legislation Considered

The Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee’s top Republican and Democrat are introducing a bipartisan bill aimed at overhauling oversight of Pennsylvania’s charter schools. The bill, sponsored by Republican Jeff Piccola and Democrat Andy Dinniman, would establish an Office of Charter and Cyber Charter Schools within the Department of Education. Right now, local districts regulate the 130-plus schools. This bill would take the control from the local districts and move it into the newly created office. Dinniman says the bill would also let colleges and universities establish charter schools, and allow institutions to renew their license for ten-year spans, instead of the current five-year limit. He says, “We are trying to lessen the barriers that charter schools would have to go through to be approved. And second, it’s often difficult to put into motion everything that’s required when you know you only have five years before the renewal.” Dinniman says hearings will likely be held in January. However, given the state’s shaky finances and recent layoffs it is likely that the Office of Charter Schools will not get off the ground until the economy improves.

Rohrer Announces Canidacy For Governor

Berks County lawmaker Sam Rohrer has announced his campaign for the Republican Gubernatorial nomination. Rohrer, a ninth term lawmaker, is founding his campaign message on lowering taxes and resisting an "overbearing government." Rohrer would also like to change the way school systems are funded and increase performance by expanding school choice and empowering parents. The 54 year old announced his campaign during what he called a "Pennsylvania Town hall." Rohrer is running against Attorney General Tom Corbett and the U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach in the Republican primary.

Bill Proposed to Halt School Strikes in PA

A state representative is trying to make a change to the Pennsylvania Constitution in order to make school strikes illegal. Representative Daryl Metcalfe of Cranberry says school strikes impede with language in the constitution that calls for a “thorough and efficient system of public education”. Metcalfe says there only 13 states that have school strikes legalized, and he no longer wants Pennsylvania to be the school strike capitol of the nation.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Reopening of Decorative Arts Gallery at Carnegie Museum

The Aisla Mellon Bruce Galleries for Decorative Arts at the Carnegie Museum of Art will reopen on November 21st after being closed for almost ten years. The galleries contain about 500 examples of U.S., European and Asian decorative arts from the mid-18th century to the present.

The gallery takes up about 8,500 square feet of exhibition space. There are four galleries, one is devoted to a rotating exhibit while the others are permanent.

Many of the objects are newly acquired or have never been exhibited to the public.

ICA Kills Budget

One of the two boards that have oversight control over Pittsburgh’s budget has rejected the mayor’s spending plan. The budget submitted by Luke Ravenstahl included a 1% tax on tuition paid to Pittsburgh colleges and universities. The members of the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority felt that such a tax needs state approval before it can be implemented. Board Chair Barbara McNees says the vote was not a comment on the value of such a tax, just that the city was not able to levy it at this time. She says, by law, the city must present a budget that contains a revenue stream that is “predictable and legally enforceable.” The city must have that budget in place by December 31st. McNees says the board believes the Ravenstahl administration can find the needed cuts and revenue enhancements before the deadline. She says if the mayor can get the state to approve the new tax before the end of the year the board will reconsider the budget. The board will meet again after the mayor draws up a new spending plan. McNees says they ICA has an executive director and works closely with the ACT 47 team and will be able to evaluate any new proposal quickly. Ravenstahl made a rare personal appearance before the board today. McNees says she thinks board members sympathize with the mayor over his struggle to build a balanced budget but they must live up to their statutory guidelines.

Corrections Sec. Says He Has Too Many Inmates

The head of the state’s prisons went before the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday to plead his case for help in dealing with the growing inmate population. Despite falling crime rates the number of people held in Pennsylvania Corrections Department facilities continues to grow. Corrections Secretary Jeffery Beard says last year’s temporary moratorium on parole compounded the problem. He says the state needs to look at options other than incarceration for non violent offenders and to think twice about sending a parolee to jail if they have small “technical” violation of their parole terms. The system has approximately 51,000 inmates in a system designed for 49,000. The state plans to add 8,000 new beds by 2013 but Beard says that may not be enough at the current rate of growth. The state plans to send as many as 2,000 inmates to prisons outside of Pennsylvania early next year.

More State Jobs Cuts Announced

The Rendell Administration says and additional 319 state employees will lose their jobs by the end of the week due to budget cuts. The Department of Environmental Protection is the hardest-hit agency. The layoffs will eliminate 138 jobs at tat agency alone. The department says the cuts will result in longer waits on permit application approvals. 85 Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission jobs will also be cut. The commission says it will eliminate services at several sites, including Washington Crossing Historic Park. Administration Secretary Naomi Wyatt says affected employees will be notified over the coming week. She says even though the job cuts are officially called furloughs, “For the foreseeable future those jobs are gone for good. They’re not budgeted into agencies’ budgets for the rest of this year. And agencies are working on their budgets for the following year and aren’t going to be building those in.” The workers’ last day on the job will be Friday, though Wyatt says they’ll be paid through December 4th. 29 Public Welfare, 17 Military and Veterans Affairs and 24 executive office employees will be furloughed, as well, with other cuts in five additional departments. This brings the total number of state workers laid off this year to 769.

Water Group to Watch for Shale Pollution

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission is trying to put together what it calls an “early warning” system designed to identify water pollution caused by natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation.
The Commission is calling for a network of 30 high-tech water monitors throughout north-central Pennsylvania. Executive Director Paul Swartz says the devices, called data sondes, would provide regulators with immediate evidence if pollutants start making their way into creeks and streams. “These are portable monitoring devices that can be put into remote areas and relay data that is accessible not only to us at the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, but information that would be available to other resource agencies and to the public.” The devices each cost $25,000. Swartz says the SRBC would pay for the first four, and rely on funding from municipalities, environmental advocacy groups, the state and other organizations for the rest of the network. The process of drilling for gas in the Marcellus Shale, called fracking, involves pumping water under high pressure into the layer of shale to release the gas. That water picks up salts and other pollutants in the process. It is withdrawn from the well and treated before being released into nearby waterways. The process has the potential to release pollutants into ground water and surface water when done incorrectly.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Onorato Not Happy About Order To Reassess

Despite a court order to reassess all Allegheny County properties within four years Dan Onorato is standing strong in his fight against reassessment. Last week Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick ordered Allegheny County to reassess all its properties within four years. Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato said the county will appeal the decision to the Commonwealth Court. Onorato is not happy that Allegheny County has to reassess its properties while other counties throughout the state that use the same assessment system do not have to. Onorato says that the State Legislature should step in and pass legislation that would put a moratorium on all property reassessment for two years. He says House Bill 1661, which would institute such a moratorium is being held up in committee. Onorato said that the only solution to the reassessment problem is a statewide standard that is fair and will ensure that homeowners do not have to face severe tax increases as a result of reassessment.

Ribbon Cutting at Mon Wharf Landing

Riverlife held a ribbon cutting ceremony this morning on the recently completed Mon Wharf Landing, which has converted some parking spaces along the edge of the Monongahela River to a landscaped trail with mooring for river craft. The project is the first of three phases that will connect the Smithfield Bridge and Pt. State Park.

Riverlife Executive Director Lisa Schroeder says it's possible for the hearty to access Pt. State Park from the landing now via a ramp under the Ft. Pitt Bridge, but it will be much easier when the park and a special ramp are finished in 1-1/2 to 2 years.

The project is designed to withstand the flooding that occurs several times a year, according to Schroeder. The deck is slightly sloped and a little bit higher than it was, and the native plants will tolerate submersion in water. Special fire hoses are in place to clean up mud and silt after flooding.

Half the $3 Million cost for the project came from the federal Department of Transportation, and Congressman Mike Doyle is also requesting funding for Phase II, which will be a ramp from the Smithfield Bridge down to the wharf level.

Other funds came from Riverlife, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, PennDOT, the Mabis McKenna Foundation, the Heinz Endowments, and the Richard King Mellon Foundation.

200th Birthday of St. Vincent Founder Approaching

St. Vincent abbey will celebrate the 200Th birthday of its founder, Boniface Wimmer, on Thursday. Wimmer came to America in 1846. He founded St. Vincent as the first Benedictine monastery in the United States that year and eventually was able to establish seven abbeys, 150 parishes and 75 Benedictine schools. Attending the Thursday celebration for Wimmer are Prince Ludwig of Bavaria, descendant of the king who funded Wimmers trip to America, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia and Abbot Primate Notker Wolf of Germany. Thursdays celebration will include a concert and a mass to celebrate Wimmers birthday.

Carnegie Mellon Custominzing Electric Cars

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotic Institute have converted a car into an electric commuter vehicle that will serve as a test bed for a community-based approach to electric vehicle design.

ChargeCar uses a smaller electric car battery than other cars and a supercapacitator, typically used to power locomotives. It uses artificial intelligence to manage the flow of power between the two.

The car is meant to be used for urban commuting - for short distances. The researchers are interested not in developing new vehicles but in creating a research base.

Robocall Targets Speak

Attorney General Tom Corbett’s presentment against former Speaker of the Pennsylvania House John Perzel accuses the Republican of using tax dollars to fund negative robocalls against members of his own party and at least two of them are stepping forward with reaction. Chester County Republican Curt Schroder says the anonymous calls were made to his constituents in February 2006. They came just before a vote on a property tax reform bill that he supported but Perzel was trying to stop. The message urged voters not to sign Schroder’s nominating petitions for the upcoming election. Schroder says he grew suspicious because he didn’t have a Democratic challenger that year. “Just knowing the way things were going, the way Perzel was, I thought, abusing his power in caucus, he was always my main suspect if you will. But believe me, I had given up any thought long ago that we’d actually find out who was behind it,” says Schroder.
According to the presentment, one of the private companies Perzel hired with public dollars carried out the calls. Each round of calls allegedly cost $3,200. Court document show Perzel used them “about a dozen times.” Cumberland County Republican Will Gabig was also allegedly targeted by the robocalls. He says he knew about them at the time. “In fact I reported that to the authorities. They were not identified, anonymous, and they were false, the information on there. We had reported it, but at the time there was nothing that could be done about it,” says Gabig.
Perzel has denied any wrongdoing.

Water Group to Watch for Shale Pollution

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission is trying to put together what it calls an “early warning” system designed to identify water pollution caused by natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation.
The Commission is calling for a network of 30 high-tech water monitors throughout north-central Pennsylvania. Executive Director Paul Swartz says the devices, called data sondes, would provide regulators with immediate evidence if pollutants start making their way into creeks and streams. “These are portable monitoring devices that can be put into remote areas and relay data that is accessible not only to us at the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, but information that would be available to other resource agencies and to the public.” The devices each cost $25,000. Swartz says the SRBC would pay for the first four, and rely on funding from municipalities, environmental advocacy groups, the state and other organizations for the rest of the network. The process of drilling for gas in the Marcellus Shale, called fracking, involves pumping water under high pressure into the layer of shale to release the gas. That water picks up salts and other pollutants in the process. It is withdrawn from the well and treated before being released into nearby waterways. The process has the potential to release pollutants into ground water and surface water when done incorrectly.

Shields Wants Legal Opinion

Pittsburgh City Council President Doug Shields is calling on the mayor’s office and the two boards that have oversight control over the city’s budget to step forward with a legal opinion on the “Post Secondary Education Privilege Tax.” The 1% tax on tuition payments made to Pittsburgh based colleges and universities is part of the mayor’s 2010 budget. The so-called “Fair Share Tax” will be used to make $15 million annual payments to the faltering Pittsburgh pension fund. As soon as the tax, or fee, was proposed elected officials and other leaders in the region began taking sides on the legality of the proposal. While some feel the city has the right to impose the tax most feel it runs contrary to sate law. Shields says he wants to hear from a lawyer with the Ravenstahl administration why it is legal and he would like to hear opinions from the ICA and ACT 47 boards. Ravenstahl has said publicly that the tax meets state code but has yet to send a representative to council. Shields says it is council’s job to vote yes or no on a budget and he can not send it up for a vote until he knows it will win any legal challenges. Council will begin debating the budget later this month and must have a spending plan in place by December 31st.

Councilman Gets Promise from Ravenstahl on Garages

Pittsburgh City Councilman Patrick Dowd is backing off a bit in his effort to pass legislation requiring the Council’s input on the sale or lease of the Parking Authority’s garages. Last week Dowd his bill on hold for two weeks saying he was seeing positive signs fro the Ravenstahl administration. He says he has been given assurance that a member of council will be placed on the committee charged with drawing up a request for proposal to sell the garages and other authority assets. Dowd says the mayor has also told him that he will appoint a member of council to the authority’s board. Other council members have also voiced concerns that the parking authority board members are all serving expired terms and that could jeopardize any contact signed by the board. Ravenstahl says he will reappoint those members or submit new names in the New Year. The mayor wants to sell or lease the garages and use the money to shore up the city’s under funded pension program. Dowd says he wants to tweak the legislation while it is on the table to give it more teeth and work out any legal issues. He says that way if the administration shows signs of backing off of its commitments the council will be ready to “stake its flag” in the process.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pitt Defeats Notre Dame 27-22

Pitt defeated Notre Dame at Heinz Field last night by a score of 27-22. Pitt improved their record to 9-1 overall. Pitt will play two conference opponents the last two games of the season to decide the Big East Conference champion. Pitt will play West Virginia next week and Cincinnati to close out the season. If Pitt can defeat Cincinnati they will win the Big East Conference and play in a major bowl game. Dave Wannstedt said the Panthers victory against Notre Dame was a good win but the team needs to look forward to West Virginia and focus on preparation during the week. Wannstedt said the reason Pitt was able to defeat Notre Dame was because of their preparation during the week.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Recount in PA Superior Court Race

There will be a statewide recount in the November 3rd election for the fourth and final open seat on Pennsylvania Superior Court. Republican Temp Smith, an attorney from suburban Pittsburgh (Mt. Lebanon), has decided not to waive his right to a recount. A 2004 state law provides for an automatic recount when vote totals are separated by a half percent or less of the votes cast. Three candidates were within that margin of Democrat Anne Lazarus, the leader for the fourth court seat. 2 Democrats, Robert Colville and Kevin McCarthy each sent letters to the Department of State indicating they would forego the recount if all 3 agreed. But Smith opted to have the recount go forward. Smith would not comment but Allegheny County Republican Chairman Jim Roddey did..
" With over 6 million votes cast in the race for Superior Court, there is only one-tenth of a percent between Temp Smith and the fourth place candidate.
No one should be disenfranchised and the will of the people should dictate elections and not the will of public officials or alleged budget constraints. It is imperative that the voters are assured that every vote is counted. The integrity of the entire democratic system relies on a fair and accurate vote and not a ballot that’s close enough!”

Secretary of State Pedro Cortes says each county will begin a recount Wednesday and the process is expected to be completed within a week. The results will then be submitted to the state by November 30th. The cost of the recount is estimated at $1.3 million.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Autism Town Hall Meetings

A Town Hall meeting was held at Milestones Achievement Centers in Monroeville on Friday. About fifty educators, social service workers and adults with autism attended the event. It was part of a national event taking place in sixteen American cities, Advancing Futures for Adults with Autism. The locations were all linked by computers and similar discussions were taking place at each site.

The group discussed homes, jobs, recreation and transportation.

The goal was to set a policy agenda to address the needs of adults with autism. Proposals developed during the day will be voted on electronically and used to develop a focused agenda that will be presented at the autism conference in Washington D.C. in 2010.

About 1 in 100 children have an autism spectrum disorder.

Shields: ICA Needs to Approve Budget

Pittsburgh City Council President Doug Shields says the council cannot vote on the mayor’s proposed budget until the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority gives its final approval. The ICA gave a “conditional approval” to the mayor’s spending plan in October, noting that the budget was still 15 million dollars out of balance. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl plugged that hole last week by proposing a 1% Higher Education Privilege Tax to be levied on the tuition paid by students attending colleges and universities within the city. Ravenstahl says he has met the conditions of the conditional approval and by not rejecting the plan the ICA has given its tacit approval. Doug Shields feels otherwise. He says until the ICA board gives him specific approval he cannot precede. Shields sent ICA Chair Barbara McNees and ICA Executive Director Henry Sciortino asking for clarification. Calls and emails to McNees and Sciortino have not been answered.

Dropout Rates Addressed at Summit

About 200 community leaders, school officials and politicians gathered in downtown Pittsburgh yesterday to talk about the city’s school drop out rate. The Pittsburgh Public school District says 65% percent of their students graduate high school. Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl points out that is better than some large cities but still much higher than it should be. The event was one of 55 dropout prevention meetings held across the country by America's Promise Alliance. At the event several parties signed the “Pittsburgh Pathways Blueprint” that is intended to increase the percentage of students that make it through all 4 years of high school. Ravenstahl says his office will do everything it can to help the effort. He points to several programs sponsored by the city aimed at middle school students and the city’s roll in the Pittsburgh Promise program. The program that provides $5,000 college scholarships to all Pittsburgh Public School graduates with a 2.5 GPA or better was expanded yesterday to include students who choose to take classes at the Community College of Allegheny County. It will also help students that fall below that 2.5 GPA get the basics they need from CCAC.

Pittsburgh Promise Extension

The Pittsburgh Promise scholarship program is partnering with the Community College of Allegheny County to create an extension to potential scholarship recipients. Saleem Ghubril, Promise Executive Director, says “the light turns on later” for some high school students, sometimes around senior year. He says that may not be enough time for students to reach the 2.5 GPA requirement to be eligible for the Promise.

However, Ghubril says they are willing to take a gamble with students who are close to meeting the GPA standard, and also meet all other eligibility requirements. These students, if admitted, will be enrolled at CCAC for a semester to take predetermined classes chosen by the school. If those students maintain a 2.0 GPA, the Promise will pay for a full course load the next semester at CCAC. If they continue to maintain that GPA, they will then qualify for the regular Promise scholarship program that is available at several schools statewide. The extension will be implemented for students that are graduating in the class of 2010.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

An Alternative University Tax

A Pittsburgh Councilman says he’ll propose an alternative to the tax bill on university tuition in council next week. Councilman Ricky Burgess says his legislation would take the burden off students’ tuition bills, and instead push universities to help the city by having them willingly pay in lieu of paying taxes. Burgess says universities have other “pots of money” like endowments to use, while students don’t. He says Harvard, MIT and Brown all have similar programs in place with their respective cities.

The councilman also wants the City Finance Department to assess the market value of all land owned by educational institutions, as well as estimate a per-resident cost of delivering city services to the residents of Pittsburgh.

Burgess says there is approximately $26 million in taxes universities don’t pay the city of Pittsburgh and the School Board, and that’s before calculating land value. If universities are not willing to help, he says there is no other choice than to look into putting a tax onto students' tuition.

City Council Debates a Hold on Library Funding Bill

Pittsburgh City Council brought a bill to the floor Thursday that would have sent $600,000 dollars to the Carnegie Libraries of Pittsburgh but there was very little debate on the provisions of the bill. As soon as it was introduced, Council President, and bill sponsor, Doug Shields asked for a one week delay. That set off an hour-long debate on how long the bill should be left on the table. The measure would use money left over in the city’s 2009 fuel budget to shore up the libraries’ flagging 2010 budget. Shields asked that the bill be held for a week but other members called for a four-week hold. Shields says if the bill is put on a four-week hold members will ignore it until December and that is not acceptable. He says he will be more than happy to put another one-week hold on the bill if more time is needed but the issue needs to come before the council every week to make sure council holds the collective feet of all the parties involved to the metaphorical fire. Those feet belong to the State, the Mayor’s Office and the Library Board. Shields was among a group of lawmakers calling on the library board to publish more details of its proposed budget. Councilman Patrick Dowd says the council clearly does not have all of the numbers it needs to debate the bill and the state needs time to take action. He is calling for the longer delay. He says he would also like to see the measure taken up after a city budget is finalized. That budget may include a provision to fill the Carnegie Libraries of Pittsburgh funding gap. He says it is in the council’s best interest to not have the bill at the table every week where it can be passed prematurely. The measure was ultimately put on the table for one week and will be called again Wednesday.

Perzel, 9 Staffers Indicted

Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett is charging former House Speaker John Perzel with spending more than ten million tax dollars on a series of computer programs designed to help House Republicans win elections.
Corbett, a Republican running for governor, says Perzel put publicly-funded legislative staffers to work developing complex databases aimed at boosting Republican turnout during elections.
The Philadelphia Republican also allegedly approved multi-million dollar contracts with private software firms that put together election programs for the caucus.
Nine Republican staffers have also been charged, including former state representative and chief caucus counsel Brett Feese, who Corbett says obstructed justice by forging fake notes and attempting to hide evidence.
This is the second round of indictments in the long-running legislative corruption investigation. Last year, 12 Democrats were charged.
Corbett says the main difference is that Democrats misdirected tax dollars to pay for campaign staff work, while the Republicans illegally spent money on technology.
Perzel has released a statement saying he’s innocent, and that Corbett is engaged in a politically opportunistic effort to boost his gubernatorial campaign.

Listen to a longer version of this story.

Pollution Levels Drop in PA

Carbon dioxide emissions in Pennsylvania declined by point 3 percent from 2004 to 2007. That's according to a new analysis of government data by the group PennEnvironment. Spokeswoman Erika Staaf says the drop is due to a combination of factors including a slowing economy and a shift to cleaner fuels. The report indicates that while emissions from most sectors fell or increased only slightly during that time period, electricity sector emissions continued to rise due primarily to generation from coal-fired plants.
Staaf says despite the decline, Pennsylvania is still ranked 3rd nationwide for the highest levels of global warming pollution. However, she admits that Pennsylvania is a power-producing state and one third of the electricity produced in Pennsylvania is exported to and consumed by other states but "we can drive Pennsylvania's economy without driving up pollution. By moving to clean energy, we can cut pollution, help jump-start the economy and create millions of new clean energy jobs."
Staaf says Pennsylvania has taken some important steps in recent years including adoption of a conservation standard to decrease demand from coal-fired plants, but state leaders should implement a climate action plan to cut pollution levels through a variety of clean energy solutions.
The report indicates that more than one third of the states cut pollution from 2004 to 2007.

Elected Officials Want More Library Data

A group of elected officials are calling on the Carnegie Libraries of Pittsburgh to be more forthcoming with its budget numbers. State Representative Chelsa Wagner was joined by several current and future Pittsburgh City Council members this morning in calling for the library system to detail how much money will be saved by closing each of the four libraries slated to be shuttered in the coming year. Wagner says the library told her that the data she was seeking is not available. She wonders how the board can know that closing the branches will balance the budget if that data is not available. Says she wants her questions answered before more state or local money is allocated to the libraries. All of the elected officials signed a petition asking the board of the library to not only provide that data but to also hold a forum for patrons to give input, a forum for elected official to give input and to holds its December 14th board meeting at the city council chambers. The Carnegie libraries did hold input sessions over the summer but Wagner says there is no evidence that any of the suggestions were implemented. She also notes that when those meetings were held there was no mention of closing the four branches. The petition also calls for the branches to be left open.

Candidate Wants More Time to Decide on Recount

A Republican candidate for Pennsylvania Superior Court has asked the Secretary of the Commonwealth for an extension to decide whether to ask for a recount in the race for the fourth and final open seat on the court in the November 3rd election.
Monica Douglas, campaign spokesman for suburban Pittsburgh attorney Temp Smith, says they would still like to wait for some more numbers to come in particularly from Lackawanna County before deciding whether to forego a recount. Douglas says the official canvass of voting began last week Smith has picked up a net gain of 2,500 votes.
Democrat Anne Lazarus leads Robert Colville by about two thousand votes in the race for the final seat. She’s in front of Smith by about 33-hundred votes, and Democrat Kevin McCarthy is around 12 thousand votes behind him.
Both McCarthy and Colville, a fellow Democrat, have informed the State Department they’ll waive their right to a recount if all the candidates do so.

Pittsburgh Hosts The National ARC of the US Convention

The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh and Achieva are playing host to the National Arc of the US Convention November 12 through the 14th.

The organization helps people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

About six hundred from around the country will attend the conference, titled, "Inspiring Innovation: With Adversity Comes Opportunity."

Topics to be covered include Civil Rights for People with Disabilities and Practices in Preventive Care for People with Disabilities.

In the organization's fifty-five year history, Pittsburgh has never hosted the convention.

New Study Finds Potential for Combating HIV

Structural biologists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine are releasing findings from a study of the coating that surrounds the HIV genome. They found that the "seams" in the protein coating could be exploited to disrupt the functionality of the HIV infected cell. Department chair, Dr. Angela Gronenborn says potentially new drugs could be developed that could use the patchwork of seams in the coating of the HIV cell-- which they found is necessary for the cell to function--to disrupt the virus and keep it from spreading the infection. Next, the team of researchers plans to study the protein that makes up the "patchwork" coating of the HIV genome to figure out what drugs could best mutate those seams, disrupting the virus.

Decision on Recount Due Today

A Pennsylvania Superior Court candidate says he’ll wait until today’s noon deadline to decide whether or not to challenge the results of last week’s election.
Democrat Anne Lazarus leads Robert Colville by about two thousand votes in the race for the final Superior Court seat. She’s in front of Republican Temp Smith by about 33-hundred votes, and Democrat Kevin McCarthy is around nine thousand votes behind him.
Both McCarthy and Colville, a fellow Democrat, have informed the State Department they’ll waive their right to a recount, but Smith spokeswoman Monica Douglas says he may contest the results.

"The fact of the matter is we have gained approximately two thousand votes in the last week. We’re just looking at some of the outlying counties. As far as our threshold is concerned, we don’t really have a threshold. We just want to make sure that every vote counts and every vote is counted."

Douglas says Smith’s campaign doesn’t want to rush a decision.

"There are still some results that we’re actually waiting on—for example Lackawanna County and Erie County."

Department of State spokeswoman Leslie Amaros says Colville and McCarthy’s decision to sit out a recount wouldn’t scale back the effort.

"If there is a recount, the number of candidates that wish to have a recount would not affect the cost."

The State Department says a recount could cost up to 1.3 million dollars.
It would begin as soon as Monday, and conclude on November 25th. If Lazarus wins, she’ll b