Saturday, January 30, 2010

Dauphin County Jury to Hear Poplawski Trial

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has decided that a jury will be selected from Dauphin County to hear the trial of a Pittsburgh man accused of killing three city police officers last April 4. Allegheny County Judge Jeffrey Manning granted a defense request earlier this month for an outside jury due to what the judge called "pervasive, prejudicial pre-trial publicity." However, Manning rejected moving the trial to another location. 23 year old Richard Poplawski is accused of first degree murder in the shooting deaths of officers Eric Kelly, Stephen Mayhle and Paul Sciullo who were responding to a 9-1-1 domestic dispute call at his mother's Stanton Heights home. The prosecution is seeking the death penalty. The jury will be sequestered during the trial and the penalty phase if Poplawksi is convicted.

Dem Gubernatorial Candidates Debate

The four Democratic candidates for governor of Pennsylvania debated for the first time last night in Harrisburg. Three of them--Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty and Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel said they would veto state legislation to outlaw abortions in Pennsylvania if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade. State Auditor General Jack Wagner said he would improve services for children and pregnant women.
Onorato and Wagner said they support legislation to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation, but only Hoeffel and Doherty said they are willing to sign a bill to legalize same-sex marriage.
Hoeffel is proposing replacing the state's flat-rate income tax with a graduated rate. Onorato says that would require a constitutional amendment and he prefers passage of an earned-income tax credit that would allow lower-income families to keep more of their income.
The candidates debate again...tomorrow afternoon from 1 to 3 in the Wightman School Community Building in Squirrel Hill.

Western PA Possible Spot For 9-11 Trial

State and local officials are concerned that the trial of a September 11th terrorist could be held in Western Pennsylvania. Two administration officials say plans are being drafted for locations outside of New York City for the trial of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged al-Qaida cohorts. Three reported options as a site for the trial are the Western District of Pennsylvania because Flight 93 went down in Somerset County as passengers fought with terrorist hijackers; the eastern Virginia District which includes the area of the Pentagon, one of the terror targets; and White Plains, New York, part of the Southern District of New York. Federal civilian trials are supposed to be held in the district where the crime is committed.
Governor Ed Rendell says he's not "dead set" against the idea but he wants to know why officials would think it would be safer to hold the trial in Pennsylvania than in New York City and how much of the cost for security the federal government would assume. Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato says Pennsylvania residents are "acutely interested in seeing the perpetrators brought to justice" but the last thing the state needs is a terrorist trial that "raises security concerns and places even more of a burden on our taxpayers."

Friday, January 29, 2010

Mazeroski Statue Design Unveiled

The Pittsburgh Pirates have unveiled a model of the Bill Mazeroski statue, which will be added to the three other statutes outside of PNC Park later this year. It comes in the 50th anniversary year of the Pirates 1960 World Championship. The statue harkens back to Mazeroski rounding the bases after his famous home run to capture the World Series. The statue will be placed at the end of the cul-de-sac along Mazeroski Way. The backdrop surrounding the statue will use some of the actual bricks from the Forbes Field wall. The work was created by Susan Wagner who also created the Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell statues. Fans will be able to donate to the Mazeroski statue fund by purchasing cast aluminum ivy leaves that can be engraved and will be permanently installed along the Forbes Field wall brick backdrop. Mazeroski is the only player to hit a game-winning home run in Game 7 of a World Series. He was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001.

Peduto to Mayor: Name a Stimulus Comittee

Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto is calling on Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to name the members of a “Stimulus Oversight Committee” as required by legislation passed 6 months ago. Peduto says the city is missing out on millions of dollars in federal stimulus funding and the committee could help land the grants he says are going to other cities. Peduto says,” we had applied for funding over one grant application and the application was done improperly. We received no money in the policing grant that went to other major cities. Most recently on the economic recovery for community revitalization, we received none. We did not even apply for a Wi-Max or Wi-Fi grant.” Peduto says council members have forwarded to the Mayor’s office names for his consideration but have been ignored. The mayor says he does not intend to name the committee. He says the city has a grant officer and has secured $20 million from the stimulus program and another $20 million from other state, federal and private sources in the last 3 years.

"Women, Money and Opportunity" Seminar

Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob Mc Cord hosted a seminar at the Rivers Club today to provide resources for women entrepreneurs to start, grow and expand their businesses. Topics of discussion included competing for government contracts, securing diverse revenue streams, and forging strategic relationships.

McCord sees his top priority as economic security for every Pennsylvanian, and he says women need special attention because they are at risk for poverty to a much greater extent than men. Women are much more likely than men to interrupt their careers to care for children, and this has a lasting impact on their earning potential and/or entrepreneurial success. Women's achievement will enhance economic prosperity and competition for all, according to McCord.

Fifteen local organizations contributed to the program and offer resources for women entrepreneurs: African American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania, Center for Women's Entrepreneurship at Chatham University, Pittsburgh Technology Council, PowerLink, E-Magnify at Seton Hill University, Small Business Development Center at Duquesne University, Executive Women's Council of Greater Pittsburgh, Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh Professional Women, YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh, Diversity Business Resource Center, Women's Small Business Association, Women's Independent Press, Women's Business Enterprise Council of PA.

New Program Offers Political Experience for Girls

GirlGov, a new project sponsored by the Women and Girls Foundation’s (WGF) “Allegheny County Change Agents,” is giving young girls between the ages of 13 and 17 the opportunity to learn more about politics.
“Allegheny County Change Agents” is a group of teenage girls from Allegheny County who work to improve the lives of girls in our county.
Executive Director of WGF, Heather Arnet, says the girls developed the program after learning that Pennsylvania is ranked 46 out of 50 states for the representation of women in politics. She says they wanted to find a way to get girls interested in politics at a young age so they might make a career out of it.
Arnet says applications will be reviewed by the Change Agents, and applicants do not have to have any experience or meet any type of GPA requirement.
16 girls will be chosen to go to Harrisburg on March 8, International Women’s Day, to shadow one of the 16 state representatives. Transportation and meals are included at no cost.
Arnet says participation of women in politics has increased by 300 percent since 2005, and the foundation hopes that this program will increase that number even more.
She says women make up 52 percent of our population and therefore should be involved in all aspects of life, especially politics.
The last day to apply is Tuesday, February 2.
Visit for more information and applications.

Braddock Hospital Closing to Proceed

“Unless one has been living in a cave for the past few months, he or she could not fail to recognize that the closing of Braddock Hospital is a serious, if not crushing blow to the mostly poor residents of Braddock” – that’s according to Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Gene Strassburger. Nonetheless, he denied County Councilman Charles McCullough’s motion to stop UPMC from closing the facility Friday. Strassburger says the evidence presented by McCullough did not require the hospital to stay open. But McCullough says this isn’t the end, and urged UPMC to go into negotiations with Braddock residents. He says he’ll abide by the wishes of his constituents and will “fight this to hell” if that’s where they want to go. If he appeals, it will be on the grounds that the judge misconstrued the laws. He says UPMC has to keep the hospital open "on a revenue producing basis—and if they wanted to close it they should have amended or paid off the bonds" issued by Bank of New York Mellon and Allegheny County. Braddock Mayor John Fetterman says he’s glad they had their day in court, even if the decision didn’t go their way. Fetterman says he’s not sure what comes next, though if there is a way to keep the hospital open they’ll fight for it. UPMC lawyer Jack McGinley says he feels that they’re on solid legal footing, but if McCullough wants to go for round two, he’ll see him in the ring. He says UPMC isn’t abandoning Braddock and is working with the community to mitigate the loss of the hospital.

House Budget Hearings

This year’s House budget hearings got underway on an ominous note. A week and a half before Pennsylvania Governor Rendell’s budget address, the House Appropriations Committee held its first hearing on the 2010-2011 spending plan.
Economic expert James Diffley of the Global Insight Group gave a forecast for the coming year, and the news wasn’t pretty. He says unemployment numbers won’t go down this year.

"We think the unemployment rate will peak at 10.2 percent. It won’t be until the end of the year that we get below ten percent. The participation rate is at a record-low. The share of the adult population working, down to 64.6 percent. will likely stay above ten percent for most of 2010, and retail sales will grow by just 1.2 percent, after a 5.6 percent decrease in 2009."

Diffley expects 5.4 percent retail growth in 2011.

"When that happens by 2011 all we’ve done is recoup the losses in 2009. There’s been no growth in retail sales for three years. And that’s the budgetary problems – that’s the lag in budgetary problems that the states have. It takes two years just to get back to the level of tax revenue that you had to start with."

The Rendell Administration is predicting a 450 million dollar revenue shortfall this year.

Fee Proposed for Some Towns That Use State Police

A PennsylvaniaHouse committee is preparing to take up a bill imposing fees on municipalities that rely on state police protection.
The idea isn’t new, and previous bills charging fees to local governments for state police protection haven’t gotten far. But House Local Government Committee Chairman Robert Freeman, a Northampton County Democrat, says another tough fiscal year will force lawmakers to find new revenue sources everywhere they can.
The panel will likely vote soon on a measure charging a hundred dollar-a-resident fee to municipalities with populations above 10-thousand who don’t have their own police forces. Freeman says it’s a matter of fairness.

"When you have communities of 34 or 40-thousand population there’s obviously a sufficient tax base to afford their own police force, and they rely on free state police services, there’s something wrong with that."

The measure’s sponsor, Armstrong County Democrat John Pallone, says the bill would generate 41 to 42 million dollars a year. He wants all of the revenue to go to the State Police, but Freeman says the bill will likely be amended before a vote.
Lawmakers who oppose the measure such as Representative Jerry Knowles, a Berks County Republican, says local governments don’t have the money to pay the proposed fee.

"It would mean dramatic tax increases. People are already paying enough taxes. It would be boggling. I was a local government official for many years. This would be boggling – it would be devastating to local government budgets."

But Lancaster County Republican Mike Sturla, who introduced a similar measure, says municipalities need to pay their fair share.

Childrens Museum To Open New Exhibit

The Pittsburgh Children's Museum is opening a new exhibit called Pittsburgh: Yinz Play!. The exhibit focuses on the many diverse cultural and topographical aspects of the city. Children will be able to climb a large scale replica of the Roberto Clemente Bridge and make repairs on cables and bolts. Children will also be able to create their own virtual fireworks celebrations and city landscape. The exhibit starts on Saturday January 30Th and will last through June 6Th. The exhibit took 6 months to develop and design.

Game Commission Changes Purchase Rules

The Pennsylvania Game Commission has taken the first step in allowing Commission staff to purchase land and mineral rights between meetings without board consent. Spokesperson Jerry Feaser says often tax sales are announced and held between board meetings and the commission has been unable to act. Feaser says over the years the commission has acquired lands from individuals and businesses without getting the rights to the oil, gas and other minerals under the land and now that owners are looking to cash out, companies are going out of business and individuals are dying, the rights are being auctioned off or sold at tax sales. He says the commission needs to be able to act quickly to protect the integrity of the game lands it has acquired. Feaser says there are also situations where property adjacent to existing game lands or completely surround by game lands, have come up for sale and developers have been able to purchase them. He says that can impact the usability of the remaining state owned property for hunting and trapping. The board must take a second vote on the rule before it is implemented. Feaser notes there are still controls on the purchases. Under the regulatory change, the executive director must notify the Board of Commissioners of the pending auction sale date and verify that, due to time constraints, it is necessary to act immediately. Also, the purchase price at auction may not exceed $500,000, and successful bids must be put on the agenda of the next regularly scheduled meeting of the Board of Commissioners to make sure the public remains informed of the purchase.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

PHEAA Warns Families of FAFSA Scams

The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) is urging families to avoid individuals and organizations offering help with student aid applications for a fee. This is the time of year when families are filling out government and other forms such as FAFSA and are seeking aid and loans. The agency is also reminding families that all resources and help for financial aid forms can be found for free through various sources.
PHEAA spokesman Keith New says nationwide about $100 million each year is taken from families through scholarship scams, and millions of dollars are spent on consultants that help families complete applications.
New says in today’s economy, it’s very important for families to save money and resources, and spending money on student aid assistance is not necessary at all. PHEAA is one of many organizations to offer workshops and online assistance for FAFSA applications at no cost.
He says families can find free student aid assistance through high school student administrations, and many online resources.

PA Congressional Reaction to State of Union

Members of Pennsylvania's congressional delegation agree with President Barack Obama's new focus on jobs. In his first State of the Union address, the President told Congress that creating jobs must be its No. 1 focus this year. He's proposing that Congress take $30 billion dollars from the Wall Street bailout to help community banks make loans for small businesses. But he also said he doesn't want Congress to abandon efforts to reform health care.

Republican Congressman Tim Murphy of Upper St. Clair, says he likes the idea of the tax credits for small businesses, which are very much needed to keep doors open. While he supports extending the tax breaks for the middle class, he opposes the rollback of tax cuts for people making $250,000 or more. Murphy says the rollback would impact 60 to 70 percent of small businesses. He says while you're cutting the capital gains, you're increasing the personal income tax, therefore there's no positive impact. Murphy calls the President's proposal for a three year freeze on discretionary spending, symbolic.

Congressman Jason Altmire, a Democrat from McCandless, says while freezing discretionary freezing is a strong first step, he also wants Congress to act to make Pay-As-You-Go budget rules law. He says during the 1990's, that's what helped America move from budget deficits to record surpluses. Altmire is a co-sponsor of the Statutory Pay Go legislation that would force Congress to pay for new spending and prevent it from adding to the federal deficit.

Johnstown Democrat, John Murtha, says the President addressed the challenges that we face now and those that threaten to burden our future. He agrees with the President that there needs to be a focus on job creation to get the economy back on track.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, Congressman Joe Sestak of Delaware County, says now is the time for Congress to prove that government can restore accountability and transparency by making job growth and long-term financial security top priorities. He says to rein in deficit and debt spending, any job creation plan needs to close tax loopholes that ship jobs overseas.

U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, a Democrat from Philadelphia, says President Obama was right on target in making jobs the number one priority, with an emphasis on clean energy jobs. He says he liked the President's fighting spirit refusing to quit on health care reform.

More Health Concerns at Capitol Cafeteria

Inspectors have found more rodent droppings at the state Capitol cafeteria, a bit more than a month after the facility was shut down for failing a Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture health review.
But the Rendell Administration says food services company Aramark will keep its contract to operate the facility for now.
Inspectors found eighteen violations, including more mouse droppings, during a visit to the cafeteria on Monday.
The Rendell Administration says it won’t terminate the company’s contract, but Chief of Staff Steve Crawford says Aramark is gone if the cafeteria fails one more inspection.
The response has lawmakers like Representative Tina Pickett, a Sullivan County Republican, upset.
She says Aramark should have lost its contract after the first violation.

"Does it say that there’s some sort of unheard of reason that they might be able to retain that contract? Does it say that our inspections systems are not properly doing their jobs? But I think mostly it says that Aramark is not capable of running a proper operation."

Aramark spokeswoman Sarah Jarvis says the problems have been fixed.

"The café is in compliance. These DOA inspections are part of an ongoing process to ensure the Capitol café remains a high-quality dining establishment. And we will supplement them with internal audits and surprise inspections by an independent third party."

The company donated 20-thousand dollars to Rendell’s two campaigns for governor, but Crawford says that relationship has nothing to do with the administration’s position.

Rendell Makes Census Push

Governor Ed Rendell is launching a major outreach effort aimed at making sure every Pennsylvania resident is counted in this year’s census.
Experts are predicting Pennsylvania will lose a Congressional seat once this year’s Census results are finalized. That’s not because the commonwealth lost population, but due to other states growing at a faster rate.
Governor Rendell doesn’t accept that analysis, and predicts the Congressional delegation will stay the same, as long as every resident is properly counted.
He’s launching an ad campaign and outreach effort aimed at driving up Census participation.
Rendell says people need to realize the Census isn’t invasive.

"There is no chance that someone after you fill out that form is going to knock on your door or subpoena you for jury duty. It does not mean immigration agents will show up at your door. And no one will come looking for you for unpaid parking tickets if you fill out our form."

Rendell has put together a Census advisory board to steer outreach efforts.
It’s co-chaired by former Pittsburgh Steeler Franco Harris...

"And we do have a goal. And that is for Pennsylvania to have the most complete and accurate count of any state for the 2010 census. Not this is a bold goal – but not for the championship state of Pennsylvania."

Rendell says the federal government distributes 400 billion dollars each year, based on Census results, so an under-count could hurt the state down the line. Census forms will be mailed out in March, and need to be returned in April.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Council Takes Another Shot at Prevailing Wage Bill

The Pittsburgh City Council has once again given preliminary approval to a bill that would force employers to pay workers a prevailing wage at future city-backed developments. The heavily amended bill requires pay equal to or greater than the median wage in the city for hotel, janitorial, cafeteria and grocery workers in buildings that get $100,000 or more in subsidies from the city. If passed and signed by the mayor the law would also pertain to money spent by the Urban Redevelopment Authority. The City Law Department says council cannot implement that type of a control over an independent body such as the URA but council ignored that advice. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl vetoed similar legislation with just hours remaining in 2009 and council could not gather enough members to override the veto. It was reintroduced at Council’s first legislative meeting this year. A final vote on the bill is expected Tuesday. Council is also considering a bill that would call for a “Living Wage” to be paid to the same group of workers. That number comes in somewhere around $11.50 an hour.

NAACP Calls for a full investigation into Student Beating

The Pittsburgh chapter of the NAACP says called for a full investigation of the beating of 18-year-old CAPA student Jordan Miles. M. Gayle Moss, chapter president said the 3 officers should be held accountable and should be taken off the streets. They plan to
file a civil rights lawsuit against the Pittsburgh police after the viola player alleged that officers brutally beat him in front of his Homewood house.

In photos, he is shown bruised and bloody with hair ripped from his head. The beating occurred January 12. The boys mother, Terez Miles, says the three white officers targeted her son because he is black. She said anyone who has ever been racially profiled or beaten by police because of their race should come forward. Her son is recovering physically but still has doctors appointments and will hopefully return to school next week. Miles said she has had trouble sleeping since the incident.

The FBI is looking into whether Pittsburgh police officers violated Miles' civil rights.

The officers have been placed in uniform while the city investigates.

PA House Bans Most Cell Phone Use

Pennsylvania’s House has voted overwhelmingly to ban drivers from using hand-held cell phones. The House voted 189-6 to ban drivers from holding a phone to their head while operating vehicles.
Texting while driving would also be banned – though it would still be legal to talk on a hands-free device or to use a phone’s GPS system while driving.
The measure heads to the Senate, which approved a texting ban last year.
It’s unclear whether there’s enough support to pass a full cell phone ban, though State Representative Josh Shapiro, a Montgomery County Democrat, says lawmakers considering opposing the bill should take heed.

"The vote in the House combined with the 90-percent support ratio, as shown in these public polls – I think any senator looking to weaken this bill should think very carefully before they walk it back."

Lehigh County Republican Dough Reichley supports the measure.

"My equivalent to it is this is more equivalent to you giving me an open beer and allowing me to drive before the accident occurs. This is a dangerous source of drivers losing focus. While I respect the privacy concerns and worry about big brother, this has been such a documented problem throughout Pennsylvania I don’t think you can just let it go on and on."

The bill would make dialing and driving a primary offense, which means police officers could pull drivers over if they see phones to their ears.
A spokesman for Governor Rendell says he supports the bill, and would sign it if it reaches his desk.

Confidence Level Rising Among Western PA CEO's

Western Pennsylvania business leaders are beginning to look more positively on conditions affecting the overall state economy and their own industries in 2010.
First Niagara Bank commissioned the Siena College Research Institute to survey the CEO’s of 222 for-profit companies with annual sales between 5 million and 200 million dollars. Todd Moules, Western Pennsylvania Regional President of First Niagara, says the CEO's expressed "guarded confidence" in the economic recovery..."they're starting to see some sunshine after the storm."
45% said they expect business conditions for the economy to improve this year, 27% expect conditions to remain the same and 29% said they would worsen.
Institute Director Tom Levy says the level of confidence is highest among CEO’s in financial services, a little less so in manufacturing and sales, and lowest among those in construction, engineering and the food and beverage industry, but still the optimism is rising in all industry sectors.
But that optimism isn’t high enough for a big hiring surge. Only 17% said they planned to add workers this year, 14% anticipate layoffs and the remainder, no change in the workforce.
Levy says despite indications that the "tide is turning" among business leaders, they are still hesitant to hire because they are waiting for consumer spending to increase, but the problem is consumer confidence is not high right now.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Students Protest Beating of Classmate by Police

Nearly 100 students marched from Pittsburgh's Creative and Performing Arts High School to City Hall today, demanding an indepth investigation into a January 12 confrontation between 3 undercover Pittsburgh police officers and 18 year-old student Jordan Miles. Miles alleges the police jumped out of an SUV and beat him as he was walking from his mother's house to his grandmother's in Homewood. Pictures taken by his mother Terez Miles show his face covered with bruises and his right eye swollen shut. Damarra Underwood, CAPA senior class president says this is a mark on the city's police officers and they're demanding justice. Terez is calling for the officers to be fired. She says she belives the three white officers targeted her son because he is black. Police say that Miles appeared to be armed but that a bulky object in his pocket turned out to be a soda bottle. He was charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest, but the officers did not show for a court hearing and the matter was postponed. The city is investigating the incident.

Holy Family Institute Preparing for More Orphans...Just in Case

14 of the 18 Haitian orphans that were taken in by the Holy Family Institute in Emsworth last Thursday remain there while adoption proceedings continue for most of them. They range in age from 11 months to 10 years. Sister Linda Yankoski, the president and CEO of the institute, says the children are adjusting well....they are curious about having electricity and lights on all the time....and about doors." "They are doing well, they're in great shape and in good spirits."
Sister Linda says today they had their first experience with snow, waking up and immediately wanting to go outside and play.
The institute, which dates back 110 years, houses 50 other children: abused, neglected and orphans. She says the Haitian children have a separate program at the facility and there's no real interaction at this time with the other children, who are older than the Haitian orphans.
Sister Linda says they are preparing for more Haitian orphans "We don't know if we'll be called upon but we're standing ready to provide care for additional orphans.

Flooding Impacting Roads

Flooding due to snow melt and heavy rains Sunday and early Monday is causing road closures and traffic troubles in the Pittsburgh region. Flooding has shut down the Parkway East(I-376) Central in downtown Pittsburgh. It's known as the "bathtub" area between Grant Street and the Fort Pitt Bridge. All inbound lanes are closed. Traffic is being detoured at the Grant Street exit, then on to Fort Pitt Stanwix Street....and then back to the Parkway.
PennDOT is advising motorists the interstate connector ramp from the southbound Fort Duquesne Bridge (I-279) to eastbound (outbound) I-376 (Parkway East/Central) in the City of Pittsburgh is being closed due to flooding.
The posted detour:
From the inbound (southbound) Parkway North (I-279), take Route 65 (Ohio River Boulevard) north (Exit 1C)
·Take ramp onto the West End Bridge
·At West End, go straight onto Route 19/51 Saw Mill Run Boulevard
·Take Saw Mill Run Boulevard south to inbound (eastbound) I-376 (Parkway West)
·Travel through inbound Fort Pitt Tunnel
·Re-enter outbound (eastbound) Parkway East
The Mon Parking Wharf and the 10th Street Bypass are also closed. The Ohio River in Pittsburgh rose to 25.7 feet at 9 a.m. Flood stage is 25 feet. Forecasters say the river is expected to continue to rise early this afternoon and crest at the Point in Pittsburgh at about 26.2 feet.
Flood warnings remain in effect for the Monongahela River near Elizabeth and Charleroi.

Joe Hoeffel Kicks Off Campaign

Democratic candidate for governor of Pennsylvania, Joe Hoeffel officially kicked off his campaign with a three-city, cross-state tour with a stop in Pittsburgh this morning.
City Councilman Bill Peduto stood next to Hoeffeland and said he's endorsing the Montgomery County Commissioner because he believes Hoeffel has the ideas that will improve Pennsylvania's economy.
Hoeffel says Pennsylvania need a governor who will challenge the legislature in Harrisburg to improve our state’s economy.
He says if elected governor, he plans to address the discrimination problem: discrimination against poor children, the uninsured, poor communities, and gays.
Hoeffel says the three main issues in this race are creating jobs, improving public schools and expanding health care.
He says he was glad that Philadelphia millionaire Tom Knox withdrew from the race because that eliminated the possibility of someone with no political background “buying the election.” Knox endorsed Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and called on Hoeffel, Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty and Auditor General Jack Wagner to do the same.
Despite trailing Onorato slightly in recent polls, Hoeffel says at this time, all Democratic candidates are tied and it’s a wide-open race. A Quinnipiac survey indicated 59% of voters were undecided.

Tweeting Allowed at Bonusgate Trial

Reporters covering the trial of former Democratic House Whip Mike Veon and three other “Bonusgate” defendants will be free to tweet to their thumbs’ content.
A Harrisburg judge had denied a motion to ban Twitter from the courtroom in the upcoming legislative corruption trial.
Defense lawyers wanted to ban reporters from sending out tweets from the courtroom during the trial.
They argued potential witnesses could break media embargoes by reading the 140-character messages. Dauphin County President Judge Richard Lewis has denied the request, saying it would violate the First Amendment.
Gene Policinski, executive director of the First Amendment Center in Nashville, says the decision ventures into uncharted territory.

"The issue of using Twitter from courtrooms is relatively new for the courts, both at the federal and state level, to deal with. There have been a couple of rulings in federal courts early on. One banning Twitters by spectators, the other permitting a reporter to Twitter from a trial. There’s really no settled law on this."

Vic Walczak, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania’s legal director, approves of the ruling.

"It seems like a sensible and a reasonable accommodation to 21st century technology. It’s not something that should disrupt the trial in any way, and yet promotes the reporter’s ability to get timely information out about what’s going on, which informs the public. So I think all of this makes good sense."

Walczak says Pennsylvania courts’ ban on cameras doesn’t apply to whether or not reporters can tweet.
Potential witnesses will be ordered to avoid Twitter messages about the trial in the 24 hours before they’re due to testify. Opening arguments are scheduled for February 1.

Youghiogheny Water OK for Municipal Use

Thanks to more than 66 years of quality improvement, water from the Youghiogheny River Lake was okayed for municipal supply today.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County that 10,000 acre-feet of water from the lake is available for use in developments and supply. That represents about 4% of the lake’s total storage.

The MAWC has currently requested just 2,950 acre-feet.

An Army Corps study shows that the reallocation of this water won’t affect the Corps’ flood reduction and water quality enhancement projects. Those initiatives have been in place since the reservoir was created in 1943.

Anyone interested in checking up on the quality of the Youghiogheny water can access data from the newly installed water quality monitor at this website.

Rohrer Wants To Debate Corbett Before Endorsement

Attorney General Tom Corbett’s poll numbers, fundraising efforts and key endorsements make him the favorite for the Republican gubernatorial nomination this year, but State Representative Sam Rohrer says those facts won’t knock him out of the party’s primary.
Roher is staking his claim as the conservative candidate in the race for Republican nomination.
When the Republican State Committee meets next month, it’s expected to officially endorse Attorney General Tom Corbett’s campaign for governor. Rohrer says that’s the wrong decision, and argues an open, contested primary is the best way to make sure the eventual nominee supports conservative issues.

"By pursuing a top-heavy, not a bottom-up, approach to candidate selection, Republicans are missing the best opportunity they ever had to build a strong ideas-driven party. By pandering to conservative groups instead of embracing their policy solutions, they are becoming a social club, not a vehicle for advancing key ideas."

The Berks County lawmaker says he’s worried an uncontested primary would let the eventual GOP nominee cater to independent moderate voters, and only pay lip-service to the party’s core conservative base. The Berks County lawmaker, who’s running on a platform of eliminating property taxes and reducing government spending, says he wants to debate Corbett before the state committee meets, though he concedes that likely won’t happen.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Workers Continue to Fight for Prevailing Wage

A public hearing on the prevailing wage bill was held today in Pittsburgh City Council Chambers.
Before the hearing, workers from grocery stores, hotels and universities rallied to urge Council to approve the legislation.
Reverend John Welch, President of Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network, says the people were given a gift when city council unanimously approved the prevailing wage legislation, but that gift was taken away in “grinch-like fashion” by the mayor. Mayor Ravenstahl vetoed the measure December 31st, but then introduced his own prevailing wage bill, which would include fewer developments and only take effect if the county approves similar rules.
Welch says a coalition of faith leaders, union leaders and community leaders have joined again to urge council to make the same decision they did in December.
A Giant Eagle employee, Mark Mancini says development should be helping people out of poverty, not putting people into it.
Bridget Noel, an overnight cleaner for the University of Pittsburgh says she used to work at a grocery store making $7.35 an hour, barely supporting herself and her three children. Now, she has a steady job, owns a home and is sending her children to college.
She says that’s what a prevailing wage is about—living instead of struggling.
During the hearing, the President of Pittsburgh Regional Alliance Dewitt Peart said the private sector is not necessarily opposed to the bill but council did not engage them in developing the measure. He asked for the opportunity to sit down with council to improve the legislation so there are no negative impacts.
Tom Link, an employee with Urban Redevelopment Authority says he fears entrepreneurs will reject Pittsburgh as a site due to the ambiguity of this bill.
Councilman Doug Shields, co-sponsor of the bill, says this legislation is here to make sure that all residents have the opportunity to live a life that at least promises a better future, and that’s what this bill will do.
Council is to take a preliminary vote Wednesday.

Financial Education Program Celebrates Success

The ‘My Money, My Life’ financial literacy program for teenagers celebrated its fifth anniversary today.

The NeighborWorks of Western Pennsylvania initiative achieved its goal of 1000 students since late 2004.

Education Coordinator Courtney George says the weekly, after-school program began because financial literacy wasn’t being taught to many local students.

George says students learn about credit, lending, bank accounts, and saving money. She says in the advanced classes, they go on to create their own character to learn about a lifetime of financial skills.

Interested individuals should visit the NeighborWorks website at (

Researchers to Study Wartime Limb Injuries

Two federal grants will be awarded tonight to researchers in Texas and Rhode Island studying trauma to soldiers’ limbs.

Pittsburgh’s Airlift Research Foundation will award the grants. President Susan Pressly Lephart says although advanced body armor protects soldiers’ torsos admirably, their extremities are left relatively unprotected.

Lephart says both research teams will focus on injury to the long bones of limbs, which can be particularly traumatic.

“You’ll find that the bone itself may be somewhat intact, but there’s a huge defect or a huge chunk that’s taken out of it, and it’s very challenging,” says Lephart.

“There’s not been a lot of research to show the most effective way to deal with that, to try to make that a functional limb in the outcome.”

Lephart says about 82 percent of soldiers in current American conflicts experience extremity trauma.

The Department of Defense money goes to Dr. Christopher Born of the Rhode Island Trauma Hospital and Dr. Yunzhi Peter Yang of the University of Texas.

Each team will receive $200,000 over two years.

CMU Introduces Community Cyberawareness Program

Carnegie Mellon University’s Information Networking Institute and CyLab will initiate this spring a community-wide cyberawareness outreach program at St. Bede School in Point Breeze to promote safe and responsible computing to teachers, children, parents and the general public at face-to-face educational workshops.

Dena Haritos Tsamitis of the CMU CyLab says school districts around the country and around the world are already accessing for free on the web. Dangers to the computer like spyware, viruses and spam are highlighted, but even more important are techniques to keep children safe, says Tsamitis. One educational tool is a game called Carnegie Cadets that sends players on missions to learn how to avoid cyberbullying, identity theft and online predators.

The program also encourages dialogue about avoiding inappropriate websites--an unfortunate necessity in today's world, according to Tsamitis.

The program is funded by a $20,000 grant from the Verizon Foundation.

New Guidelines For Legislative Employees & Campaigns

With testimony to begin February 1 in the latest BonusGate trial, Pennsylvania State Senate leaders have introduced a resolution setting clear guidelines against legislative employees doing campaign work on state time.
The fourteen page resolution clarifies the legal ban against public employees campaigning while on the clock, and sets up a system to report any activity violating those rules. It also bars Senate-funded newsletters from being sent out within 60 days of an election, and maintains Senate employees can’t be forced to donate to or work on political campaigns, or be ordered to carry out non-work-related tasks.
Senate Republican spokesman Erik Arneson says the ethics guidelines do allow for what they label “unavoidable” campaign work on state time.
That includes lawmakers or staffers answering reporters’ questions about campaigns, or legislative staffers talking to campaign employees about candidates’ schedules.

"So there has to be some coordination there. You have to make some allowance for campaign people to be able to communicate with legislative schedulers so the senator’s not expected to be in two different places on Tuesday, March 14th."

Arneson says the resolution does allow Senate employees to perform campaign activities, if they reduce their hours and pay, or carry out the work on their own free time.

"A lot of what we do is political in the legislature, and it’s unavoidable. I mean we’re a political body. They’re politicians, and politicians that we work for. But campaign related is really the line we’re trying to make as clear as possible."

The Senate will hold a hearing on the guidelines in February.

Education Empowerment Act Revisited

The State Senate Education Committee is holding a series of hearings across Pennsylvania as the legislature prepares to renew the Education Empowerment Act. The current act expires June 30th and it sets the guidelines for schools to follow to meet the federal No Child Left Behind initiative and achieve Adequate Yearly Progress. The act also outlines what the Pennsylvania Department of Education can do to encourage schools and districts to meet those goals and penalize districts that don't meet them. The Senate Committee is hearing testimony about the successes and failures of the current act and exploring changes that might be needed in the reauthorized version.
Senator Andy Dinniman of Chester County is the Democratic Chairman of the Education Committee. He says the intention is to produce the best students..."I believe every student has a fundamental civil right to an education and every school has an obligation to be the best it can be."
Dinniman says if the schools don't make Adequate Yearly Progress, the Empowerment Act is designed to help them...unless it's clear they're not getting the message...."If schools can't bring their students up to an adequate level so they can pass basic exams, then we're going to restructure you. We might close you."
Dinniman says that public tax dollars are being invested in the schools to accomplish a goal and when that goal is not reached it's time to say enough's enough because every child should be given an opportunity to learn.

Letter of Reconciliation

The new bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh has sent a letter to local parishes that have recently split off from the church in hopes of reconciliation.
Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh Spokesman Rich Creehan says about 40 congregations have not actively participated in the Episcopal Church since October 2008, regarding themselves as part of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. Bishop Kenneth Price took his position last month, and he wants to make peace with the others.
The letter, which was sent out Wednesday, invites leaders and clergy of the Anglican Diocese to discuss their differences face-to-face.
“A lot of the turmoil and pain that this Diocese has gone through could be largely traced to some misunderstandings about the Episcopal Church,” Creehan says.
Ideally, Creehan says that Bishop Price would like to see the parishes reunite. However, inviting discussions are only the beginning to a much longer process.

Rendell: Green Economy Can Lead to Secure Future

With much of the nation still feeling the lingering effects of the recession, Pennsylvania and the whole country can move toward a stronger economy if it commits to a green, sustainable future. That's according to Governor Ed Rendell who made the remarks at Aquar America's 1.1 megawatt Ingram's Mill Solar Farm in West Chester, one of the newest such facilities on the East Coast. Rendell says supporting a low-Carbon Economy leads to job creation and increasing renewable energy use which are important for a secure economic future......
"Too many people think that protecting the environment and improving economic competitiveness is an either or proposition. This is absolutely false."
Rendell said Pennsylvania's new Climate Change Action Plan forms a blue print to help businesses and households reduce energy consumption and cut expenses. Rendell says Pennsylvania generates a little less than 1% of the world's greenhouse gases but this plan would cut emissions by 42% from 2000 levels by 2020.
The governor says the Commonwealth has been recognized as one of the fastest growing states for wind energy production and will be among the top five in solar production by the end of 2010. Rendell says the state invested more than $900 million in new energy technologies between 2003 and 2008 in 560 projects involving 8,300 jobs.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Threat to CMU Causes Evacuation

At noon today, Pittsburgh City Police received an anonymous phone call that was a threat to Carnegie Melon University’s academic building, Wean Hall.
The university quickly responded by evacuating Wean Hall and two other academic halls nearby.
Campus spokesman Ken Walters says they used K9 units from the city police, the University of Pittsburgh, Port Authority and the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office to make sure everything was safe.
Walters says nothing was found in the building, and halls re-opened around 2:30. There were no injuries.
He says if they signed up, students, faculty and staff would have received an immediate alert via text message about the threat.

Onorato Gains Support from Knox

There's one fewer candidate seeking the Democratic nomination for governor of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia millionaire Tom Knox dropped out of the running today and endorsed Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato. Knox said he chose to support Onorato because they share the same vision for Pennsylvania. Knox's decision leaves 4 Democrats in the race: Onorato, Auditor General Jack Wagner, Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel and Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty.

Haitian Orphans Moved

12 orphans from Haiti were moved last night from Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh to Holy Family Institute. The social services organization in Emsworth currently houses about 50 other children and will now care for the Haitian orphans indefinitely. The 42 other children who were evacuated from Haiti this week have had their adoptions completed and have been picked up by their new families.
The 2 sisters from Ben Avon who ran the orphanage in Port Au Prince spoke with the media yesterday. Although the buildings were heavily damaged, Jamie McMutrie said they had walls around the houses but "they weren't safe." Ali McMutrie said they heard gunshots and worried more as the people outside the walls became hungrier.
The McMutrie sisters aren't sure what's next for them but said it will involve the people of Haiti.
By the way, the parents of the McMutrie sisters adopted one of the Haitian orphans, a 3 year old boy named Fredo.

Investment in Electric & Hybrid Cars Urged

Environmental advocacy group PennEnvironment is calling on state government to invest in plug-in and hybrid cars. A new policy paper from PennEnvironment urges government to take a more active role in promoting alternative energy.
Clean Energy advocate Nathan Willcox says lawmakers have the ability to increase demand for plug-in and hybrid vehicles.

"Trying to get more plug-in electric cars in the state fleets, in the local level and local government fleets as well. That would help to not only show that the technology exists and works, but would also help to build and drive the market."

The group also wants to see tax-incentives for first-time hybrid purchasers, as well as stricter fuel standards. Willcox concedes some Pennsylvanians may be leery about increasing their energy bills with a plug-in car, especially with rate caps coming off across the state. But he argues over the long term, electric cars cost far less to run than gas-powered vehicles would per-gallon.

Sestak Says House Won't Pass Senate Health Bill

Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak of Media, Pennsylvania says he agrees with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s assessment that the Senate’s health care bill can’t pass the House.
Shortly after attending a House Democratic caucus meeting, Senate candidate Joe Sestak said he doesn’t expect any more movement on the health care bill the upper chamber passed in December.

"They’re going to take a different route than just take the Senate bill and vote on it. It’s going to be one of trying to have, in the best way possible, a bill or pieces of bills – different bills that will pass and do good for the citizens."

Democratic leaders had hoped to work out the House and Senate bills’ differences and then pass an amended version of the legislation, but Senator-elect Scott Brown’s Massachusetts victory gives Republicans just enough seats to block a final Senate vote on the measure.
Congress spent much of 2009 debating health care, but Sestak says he would expect the new bills to move at a faster pace.
He says taken one at a time, provisions like a ban on denying coverage for people with preexisting conditions could be sold to the public more effectively than the sweeping health care bill had been.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

GOP Doctors Caucus Examines Healthcare Legislation

The 13 members of the GOP Doctors Caucus held a hearing today to talk about all aspects of the healthcare proposals.
Each member of the caucus is a member of Congress with backgrounds in healthcare profession.
This hearing was the first and only open hearing on the House and Senate healthcare bills. Democrats such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were invited in hopes of coming to a negotiation on the two healthcare bills, but some declined and others did not respond.
Congressman Tim Murphy, who co-chairs the caucus, says they invited people with diverse opinions and they certainly received them.
For example, Murphy says Dr. Chris Hughes, the Pennsylvania Director of Doctors for America, testified that he thought the House and Senate bills are fine and a government-run plan is needed to provide coverage for more people.
Murphy says on the other hand, another doctor felt that the bills do not include cost-saving programs such as care management for chronic illness.
Murphy says the next step is to hold more hearings like this one, to hear from more people in different areas of expertise. He says the doctors caucus would certainly like to sit down with Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi to find a common ground for a healthcare legislation.
He says after Tuesday’s election in Massachusetts, it is apparent that this isn’t just a divided House, the nation also wants Congress to come together on this to find a solution. He says he doesn’t think the Senate nor the House version will be the solution because the American public has simply said they do not want them.

Report Finds Immediate Need for Toxic Chemical Decrease

Labor and health groups are calling for a reform of the federal toxic chemical law after a report reveals its impact on people and the economy.
According to the report from the National Resources Defense Council, workers, families and children are being affected by toxic chemical exposures in clothes, furniture, toys, water, et cetera.
Head of Safety and Environment for the United Steelworkers of America Michael Wright says over the years, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has proved to be the weakest of all environmental laws.
Wright says the 1976 law is supposed to test chemicals before they’re used in commerce, but he says the EPA must prove a chemical is toxic before it can be tested for its toxicity.
Maureen Swanson, Director of the Healthy Children Project for the Learning Disabilities of Association of America, says certain diseases and disorders are increasing partly because of toxic chemical exposures.
She says breast cancer and cancers in children, plus learning and development disabilities, reproductive disorders and infertility, Parkinson’s disease and asthma are all on the rise due to these exposures.
Maryann Donovan, Director of Research Services for the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, says we’re mostly exposed to toxic chemicals inadvertently. She says exposure not only comes from air and water pollution and pesticides, but also from personal care products, construction materials and furniture.
Swanson says toxic chemical exposures also affect our economy.
The report found that if an updated law yields even a .1 percent decrease in chronic disease, we would save five billion dollars annually in direct health care expenditures, which means Pennsylvania would save almost 195 million dollars annually.

Global Links Continues Haiti Work

Pittsburgh-based Global Links is putting out the call for some unusual supplies and making plans for the long haul in Haiti. The group has partnered with Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Deschapelles, Haiti (3-4 hours north of Port-Au-Prince) as doctors there try to deal with the aftermath of last week’s earthquake. Global Links Executive Director Kathleen Hower says nearly all supplies are in high demand but there is a dire need for crutches and the tools used in amputations. Global Links is shipping materials from its own storerooms and asking for donations from local hospitals, corporations and individuals. Hower says when doctors head down to Haiti they are taking very little in the way of personal items and her organizations is loading them up with much needed supplies such as sutures, bandages, surgical instruments, gloves, and casting materials. She says getting the supplies from Pittsburgh to the hospital is at times harder than collecting the donations. The Airport in Haiti is small and overburdened with international aid flights and the roads between the capitol city and the Albert Schweitzer Hospital are poor.
Global Links has started to make plans for the future. Hower says after the cameras leave and the public’s attention shifts there will still be a great deal of need in Haiti and her group is drawing up plans to help sustain the hospital’s needs going forward.

Advocates Want More Providers

Autism advocates and parents of children with autism say there are not enough behavioral providers in Allegheny county to provide treatment to children with autism.

According to an autism census released by the state last month, Allegheny County has one of the highest rates of autism incidences in the state. Cindy Waeltermann, Director of Autism Centers of Pittsburgh says her agency has received about 50 calls in the last 6 months from people who can't get wrap-around services for their children. Some families wait for six months to a year, she says.

Radio Activated Solder Helps Chip Making

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they have found a way to make computer chips and other small electronics without having to heat the entire chip. Michael McHenry is professor of materials science and engineering, biomedical engineering and physics. While working with Intel, his team found a way to embed magnetic nanoparticles into a solder, which heat up when exposed to specific radio frequencies. Currently the chips must be heated in an oven to cause the solders to reflow. McHenry says that heat can damage the chips. The problem has become worse as more lead is removed for solders for environmental reasons, which increases the melting point of the solder. Mc Henry says there is the added benefit that less energy is used to create the radio waves than the heat. McHenry says, "By varying the concentration and composition of these magnetic particles we can control the time it takes to heat them, which ultimately helps improve the speed of processing them.”
McHenry says Intel will own some of the science but other aspects of the work will be open to other researchers. He says the process could have uses outside of chip making, "There are many possibilities for this process throughout a variety of industry sectors, including the semi-conductor sector, aerospace and data storage industry." So far the researchers have only worked on a small scale but McHenry says it can quickly be ramped up to a commercial scale.

I-80 Tolling Decision Could Come Soon

A northern Pennsylvania Congressman says he expects the U.S. Department of Transportation to make a decision on I-80 tolling any day now.
Republican Glenn Thompson and other Pennsylvania lawmakers sat down with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood earlier this week in Washington, and Thompson says he got the impression the federal government will decide whether to accept or reject Pennsylvania’s tolling application in the coming days.

"The Secretary very specifically said they could be making the decision soon. I’m not sure what soon means, but my inclination is this is a decision that will be made in an imminent fashion. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear something as soon as the end of this week."
Thompson says he told LaHood his concerns about the tolling initiative.

"We talked about the negative economic impact, not just along the I-80 corridor, but frankly for Pennsylvania. Where reroutes commerce around Pennsylvania – just would add insult to injury with our economy around the state."

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission resubmitted its application about three months ago. Spokesman Carl DeFebo says tolling is scheduled to begin in November 2011, but the timeframe could be sped up after a final decision is made.

Toomey Thinks Obama Health Care Overhaul is Over

Pennsylvania Republican U.S. Senate candidate Pat Toomey says the Massachusetts special election may have broken the back of President Obama’s attempt to overhaul health care.
The election of Scott Brown gives Senate Republicans 41 seats, just enough to filibuster a vote on the health care bill.
The measure could still become law if the House accepts a version passed by the Senate in December, but Toomey doesn’t think that will happen.

"I don’t think they have the votes to pass something along the lines of what has passed the House or the version that passed the Senate. I don’t think either one could pass either body right now, because I think the Democrats themselves are just not going to be willing to walk off that plank for the liberal wing of their party that wants them to."

Exit polls showed many Massachusetts voters supported Brown because they don’t like the health care legislation, and Toomey predicts Democrats will reconsider their agenda after the rebuke from a traditionally solid liberal state.
Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak concedes the election “seriously jeopardizes” the initiative. Before the results were in, incumbent Arlen Specter’s office told the Allentown Morning Call a Brown win would “change the focus,” but that they weren’t concerned about the bill’s future.

Merton Center Billed for Police During G20

The Thomas Merton Center of Pittsburgh says it will not pay a $6,346.44 bill from the city for police services during a protest march September 25 during the G20 Summit. Several thousand demonstrators took part in the march from Oakland to the City-County Building in downtown Pittsburgh and then on to the North Side.
Merton Center spokeswoman Melissa Minnich told DUQ that they received the bill from the city Friday itemizing the cost of the work done by police during the march which was organized by the center.
"This was unexpected, we had filled out the forms and were told that (paying for police during) the march and rally should not happen. We've been speaking to the ACLU because back in 2003, the ACLU represented groups that sued the city to overturn a parade ordinance that compelled payment for the same sort of thing....police services."

That suit led to new rules that exempt First Amendment Parades and rallies from charges for police services if the organizer cannot afford to pay. An ACLU spokesman says the march was a free speech action and the Merton Center can't afford to pay the invoice.

A spokesman for the city of Pittsburgh says they've received a notice from the ACLU that they are representing the Merton Center and the city is "reviewing the matter."

Jurors Will Be Brought in for Poplawski Trial

There will be change of venire in the murder trial of Richard Poplawski of Pittsburgh. Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Manning has ruled that jurors selected from another county in Pennsylvania will be brought to Allegheny County to hear the trial in which Poplawski is accused of killing 3 Pittsburgh Police officers at his home in Stanton Heights April 4 last year. Manning yesterday conducted a third test of the jury pool yesterday asking a group of 90 people, who had been called for jury duty in other cases, whether they had heard or read about the Poplawski case. All but 5 said they had. Judge Manning asked how many had reached a unalterable opinion and could not be impartial. 52 people said they had made up their minds.
Manning then granted the defense request to bring in a jury from another county because of "pervasive, prejudicial pre-trial publicity."
The state court administrator will draw up a lit of possible counties from where a jury pool could be drawn and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will then decide.
Poplawski is accused of the shooting deaths of Officers Eric Kelly, Paul Sciullo and Stephen Mayhle who were responding to a 9-1-1 domestic violence call at the Poplawski home.
The District Attorney is seeking the death penalty. The trial is not expected to begin until at least late April.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Orphans Headed Home

At least seven of the 54 orphans from a Port-au-Prince orphanage run by two Ben Avon sisters are with their adoptive families.
Catrina and Nathan Brock of Georgia had been trying to adopt Dania for over four years. Last week a devastating earthquake struck Haiti. In its aftermath, the U.S. is waiving visa requirements on humanitarian grounds for Haitian children already in the pipeline for adoption. As part of the first wave of those adoptions, seven-year-old Dania arrived in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Wednesday her adoption became final.
Catrina Brock says the earthquake’s effects on their daughter are obvious.
"I think she’s a sensitive child and this is an experience that has marked her in some way. I can tell from meeting her this time, she’s more subdued and a little more sullen," she said.
As happy as the Brocks are to be with their daughter they say the situation in Haiti doesn’t fully allow them to be happy.
Dania lived in an orphanage run by two local sisters. They appealed for help resulting in a rescue mission that included Governor Rendell.
Another child, Jimmy, age 11, was adopted by Brian and Debbie Lepp of Washington state. They had been trying to adopt him for over 2 years. They spoke with reporters on Wednesday.
The remaining 47 orphans are in the custody of the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. Within a week they may be with their adoptive families or placed in foster care.

Some Orphans Heading for Home

At least 7 of the 54 Haitian orphans who were evacuated to Pittsburgh are in their new home or on their way at this time. The adoptions of the 7 children, to 5 families, have been completed over the last 24 hours. Marc Cherna, Director of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, says these initial adoptions were nearly complete prior to the earthquake striking Haiti last Tuesday.
47 children remain in a comfort room at Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh where they can eat and drink, play and sleep, while they wait for their adoptions to be completed or be placed in foster care temporarily. 47 of the 54 have adoption agreements including 2 year old Emma who wandered off before the jet flew out of Port Au Prince yesterday. Jamie McMutrie, one of two Ben Avon sisters who operated the orphanage, remained behind with Emma while arrangements were made to fly them to Pittsburgh. Jamie and Emma arrived this morning and Emma was given a medical checkup at Children's Hospital where she is fine.
Cherna says Homeland Security has jurisdiction over the process but he believes that all of the children will be adopted or placed in foster care within a week. Cherna says federal officials are overcoming many stumbling blocks...."There's a lot of missing documentation because things in Haiti are now destroyed, so it's been a real challenge. They (federal officials) have been very flexible in trying to reconstruct enough things so they can do a legal adoption."
Cherna says they've received hundreds of calls locally and from all over the country..."Everybody wants there children but the reality is we have plenty of children in the U.S. and in Allegheny County who are in need of adoptive homes. We're going to use this as a reminder there are plenty of children who would be great to have as a child and are in need of loving homes."
The Haitian orphans range in age from less than a year old to 15 with most less than 4.

Prayer Service Held For Haiti Victims

A prayer vigil held Friday evening will benefit the victims of the Haitian earthquake.

The Functional Literacy Ministry (FLM) of Haiti will host “To Haiti With Love” at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary to pray for physical and emotional healing for survivors of the disaster.

FLM of Haiti Executive Director Leon Pamphile says his organization will continue its mission of providing school services to Haitians at a time when the education system has suffered a major blow.

“The need there right now has multiplied,” says Pamphile. “A lot of the Catholic schools and the public schools have been destroyed, so the need for education is greater than ever.”

Pamphile says FLM of Haiti will also buy medical supplies and food with any donations they may receive Friday.

Pamphile says the service will feature music and prayer, starting at 7:00 p.m.

For more details, call 412-784-0342 or visit FLM of Haiti’s website.

Coal Ash Spill in Final Cleanup Phase

Representatives of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection say a coal ash spill that occurred in Forward Township in 2005 should be completely cleared later this year, as the last phase of cleaning is underway. State DEP Spokeswoman Helen Humphreys says the cleanup should be done in June, but it’s dependent on the weather. Since the cleanup began, 55,000 tons of coal ash has been removed from the area and properly disposed of. The slide happened in January 2005 when an embankment filled with coal ash collapsed near River Hill Road. When the ash dam failed, water carried the material through the valley onto a residential street.
“It’s been a long journey,” Humphreys says.

Rendell Expects Increase in Next Budget

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell says he expects next year’s budget to grow by about four percent or about $1 billion.
On a recent conference call, Governor Rendell said he expects next year’s budget to be slightly larger than this year’s spending plan, arguing expenses like Medicaid payments and the corrections budget are out of his control, and will automatically increase.
"We don’t control the number of prisoners that go into our state penitentiaries. The judges do that. And each prisoner that comes in has a cost associated with it. We don’t control the number of people who come into the Medicaid program. The eligibility rules do that and the economy does that."

House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin says that approach is irresponsible.

"The governor is talking a billion dollars in new and increased spending when this year we’re facing a 500-million dollar deficit. You’ve honestly just got to wonder about the mindset. It’s mind-boggling. Clearly there’s not a care about the people who pay the bills."

Through December, the state’s tax revenues are 250 million dollars below expectations. Officials are predicting a 450-million dollar shortfall by year’s end.
Miskin says even if some line items increase, there’s money to cut elsewhere.
Governor Rendell delivers his budget address February 9th. He and legislative leaders have vowed to begin spending negotiations earlier this year, with the goal of passing the Rendell Administration’s first on-time budget.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Haitian Orphans Doing Well

Doctors, nurses and officials at Children's Hospital are expressing surprise at the good physical condition of the 53 children from Haiti who arrived in Pittsburgh this morning from an orphanage operated by 2 sisters from Ben Avon, Ali and Jamie McMutrie.
After arriving at the airport, the children were bused to the hospital where nearly 20 doctors, more than a dozen nurses and another dozen medical technicians gave them complete checkups. The hospital's chief of emergency medicine, Dr. Rick Saladino says overall they are doing well..."as you might expect with a group of young children together, a few have upper respiratory infections." Saladino says 1 or 2 were dehydrated and received fluids intravenously.
Hospital President Chris Gessner says he was most surprised by the condition of the children "they just seem to be in great shape given what you would have expected them to have gone through and I think that is a tribute to the sisters down there, Ali and Jamie (McMutrie). They must have done just a phenomenal job with these kids, not only physically but spiritually. They were in good spirits."
Dr. Saladino says even thought the doctors and nurses don't speak Creole or French, the children quickly warmed up to them and interacted with them

Gessner says they've converted their conference room into a "comfort center" where the children can eat, drink, play and sleep. He expects the children to be there for about 24 hours. A temporary makeshift courtroom has been set up for Allegheny Children Youth and Families and Immigration officials to expedite the adoption process. 47 of the children have adoptive families waiting.....40 of them in the United States, 4 in Canada and 3 in Spain.
Gessner says some of the adoptive parents have arrived at the hospital but they cannot see the children until "they are officially recognized as the adoptive parents and there's quite a process that needs to happen there."
Some of the children will be placed in foster care until their adoptive families complete the process.

Sisters Who Ran Haiti Orphanage Called "Heroes"

53 orphans from Haiti arrived safely in Pittsburgh this morning after whirlwind planning to get them passports and visas to come to the U.S. The BRESMA orphanage, run by 2 suburban Pittsburgh sisters, was heavily damaged in last week's earthquake but the children were not injured. Most of the children were already in the process of being adopted by families in the United States. But sisters Ali and Jamie McMutrie appealed to government officials in Pennsylvania and in Washington to evacuate the children.
Governor Ed Rendell, Congressman Jason Altmire, doctors, nurses and volunteers flew to Haiti yesterday to deliver 2 and a half tons of medical supplies but also to pick up the orphans. Rendell called the McMutrie sisters "true heroes" for holding the orphanage together. Ali McMutrie said the children are in good shape and she was more afraid of the flight in the cargo plane than the kids were. When it appeared that several of the children would not get passports or visas, the McMutrie sisters insisted they would not leave any of them behind.
One child did wander away before takeoff and Jamie McMutrie stayed behind. They are now scheduled to arrive in the U.S. later today.
After a thorough medical exam at Children's Hospital, Catholic Charities will place the children in foster care till the adoption process is completed. 47 of the children have adoption agreements....40 of those in the United States. The other 7 will be allowed to remain in the country for 2 years to allow them to be adopted.

Care Provided for 53 Haitian Orphans

The American Red Cross, Catholic Charities and UPMC Children’s Hospital have all pulled together to provide care for the 53 orphans that arrived in Pittsburgh this morning.
Spokesperson for the Red Cross, Brian Knavish says the children will be given cots to sleep in, teddy bears, toys, food, drinks, emotional support and medical care.
He says this collaboration between the three organizations for the purpose of these kids was a big step to take but was well-organized. The kids will be cared for at the hospital until they have a place to call home.

Haitian Orphans to Be Given Medical Checkup in Pittsburgh

Fifty three Haitian children, most of them less than four years old, are on their way to Children's Hospital after arriving a short time ago at Pittsburgh International Airport. The children were in an orphanage in Haiti operated by two Pittsburgh area sisters, Ali and Jamie McMutrie. The sisters appealed to Pennsylvania and U.S. officials to evacuate the children whose orphanage was severely damaged. The children will be given complete medical check ups and then be placed with foster families until the adoption process is completed. One child wandered away before take off and Jamie McMutrie stayed behind with that child. They are scheduled to come to Pittsburgh tomorrow.

Rendell, Corbett Disagree Over Marcellus Tax

Governor Ed Rendell has made it clear he'll push for a natural gas severance tax this year, but the top Republican running to succeed him says he doesn't think Pennsylvania needs a levy on gas extractions.
Attorney General Tom Corbett, the front-runner in this year's Republican gubernatorial primary, says even without a severance tax, he's confident natural gas drilling will produce revenue for the state.

"If you talk about the private citizens and the money they're getting, they are going to be providing revenue to us through the income tax. You have people that live on land and made 30-thousand dollars a year. Now they're making, in some cases, 30-thousand dollars a month in a royalty fee."

Corbett says the 18-percent royalties from drilling on state forest land will also provide income for the commonwealth.
Governor Rendell says the 128 million dollars companies recently bid to drill on state land is proof the industry has the resources to afford a tax, but Corbett disagrees.
He says if Pennsylvania imposes a shale tax, drilling companies may walk away from the land, instead of setting up operations in what he calls an unfavorable business climate.

Haitian Orphans Arrive in Pittsburgh

53 orphans from Haiti are being welcomed to Pittsburgh this morning. Their rescue flight is arriving at Pittsburgh International Airport at this time. The children are from the orphanage where Ben Avon sisters Ali and Jamie McMutrie are caregivers. Their building was damaged in last week's devastating earthquake but the children were not hurt. The sisters have been working to get the children evacuated from Haiti. The organizations of today's rescue mission involved the efforts of Governor Ed Rendell, Congressman Jason Altmire and UPMC. The orphans will be taken to Children's Hospital for medical evaluation and then placed in group homes to await adoption. Many were well into the adoption process even before the earthquake struck. 100 children from their orphanage in Haiti are being cared for by Dutch and French agencies.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Pittsburgh Related to Haitian Hospital

A Haitian hospital with Pittsburgh ties is struggling to give earthquake survivors medical treatment.

Founded in 1956 by Larimer and Gwen Mellon of Pittsburgh, Hôpital Albert Schweizer (HAS) is burning through supplies at a extraordinary rate to aid the constant insurgence of wounded.

Chairman John Walton says the hospital, 40 minutes northwest of Port-Au-Prince, has far exceeded its capacity of 125 beds.

“We started seeing patients showing up within about 20 to 30 minutes after the event and from that time, we’re seeing a constant stream of vehicles arriving, sometimes in big bunches and sometimes only a couple an hour, but they just keep arriving,” says Walton.

“Generally, these are pickup trucks with people riding in open beds in the back.”

Walton says the hospital took on a greater role in the relief efforts when he learned only three hospitals in the capital were still functional. He says he’s working to bring in much-needed supplies via helicopter.

To make a monetary donation or read the latest news on HAS, visit their website at

Martin Luther King Day to See Rally, Social Events

Reverend John Welch presides over the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network, who organized the East Liberty rally. He says his group will voice their support for the prevailing wage legislation that would ensure higher pay for workers in new city developments.

The rally will also protest sub-par unionizing standards at a local hotel complex. Welch says rallying on Martin Luther King Day is particularly special, because they are fighting for the same ideals King did before he was assassinated.

Other Martin Luther King Day events this evening include the Pittsburgh Gospel Choir performing at Franklin Regional High School at 7 and several readings and videos at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe.

Supplies Going To Haiti

The Brother's Brother Foundation is providing supplies to the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. Luke Hingson, President of Brother's Brother says the foundation is sending out its first airplane full of supplies in the afternoon today. Hingson says they are also preparing to send two tractor trailer size shipments of supplies to Haiti later in the week. Hingson says the response by the Pittsburgh region has been tremendous with over 1,500 people and business donating money or supplies. Hingson added that much work needs to be done to help the millions of people affected by the earthquake. He says Brother's Brother is accepting money, and hygiene kit supplies such as baby wipes, bars of soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes and wash clothes.

Funeral for Slain Trooper

40 year old Pennsylvania State Trooper Paul Richey, who was fatally shot Wednesday, was buried yesterday following a funeral at Franklin High School in Venango County. One thousand people, family, friends and law enforcement from all over, crowded into the school auditorium for the service. Another thousand viewed a closed circuit TV feed of the funeral in the gym.
Colleagues said the 16 year veteran loved his job and volunteered for the call that ended in his death. Authorities say Trooper Richey was ambushed and killed while responding to a domestic dispute.. Police say 44 year old Michael Smith shot Richey as he approached Smith's house in Cranberry, Venango County. Smith then apparently killed his wife Nancy Frey-Smith and then turned the gun on himself.

Candidates Discuss Education Funding, Pensions

Six of the seven men trying to become Pennsylvania's next governor laid out their education policies this weekend at a forum sponsored by the Pennsylvania State Educators Association in Harrisburg.
Republican Tom Corbett joined all five Democratic candidates at the event, where each gubernatorial hopeful promised to make education spending a top priority.
Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel says he'd increase the state's contribution to school district's budgets.

"We have been down at 37 percent as a state contribution to public education. That is too low. The national average for states is 47 percent. We need to get there. We need to move off of the local property tax."

Hoeffel says he'd do that by implementing a graduated income tax, instead of the current flat rate.
Dan Onorato, Tom Knox, Chris Doherty and Hoeffel all promised to follow Governor Rendell's lead by substantially increasing state education spending each year.
Knox praised Governor Rendell's education policies.

"We need early learning programs. For every dollar you spend in pre-kindergarten you get 13 dollars on the other end. We need to keep that up. He initiated tutoring assistance, science and math programs where important classroom technology was implemented to an unprecedented degree."

Onorato says he'd follow funding guidelines set by the legislature's "costing out" study.

"I'm a big supporter of continuing the funding formula. We have to make sure, or put money in place. The results have shown it. It works. So let's not go backwards. Let's go forward."

The candidates also addressed Pennsylvania's looming spike in pension costs.
Corbett said the state needs to make the payments it promised to school employees, but called the current setup "unsustainable"and said investments won't be able to help the state meet a looming multi-billion dollar payment obligation.

"And I don't think you're going to see Wall Street coming back to make up that difference, especially between now and 2012, 2013, and I think everyone here would agree. We're going to have to find other sources of income."

Corbett and the five Democrats agreed the state needs to make its payments, but the candidates differed on whether pensions should stay as defined benefit plans, or be shifted to another system.
All the Democrats but Auditor General Jack Wagner said they'd keep the current setup.
Wagner said he'd guarantee that plan for current school employees, but would appoint a commission to create a different formula for future employees.

PA Bill Would Ban BPA

A purportedly dangerous chemical in many children’s products may soon be prohibited in Pennsylvania.

Montgomery County Representative Lawrence Curry’s bill to ban child-care items that contain bisphenol A, or BPA, is in committee. Curry says BPA has for years been added to plastic baby bottles and food containers to make them rigid and transparent.

But Pennsylvania’s Clean Water Action Director Myron Arnowitt says BPA can mimic estrogen, leading to higher risk for breast cancer, obesity and heart disease.

Arnowitt says there has been considerable inaction regarding BPA at the federal level, so safety advocates are looking to the states for leadership.

Curry says Wal-Mart has already banned some products containing BPA.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Permission to Bring Orphans to Pittsburgh

Two sisters from suburban Pittsburgh who run an orphanage in Haiti have received permission to bring 150 Haitian children to Pittsburgh. Jamie and Ali McMutrie of Ben Avon have lived in Port Au Prince since 2007. Their three house orphanage was mostly destroyed by Tuesday's earthquake.
Former U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan is part of a group looking to help the McMutrie sisters and the orphans. She says the only hurdle remaining is permission to land the plane in Haiti to pick up the children.
Doug Heckman is the husband of Jamie McMutrie. He says the sisters are running out of supplies.
"With the current state of Haiti, the government is essentially shut down. We know the adoption process is going to be frozen indefinitely. Essentially, there are a lot of parents here that were hoping to get their kids in the next couple of weeks. The adoption process for many of these kids was getting very close to the end."

Allegheny County officials are mobilizing workers and volunteers to prepare for the arrival of the children.

PA National Guard Unit Goes to Haiti

Fifty members of the Pennsylvania National Guard's 193rd Special Operations Wing are headed on a humanitarian mission to earthquake ravaged Haiti. That country has limited communications capability so the 193rd will broadcast information about where to go for shelter, medical care, food and water from its airborne radio and TV station.
Airman First Class Claire Behney (Baynee) of Lebanon says it's the first time the Middletown-based unit is launching this kind of effort for a country not at war...

"This is a perfect example of what we train for, a perfect example of humanitarian missions we participate in. It's not just war missions that we support. We also reach out a helping hand to those in need."

Staff Sergeant Kyle Herman of Carlisle, says in his more than 7 years in the military, he's never done a mission like this before Herman says details about the length of the mission are still unknown.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Carnegie Science Center Offers Free Day

The Carnegie Science Center and Duquesne Light partnered to offer an admission-free day of environmentally-themed programming for all ages on Martin Luther King, Junior Day.
Anyone can visit the science center this Monday, January 18 between 10 am and 5 pm to enjoy informative yet fun activities such as a film and a tic-tac-toe game show.
Director of the science center Ron Bailey says plans for having a day like this with Duquesne Light began about a year ago. He says their goals are to provide a day that is built around conservation as a theme and to give people who haven’t been to the center the opportunity to take a look at this wonderful resource that the region has.
Bailey says each program of the day is built around environmental science and conservation.
There will be theater programs, some developed by the science center and others by Duquesne Light.
There will be the four floors of hands-on exhibits that are always available to visitors. People will be able to experience the latest Science on the Road program, Captain Green’s Time Machine.
On the biggest screen in Pittsburgh will be shown an environmentally themed Omnimax film.
Visitors can challenge themselves with Duquesne Light’s “Watt Do You Know?” tic-tac-toe game show.
Bailey says there will be many opportunities for children to learn and experience new things. There will be activities to teach them about water and energy in ways that will engage them with their scientific curiosity.
Bailey says the center and Duquesne Light believes this will be a successful day, and hopes to do it again next year.

Ben Avon Sisters in Haiti Hope to Bring Orphans to U.S.

Jamie and Ali McMutrie run the BRESMA orphanage in Port-Au-Prince and they could come back to the U.S. now. Instead, they are staying with 26 infants they help care for and hope for an exemption that would allow all of them to leave Haiti. Tuesday's earthquake damaged two to the organizations three buildings and the sisters have chosen to camp out in the yard for now. Doug Heckman, Jamie's husband has been trying to coordinate efforts in Pittsburgh to get them much needed supplies like food, water and gasoline. He says he's appealed to local and state lawmakers to allow the women and the orphans to travel to the U.S. According to Heckman almost all the infants are in the process of being adopted by American families, but with Haiti's devastated infrastructure, it's unknown when those adoptions could be completed. "Some of these infants were virtually one paper away from getting U.S. passports...and a lot of parents are saying 'I had a kid and now I don't know if I do anymore.'" BRESMA (Brebis de Saint-Michel de L'Attalaye) has been in operation since 2003.

Braddock Hospital Activists Hold Rallies

Activists opposed to UPMC's closing of Braddock Hospital are holding a rally outside the hospital today from 2:30 to 4:00 and again on Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Filmmaker Tony Buba says there will be updates on legal action to prevent the closure: a lawsuit by Allegheny County Councilman Charles McCullough, which seeks to prevent public authorities from facilitating a $1.175 billion dollar UPMC bond issue and a charge by Braddock Council President Jesse Brown that the closure violates civil rights law because it adversely affects a predominantly African American community just as UPMC is building a hospital in predominantly white Monroeville.

The Office of Civil Rights at Health and Human Services has no comment on an investigation at this time.

Buba says despite personal pleas from himself and others, the Pennsylvania Higher Educational Facilities Authority voted 8 to 1 to approve the bond issue, as Allegheny County Council had done previously. Buba says he will probably attend another public hearing on Jan. 26th before the matter goes to Governor Ed Rendell for his signature.

Buba says hospital supporters will propose to the state and federal governments that Haitian earthquake victims be flown to under-utilized Pittsburgh International Airport and treated at almost-empty Braddock Hospital.

This is the final day UPMC will accept new patients in Braddock Hospital, which is scheduled to close at the end of the month.

Haiti Relief Donations Urged, Caution Advised

Governor Rendell is urging Pennsylvania residents to contribute to Haitian relief efforts. Rendell is challenging Pennsylvanians to donate to the Red Cross, or to text the word HAITI to the number 90999.
That automatically adds ten dollars to your phone bill, and the money goes to relief efforts.

"What Haiti needs right now is cash. Cash that relief organizations can turn into product immediately. So I’d urge all Pennsylvanians to consider contributing."

Attorney General Tom Corbett is urging people to be careful when making donations. Corbett spokesman Nils Frederiksen says scammers often take advantage of massive relief efforts, and try to con people into donating to fake charities.

"Watch out for spam emails that may include links, photos, files – other things that you’re either supposed to go to or open up. Unfortunately some of them may contain viruses, or some of the links may actually take you to websites that aren’t really legitimate.warning scam artists often take advantage of major disasters in order to con people into contributing money to fake charities."

Frederiksen says it’s important to research the operation to which you are donating.
One way to do that is to see whether it’s registered on the Pennsylvania Department of State’s list of legitimate charities.

Meantime, the Pennsylvania National Guard doesn’t have any plans to assist in relief efforts yet, but Rendell says he’s asked Major General Jessica Wright to monitor requests for help.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hearing on Public-Private Partnerships

The House Republican Policy Committee held a hearing on the use of public-private partnerships as an alternative to Act 44 which converted I-80 to a tolled facility and uses that money to fund state transportation projects.

State Representative Stan Saylor says this would free up money for other projects. Thursday's hearing included testimony from those who have worked in public-private partnerships in other states.

Fleet Audit Reveals Need for Better Contract Enforcement

Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb released a performance audit of the contractor who maintains and repairs the city’s vehicles today. The audit revealed that the city has not been monitoring the contract carefully and mistakes were found.
Lamb says for the most part, First Vehicle Services (FVS) has done a decent job, however the costs are escalating. He says because of this, city council should examine whether whether to have city employees do the maintenance or continue to contract it out. He says his guess is a change wouldn’t be worth it.
Lamb says the FVS hasn’t completely followed the contract.
Lamb says the time to repair a vehicle should be 24 to 48 hours, depending on the vehicle. From the 2006 audit, FVS left the vehicles out of service much longer than they should have been.
Another problem with FVS is that they are moving a lot of the jobs to the category of “non-targeted repairs,” which cost more. Lamb says repairs such as fixing chains on tires should be regular maintenance, however the contractor is charging extra on those.
Lamb says the garage FVS uses is owned by the city. In the contract, the city pays for gas and electricity, and the contractor gives credit for those costs. However, Lamb says they are not paying for water. Because it is a city building, it was never fitted for a water meter, so the city has no way of going back to them for water billing. Lamb recommends they get a meter in the building so they can pay for their water.
Lamb does not recommend returning to in-house fleet maintenance. Instead, he says the contract should be closely monitored from here on out, and when it comes to termination, the county and city should work together toward a joint vehicle maintenance contract for full effectiveness.

Non-Profit Formed to Seek WDUQ License

A senior management team at WDUQ-FM, Pittsburgh's first public radio station, has filed papers with the state to create a new non-profit in an attempt to acquire the non-commercial license for the station from Duquesne University. WDUQ General Manager Scott Hanley says a station management team with the agreement of the university is working with an organization known as Public Radio Capital (PRC)
"which has in the past helped other stations like WDUQ at universities become independent of their parent organization. We are working with that organization (Public Radio Capital) and with the interest and support of foundation community members and also the university itself." The non-profit would be known as Pittsburgh Public Media.
Bridget Fare, the university's Director of Public Affairs, said indicating that Duquesne is looking to sell the station and allow it to transition to complete independence....
"the university values DUQ's position in the market and the importance of its programming for the community. We're very proud of that success and the station is good enough and big enough to not be under the umbrella of the university."
Erik Langner, director of acquisitions at PRC says they are working with station management and the university to create a comprehensive business management plan and "to build a case for the community to rally around the station to secure the necessary funds and insure the viability of the operation.
Bridget Fare says there is no timetable for a decision and while working with management at the radio station and PRC the university will also consider other offers. Any deal would require the approval of the Federal Communications Commission.

Pittsburgh Public Schools Might Pay Exam Fees

Talk about paying for Pittsburgh students’ exam fees on a sliding scale began last year. Next week, the final plans will be voted on.
The board will vote on paying the $86 fee for students who want to take an advanced-placement exam, which depending on their test scores could earn them college credits. They’re also considering paying the $45 fee for any high school juniors taking the SAT exam in June.
School Board member Mark Brentley, says the fees will only be covered for students with low household incomes. He says there are some individuals who are not affected by the fees of these exams, and others who are in major need of the money. Those students will be the ones to receive these funds.
Brentley says there should be nothing standing in the way of students going forward with their education, especially not their household income. He says the school board should go above and beyond their call of duty to make things available for all students.
Brentley says he is confident that the plan will be approved. At this point, he says it has already been researched by the staff, and it should be ready to fly. The school board will vote next Wednesday.

Drilling Leases Generate More $ Than Expected

Pennsylvania land leased out for natural gas drilling has generated twice as much income as expected.
32-thousand acres of state forest land have been leased out for drilling, bringing in 128 million dollars.
That’s more than double the 60 million dollar goal – but all 128 million dollars won’t be going to Pennsylvania’s General fund. Instead, the excess money will stay in the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’s Oil and Gas Lease Fund.
Department spokeswoman Chris Novak says that money will be used for conservation, recreation and flood control projects.

"So we’ve done projects along those lines in the past. It’s been used to purchase land from state parks. It’s been used to purchase mineral rights for areas of the public lands where we didn’t own them. Other conservation and certain infrastructure projects."

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman is open to the possibility of allocating more leasing money into the General Fund, but that would need to be accomplished through legislation.

"You know, if the revenues, which have been projected to be below what we estimated, continue to struggle for the rest of the fiscal year then there’s every possibility we may do that. At this point in time we’re just authorized for the sixty, but when we do next year’s budget if there’s a chance we’re short on revenue we may transfer more from that fund to the General Fund."

The state is facing a projected 450 million dollar revenue shortfall, and Rendell has authorized an additional 161 million dollars worth of budget cuts.

Spending Cuts Due to Revenue Shortfall

The Rendell Administration has announced a $161 million budget cut that eliminates 32 line items. The spending reduction is meant to counter lower than expected tax revenues.
The reductions ordered by Governor Rendell eliminate state funding for regional cancer institutes, bio-technology research, zoos, agriculture promotion and health care clinics, among other line items.
State support for public television stations, already drastically reduced by this year’s budget, has been halved.
Rendell’s spokesman, Gary Tuma, says the cuts are a response to a projected 450-million dollar revenue shortfall.

"The budget office and the central administration worked with the cabinet agencies. Went back and forth and made some determinations about where they thought they could cut, and what was possible and what was advisable, and what wasn’t. All of these cuts are painful. None of these cuts are ones that the governor or anyone else in the administration really wants to make."

Rendell ordered an across the board one percent reduction to all line items, and followed that up with more than 90 million dollars in cuts to discretionary grants.
Tuma notes the money has been placed in budgetary reserves.
That means it could be restored if the state’s financial picture suddenly improves.