Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Mr. McFeely and Mayor Urge Pittsburghers to Mail In Census Forms

Thursday April 1st is Census Day. American residents are urged to mail in a census form. The form collects basic demographic information that is used to determine how to apportion members of the House of Representatives and how federal funding is distributed. Mr. McFeely of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Census Officials gathered on the front steps of The City-County Building to urge all residents to mail in their forms.
"When federal dollars are given out to communities for transportation projects, for infrastructure improvements, for schools - those types of things, they base those allocations a lot of the times on how many people you have living in your community," said Ravenstahl.
Mr. McFeely, known as Speedy Delivery, then dropped off his and the Mayor's census forms at the post office.

Pension Liability Climbs

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has called for closed-door meetings with union leaders and City Council members next Tuesday to address the city's sagging pension fund. Today, at the end of the 2010 first quarter, the city's pension liability topped $989 million. However, there is less than 30% of that total actually in the fund.
Both Council President Darlene Harris and Councilman Patrick Dowd say they’re unsure of the aim of Mayor Ravenstahl’s private meetings. Dowd says he’d prefer an open session, convening the public with union leaders, City Council, and the mayor.

Harris says she was told to bring information and a plan for correcting the pension fund for retired city workers.

The mayor has proposed leasing the city’s parking garages for 50 years for $200 million, but Harris says she’s concerned parking prices would skyrocket. She has proposed floating a bond and use that money to get up to the state-required 50% minimum funding of the pension program, and then use revenues from the city owned garages to pay off the bonds.

The pension plan must be funded at least 50% by year’s end to avoid a state takeover. That would likely cause the annual contribution to increase from the current $54 million from the operating budget.

Harris says Council will receive a study on 3 competing plans in mid-June.

Report Urges Increase in Energy Efficiency for Buildings

Penn Environment has released a report calling on state and federal leaders to improve energy efficiency standards for new construction and to provide incentives for retrofitting old buildings because buildings consume 40% of U.S. total energy consumption—almost 10% of world consumption.

Adam Garber, Penn Environment Field Director, says state and federal investment would pay off in reduced costs for consumers, thousands of green jobs, and huge cuts in global warming pollution. The report analyzes specific benefits to the environment and to consumers: By 2030, Pennsylvanians could see a $1668 per year savings in their energy costs, and the state's global warming pollution could decrease 21%--the equivalent of taking 5-1/2 million cars off the road each year.

The Pennsylvania House has already passed House Bill 444 that sets forth green specifications for state buildings, according to Garber, and Penn Environment urges the senate to follow suit.

Garber says the use of existing technology could reduce overall building energy consumption 35% by 2030 and 50% by 2050.

Corbett, Rohrer Square Off in Candidates Forum

The new health care law and Attorney General Tom Corbett’s challenge to its constitutionality were the major topics at a Republican candidates forum sponsored by a Carbon County 9/12 project last night.
During the forum, Corbett insisted the lawsuit wasn’t political. After the event, he told reporters that Democrats are the ones making it a partisan issue.

"Just look at it – Dwight Evans is trying to influence the budget process. You’ve got the governor saying, he’s a nice guy but I don’t understand this. They’re the ones that are driving the politics. I would shut up about this if they shut up about it and let it go in the courts."

But Corbett spent much of his opening statement discussing the lawsuit. And he singled out the legal challenge when a questioner asked how he’d respond to overreaching by the federal government.

"I think last week clearly demonstrated what I’m willing to do."

Corbett’s primary opponent, state Representative Sam Rohrer, says he applauds the lawsuit. He says the health insurance mandate is a clear violation of the 10th Amendment.
Rohrer says if elected governor, he’ll eliminate Pennsylvania’s property taxes.
During the candidates forum, he said the state’s current structure is unconstitutional.

"Why, because it’s a freedom issue again. Not one person sitting in this room, or across this commonwealth, own your homes tonight. Not one person owns their private property. I guarantee you, you fail to pay your rent to government in the form of that tax check, and your landlord, the government, will throw you out of your home."

Rohrer would divert revenue from Marcellus Shale royalties and gambling taxes to school districts to compensate for lost property tax revenue. He’d also expand the state’s sales tax base.
Attorney General Corbett says Rohrer’s plan would never pass the General Assembly.
He also doubted whether the plan’s revenue figures add up.

Wagner Unveils Government Reform Plan

Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner says if elected governor, he’ll push for a limited constitutional convention to reform state government.
Wagner, who’s running in the Democratic primary, says he wants to reduce the General Assembly by one-third.....
"Theoretically, by reducing it 1/3 you should reduce the cost by 1/3. And it’s really one of the significant advantages – if we’re cutting state government, we should be cutting all aspects of state government."

He also wants to change the legislative redistricting process and eliminate all state employee bonuses.
He says the best way to implement those reforms is by calling a limited constitutional convention.

"It’s the only way to truly engage the public so they can become part of the process. Part of the process as to how this government can change and how it can improve. Why and most importantly, because it can make government more responsive to the people’s needs."

Amending the state’s constitution through a convention would be a lengthy process.
The General Assembly would need to pass a law calling for one, and then voters would have to approve a referendum.
Delegates would be elected, and then after they assemble and propose changes, the amendments would need to be ratified by voters.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

RAD Gets Library Audit

An independent audit of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh was delivered to the Regional Asset District Board Tuesday but it held very little new information. The audit was the RAD board’s response to public outcry over the library’s announcement last year that it would close four branches in an effort to keep its budget balanced. PerenteBeard was hired to do the work and asked to look at 10 specific questions including the library’s cost containment efforts, officer compensation, efforts to find options other than library closure and how the list of libraries to close was formed. ParenteBeard Partner David Duffus says the library did a good job in holding the line on costs, set pay comparable to others in the peer group, looked for other budget saving options and had a “robust process” for choosing which branches to close. He says, “There were multiple criteria that they evaluated, those criteria were objective and were applied evenly across the system. Our conclusion was that they were reasonable.” The report also found that accepting state gaming revenues with the caveat that the branches remain open might not be a wise choice. Duffus says the estimated $750,000 a year would cover operating costs but not touch the capital expenditures needed to keep the library open. Library President Barbara Mistick says the audit shows that the library needs a new long-term funding source that addresses not only the Library’s operating costs but also capital needs. She says it will be turned over to the task force addressing those issues. In the meantime, Mistick says, “The power of the citizens should not be underestimated.” She says it was those community voices that prompted the city to pump additional money into the Library’s 2010 budget and the state to turn its attention to the library. She says the audit also shows the board was thoughtful and reasonable but “our backs were against the wall last year” and “we were under the gun.”
Beechview resident and library activists Anna Loney say the audit was a nuts and bolts audit and only look at dollars and cents. She says she hopes further reviews will take into account the human cost of not having libraries and the non-tangible value a library adds to a community. She says she felt it was a forgone the results of the audit was a “foregone conclusion.”
The full report can be found on the RAD website.

Johnstown Airport Receives Four Bids for Commuter Flights

The Johnstown Airport has seen an upswing in interest in providing service. Four airlines have put in bids to provide federally subsidized commuter service at the airport. The contract with Colgan Air expires June 30th. That airline is bidding to continue but Gulfstream International of Orlando, Charter Air Transport of Cleveland and Sovereign Air of North Dakota are also bidding under the Essential Air Service Subsidies Program.
Scott Voelker, Johnstown Airport Operations Director, says this is a process that is done biannually. It began with a request for proposal, and the bids that were received last week will be evaluated by the Department of Transportation and the Johnstown Airport Authority.
The companies bid by offering a menu of flights and then suggest how large of a federal subsidy they require. The subsidy requests range from $1.1 million to $3.9 million.
The last time the airport had a request for proposal in 2008, only two air carriers applied. He says it’s good to have more competition. Voelker says there is a public comment period during which passengers can make suggestions to the Department of Transportation.

I-80 Tolling Answer in April?

Governor Ed Rendell says he expects to “hear something” from the federal Department of Transportation about Pennsylvania’s I-80 tolling plan within the next two weeks.

"Some indication from the secretary. It may be that they need more information, it may be, ‘yes go ahead.’ It may be no. it could be any of those things. It could be they need information, and they want us to proceed on the environmental aspects of this. It could be any of those things."

Rendell and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently discussed the tolling application during a Washington, DC meeting. Rendell says the state's legal team made "a terrific presentation."
If LaHood signs off on the plan, tolling would begin in November 2011.
Revenue would supplement transportation projects across the state.
Several Pennsylvania Congressmen had predicted a decision over the winter, but Rendell says he knew LaHood wouldn’t issue a ruling until the two of them held a face-to-face meeting on the topic.
Opponents, including members of Congress whose districts include the I-80 corridor, say tolling could hurt residents and businesses along and near the interstate.

Hoeffel Says Lawsuit is Political

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joe Hoeffel is attacking Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett for using an anti-health care lawsuit to score political points.
Hoeffel, a Montgomery County Commissioner who’s positioning himself as the most liberal candidate in the governor’s race, says Corbett’s lawsuit is nothing more than political posturing.

"He’s always struck me as a moderate Republican, and I think he’s desperately afraid of not satisfying the tea-bagging tea partiers. He looks at Sam Rohrer, who’s very sincere in his conservative views, and sees a threat."

Hoeffel thinks the legal challenge will fail....."The courts have repeatedly upheld the commerce clause, which gives Congress to regulate commerce in the state. And they’ve repeatedly upheld the right of the national government to tax American citizens."

However, the 13 attorneys general, who are filing suit, say it's unconstitutional to require Americans to buy anything including health insurance.

Hoeffel criticized the Corbett campaign for using the lawsuit as the basis for a fundraising mailer.
The letter says, “Tom is working to stop the federal government from threatening individual liberties by imposing this mandate…”
It asks for donations of 100, 50 or 25 dollars.
Corbett’s campaign manager, Brian Nutt, defends both the mailing and the lawsuit.
Nutt says Hoeffel, and not Corbett, is the one making a partisan political attack.

"I haven’t seen anywhere where Mr. Hoeffel has challenged Tim Holden, Congressman Tim Holden, or Congressman Jason Altmire, who voted against this bill. But I suppose he hasn’t done that because they’re Democrats and that doesn’t fit his MO of going after a Republican."

Peace Walk Goes through Region This Week

A peace walk that’s in favor of worldwide nuclear arms disbandment is marching through the Pittsburgh region this week. The walk is going through McMurray, Library, McKeesport and Greensburg. It was also in Washington PA over the weekend. The three-month long walk began in Tennessee last month, and it will make its way to New York City in May, in time for a United Nations conference regarding nuclear arms.

Karrie-Ann Garlick, an Australian native with Footprints for Peace, says their message is simple: to bring a nuclear-free future to the world. She says people participating in the walk are coming from places such as Japan, Australia, Europe and the United States.

Monday, March 29, 2010

PA Doesn't Win "Race to the Top" Round 1

Pennsylvania has missed out on 400 million dollars worth of federal education grant money. The federal “Race to the Top” grants are competitively awarded. The Obama Administration is trying to spur innovation and reform by pitting states’ applications against each other.
Delaware and Tennessee won the first round of bidding, and will receive a combined total of a bit more than 600 million dollars.
Pennsylvania finished 7th out of 41 states.
Governor Ed Rendell says the administration’s 400-million dollar program would have extended the school day in order to allow teachers to tailor their educational strategies.

"There was time for teachers to meet and discuss individual students. Well how’s Johnny Jones doing in your class? What are some of his strengths, what are some of his weaknesses? Teachers could discuss Johnny Jones as an individual, and determine the best line of attack to help Johnny Jones improve his skills."

The plan would also create two weeks of teacher and administrator planning sessions in August, before the school year begins. There are still more than three billion dollars of “Race to the Top” funds to dole out, and Rendell says he’s confident Pennsylvania’s application will succeed in the next round of bidding in September.

CamTran Ridership Up

Despite record February snowfall, Cambria County’s public transit system has seen a steady four-month increase in ridership.

CamTran Marketing Director Jill Nadorlik says that’s probably because of the new marketing and technological initiatives set in motion over the past year.

Nadorlik says programs like text messaging for detours and delays, as well as a website allowing people to track buses in real time, have helped bring in and retain new riders.

Nadorlik says after a sharp dive in ridership last year, CamTran is rebuilding its rider base. She says while the numbers still aren’t as favorable as a year ago, the four-month increase is encouraging.

State House OKs Epinephrine in PA Schools

The anti-allergy drug epinephrine is banned in many public schools as part of a blanket rule barring children from carrying medication.

But last week, the state House unanimously passed a bill from Representative Matt Smith that would make an exception for epinephrine.

Smith says this drug is special because the food allergies it treats can be so sudden and so severe that kids don’t have time to visit the nurse. He says it wouldn't be too difficult to get clearance for epinephrine.

“The parents have to provide their consent, as well as a physician’s excuse, if you will, providing the basis for why that child has to carry the EpiPen™,” says Smith. “And then, the student has to demonstrate the ability to self-administer the EpiPen™ as well.”

The National Institute of Health says food allergy occurs in six to eight percent of children. The Institute says these allergies cause 150 deaths each year.

Smith hopes his bill will pass the Senate in time for the new school year.

New Research Provides Insight Into Decision Making Process

New research from Carnegie Mellon University researchers suggest that replaying events in the brain may have less to do with creating long term memories than with an active decision making process.

In the study conducted in 2008 and published this month in the journal Neuron, rats had electrodes recording the brain activity of rats as they navigated a maze. In previous studies, rats were measured moving in a linear fashion. Working at The University of Minnesota, they monitored certain neurons, called place cells, which fire in response to physical locations. They enabled the researchers to identify where an event was being replayed based on which place cells were firing. So for example, a rat might be in one place but the firing of the cells showed that it was replaying the events that occurred in another place. They found that rats would replay the path they had experienced less often and that replay is not just important in subsequent moments but important in mapping an entire environment.

The study was funded by The National Institutes of Health, The National Science Foundation and The Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Gormley Named DU Law Dean

Ken Gormley has been elevated from his post as interim Dean of the Duquesne University Law School to Dean. President Charles Dougherty made the announcement this morning. Dougherty says, "We are delighted to have such an accomplished teacher-scholar, active member of the Bar and influential author leading our School of Law." Gormley was named interim dean of the school in December 2008 after Don Guter was relieved of his duties by President Dougherty in a controversial move. Gormley says, “It is a great honor to be selected to lead Duquesne's School of Law at this important time in its history. As we prepare to celebrate our hundredth anniversary next year… I am grateful for the opportunity to further contribute to and continue this legacy." Gormley has published several books, his most recent carries the title, “The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr.” Gormley was recently interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air. Gormley holds a B.A., from the University of Pittsburgh and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.

Williams Ramping Up Campaign

The last candidate to enter the Pennsylvania Democratic gubernatorial campaign is moving fast to make up for lost ground.
Philadelphia Senator Anthony Williams has some unorthodox education policies for a candidate in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.
He supports school choice, and says he won’t commit to continuing Governor Rendell’s support for the “costing out” formula, which has steadily increased the state’s basic education spending.

"The cost-out study never spoke to choice. It never spoke to getting people out of bad schools. All it speaks to is spending more money. And that’s not the answer. There’s more to just spending more money to solve these problems. There has to be some level of measurable accountability academically and safety-wise."

Williams says he isn’t worried his support for school voucher programs will hurt him with liberal voters. He’s planning on talking a lot about the stance when campaigning, saying school choice helps empower poor families to make their own decisions about where their children go to school.
Williams says endorsements by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and House Appropriations Chairman Dwight Evans make him a more viable candidate.

"It doesn’t guarantee, obviously, every vote in Philadelphia. But it gives you a good chance at driving out a significant number. It also affects – Michael Nutter’s reputation goes well beyond Philadelphia, and I think it’s going to help me with people beyond Philadelphia County. And it begins to drive progress toward the west.

When Williams made his late entry into the Democratic gubernatorial primary, political observers wondered whether he was simply trying to increase his state-wide influence, or impact other candidates’ platforms.

Table Games By Mid-Summer

A Gaming Control Board official says the first table games will start appearing at Pennsylvania casinos by mid-July.
All nine Pennsylvania gaming venues have applied for table games licenses, as has the SugerHouse Casino in Philadelphia, which hasn’t opened yet.
Gaming Control Board spokesman Doug Harbach says that’s led to busy times at the agency.

"We must approve their certificate within sixty days of when it’s received. So somewhere in there we have to hold the hearing, the board has to look at all the evidentiary evidence that comes in, and then make a decision in that period of time."

A big focus during the application process is security – table games require a lot more oversight than slots terminals, which are all plugged into a central computer system that monitors the amount of money being wagered.
Harbach says progress is being made.

"The timeframe for these casinos to take a look at some time in July to have the first games up and running is probably doable in some cases. But a lot of it still rests with them, to make sure they have all these employees in place. To have everyone properly trained. Because the last thing they want to do is open this up, bring in patrons, and there are glitches in the running of the table games system."

Casinos implementing table games also need to ramp up their dealer and security staff.
Harbach says the expansion could create as many as five thousand new jobs in the coming year.
An official with the Penn National Casino in Grantville, Dauphin County, says he expects people hired to oversee blackjack, craps, roulette and other games to make between 35 and 45-thousand dollars a year, in addition to health benefits.

ACHD Updates Health Services Directory

The Allegheny County Health Department has updated their directory of local health centers for those who are uninsured and under insured. Despite the recent federal health care bill passing in the House, ACHD Spokesman Guillermo Cole says the guide will still be a valuable resource.

"It's gonna take some time, years actually, for the law to fully go into effect," he says.

Cole says the guide lists approximately 40 local health clinics, as well as places for visual care and dental care. One addition to the guide this year includes resources for compulsive gamblers, knowing that casinos are "in our backyard".

The guide was initially published in 2007, and has been updated annually.

The directory is available on the ACHD website, under Timely Topics at, or by calling (412) 687-ACHD.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bill Would Stop Landlords from Taking Seniors' Money

Current legislation in Harrisburg would prohibit Pennsylvania landlords from claiming state funding meant for senior residents.

Eligible Pennsylvanians are entitled to a rent rebate of much as $650 each year, funded by lottery revenues. But State Representative Chelsa Wagner of Allegheny County (Brookline) says landlords are adding lease provisions that claim half or all of that money.

Wagner says her bill would protect senior, widowed, and disabled citizens from a predatory practice often seen in personal care homes.

She says the state Department of Public Welfare hands out a lease template to personal care homes.

“In the Department of Public Welfare’s own template, they actually include that provision, that the landlord is going to take ‘X amount’ of the resident’s rent rebate,” says Wagner. “Not only is this permitted; essentially, our state is condoning it.”

Wagner says seniors are only eligible for the rent rebate because they can’t pay their bills, so it’s wrong to take that money away from them.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

WDUQ Wins Broadcast Journalism Awards

WDUQ took home four Pennsylvania Associated Broadcast Association awards last night.

In the Enterprise/Individual Reporting Category DUQ’s Larkin Page-Jacobs earned a second place award for her story "Sensory Switch: New Hope for Blinded Veterans" Where Page-Jacobs explored a new technology that allows the blind to “see” through their tongues.

In the Public Affairs Category, WDUQ gathered up a second place award for "Living and Working with Behavioral Health Challenges" by Erika Beras. It was produced as part of our ongoing behavioral health series.

In the Feature Category, WDUQ was honored with a Third place award for "Drake's Well: 150th Anniversary" by Anchor and Reporter Alexandria Chaklos who looked at the anniversary of he start of the petroleum economy.

Finally, WDUQ picked up a First place award in the Sports Feature Category for Erika Beras’s piece "Miracle League"

Dem Governors Oppose GOP A-G's Suit

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and his counterparts from Michigan, Colorado and Washington have sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder saying they oppose the lawsuit filed by their attorneys general against the federal health care law signed by the president this week. All 4 governors are democrats and the attorneys general of those states are republicans. Attorneys general from 13 states are challenging the constitutionality of the health care law. The governors told Holder they'll "stand by your efforts to protect" the new health care law.

County Judge Rejects Ballot Challenge

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Joseph James has rejected challenges to the nominating petitions of State Representative Jake Wheatley (D-Pittsburgh) and another candidate in the Democratic Primary for the District 19 House seat, Mark Brentley. Former Pittsburgh Councilwoman Tonya Payne sought to have Wheatley and Brentley removed from the ballot for insufficient proper signatures.
But Judge James ruled that Payne should have filed her complaint in Commonwealth Court. Payne is alleging some of the signatures gathered for Wheatley by his former chief of staff Robert Daniel Lavelle were forged. Now a councilman, Lavelle defeated Payne in the 2009 Primary.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Western PA Hospitals Laud New Medicare System

Local hospitals say they stand to gain from the recently passed health care reform legislation.

Patricia Raffaele of the Hospital Council of Western Pennsylvania says the new law changes the method by which the federal government allots Medicare reimbursement.

Raffaele says western Pennsylvania’s current Medicare wage index is inexplicably low and brings in little funding.

“It’s the same as say, for example, Laredo, Texas, or Lawton, Oklahoma, or sort of these smaller rural areas, when we have obviously large amounts of care being provided here,” says Raffaele.

She says the new Medicare wage index system would use data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics rather than information from individual hospitals. Raffaele says that would help bring equity to the reimbursement system.

“It creates what MedPAC likes to call a ‘smoothing effect,’ where it takes out the cliffs and valleys for reimbursement for Medicare under this formula,” says Raffaele.

Unfortunately for local hospitals, the new system takes effect in fiscal year 2013. Raffaele says until then, regional hospitals will continue to find ways of maintaining their financial health.

Gathering Spells Out Support for Google

In an effort to convince Google to pick Pittsburgh for a free trial of is super high-speed internet service, mayor Luke Ravenstahl held a Google rally downtown on what he's calling "Google Day." But his efforts may pale in comparison to those of other officials around the country who are outdoing themselves to entice Google. More than 200 municipalities are trying to win Google's favor. Downtown workers, city employees and passers-by formed the word Google and had their picture taken from above to accompany the city's application. The broadband offered by Google would be 100 times faster than what's currently available. Advocates say the service could revolutionize everything from health care related communication over the internet to online academics and entertainment streaming. Google will offer free service to a "demonstration city" to show that fast, inexpensive broadband network access is possible without going through traditional cable and telephone providers. The application for the internet service is due today, Google's decision is expected in the fall. But Ravenstahl emphasized that the city still had four more months to press its case, since the company will still be deliberating. And like the chairs that held parking spaces in Pittsburgh during the February snow storms, Ravenstahl says there will be a lawn chair in city hall, reserving Google's place in Pittsburgh.

Stanley Cup Returns

Just ahead of the NHL Playoffs, the Stanley Cup, which was recently in Afghanistan, is coming back to Pittsburgh.
The Stanley Cup will be on display at the Heinz History Center and Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum April 1-4, giving fans the opportunity to take their photo with the most famous trophy in sports.
History Center spokesman Mike Mackin says Pens fans can get up-close-and-personal with the Stanley Cup along with 10 additional trophies earned by the Penguins throughout the years, including the Hart Trophy, the Art Ross Trophy, and the Prince of Wales Trophy.
There will also be a display of items from last year’s Penguins Stanley Cup victory, including game-used sticks from every member of the 2009 championship team.

For more information about the Stanley Cup exhibit, please visit

Jury Visit to Capitol...Cause for Possible Mistrial?

A juror’s blog post has lawyers calling for a mistrial in the case against a former top House Democrat and three one-time aides.
A day after the jury convicted former Beaver County State Representative Mike Veon and former staffers Brett Cott and Annamarie Perretta-Rosepink of campaigning on state time, alternate juror Jonathan Smith wrote a blog entry about his experience.
He mentioned the panelists took their “juror” badges off during lunch, and that one time they decided to tour the Capitol to seek out the room where much of the campaigning allegedly took place.
Perretta-Rosepink’s lawyer, Michael Palermo, says that may be grounds for a mistrial.

"I don’t know – let’s say, for instance, they said, well I want to go see because I want to see the proximity to Mike Veon’s office to 626 to see if it was even possible to get this done. And, you know, they find out where Veon’s office is, and somebody tells them, well 626 is upstairs. And to actually see that – now that could affect the deliberations."

Palermo says the unauthorized field trip may have been innocent but he wants Dauphin County Judge Richard Lewis to bring the jury back and ask about it.
Kevin Harley, a spokesman for Attorney General Tom Corbett, says he’s confident the verdicts will be upheld.

Steel Industry Asks For Help

Officials from American steelmaking firms and from the United Steelworkers of America urged the Congressional Steel Caucus to help them more fairly compete with steel coming from China, India and Brazil.
U.S. Representative Tim Murphy, of suburban Pittsburgh, is the co-chair of the caucus and he said the industry representatives told the group that after a big decline the last few years, business is coming back up but they feel the success is tentative.
Murphy says they asked the caucus not to do "cap and trade" the way it came out of the house. According to Murphy, the chairmen of U.S. Steel, AK Steel and Nucor Corporation told them that the mandates to cut emissions in the House version of "cap and trade" will make American steel so expensive that it will favor steel from Brazil, China and India. Murphy said that American steel production generates one quarter of the pollution that steel from India and China does "and if we end up taxing our companies so much that it becomes cheaper to purchase steel from countries that have more pollution, then we'll be adding to the pollution around the world."
Murphy says the steelmakers are asking for tax credits to help reduce the emissions without pricing American steel out of the market.
Industry representatives also asked lawmakers to crack down on countries breaking trade laws and dumping product in the U.S. with false ISO certification.
Daniel DiMicco, Chairman of Nucor Corporation, said that the federal stimulus package has helped some because of requirements that bridge and road projects use American made steel but that the infrastructure is aging so much, that a great deal more is still needed.

PA Senate Won't Consider House Passed Budget

Pennsylvania Senate Republican leaders say they won’t seriously consider a spending plan passed by the House this week.
The House passed the spending portion of the state’s budget package this week.
Democratic leaders hailed the vote as a sign they’re committed to finishing the budget before the June 30th deadline for the first time in years.
But Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman, a Centre County Republican, says the upper chamber isn’t taking the spending plan seriously.
He says the state’s financial situation won’t settle into focus until May, so it’s improper to pass a budget before then.

"Right now, as I said, the governor projected a 500 million dollar deficit. It looks like it’s going to be much more significant than that. But also, the revenue projection – the governor projected a 3.2 percent increase in revenues for next year. Unfortunately, that looks a little optimistic right now."

Governor Rendell’s budget would increase spending by about a billion dollars. Corman and other Republicans say that’s inappropriate. They want to trim the spending plan so it’s in line with Pennsylvania's’s diminished revenue.
Corman says House Democratic Appropriations Committee Chairman Dwight Evans stepped over the line by threatening Attorney General Tom Corbett’s funding.

"The Attorney General has an important job to do. He has a job that goes from public corruption to child predators to senior citizen abuse to all sorts of things. And to cut his budget just because you’re angry at a policy decision he’s made is inappropriate."

Corman says Corbett has a right to join the lawsuit against the newly-enacted health care law.

A Day With Arlen Specter

It’s been nearly a year since Pennsylvania's senior U.S. Senator Arlen Specter joined the Democratic Party. The five-term incumbent says he hasn’t changed his principles, but his main opponent in May's Senate Democratic Primary, Congressman Joe Sestak of Delaware County says Specter is a political opportunist who’s just trying to hold onto his job. However, President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and Pennsylvania's junior U.S. Senator Bob Casey have all endorsed Specter DUQ's Scott Detrow spent part of a day recently shadowing Specter in Washington, DC.

Listen to Scott's report.

If you missed Detrow's "Day With Joe Sestak," listen to it here.

Farm to Table Event to Promote Local Food

Local farmers and cooks will gather in Pittsburgh this weekend for the fourth annual Farm to Table Event.

The assembly, Friday and Saturday at the David Lawrence Convention Center, aims to give consumers and producers information and demonstrations on growing, cooking, and eating local food.

The American HealthCare Group started the effort in 2006 to promote local producers and improve general wellness.

Director of Business Development Erin Hart says the discussion will be broad, but all of it will revolve around local products. She says local experts like Chris Fennimore of WQED’s “QED Cooks” program will speak and give cooking demonstrations.

Chefs, grocers, and of course eaters will attend. Hart says even a class from the Pittsburgh Culinary Institute is scheduled to come.

Hart says even if you already eat local, you can learn still learn and make friends at the Farm to Table Event.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

CMU Wants to Put You in an Electric Car

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are calling on Mechanics, students and community members to take a look at their electric car Friday in an effort to find a few people interested in converting their cars from gas to electric. The ChargeCar Project’s electric vehicle program has a converted 2006 Scion xB that will be on display from 4-6pm in the Planetary Robotics Center high bay on the first floor of the Gates and Hillman centers, 4902 Forbes Ave. The group also has a commercially available RAV4-EV all-electric car tat it will roll out for the event. CMU Associate Professor of Robotics Illah Nourbakhsh says they have also just purchased a Honda Civic that they will begin converting soon. The goal of ChargeCar is to encourage Pittsburghers to convert their own cars to all electric. To do so, Nourbakhsh and his team have created a “recipe” for changing a gas powered car to an all electric car that he says any mechanic can follow. Nourbakhsh says they can provide the needed parts to the mechanics for the process that takes about 5 days. He says it is estimated that a conversion will cost $5,000-$6,000. Nourbakhsh says they are hoping to find ways to lower that cost through foundation grants, state and federal tax rebates and company sponsorships. “If you don’t mind driving around with a PPG sticker on your car you might be able to get back $1,000,” says Nourbakhsh. The group has already landed a grant to pay mechanics for their time as they get the needed training. Nourbakhsh says 5 years ago none of this would have been possible. He says better batteries have made it technologically possible and government officials are more willing to talk about rebates and draw up new guidelines for electric cars to pass inspection. ChargeCar says it wants to make each car customized to the user. If your daily commute is 12 miles round trip then they will put in a battery that gives you 20 miles on a charge, if your drive is 20 miles then a 30-mile battery will be used. Nourbakhsh says he gets 100 miles on a $2.00 charge and the batteries they use charge using the standard 120v outlet that is already in your garage. Nourbakhsh says you can do his with any car but it works best with lightweight cars with manual transmissions. He says there are plenty of old Civics and Corollas on the market that fit the bill.

County Helps Open Urban Gardens

Allegheny County is hoping to use the “urban farm” in Braddock as a model for more farms and community gardens in Allegheny County. The county has launched “Allegheny Grows,” which will give equipment and technical support to communities wanting to turn blighted property into vegetable and sunflower plots. The county has chosen nine municipalities to participate this year. McKees Rocks and Millvale will create urban farms, and Bridgeville, Elizabeth Borough, Millvale, Sharpsburg, Stowe Twp., Swissvale, Tarentum and Verona will develop community gardens. County Spokesperson Kevin Evanto says the county will take applications from other communities in January of 2011 for next year’s participants. Evanto says it will be up to the local communities to decide how the produce is used once it is harvested. In Braddock the produce is sold at a farmers’ market and to local restaurants. Evanto says the new communities could use the same model or they could give it away to those who have invested time into the garden or the needy in the area. Evanto admits that a garden may not be the highest and best use for the land but he says it is better than a vacant lot. He says people who live near the gardens take pride in them and watch out for them so vandalism has not been an issue and community ties are made stronger. He says in some instances crime falls in the neighborhoods where there are community plots. Some of the plots will be filled with sunflowers. Evanto says the seeds will either be sold to the East End Food Co-op and Whole Foods for human consumption or sent to be made into bio diesel. He says the sunflowers have the added advantage of pulling contamination from the soil so the crop will leave the land cleaner than it was before the project was launched.

Dowd wants PWSA Chief Out

Pittsburgh City Councilman and Patrick Dowd today called for the Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority to resign his post. Dowd is also a member of the sewer authority board. The move came as council was holding a public hearing into the controversial line insurance being offered to ratepayers. Yesterday Executive Director Michael Kenney disclosed he held a 20% share of water line warranty company “Utilishield.” Utilishield does not have the Pittsburgh contract but the co owners of the firm also own Utility Line Security and Resource Development and Management. Both of those companies do have contract with the PWSA. Dowd says he has been asking Kenney to make full disclosure of his businesses interests for months but has had no luck. Now he says he has no confidence in Kenney and he says other ratepayers should be suspect of contracts let under his leadership. Dowd admits that there is no law that requires Kenney to make such disclosures but he says it is a clear ethical issue. He says he will call for a new bidding process for the warranty contract. Dowd says it is very possible that the contract with Utility Line Security is the best option but the public needs to see that there is no appearance of conflict of interest. The controversy over the line insurance did not originally stem from how the contract was bid or who held the contract. The controversy revolved around a change from an opt-in program to an opt-out program where all ratepayers are charged $5.00 a month unless they ask to not have the insurance. In the past rate payers had to ask to be part of the program. Many apartment dwellers and commercial water users were upset that the insurance for which they were being charged would not even cover their lines.

Public Hearing for Snow Task Force

Several days after the February 5-6th snowstorm dumped more than 20 inches of snow on the Pittsburgh area, City Council created a task force to examine the delayed response in plowing many city neighborhoods.
Now Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak has announced the launch of a new website and a public hearing for the Task Force on Emergency Operations and Snow Preparedness. Rudiak says the hearing will be April 5th at 10 a.m. in council chambers.....“There are so many people who have come forward with useful and helpful information regarding the City’s snow emergency operations. We wanted to make sure that all of these people had a chance to speak on the record and contribute to the final report.”
Rudiak says for those who cannot attend the public hearing, a new website has been created where people can submit comments that will be entered into the public record at the hearing.

In addition, Rudiak said there would be a post agenda meeting in Council the last week of April to discuss preliminary findings of the snow task force with other experts. The final report is expected to be released on May 3.

Gay Marriage Debate

A State Senator pushing for legalized same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania took on a staunch opponent of the issue in a Harrisburg debate last night.
Democrat Daylin Leach, who represents parts of Delaware and Montgomery Counties, wants Pennsylvania to join states like Connecticut and New Hampshire in legalizing same-sex marriage.
He discussed the issue with Maggie Gallagher, who heads the National Organization for Marriage.
Gallagher argued legalized gay marriage would lead to government crackdowns on institutions like the Catholic Church who oppose same-sex unions, drawing parallels to anti-racist statutes.

"The government gets involved to repress racism in a wide variety of ways. Professional licenses – can you be a doctor, a teacher, a social worker, a lawyer, if you openly advocate for racism or try to conduct your practice on racist lines? Well, probably not."

Gallagher says children ideally need to be raised in two-parent households, with both a mom and a dad. Senator Leach argues that logic should lead to support for same-sex marriage.

"You can’t say that there will be fragmented families, and fragmented families are a bad thing, but they’re not bad for gay people. I don’t want gay people’s families to be fragmented, either. I want their families to be as stable and committed and monogamous – all things that Maggie has written – that marriage encourages."

Gallagher made it clear she supports government efforts to repress racism – she just thinks opposition to same-sex marriage doesn’t belong in the same category. Leach said he’s open to strengthening religious protection language in future versions of same-sex marriage bills.

Pennsylvania law defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. There is legislation in the General Assembly that would amend the state constitution to include that definition of marriage so as to head off any court challenges to the current law.

A Day With Joe Sestak

Like a borderline athlete who's determined to make up for his lack of raw talent with pure hustle, Congressman Joe Sestak is trying to compensate for Senator Arlen Specter's lead in the polls by outworking his primary opponent. Specter is in his 30th year in the U.S. Senate while Sestak, a retired Navy admiral, is in his fourth year in the House. While they are campaigning, both candidates have day Congress.
DUQ’s Scott Detrow spent time in Washington with Sestak who packed in a full day of campaigning and legislating.
Listen to Detrow's report.

Reporter Detrow also spent a day with Arlen Specter. Listen to that report here Friday after 10 a.m.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

PA Supreme Court Rules In Favor of Drillers

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is siding with the natural gas industry in a case that landowners had hoped would help them cash in on the Marcellus Shale rush. The high court upheld a Susquehanna County Judge's ruling that validated the lease agreements that subtract the drilling costs from the calculating of the natural gas royalties for landowners. Several landowners sued contending that such leases are invalid because state law guarantees landowners a minimum one eighth royalty from the production of oil and gas on their property. Industry representatives said the suits were sour grapes because the landowners signed the leases before the rush began and the royalties jumped sharply.

PCOC is not ACORN but Similar

Now that the Pennsylvania Communities Organizing for Change (PCOC) is starting to make some public appearances at rallies around town members are beginning to speak to reporters about the group. PCOC Volunteer Coordinator Mary Ellen Hayden says PCOC is not a continuation of the Pennsylvania arm of ACORN (Association for Community Organizations Reform Now) as some have been reporting but many former members of ACORN are now members of PCOC. Hayden describes the new organization as an organizing group for low and moderate-income communities made up of volunteers from those same communities. She says the group already has 501 (c) (3) and 501 (c) (4) status for its different efforts. She says PCOC had been talking to the 7,000 AORN members in Pennsylvania asking them if they wanted to stay with ACORN or join the new organization. She says now that ACORN in PA has been dissolved those conversations are bit different. She says they have recruited about 2,000 members so far. She says, “There is still a lot of work to do.” For now, PCOC has offices in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and Hayden says as they move forward members hope to drum up support in other Pennsylvania communities and form more chapters in the future. ACORN officials at the national office in Chicago say the organization is not dead but some state chapters are dissolving after a slew of bad press made it hard to hold onto members and find new funding.
Last May the Allegheny County District Attorney charged seven local ACORN members with election law violations. One has pleaded guilty, one has had charged dismissed and the remainder are awaiting trial.

Transportation Costs Drive Up Cost of Living

The Center for Neighborhood Technology, a national urban sustainability non-profit based in Chicago, released a study on Tuesday that shows that only 2 in 5 American communities are affordable for a typical household when transportation costs are factored in. They looked at 161,000 suburban neighborhoods in 337 metropolitan regions accounting for 80 percent of the county's population.

Scott Bernstein, the organization's president said many of the people living in the newer master-planned communities that are zoned for housing and nothing else must drive to get anywhere. In Pittsburgh, he said, only 1 out of five trips from a house are to commute for work. People in those communities must drive to get to schools, to religious institutions, to buy food and do other shopping. With the rising costs of gas, this is not a sustainable way to live.

Bernstein says one solution is to install more public transportation and to allow mixed-use development. According to their research, based on the housing costs alone, in the Pittsburgh area, 74 percent of neighborhoods are affordable. If you look at the sum of housing and transportation, the number falls to 33 percent. The most affordable places to live in the region are in the city of Pittsburgh and in the commuter suburbs immediately surrounding the city.

Democratic Legislators against Corbett's Lawsuit

Democratic state legislators are speaking out in opposition to Attorney General Tom Corbett’s lawsuit against the federal health care legislation. Senator Daylin Leach says Corbett has every right to be opposed to the bill, but it's different to file a lawsuit against it. Leach says he’s going to send a letter to Corbett’s office with a growing list of signatures, asking Corbett “to desist” in going forward with the lawsuit. Signatures include several members of the state Democratic caucus.
Representative Tim Briggs, of Montgomery County, says Corbett’s actions are fiscally and morally irresponsible, saying the lawsuit will add up to a waste of taxpayer money. He also says the motion is a way for Corbett to grandstand the issue and “to score political points toward his campaign trail,” referring to his run for governor. Representative Bryan Lentz, of Delaware County, says doing this is not within his responsibilities as an attorney general.

VisitPittsburgh: 2009 Good Despite Rough Economy

VisitPittsburgh says 2009 was a good year despite the down economy but the nagging problem of not having enough hotel rooms continues. Before its annual meeting downtown this morning, President Joe Mc Grath noted how VisitPittsburgh took advantage of the region being in the spotlight several times in 2009 to spread the word about the city’s tourism and convention opportunities. He says the year began with a Steelers Super Bowl win, followed by the Penguins Stanley Cup victory and a bass fishing tournament and then wrapped up with the hosting of the G20 Pittsburgh Summit to end the year with a bang. Mc Grath says the G20 Summit has directly resulted in at least 5 conventions booking in the city already.

In 2009 Pittsburgh ranked second in the nation in “revenue per available room” and 8th in hotel room occupancy rates. Mc Grath says those numbers are both good and bad. He says it is good that visitors are coming to the region for business and leisure travel but it is bad because it points to the need for more rooms. VisitPittsburgh is in the process of trying to land a large 2015 convention and had to talk to eight different hotels to pull together the 1,200 rooms needed to host the gathering. Mc Grath says in the past they would have needed only three hotels but strong demand means hotels can’t commit the space to the conventions.

Mc Grath says convention traffic faired well in 2009. The annual report shows, “In 2009, VisitPittsburgh’s Convention Sales Department booked 434 meetings and conventions for 2009 and beyond, including 47 conventions accounting for 191 usage days at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.” Mc Grath says Pittsburgh has been helped by the recent scrutinity of convention locations. Several news stories have ridiculed events for going to “resort” locations and Mc Grath says Pittsburgh does not suffer from that reputation.

Mc Grath says the slow economy also helped the region’s recreational tourism numbers. He says people were taking vacations but rather than heading to Europe or the Caribbean they were staying closer to home and many of them were coming to Pittsburgh. The report shows visitor traffic from targeted zip codes where VisitPittsburgh advertised was up 11%, while spending from those visitors rose 13% in 2009. Mc Grath says they will be focusing their tourism advertising on Cleveland this year and VisitPittsburgh has formed a partnership with a similar group in Cleveland. In addition, the June launch of a direct flight between Pittsburgh and Paris seems to be helping fill a few hotel rooms.

Budget issues continued to be a problem for VisitPittsburgh. Mc Grath called it a “tremendous challenge.” The annual report says nearly all grant revenue came in below VisitPittsburgh’s budgeted levels and state funding cuts hit hard. In 2009, state funding declined to less than $750,000, as compared to $2.3 million in 2008.

Most Pennsylvanians Oppose Sales Tax Plan

The majority of Pennsylvania voters aren’t on board with Governor Rendell’s proposal to lower the sales tax rate and expand its base.
Just three in ten people think broadening the sales tax base while lowering the rate from six to four percent is a good idea.
Franklin and Marshall College Poll director Terry Madonna says that’s according to the school’s new survey.

"So that’s one of the reasons Governor Rendell is having this huge problem as he moves around the state trying to sell this sales tax. By and large, the voters in the state are not in favor of it."

The sales tax proposal is the centerpiece of Rendell’s plan to create a stimulus transition fund. The proposal also includes a tax on smokeless tobacco and cigars, which is popular with voters.
The poll says six in ten respondents support that idea. A tax on natural gas drilling is also unpopular, with only 35 percent supporting the levy.
The survey interviewed a bit more than 11-hundred Pennsylvania residents.

Corbett Pleased With Veon Verdict

Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett is pushing back against criticism that former House Democratic Whip Mike Veon and two former aides were only convicted on a handful of the 139 counts they faced.
Mike Veon was convicted on just 14 of the 59 counts he faced, but Corbett says that’s a misleading figure.
Corbett explains prosecutors filed four duplicative theft charges in each of the 11 criminal episodes they alleged Veon took part in.

"There can only be one theft, and the jury had to decide which one it is. Technically a jury could decide, well it’s all four. But for the purposes of sentencing they would have been merged together and only sentences under one count."

Veon, who was convicted for seven different episodes, faces up to 73 years in jail.
Annamarie Peretta-Rosepink’s maximum sentence is 25 years, while Brett Cott’s is 17.
Corbett says he expects all three will serve time. The legislative corruption investigation is ongoing.
Corbett says there’s “a potential” for more arrests, but wouldn’t provide any specific details.

Sen. Committee Okays Ban On Texting While Driving

The Senate Transportation Committee has approved a ban on texting and talking on hand-held cell phones while driving in Pennsylvania.
Advocates of the measure say they’re hoping it can become law before June.
The committee voted 9-4 to move the measure to the full Senate. The cell phone ban passed the House with broad bipartisan support in January.
Committee Chair John Rafferty, a Republican representing parts of Berks, Chester and Montgomery Counties, says he expects it to pass the Senate, though amendments are likely.

"Some of it will be technical in nature. Others will be – I think you’re going to find some of the members of the Senate Transportation Committee, as well as the Senate themselves, don’t necessarily want cell phones to be a secondary offense, but rather a primary offense."

The House bill makes talking or texting while driving a primary offense, which means motorists could be pulled over and issued tickets, even if they’re obeying every other law. Democratic Representative Josh Shapiro, who helped author the measure, says keeping the language is critical...
"The point of that is to ensure that we stop accidents from occurring. Making it a secondary offense negates some of the strength of this bill, and merely punishes drivers after the fact."

Both Shapiro and Rafferty are optimistic the bill could become law by early summer.
7 States and the District of Columbia ban drivers from using hand-held cell phones.

National Urban League Releases The State of Black America

As the National Urban League gathers in Washington, DC to discuss the state of black America they are also celebrating the 100Th anniversary of the organization. Founded with the goal of promoting civil rights and economic empowerment the 34Th edition of The State of Black America focuses on job creation and employment for African Americans.

Compared to the 2009 report in 2010 blacks have achieved a 0.6 percent increase in equality resulting mainly from increased civic engagement. For the rest of the equality measures blacks in America did not achieve any substantial increase in equality. Social Justice and economic equality remained the most disproportionate while health and education stayed the same. Economically the median household income for whites increased at a rate 7 times that of African Americans. When measuring the equality in health nearly twice as many blacks and three times as many Hispanics did not have health insurance. Blacks and Hispanics remained less likely to have a bachelor's degree than whites and minorities were still incarcerated at a rate higher than their white counterparts.

The focus of the National Urban League's report is on job creation and they outline some key areas that they feel will spur economic equality for all. The report advocates financial support to local governments and institutions to hire employees that deliver critical services with eligibility for employment based on local unemployment rates. The report also recommends that in areas where the unemployment rate exceeds the national average all loans made to businesses are capped at 1% interest. Esther Bush, President and CEO of the Urban League of Pittsburgh says one of the most critical parts of this plan moving forward is increasing opportunities for youth to find employment during the summer. Bush says that teaching good work habits to children at a young age gives them the tools necessary to succeed in the future.

One of the final recommendations the report has revolves around green jobs. The report recommends that in areas where half of the population has an unemployment rate above the state average renewable energy sectors receive zero federal income tax and zero capital gains tax if they retain half of their workforce from the local area for a minimum of three years.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Four EMS Employees Suspended One to be Fired

Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Michael Huss has issued disciplinary action against four Emergency Medical Service personnel for their actions during the February snowstorms that may have lead to the death of the a Hazelwood resident. Reporters heard tapes during a news conference today where EMS Crew Chiefs and medics can be heard calling Curtis Mitchell’s girlfriend and each other about trying to get to the Mitchell’s house on Chaplin Way during the storm as Mitchell continued to complain about abdominal pain. One Medic can be heard saying, “If he wants a ride to the hospital he’s going to have to come down to the truck.” Another is heard saying, “He ain’t (expletive) coming down and I ain’t waiting all day for him. I mean what the (expletive), this ain’t no cab service.” Huss says, “It just lacks such compassion that it is disturbing to me and I know when they mayor heard it, it was very disturbing to him. Its not what we are striving for here. Its not the level of care we expect.” Crew Chief Kim Long has been given a three-day suspension and district chiefs Norman Auvil and Ron Curry also received three-day suspensions. Acting crew chief Josie Dimon has been given a 5-day suspension pending termination. Huss says the resources were there including a fire house nearby and 4 wheel drive trucks that were put into service an they should have been called into service. He says the paramedics or the district chiefs should have raised a flag and not let this happen. Huss says the city failed in this situation and changes will be made to make sure it does not happen again. Huss says, “We need to improve our delivery of medical services in this city. We have a very highly trained and educated paramedic force. They have best equipment and the best training. They perform a very good service for our city. But I think in some case we got away from the basics and that has to change. That can’t go on in the future.” Fraternal Association of Professional Paramedics president Anthony Weinmann says they will use the grievance process to appeal the disciplinary action. He says his members are being used as scapegoats.

Jury Chair Comments on Veon Trial

The foreman of the jury that convicted former Beaver County State Representative Mike Veon of 14 counts says he saw him an accomplice "but the buck has to stop somewhere."
Gene Shutt says jurors had a sense of the historic nature of the case and at times felt overwhelmed by the volume of evidence. Shutt says the deliberations became "emotional" over the 7 days but "jurors remained civil." Shutt says at times he worried they would never reach a verdict and that intense discussions continued until just before they reached a verdict last night.
The jury convicted Veon of 14 of the 59 counts of theft, conspiracy and conflict of interest for using public money to conduct campaign work. Former staffer Stephen Keefer was cleared of all charges. However, former aides Annamarie Perretta-Rosepink and Brett Cott were convicted of five and three counts respectively.
Veon, Perretta-Rosepink and Cott will be sentenced May 21.

Environmentalists Don't Want Pittsburgh to go Backwards

Environmental activists rallied at City Hall in Pittsburgh this morning in calling for renewed support of federal air standards under the Clean Air Act.
Pittsburgh Councilman Bill Peduto joined the rally and then later introduced a resolution declaring today Clean Air Act Day....."When companies think about locating their business, they don't want to be in an area that's 19th century when it comes to clean air. They want to be in an area that's 21st century. We shouldn't be losing jobs to Boston, Washington, and Austin, Texas because tech companies and other companies want to move to a place with clean air."

Randy Francisco of the Sierra Club said he's concerned that Congress will attempt to limit federal oversight of coal plant emissions...."Some folks in Congress want to take that away from us. We've made so much progress in Pittsburgh. We don't want to go backwards, we want to go forward."

Lucille Prater-Holliday, President of Pennsylvania Communities Organizing for Change, said it's important that the current generation and future generations have clean air.."Communities suffering from asthma and other conditions caused by diesel fuel and coal plants. We've begun to organize communities of low-income persons and persons of color to help them to understand what happens to them when the air is not clean."

Peduto and the environmental groups called on the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation to block limits on federal oversight of emissions.

Veon to Appeal Conviction

Former Pennsylvania House Democratic Whip Mike Veon is guilty on 14 counts of theft, conspiracy and conflict of interest for using public money to conduct campaign work.
Onetime staffer Steve Keefer was cleared on all charges, while two other former employees are guilty on several counts.
The jury found Veon, a former Beaver County State Representative, guilty on charges related to bonuses for campaign work schemes in 2004, 2005 and 2006.
He’s also guilty of conducting campaign work on state time, financing campaign communications efforts with tax dollars, and ordering legislative staffers to cart his motorcycles around the country while on the clock.
Prosecutor Frank Fina says the verdicts send a message to corrupt lawmakers.

"To stop using the people’s money for personal benefit. For their own personal ambitions and their own political whims."

Veon’s wife cried while the verdicts were read, but the ex-Beaver County looked straight at the judge, showing no emotion.
He spoke to reporters afterwards.

"I’m thrilled for Steve Keefer. Clearly in my view neither Steve Keefer, nor Annamarie, Not Brett, should have been in this courtroom for the last six weeks. So I’m especially thrilled for Steve Keefer. He deserved it – but so did Brett and Annamarie. I’ll have more comments another time, another day."

Steve Keefer walked on all sixteen counts he faced and afterward said he just wanted to get back to his life.
Both Brett Cott and Annamarie Perretta Rosepink are guilty of doing campaign work on state time.
Veon’s lawyer, Dan Raynak, says he’s disappointed but he’ll file an appeal.

"This is just the beginning of the fight. This is far from over. We believe there were many errors made during the trial, and we will certainly anticipate and hope that this verdict does not stand."

Raynak says he’s still convinced Attorney General Tom Corbett’s investigation was politically motivated.

The jury deliberated for more than a week though Judge Richard Lewis ordered them to re-start their discussions on Friday, when a sick panelist was replaced with an alternate juror.
Sentencing for Veon, Perretta-Rosepink and Cott is set for May 21st.

PA A.G. Corbett To Join Suit Against Health Care Bill

Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett plans to join in a lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of a federal health care overhaul President Obama will sign into law this morning.
Republican governors and attorneys general from at least ten states are putting together a lawsuit challenging the legality of the health care bill, a measure President Obama says will provide coverage for more than 32 million uninsured Americans.
Corbett’s office says Pennsylvania will join in the suit.
Governor Rendell says those efforts are a waste of time.

"Idaho can’t have its own passport system. Idaho can’t have its own immigration rules. There can’t be different immigration rules in California and Arizona. Once the federal government acts in an area, they act for all of us. That’s the federal supremacy clause. So it’s a waste of taxpayer’s money, and it is nothing more than political grandstanding."

State Representative Curt Schroder supports the suit.

"What happened in Washington, DC – for the first time ever, the United States Congress and the president have decreed that individual Americans must purchase a product simply by being an American. Simply by residing in this country."

Schroder has introduced an amendment to the Pennsylvania constitution that would nullify the bill’s health care mandates within the commonwealth’s borders.
Virginia has already passed a similar measure

City to Discipline EMS Crew

The Pittsburgh Mayor’s office says it will meet with reporters later today to talk about discipline of a handful of Emergency Medical Service personnel. The EMS workers were involved in the so called "Mitchell Incident" where emergency crews did not get treatment to a Hazelwood man who was apparently having a heart attack. During the Feb 5th and 6th snow storm that blanketed the city with more than a foot and a half of snow, callers at 5161 Chaplin Way called 9-1-1 several times over two days (Feb. 6th and 7th) trying to get help for 50 year old Curtis Mitchell who was experiencing chest pains. Due to snow delays and 9-1-1 dispatchers redirecting EMS crews, no EMS personnel reached the Mitchell home and Curtis Mitchell eventually died. The scenario played out over 30 hours. Department of Health Deputy Secretary Michael Huff says the Department’s Bureau of Emergency Medical Services has completed a review of the Pittsburgh Emergency Medical Service response and found the EMS crews did not violate state protocols. The review found that while the EMS providers where not to blame there were “significant systemic gaps in the system that need to be addressed.” Huff says the city needs to review its capacity and compare it to its needs during a “surge” such as a big snowstorm or other disaster. He says the city then needs to look at how it can muster more resources to deal with gaps created by a surge. He says the state is ready to assist the city in its effort to identify remediation to help fill those gaps. The incident angered Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Michael Huss who in a news conference shortly after the death said the actions of the EMS crews were unacceptable and noted that if you can’t get the EMS truck to the house, “get out of the (expletive) truck and walk up to the door.” Reports show the EMS truck was unable to get any closer to Mitchell's home than a quarter-mile. The state review found that an EMS crew did attempt to walk to the home once but was told toreturn to their truck by 9-1-1 dispatchers. The city has changed its procedures for responding to 9-1-1 medical calls. They are now going to send first responders to all E-0 calls, which is the most serious category that’s usually life-threatening. Fire fighters will now be responding to E-1 calls, which are things like shortness of breath. If any call that is categorized as E-2 does not get a response within 30 minutes, a first responder will come. Huss says the purpose of this is to get someone to a site as quickly as possible. A review similar to the one conducted by the state was performed by the Medical Director of the city's Department of Public Safety and the County's Emergency Operations Center that also found the EMS crews were not at fault but did question how the calls were categorized and how information was passed from one supervisor to the next. At this time the county has no plans to discipline any 9-1-1 employees but a review is still underway.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Veon, 2 Former Aides Convicted

Three of the four defendants in the latest "Bonusgate" public corruption trial have been convicted. Former Beaver County State Representative Mike Veon and former aides Brett Cott, Annamarie Perretta-Rosepink and Stephen Keefer were charged with theft, conspiracy, and conflict of interest for allegedly using state tax money to give bonuses to staffers who did campaign work while on state time.
Veon was convicted of 14 of the 59 counts against him including overseeing the bonuses for campaign work from 2004-2006 and for having staffers cart his motorcycles around the country. Cott was convicted of 3 counts and Perretta-Rosepink was found guilty of 5 counts.
Keefer was acquitted of all charges.
Earlier today Judge Richard Lewis denied a request by attorneys for Veon and Perretta-Rosepink to declare a mistrial. They contended that the judge on Friday should have declared a mistrial instead of excusing a juror for illness and replacing her with an alternate.
Veon's attorneys say they will appeal.
Keefer is now free and says he's happy and ready to get on with his life.
Listen to Kevin Gavin speaking with Reporter Scott Detrow moments after the verdict.

No Mistrial, Jury Wants to Deliberate into Evening

The jury deliberating the fate of former Pennsylvania House Democratic Whip Mike Veon and three onetime aides has requested to work late into evening tonight.
Meantime, a judge has denied the defense’s motion for a mistrial.
Lawyers for three of the four defendants contend Judge Richard Lewis violated Pennsylvania law by replacing a sick juror with an alternate and then re-setting deliberations on Friday.
Joel Sansone, who’s representing Mike Veon, says the switch is definite grounds for appeal.

"If there’s a guilty verdict on any of the defendants, on any counts, it is now permanently and irreparably tainted."

Lewis denied the defense’s mistrial motion, saying his reading of the Superior Court decision that sets the framework for a juror switch justifies his ruling.
He also pointed out the defense did not object to his decision on Friday.
Karl Rominger, who’s representing former Veon staffer Annamarie Perretta-Rosepink, is convinced the jury is deadlocked.

"I would tell you that I believe we will firmly see something come out from this jury that will again beg from the deadlock charge. It’s clear from what we’ve seen in the notes and what we’ve heard that there is some sort of deadlock back there."

The motion quoted a note from the foreman to Judge Lewis saying “there are barriers and biases that cannot be hurdled.” Prosecutor Frank Fina says the defense is misconstruing the jury foreman’s note to Judge Lewis.

"You’re getting one part of the note, so context is everything. And the foreman had every opportunity to follow up. He didn’t. they’ve been deliberating another ten hours since then. Actually, it would be twelve hours since that note was passed. So there’s clearly no problem at this point."

Defense lawyers are concerned because the jury asked the judge last week whether they could render a verdict if they had “come to a decision on one person.”
That was before deliberations started again from scratch.

McGuffey Teachers Strike Until Wednesday

Teachers of Washington County’s McGuffey School District are on strike following a 15 months of failed contract negotiations with the school board.

High school English teacher Andrew MacBeth says the strike will only last Monday and Tuesday to accommodate state regulations on student attendance.

MacBeth says the last negotiation, on Friday, was mediated by a state employee to no avail. He says earlier, a state fact-finder’s impartial proposal was accepted by the teachers, but rejected by the school board.

The major battle has been fought around how much teachers should pay for health care: teachers are willing to pay more, but the school board wants educators to contribute half of health care cost increases.

This is the first strike in McGuffey's 50-year history.

No Mistrial In Veon Case

Dauphin County Judge Richard Lewis this afternoon rejected a request for a mistrial declaration by the attorneys for 2 of the defendants in the public corruption case against the former Pennsylvania House Democratic Whip and 3 former aides.
Mike Palermo, the attorney for Annamarie Perretta-Rosepink asked for the mistrial this morning saying the jury foreman gave the judge a note on Friday that indicatedg the jury had "barriers and biases that cannot be hurdled." On Friday, Judge Lewis replaced a juror due to illness with an alternate. Judge Lewis then asked each of the original 11 jurors if they could start again with their deliberations and they said they could.
Palermo said the judge should have declared a mistrial Friday instead of replacing the ill juror.
Former State Representative Mike Veon of Beaver Falls and 3 former aides Brett Cott, Stephen Keefer and Perretta-Rosepink are accused of siphoning tax dollars and using them for bonuses for staffers who did campaign work on state time.

Study takes Aim at Knee Injuries

A new study takes aim at the weak link in the athletes body -- the knee. Allegheny General Hospital (AGH) tested the way female student athletes move to try and determine what causes the high frequency of knee injuries. Anterior Cruciate Ligament or ACL injuries are one of the most common orthopedic injuries with more than 100,000 reported each year. Most tears to the ligament are caused by stopping, starting or pivoting. The girls' basketball teams form Avonworth and Northgate high schools participated in the trial where they were evaluated as they jumped and landed. The researchers found problems with 15 of 20 girls' balancing, jumping and landing techniques. By helping them adjust their movement, they were able to reduce the risk of injury. Eric Cardwell, an athletic trainer with AGH says they're also looking into how the physiological differences between men and women's bodies impact knee injuries.

Mistrial Requested in Veon Case

At least two defendants in the public corruption trial of the former Pennsylvania House Democratic whip and 3 former aides want the judge to declare a mistrial and respond to a previously undisclosed note from the jury foreman suggesting they might be deadlocked.
Attorney Mike Palermo, who represents Annamarie Perretta-Rosepink, a former staffer for former Beaver County State Representative Mike Veon, filed the motion today. His motion says the jury foreman on Friday gave Judge Richard Lewis a note saying the jury had "barriers and biases that cannot be hurdled." It was that same day that the judge excused a juror for illness and replaced her with an alternate. Judge Lewis then asked each of the original 11 jurors if they could start again with their deliberations and they said they could.
Veon's attorney has joined in the motion for a mistrial. Veon and the co-defendants are charged with theft, conspiracy and conflict of interest for allegedly diverting taxpayer dollars to give bonuses to staffers who campaigned on state time.

Rendell Has Uphill Battle on Sales Tax

Governor Ed Rendell concedes his push to change Pennsylvania’s sales tax law is an uphill battle. For the past few weeks, the governor has criss-crossed the state, stumping for his plan to lower Pennsylvania’s sales tax rate, but eliminate several of its exemptions.
He wants to put the proceeds from the broadened tax base into a special fund that can’t be tapped until next year.
Opponents of the plan call it a tax increase, but Rendell says that’s wrong.

"Well for the average citizen, they actually lose—save about seventeen dollars in taxes a year, because of the cut in the rate. And, for example, if you buy a car under my proposal – if you buy a 24-thousand dollar car – you save 480 dollars in most counties."

Rendell says a few of his initiatives should pass....

"The House has already passed two of my five proposals. They’ve already passed a severance tax on Shale and a tax on smokeless tobacco. I think the vendor sales discount they’ll pass, as well. I think they’ll pass the Delaware Loophole. The sales tax is the toughest, because this is an election year, and it’s complicated, and legislators are afraid to do things that are complicated."

Revenue from a natural gas drilling tax and smokeless tobacco levy would also go into the special fund, which is designed to help the state transition away from relying on federal stimulus dollars.

State Prisons No Longer Need Tower Guards

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections will be reducing the tower staffing levels at five prisons. As a result of technological upgrades and increased perimeter security guards in towers are not needed. Department of Corrections (DOC) spokesperson Susan McNaughton says the move will reduce overtime hours because the guards who normally work in the towers will be used in other areas of the prisons. McNaughton says the DOC can expect to save nearly $5 million between the five prisons.

"A Walk in the Woods" Named 2010 One Book

The Allegheny County Library Association has chosen Bill Bryson’s book “A Walk in the Woods” as the 2010 One Book One Community selection. The book came out of Bryson’s efforts to hike the Appalachian Trail. The idea of the annual One Book One Community effort is to get as many people in Allegheny County to read the same book and then foster discussions about the book and how it applies to our everyday lives. Among the topics illuminated in the past was mental illness and cultural awareness. This year the discussions and events will focus on the environment. Library Association outreach coordinator Charity Leonette says that means many of the discussions and events will take place outside of the region’s libraries. Some libraries have planed hikes and nature artist demonstrations and the Association has teamed up with Venture Outdoors and Sustainable Pittsburgh to build more events. The events begin in April and run through May with a few events stretching into the summer. Leonette says the Library Association will be sending extra copies of the book to libraries and special 12-book “Book Club Kits” have been built. Those kits will also include discussion questions and other resources to help the leaders of the groups. The Library Association will try to post as many of the events on it's "One Book One Community" web site as it can. Leonette says it was a nice coincidence that they chose the environmental theme the same year that the UN chose Pittsburgh to be the host city for World Environment Day.

Material Developed To Combat Exposure To Chemical Or Biological Agents

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have developed a material that can neutralize the effects of a chemical or biological weapons attack. Senior investigator Dr. Alan Russell says he wanted to come up with a single solution to potential chemical or biological attacks. The material uses sugar from the body to produce iodine that can kill harmful bacterias and generates chemicals that can help detoxify nerve agents. Dr. Russell says the material can be developed into a sponge like band aid or a liquid spray or coating. He added that since all of the technical research is done a company could soon come in and easily develop a product that can be used by consumers.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Harris Wants to Boost Parking Fines

There's another proposal to help bolster the city of Pittsburgh's underfunded pension obligations. Council President Darlene Harris wants to increase fines for parking violations. Council members Patrick Dowd, Bruce Kraus, Bill Peduto, Natalia Rudiak and Doug Shields are co-sponsoring the measure that would increase fines for expired on-street meter in the downtown and Oakland sections of the city from the current $16 to $30, and for expired on-street meters elsewhere from $11 to $20. The fines for parking too close to an intersection or fire hydrant would rise from $15 to $25. Harris says parking fines have not gone up in 2 decades and the change could bring in an additional $2 million this year and and extra $5 million annually after that.
Harris' measure comes as council considers competing plans to get an infusion of cash into the pension fund to get it to the state-mandated 50% level by next January. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl wants to lease the city parking garages for 50 years; Dowd and City Controller Michael Lamb have suggested transferring some of the assets of the Parking Authority directly to the pension fund; and, Harris has proposed floating bonds based on future parking revenue.

Altmire Says He'll Vote "No"

While Democratic leaders in the U.S. House continue to scramble to come up with the needed 216 votes to pass a health care overhaul tomorrow. But they won't be getting the vote from Congressman Jason Altmire from suburban Pittsburgh. The McCandless Township Democrat had been undecided and voted against the original House measure that was approved late last year. Now on his web site he says he will vote "no" on this current version.

"I regret that this year-long process of debating health care reform has resulted in a final product that I cannot support. The cost of inaction on health care is great, but it would be an even bigger mistake to pass a bill that could compound the problem of skyrocketing health care costs.

Altmire says this measure does not enact real reform...."it does not improve the quality of care or reduce costs for families, small businesses, or the federal government. It creates a system of winners and losers, rather than reforming the system in a way that lets everyone win."

Altmire said it became clear that the vast majority of his constituents want him to oppose the bill.
"I strongly believe that a vote in opposition to the health care bill is consistent with the views of the district I represent, and is the correct vote based on the impact of the bill on my constituents and the overall health care system."
He added that the politically easy decision would have been to vote with his party.

Friday, March 19, 2010

CPRB Praises Judge Wettick's G20 Ruling

Elizabeth Pittinger, Executive Director of the CPRB, says Senior Common Pleas Judge Stanton Wettick's decision ordering the Bureau of Police to provide documents requested by the Citizen Police Review Board will enable the Board to do its job better. She says the May 1997 City Charter amendment establishing the CPRB charges it with looking at overall police policy as well as individual citizen complaints, but there's been a dispute about this with every administration.

Based on the information provided, the Board will issue a report on how police/citizen interaction was affected by law enforcement policies implemented during the G20, with the aim of being a useful planning tool for Pittsburgh or other cities hosting large national security events in the future.

The CPRB will continue investigating individual citizen complaints from the G20. Pittinger says most individual police officers, especially over the past 4 to 5 years, cooperate with CPRB investigations, though she believes the Fraternal Order of Police still advises members not to. She says the Board doesn't criticize any officer for exercising his or her 5th amendment rights, like any other citizen.

Deliberations Start Over

Deliberations have resumed after an alternate replaced a sick juror in the public corruption trial of former Beaver County State Representative Mike Veon and 3 former aides. Dauphin County Judge Richard Lewis told jurors this morning they had to start over on the 6th day of deliberations in the theft, conspiracy and conflict of interest case against Veon and co-defendants Brett Cott, Annamarie Perretta-Rosepink and Stephen Keefer. They are accused of using tax dollars to provide bonuses for legislative staffers who did campaign work on state time. The juror, who was replaced, told Judge Lewis Wednesday that the deliberations had been hard on the jurors and they were turning on each other.

American Counseling Association Meets in Pittsburgh

The American Counseling Association is holding their annual conference at The David L. Lawrence Convention Center over the next four days. 3,600 counselors will be attending. They will include everything from mental health counselors to guidance counselors to marriage counselors. They will attend educational sessions, listen to speeches and browse an exhibition hall full of textbooks and services they may be able to utilize.

Although there are different types of counselors at the conference they all attend the same workshops which include topics such as social justice counseling and self-injurious behavior in the classroom. David Kaplan, Chief Professional Officer of The American Counseling Association says that the counselors can learn from other counselors that they might not normally have the opportunity to interact with.

The conference is co-sponsored by The American Counseling Association.

Man of Innovation Celebrated

The Heinz History Center is welcoming a local icon to be included in their long-term exhibit Pittsburgh: A Tradition in Innovation. Fred Rogers, of the public television program Mister Rogers Neighborhood, will be profiled for his innovative work in children’s programming. A life sized figure of the man will also be unveiled on Saturday. It will be in conjunction with "Won't you be my Neighbor?" day on March 20, the day of Mr. Rogers' birthday.
Heinz History Center Spokesman Mike Mackin says the figure of Mr. Rogers captures his “essence and spirit.” He is sitting on the actual bench where he tied his shoes everyday on the show, and has a wide smile spread across his face.
However, Mackin says the figure was not easy to create. He says it’s difficult to determine how old Fred Rogers should be, which changes the color of his hair and the skin on his face. They chose a figure to be a 57-year-old Rogers.

Nominating Petitions Challenged

Candidates in several Pennsylvania primary elections are trying to throw their opponents off the ballot, through legal petition challenges.
Candidates need to meet minimum petition thresholds to appear on the primary ballot– a state House candidate needs 300 signatures, someone running for Congress requires a thousand, and for governor you need at least 2,000 with a minimum of 100 apiece in at least 10 counties.
If anyone thinks rival campaigns’ forms are filled with invalid signatures, they can appeal to Commonwealth Court, which will then scrutinize the filings.
Franklin and Marshall College political scientist Terry Madonna says there’s a certain strategy behind the challenges.

"You would file a petition challenge a) if you think the person has insufficient petitions based on inability to follow the state’s election code, if you think participation by that person on the ballot is likely to hurt your candidacy. On the other hand, if there’s a candidate on the ballot that you think hurts your opponent, you’re not going to go after their petitions and try to knock them off the ballot."

Chet Harhut, commissioner for the Department of State’s Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation, says bureua makes sure forms are filled out correctly, and that the number of signatures meet the minimum requirements – but it doesn’t verify all the petitions’ names.

"It’s more of a resource thing, in that it would be virtually impossible to have 14-hundred people come through our door, which we had last week, and have to go through every signature. We leave that to the people that really scrutinize the stuff, and to look further into it. We take it at face value."

Persons acting on behalf of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato filed a complaint in Commonwealth Court challenging the petitions of fellow Democrat Joe Hoeffel.
Congressional candidates Pat Meehan and incumbent Kathy Dahlkemper are facing challenges, as are several people running against sitting state lawmakers.
In all, close to 90 challenges have been filed.

Judge Orders City To Release G20 Arrest Documents

Allegheny County Judge Stanton Wettick says Pittsburgh Police must turn over arrest reports and other documents related to the handling of protesters during the G20 Summit. The Citizen Police Review Board says it needs the documents to investigate claims of police misconduct. Police made nearly 200 arrests during the G20 meeting in September. Most of the complaints came from police clashes with protesters in Oakland and Lawrenceville. The city objected to handing over the documents to the CPRB saying they were protected by federal law because the summit was a "National Security Event." But Judge Wettick said if the city believes certain documents are privileged. it should prepare a log explaining why they should not be released.
City Solicitor Dan Regan says he is reviewing the judge's decision and he wouldn't say if the city will appeal the ruling.

CHIP Turns 18

Pennsylvania's CHIP is coming of age. State officials kicked off the 18th birthday celebration Thursday for the Children's Health Insurance Program.
Created under legislation by then Senator Allen Kukovich and signed in late 1992 by the late Governor Robert Casey, the program served as a model for the federal CHIP program enacted by President Bill Clinton in 1997.

CHIP currently covers more than 195,000 children and over the program’s 18-year history, more than 800,000 children have had access to coverage and care through CHIP. Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Joel Ario says the program is a winning, public-private partnership with the government creating the benefits package and health insurance companies competing to offer the coverage.

"CHIP is definitely the silver lining in today’s volatile health care environment. CHIP premiums are affordable because they’re based on household income and there is no cost for families who qualify for free CHIP." Children can be covered up to age 19.

In 2006, the program was expanded through the Cover All Kids initiative so that any uninsured child and teen not eligible for, or enrolled in, Medical Assistance, would have access to affordable, comprehensive health care coverage. Ario says today 95% of children in Pennsylvania have some form of health coverage.
Pennsylvania's CHIP served as a model for the nation in 1997 when the federal S-CHIP initiative was enacted.
Pennsylvania CHIP is funded by a tax on cigarettes. The General Assembly approved legislation this week to extend the program for another 3 years.