Sunday, October 31, 2010
Speaking for less than ten minutes to a crowd of about 16-hundred people in Philadelphia Saturday, Mr. Obama urged Democrats to knock on doors and make phone calls between now and Election Day.
"The key right now is not just to show up here. It’s not just to listen to speeches. It’s to go out there and do the hard work that’s going to be required to bring this home over the last few days."
But interviews with attendees, Joatta Glover, Jamie Papas and George Scott, revealed a wide gap, when it comes to support for the president, compared to enthusiasm for Tuesday’s Senate, gubernatorial and Congressional elections.
"I want Joe – what’s his name? Joe Sec…sec…Sestak? Sestak. Yeah I want him to win.
I’m going to sound bad – I didn’t register. I went to the day it was due – my mom yelled at me – but I just didn’t get do.
Governor – what’s his name? Dan Onorato? I can’t pronounce it."
Top Democrats say big turnout in Philadelphia and its suburbs is key, if the party wants to win.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
An Allegheny County jury found 28 year old Allen Weber of New York City guilty of disorderly conduct and obstruction of highways. The jury was deadlocked on a charge of propulsion of a missile into an occupied vehicle.
Police say Weber refused an order to disperse during a protest in Oakland and an officer in a SWAT truck tossed a smoke grenade to get protesters to leave. Police say Weber picked up the grenade and threw it back at the officer.
Judge O'Toole ruled that the plaintiffs did not have legal standing to challenge the demolition. A UPMC spokesman says the razing of the main hospital building could begin Monday.
The state is providing $3 million for a new facility that will house a health services clinic, a community college center, a restaurant, and additional housing.
Friday, October 29, 2010
The West Penn Allegheny Health System announced its final plans for the consolidation of the West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield today saying around 400 jobs would be cut as relocation of its services begins in January. An original estimate for jobs lost due to the consolidation announced in June was approximately 1,500 positions. The facility in Bloomfield will continue to offer outpatient services and outpatient surgery. But other areas, inluding emergency services will move to Allegheny General Hospital on the North Side. The emergency unit of the Bloomfield branch will close December 31. According to West Penn, 210 employees will accept other positions within the system, 65 employees will move to Allegheny General, 220 employees left through resignations, and 400 will lose their jobs as a result of the consolidation. West Penn spokesman Dan Laurent says West Penn's plan is to provide health care needs locally with an eye on future changes in health care reform, "We're focused on our system and what we need to do to become a more effective health care system for the people of this community." Laurent says they plan to develop more localized, community health care at a center it plans to built in Peters Township next year.
Eric Beckman, Professor of Chemical Engineering, says that when designing Biopolymers engineers worked to make them as green as possible, but when it came to production they missed the mark. He also says that the most surprising aspect of the research was that Polypropylene, a fossil fuel based plastic, tested well, polluting less during manufacturing.
Beckman says the main improvement the chemical industry can make after the study is using less material during plastic production. "If you look at the guidelines we give to people to be more environmentally benign we always say 'reduce, reuse, and recycle'...And I think the key lesson for this study is that if your going to try to be greener in the future no matter what you make, is to just less stuff when you make it."
The bulk of the research was done by a group of undergraduate students at Pitt in the School of Engineering. More research is planned on the polymers by examining the plastics environmental impact during disposal.
Now that the Ft. Pitt Museum is being managed by the Senator John Heinz History Center, Wagner says its artifacts are in good hands, but the other venues need improvement to safeguard the state’s historic treasures that are of such great national significance: the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the battle of Gettysburg, etc.
Wagner says the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s budget has been cut drastically over the last four years, and this audit should say to the governor and future governor and legislature that a new security system must be given priority for the state’s valuable historic resources.
Monday marks the first day that low-income families can apply for state assistance in paying their home energy bills. The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, is a federally funded program in which the state distributes cash grants to those who might not be able to afford their heating bills during the winter. Department of Public Welfare spokesman Michael Race says there are two components to LIHEAP assistance. “There are cash grants that go to families to help them pay their heating bills and in those cases the grants are sent directly to the utility company or the fuel provider and show up as a credit on the consumer’s bill. There are also crisis grants that help households who have an emergency and are in immediate danger of having their heat cut off.”
For this winter season, Pennsylvania has requested about $3.3 billion, which would be divided into $2.5 billion in regular grant money and $790 million in crisis grants. Race says the Department typically extends the window for application because they don’t spend as much money early in the winter season as they do in the later months. For those who might need help paying their bills this winter season, Race suggests searching for the income eligibility guidelines at the Department’s Web site and learning how to apply for LIHEAP. One way in which to apply is by filling out an application at the Allegheny County Assistance Office or one of many local utility providers.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, as part of an E-ZPass Group consortium that includes 24 other transportation agencies nationwide, has submitted this stretch of road to test the equipment because of the current technology in place and the steady but small traffic on the roadway.
Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission spokesman Tom Fox says Turnpike 43 is a convenient toll road on which to test the latest technology.
“One of the reasons that we selected the high speed E-ZPass lanes on Turnpike 43 is because traffic out there is minimal to a certain extent and will be minimal until the entire portion of the Mon-Fayette Expressway between Uniontown and Brownsville is completed,” Fox says.
According to Fox, drivers who currently use E-ZPass will still be able to use their transponders and move efficiently through the tollbooths, but at a slower speed.
“They just have to go through the traditional E-ZPass lanes,” Fox says. “Instead of going 40-50 mph through a high speed E-ZPass lane, you’re going to have to go through a traditional E-ZPass lane as people are familiar seeing on the mainline turnpike.”
New equipment and technology submitted by a number of companies vying to provide equipment to all of the transportation agencies in the E-ZPass Group consortium will be examined during this testing phase. Fox ensures that message boards and traffic controllers will guide those who plan to exit through the proper lanes and that on or off ramps will be affected.
Listen to Scott Detrow's story here.
Find yesterday's story looking at Republican Tom Corbett's campaign here.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Listen to the interview here.
According to the lawsuit, Jameson Hospital, where Elizabeth Mort gave birth to Isabella, uses a much lower threshold for a positive drug screening than federal guidelines, leading to a higher rate of false positives.
ACLU attorney Sara Rose says the day that Mort and her fiance Alex Rodriguez brought the baby home, 2 caseworkers and 2 police officers showed up with a court order to take the infant. Rose says CYS later admitted it was a false positive but still did not return the child for 5 days even though Mort denied ever using illegal drugs......
“No parent should have to go through what this couple did. This case is a tragic illustration of the harm that can result when the government removes a child based only on the accusation of a third party and without any independent investigation.”
The baby's mother said that when Isabella was gone the family was at a loss of words.....“I couldn't stop crying. Alex just didn't even know how to be himself. It felt like our heart was ripped in pieces. The most important person was missing, and we didn't know when we would see her again.”
Rose says it's a civil liberties matter because it's a county policy and not an isolated issue. She said the ACLU had a previous client who lost her child for 2 months and other lawyers have told them that this happens about a dozen times a year in Lawrence County.
Rose says the suit asks the court to declare Lawrence County's policy of automatically removing newborns from parents based solely on a prenatal drug test without any investigation violates parents' rights and they are asking for damages "whatever a jury thinks is appropriate."
Audrey Russo, Chair of the Pittsburgh Technology Council, says where the immigrants hail from doesn’t matter as much as the skills and entrepreneurship they bring to the region.
“This monumental shift, from manufacturing into more advanced manufacturing and technology and healthcare and education, requires us to take it to the next level and to further commercialize innovation to smart people,” says Russo. “We’re talking about people who are highly educated and who are also highly creative.”
Russo says while Pittsburgh had one of the most diverse metro populations in the early 20th century, the city now has trouble attracting and retaining global talent. She says the city’s universities seem to be an exception to this.
Russo says in addition to an atmosphere of cultural acceptance, Pittsburgh would better attract immigrant workers with an “amazing school system.” Russo says demographics show that immigrant families often settle in areas with high-performing schools.
Jason Altmire joined Congress after beating three time incumbent Republican Melissa heart. He says he has a record of listening to constituents regardless of political affiliation, saying his district isn't interested in a partisan politician "they want someone who can get things done in a highly charged political environment." And while he says he'll leave it to Rothfus to distinguish himself, Altmire notes that he was a high profile participant in the discussion leading up the health care reform vote. "I was a pretty visible player, both in western Pennsylvania and around the country and I'm surprised, of all the lines of attack, that people would come at me for not being visible enough." Altmire says he's looking ahead to November 3rd, when he thinks those willing to work across the aisle will wield he most influence in Washington.
Click here to listen to an interview with Republican candidate Keith Rothfus.
Click here to listen to an interview Democratic incumbent Jason Altmire.
The Pennsylvania Gubernatorial election is just days away and Republican Tom Corbett has led Democrat Dan Onorato in the polls throughout the entire election. DUQ’s Scott Detrow went on the road with the Attorney General and found he is using the last few days to urge supporters not to become complacent as what has been a low-key gubernatorial campaign winds to an end.
Listen to Scott's story here.
A look at Democrat Dan Onorato's campaign can be heard tomorrow during Morning Edition on 90.5 FM in Pittsburgh
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Landlords sued the city over various parts of the legislation, and the judge in the case has asked the parties to work out an agreement. Councilman Bill Peduto says responsible landlords are unfortunately protecting irresponsible landlords when they oppose the city's reasonable efforts to preserve neighborhoods. Peduto says some owners have used city properties as ATMs for so long without being required to meet certain standards, they see anything the city does to protect its neighborhoods as an infringement on their property rights, which they think should trump others' quality of life.
Peduto says problem properties are more likely to make people give up on living in the city than property taxes or issues of public safety and school quality.
Among other things, the city's law department wants Council to reduce the registration fee from $12 per unit each year to $12 every two years.Since representatives of the law department could not answer many questions without jeopardizing pending litigation, Council voted to take up the topic in a private Executive Session.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Gingrich is also calling for a repeal of the new federal health care law, “that doesn’t mean that out of 26-hundred pages, there aren’t some things that are good. I helped found the Center for Health Transformation. I think we could find 260 pages, ten percent, that are actually pretty good things. But I’d rather repeal the whole thing and then pass those 260 pages freestanding.” Gingrich admits that overturning Mr. Obama’s signature won’t move past rhetoric, as long as Democrats retain control of the White House and Senate. The Harrisburg native is one of several high-profile politicians descending on Pennsylvania in the days before the election. President Clinton is stumping with Congressman Paul Kanjorski, and President Obama will make another visit to Philadelphia this weekend.
Wheatley says while city routes are cost-effective, suburban routes aren't. He says with that in mind, the Port Authority should increase fares across the board, including the city's “T” system.
The Allegheny County Democrat says in general, suburban riders could also better afford a rate hike than city riders.
The current plan would increase Zone 1 fares by 25 cents and Zone 2 fares by 50 cents. The Port Authority says it dropped its plan to impose $4 'premium' fares on suburban and light rail routes because it didn't want to “complicate” those systems.
With the premium fares, PAT says it would offset about $5 million of its projected $47 million budget deficit. If PAT only increases Zone 1 and 2 fares, that offset would shrink to $3.5 million. The Board must make a decision on 2011 fare increases at its November 24 meeting.
Wheatley says as a member of the House Transportation Committee, he'd vote against any state funding increases for PAT unless its fare increases are equitable for all routes.
"Today our vision for this public space became a reality," he said, referring to the closure of the roads that ran through the historic space, widened sidewalks, tree plantings and making the square more of a public space with plenty of outdoor seating.
The renovations cost $5 million dollars.
University of Pittsburgh researchers compiled foreclosure data for city neighborhoods and found several communities, especially in the south and west of the city, had high rates. For example, Sheraden’s 2008-2009 foreclosure rate of 22% was the city’s highest, at about 30 times the Pennsylvania rate of 0.7%.
Pitt assistant professor Sabina Deitrick says the data she compiled should be useful for those trying to fight foreclosures.
“There’s lots of groups across the country who are working in similar kinds of neighborhoods and finding homeowners before foreclosures finish,” says Deitrick. “There’s groups here in Pittsburgh, like the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group, that are doing those kinds of things. This is information to help them in identifying some areas when working with others, particularly with funders or foundations or financial institutions.”
Deitrick says often these foreclosed houses become property of financial institutions. She says since these companies want to get rid of these properties as quickly as possible, they’re often undersold or they stand vacant. Deitrick says this has happened most often in Beechview, where financial groups owned 29 properties.
The names of the more than 100 people who have died violently in the North Side since 1993 will be read off.
Organizer Will Tompkins is the director of community outreach at The Pittsburgh Project. He has arranged three other vigils in previous years. He says its important to remember the victims of gun violence as people, not just statistics. He has lived on the North Side most of his life.
"I know many of those young people. I've helped to bury them by raising money, I've been a pallbearer, I've had relatives who have been impacted as well. So for me, its part of my everyday," he said.
Children’s Residency Program Director Dena Hofkosh says many areas in and around Pittsburgh are in need of primary care pediatricians, as well as family doctors. She says this is especially true of both urban and rural low-income areas.
The 5-year program will add two doctors per year for the three-year training course. Hofkosh says the doctors will not only get the traditional academic training of residency, but also hands-on experience in community primary care centers.
Hofkosh says this will be Children’s Hospital’s first attempt to target pediatrician training specifically for high-need areas.
Funding for the grant comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, by way of the Affordable Care Act.
Monday, October 25, 2010
More than four hours of debate, lecturing, name calling, and posturing in Pittsburgh City Council Chambers today all boiled down to a single question. The question posed to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl by Pittsburgh City Councilman Bruce Krauss came more than three and half hours into the meeting, “So we are at a stalemate?” Ravenstahl answered, “That’s a fair word, sure.” That short exchange may have made all of the other talk around the conference table moot.
The council has rejected the Mayor’s plan to fund the pension program up to at least 50% through the lease of parking assets for the next 50 years and the Mayor says he will not support the council’s plan to sell assets to the Pittsburgh Parking Authority to fund the pension program. If the city does not get its pension program up to the 50% funded level by the end of the year state law will force the Pennsylvania Municipal Retirement System to seize control of the pension’s assets and layout a schedule to make the plan fully funded within the next 30 years. Everyone agrees a take over by the PMRS will lead to higher minimum payments. How large those payments will be should be known by the end of next week but the Mayor’s office has estimated it will cost the city an additional 27 million dollars next year.
The meeting opened with Mayor Ravenstahl outlining why he thought the council’s plan was irresponsible. He says it is based on what he believes to be an erroneous assumption that a bond floated by the Parking Authority would be tax exempt. If the IRS deems the bond to not be tax-free it would increase the interest rate by 2 to 3 percent. The council disagrees. While pension bonds are usually taxable, City Controller Michael Lamb and Councilman Patrick Dowd argue that it is would be a bond to purchase an asset, not a pension bond. The Mayor also believes the plan puts the parking assets at risk. Council moved its plan partially based on the argument that it keeps “public assets public” while the Mayor’s plan would give control of the assets to a private company. Ravenstahl says the poor financial condition of the city and the parking authority, coupled with the poor condition of the garages means “it is a very real possibility” that the authority would default on the bond. “That means that the public assets would become the assets of Wall Street,” says Ravenstahl. Under the lease deal the assets return to the city in 2051.
The meeting nearly disintegrated after the Mayor’s presentation when he began to asking councilwoman Natalia Rudiak questions about the viability of the plan and its chances of being accepted by the Parking Authority. Council President Darleen Harris scolded the Mayor for asking questions saying a post agenda meeting is intended to help the council gather information, not to launch a debate.
After cutting to the heart of the mater with his question to the mayor, Councilman Bruce Kraus suggested that the council should stop looking at either plan and instead begin talking about how to best deal with a state pension take over. “So lets be honest and call it what it is and begin to do our due diligence and make certain that however the state is to administer this plan it become administered in the most efficient manner with the least impact on services that need to e delivered and the least impact on city employees,” says Krauss. Councilman Ricky Burgess says all of the council’s efforts to derail the mayor’s plan were aimed at forcing a state takeover and them put the blame on the mayor.
At one point Councilman Bill Peduto suggested that the city should look at a hybrid plan. He says the city should consider increasing parking rates on the same schedule as is suggested under the Controller’s plan and then use those funds to help cover the increased pension payments that would come following a state takeover.
He spoke about the differences between him and his opponent Tom Corbett.
Corbett does not support a severance tax on Marcellus Shale gas drilling. Onorato does and says the money from the tax should go towards replacing jobs that were shed from The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, to counties for the wear and tear on roads and water systems from the drilling and to protect farmland and open space and to clean up brownfields.
"We're going to have real environmental issues," he said. He called The Marcellus Shale "a golden opportunity" and cited a Penn State report that said the drilling industry would create 80,000 jobs.
He also made promises to increase accessibility to early childhood education and spoke against the Castle Doctrine expansion.
The most interesting donor in either report? Elmer Fudd, who gave $100 to the Corbett campaign.
State Representative Mark Longietti of Mercer County, says he introduced the resolution at the urging of a group of Shenango Valley librarians and the Public Schools Association. He says that research has shown that test scores are higher in schools where students have regular access to library resources.
Longietti also says that a study would allow the state to better know what schools and programs need improvement on."In order to take the next step what we need is data, and so there's no time like the present to collect the necessary data."
The resolution asks that the Department of Education and the Board make recommendations that the state could follow up on and to hold three public meetings about the study.
On the other side, a new ad from Democrat Dan Onorato warns senior citizens that Republican Tom Corbett could eliminate state health services, if he becomes governor. In truth, Corbett has never voiced support for any of the positions the commercial warns about – so the ad is misleading. Onorato’s new spot cuts right to the chase saying, “Corbett’s plan could slash meals on wheels. Cut home health care services. Stop Alzheimer’s outreach. And limit funding for senior centers.” The ad is entirely hypothetical. Corbett has never talked about cutting any of these health care programs. Onorato’s campaign justifies the attack by pointing out the Republican has said, “everything is on the table,” when it comes to cutting state spending. The ad does accurately point out Corbett has joined a lawsuit aimed at overturning the new federal health care law – but frames the challenge as suing to “stop seniors from getting health coverage,” which isn’t true. Corbett has argued the new health care law violates the constitution by mandating the purchase of health care. He says he’s in favor of expanding health care and reducing the cost of coverage – he just doesn’t support the new federal law.
“There are hardship and unemployment deferments and forbearances that are available there are Graduated Repayment Plans, and Income Sensitive Repayment plans,” New says. “So there are a variety of tools out there that are intended to help them should they encounter any difficulties.”
New says that although the repayment defaults have risen in the struggling economy, borrowers are being more proactive in communicating with the loan provider that they need help.
“It benefits everybody to make sure we have our borrowers staying in good repayment standings,” New says. “Our default rate still is very low compared with most parts of the country and we think that’s because of our activity to prevent that from happening.”
New says the PHEAA works proactively with borrowers to prevent defaults but borrowers in trouble must make the first move.
“The trick is to get everybody to call their loan service,” New says. “We need them to run towards the problem not run away from the problem. Too often people encounter difficulties paying a bill and they hope it’s going to go away and as with other things it won’t, but there are tools here to help you.”
The PHEAA customer service staff’s role is to help borrowers discuss the payment plans that fit them best, and New says they encourage graduates to take advantage of free resources that help graduates or soon-to-be graduates to plan for their financial future responsibly.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
After Pitt recovered a Rutgers fumble to start the second half, quarterback Tino Sunseri found tight end Mike Cruz in the corner of the end zone and the Panthers went up 21-14. From there, Pitt dominated the game. While Rutgers’ offense managed 7 points at the end of the game, Pitt added 3 touchdowns and 2 field goals in the second half to win it 41-21.
Sunseri went 21 of 27 for 307 yards and three touchdowns.
The Panthers are now 2-0 in conference play and 4-3 overall. Pitt plays Big East rival Louisville at Heinz Field next Saturday.
Friday, October 22, 2010
Click here for more information on council's pension/parking plan.
Durbin made a few more predictions while in the state. He says he won’t be Majority Leader next year. That means he is predicting a win by embattled Democrat Harry Reid, who’s facing a tough campaign in Nevada. Durbin also predicts a November Senate vote on ending “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” He says, “I believe it’s time to put this policy aside. I believe the military leadership has had an opportunity to consider how to reach that goal. And I think the courts – as Admiral Sestak has said – the courts are moving in the right direction. But because of uncertainty about the next court decision, Congress needs to act.”
Phipps purchased a 21-pound corpse flower bulb for a thousand dollars, and it has produced an 8-foot leaf. Assistant Curator Ben Dunigan says the bulb probably won't produce a flower until it's about 30 pounds in a couple of years. The bloom will smell like rotting flesh because flies, not bees, are corpse flower pollinators.
The plant will produce a single deep purple flower about six feet high and six feet wide, according to Dunigan--not a likely boutonniere. The corpse flower is related to the calla lily, jack-in-the-pulpit, and skunk cabbage.
In an effort to help and educate the public, the Southwestern PA Household Hazardous Waste task force will be hosting a collection for expired or unwanted pharmaceuticals this weekend. The goal of this collection is to avoid continued pollution of the region's waterway when these drugs are flushed down the toilet. Pennsylvania Resource Council Director Dave Mazza says the pollution of water from pharmaceuticals has increased.
“Recently testing has been going on, a lot of water quality testing around the country, and a lot of these pharmaceuticals are showing up in water testing samples,” Mazza says. “We know that more people today are taking prescription medications than at any other time in recent history.”
Mazza says that the water treatment plants lack the ability to recognize these substances and cannot purify them either.
The collection, held Saturday, October 23 from 9 am to 1 pm, provides an opportunity to residents to dispose of prescription, over-the-counter, and veterinary medications in the proper way for a $3.00 registration fee. The task force will be collecting both prescription and non-prescription pharmaceuticals at the Mt. Lebanon Municipal Building, in order to dispose of them properly. Law enforcement will be on hand to ensure the proper handling of any controlled medications.
“You do not want to have these medications laying around the home or dispose of them improperly,” Mazza says. “This event gives people the opportunity to safely and conveniently dispose of these pharmaceuticals.”
Registration must be done ahead of time either online or by calling 412-488-7452.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Gretchen Mundorff, the president of the PA Bar Association, says the effort is focused on informing the public about debt-settlement companies. She says they often promise too much to costumers and misguide them into paying more fees instead of helping. Mundorff suggested that rather than dealing with the companies, credit card users should look to lawyers, many of whom are offering debt relief services as a volunteer effort.
Mundorff also says the longer a credit card user stays in debt the worse the problem gets and the harder it is to fix in the future. She suggested that rather then wait to ask for help, do it sooner so the problem is easier to solve.
As of September this year, the FTC put rules into effect to regulate over-the-phone debt-settlement companies. These new rules include debt-settlement companies disclosing: how long it will take the company to get results, how much it charges for service, and the consequences for seeking relief. Additional rules make it illegal for companies, over the phone, to charge upfront fees.
Rendell says the tax on natural gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania is “clearly dead” in 2010, since Senate and House leaders have failed to make any headway in negotiations.
Press Secretary Gary Tuma faults Senate Republican leaders for sticking to a tax rate of 1.5 percent, which would eventually increase to five percent after five years.
Tuma says the Republicans’ rate is unacceptable.
"They simply came back and reiterated their same position. They did not budge from that position at all. So that makes it clear that they are not negotiating in good faith. They are not negotiating at all. They are simply saying it’s our way or the highway."
Senate Republicans are also insisting the House re-pass a severance tax bill before the election – an action House Democratic leaders have ruled out.
Erik Arneson, a spokeman for Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati says they didn't expect this announcement...
"It took us by surprise, and we hope he will reconsider it. We are certainly willing to negotiate Marcellus Shale issues, and thought our letter made it clear the framework from which we wanted to do that."
If the bill doesn’t pass this year, the Rendell Administration will need to cut an additional 70 million dollars from the state budget.
Democrat Dan Onorato would support a severance tax next year if he becomes governor, but Republican Tom Corbett says the issue is off the table.
The bills amend Pennsylvania’s Civil Service Law to more closely it align with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Sponsoring Representative Chris Ross says the state law was drafted before the ADA, forcing some municipalities to violate one law or the other.
Ross says the affected municipalities brought the issue to the state legislature. The Chester County Republican says all kinds of Pennsylvania municipalities will be affected by several changes.
“While you’re allowed to stop someone from being hired if they’re drug-addicted or fail a drug test, you’re not allowed to inquire about whether they previously had been treated for drug or alcohol addiction,” says Ross. “Also, the physical limitations have to be job-related.”
Ross says the new laws were written so hiring civil servants like police and firefighters would still be based on competency.
The gubernatorial debate held in Pittsburgh October 16th can be heard at the bottom of the post at this link.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
The Pennsylvania House Urban Affairs Committee held a public hearing this morning at Point Park University on the status of a fairly new law to deal with blighted and abandoned properties. Yesterday, there was a summit with workshops on tools available for municipalities and elected officials.
Andrew Menchyk, solicitor with the Redevelopment Authority of Butler County, says his group has filed six actions under the Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act, which took effect in early 2009 to allow petitioners in the Court of Common Pleas to take control of problem properties that meet certain criteria, e.g., have not been occupied, have not paid taxes, and constitute a danger in terms of fire or illicit activity.
Irene McLaughlin, consultant to the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, says most new laws are tested in the courts and may need further legislative work before they can be implemented as lawmakers intended, so it is important that the House Urban Affairs Committee keeps reviewing the status of the law.
Wuerl was born in Pittsburgh and was ordained to the priesthood on December 17, 1966. Pope John Paul II ordained him a bishop on January 6, 1986 in Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome. He served as Auxiliary Bishop in Seattle until 1987 and then as Bishop of Pittsburgh for 18 years until his appointment to the Archdiocese of Washington on June 22, 2006.
Zubik says this is the third time that a Pittsburgh native has been named cardinal (Adam Maida, Daniel DiNardo) and the 4th bishop to be elevated to the position (John Dearden, John Wright, Anthony Bevilacqua). The Pittsburgh Dioceses has had 12 Bishops in all.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
City budget director Scott Kunka says the Mayor’s office will begin working on the budget even though it does not know exactly what the council will approve. One option is to allow the state to take over the pension plan. That is expected to result in higher minimum payments in to the pension plan. The state has yet to let the city know exactly what that payment will be but Kunka says by consulting with a private actuary he has a good guess as to what the payment will be. “It would be difficult for their actuary to come back with anything other,” says Kunka, “it’s a fairly arcane but fairly exact science.” Kunka says they will keep an eye on council’s actions in the coming days in an effort to figure out how much money they will have to cut from the budget.
N-scale models are 160 times smaller than actual trains, the third-smallest scale of model trains. Phipps’ two N-scale trains will have engines about six inches long, with one depicting an historic 1880s locomotive and another representing a modern train.
Phipps Director of Horticulture Margie Radebaugh says one challenge is managing a living landscape at such tiny scales.
“You’d use ... things like almost tree seedlings, sedums, baby tears, baby mosses, things that have very small leaves.”
Radebaugh says the entire landscape will be alive, with tree forms six to eight inches tall.
Phipps’ Garden Railroad exhibit also features three larger G-scale trains: a Pennsylvania Railroad passenger train, a freight train running crops through farmland, and a logging train rolling through a forest.
The Garden Railroad runs through March 13.
Home owners and the employees and the businesses of this city, “ says King, “ and I’ll tell you who should be held accountable, those nine people in there.” King says the firefighters will remember the vote when they go to the poles next year. He then called on council to reduce the city’s budget by reducing the size of city council. King warned his members that he believes the city will begin to “brown out” the department. He says the city cannot layoff firefighters so it will selectively, temporarily close firehouses to save on overtime. King says, “this is not about safety, this is about money.”
Council still has several options before it. A plan created by city controller Michael Lamb and sponsored by Council members Darlene Harris, Natalia Rudiak and Patrick Dowd calls for the city to sell the parking garage lots and meters it owns to the Parking Authority for $220 million dollars. That money would then be used to shore up the pension fund. The Authority would have to issue a bond to cover the cost. The proposal also gives the authority the ability to set rates without council approval. Dowd admits that it will lead to hire parking rates but he says the increase will be much less than if the assets were leased to a private company. “Given the choice between handing over the assets to a private company or a public authority, I’ll take the authority every time,” says Dowd.
Councilman Doug Shields says he will listen to the details of the controller’s pan at a meeting and debate it in council tomorrow but for now he still likes the idea of a state take over of the pension plan. He notes it is the only option that puts the pension plan on a 30-year path to being fully funded.
Voting for the lease deal was Ricky Burgess. Theresa Kail-Smith abstained.
LAZ Parking issued a written statement following council’s no vote expressing its disappointment. It reads in part, “Our expertise in operating, investing in and managing parking systems around the country would have provided great benefits to the City, its residents, visitors and downtown commuters…. Over the past several weeks we have had the opportunity to speak with members of Council and made several suggested amendments to be sensitive to the matters raised by Council Members.” The company says it will have other opportunities in other cities looking to better manage their parking assets and tackle fiscal challenges. The statement ends, “Our hope is that the City of Pittsburgh and other municipalities and government agencies around the country learn how important it is in a process like this one to have alignment between City Council Members, the Office of the Mayor and other important stakeholders.”
After learning of Vashon’s story, Freeland asked the Pennsylvania Board of Law examiners to grant Vashon admission to the bar posthumously. The Board denied the request in 2007 saying it might set a president. Freeland then took his case directly to the PA Supreme Court and the fruits of his labor will be seen Wednesday morning when Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille will sign and present a Certificate of Admission on
behalf of the Court to the Vashon family, confirming Mr. Vashon's credentials, competency and good character to practice law in Pennsylvania. Freeland says he was trying to right a wrong. “This will be a great moment for Western Pennsylvania and all of Pennsylvania,” says Freeland. Freeland says he feels the court is in a unique position to hand out this type of justice. He says he knows of no others that were treated in the same manner as Vashon but he suspects there were others who have been swallowed up by history. Freeland says it is likely that there are similar stories in other states. In a written statement Chief Justice Castille says, “There is no question that denying George Vashon’s admission to the Bar in 1847 and again in 1868 was blatantly discriminatory. By granting this petition, our Court recognizes, and is sensitive to the fact, that those prior practices in the Commonwealth’s earlier history had a real effect on real people.”
The Supreme Court’s May 4th order admitted Vashon to the Pennsylvania Bar, stating that, “George B. Vashon possessed the necessary credentials, competency, and good character to practice law in Pennsylvania in 1847 based upon his bachelor and masters degrees from Oberlin College, his mentorship with the Honorable Walter Forward of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas and his subsequent admissions to practice law in the State of New York and before the U.S. Supreme Court.”
A small group of Vashon’s decedents are to be in the courtroom and the judge will allow Freeland to introduce them. Freeland says he thinks the formality of the court will break down a bit at that time and he expects it will become a celebratory event.
Bill sponsor Matthew Smith, a Democrat from Allegheny County, says it’s essential for children to be able to self-medicate themselves after an allergic reaction.
“It can strike a child at any moment and it’s imperative that they have these EpiPens on their person at the time they suffer from the food allergy attack. It will help prevent them from going into anaphylactic shock.”
If a child has an allergic reaction to something they ate, often nut-based, the child has only a few seconds to medicate themselves. Students are currently prohibited from carrying epinephrine medication such as EpiPen injectors in school and this legislation would allow those medications to be carried on the person at all times.
Smith says the bill is as much about ensuring peace of mind for parents as it is about the protection of students.
”It gives the parents the peace of mind that if their son or daughter has a food allergy they’ll have the EpiPen on their person at school to administer the medication that literally needs to be administered in a matter of seconds,” Smith says.
Concerns about the maturity of students carrying the medication and their knowledge of how to use it were considered in the legislation and the bill includes safeguards to ensure that the child knows how to use it along with physician and parental consent.
The discussion centered on public health concerns related to drilling and the legal issues the city may meet when trying to ban Shale gas wells.
Shields recently introduced a moratorium on Shale drilling within city limits. However, the ban might not be legal because it contradicts Pennsylvania's Oil and Gas Act.
University of Pittsburgh constitutional law Professor Jules Lobel says while the Oil and Gas Act preempts local zoning laws, the city could argue that the ban is an emergency measure to protect its natural resources. Lobel says Pittsburgh could also argue that gas drilling, like nuclear power, is too dangerous an industry for an urban area.
Pitt environmental law professor Emily Collins says if the moratorium is challenged, the city could face three problems: Pittsburgh's limited zoning authority, the precedence of the Oil and Gas Act, and the time and money needed for litigation.
Cornell University environmental engineering professor Anthony Ingraffea says environmental accidents occur at one in every 150 wells, which is unacceptable when compared to the far smaller incident rates in other industries like bridge-building and air travel.
Lobel says while Pittsburgh may lose a court battle with the state, persistent lawsuits can change the opinion of the courts over time.
During his closing statement, Corbett told voters he’s the only candidate who will lower taxes and government spending.
"If you want four more years of increased spending, of taxes. If you want four more years of unemployment. If you want four more years of trying to be all things to all people – if you want four more years of Ed Rendell-like policies, then I would select my opponent."
Onorato, in turn, said he’s had more practical experience than Corbett, when it comes to growing the economy and working with the private sector. He continued to argue Corbett is a flip-flopper.
"I stood at the first debate, and I heard clear as day – Tom said he would help to pay back a three billion dollar debt to the federal government by putting a tax on the workers. At the last debate, he said he wouldn’t. Now I just find it ironic that the first debate was in front of a chamber audience. The second debate wasn’t. You can’t change your answer depending on what audience you’re talking to."
The Democrat is also vowing to shrink government spending and keep taxes level.
The majority of the debate focused on issues the two candidates have been arguing about for months.
A few new topics did come up, though.
On gay rights, Onorato said he’d support a measure banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Corbett said Pennsylvania has the laws it needs to fight anti-gay bias.
Somerset Township. PennDOT inspectors who checked the bridge yesterday say it needs to come down immediately. The Interstate is closed for the near future. Vehicles are getting off at the McIlvaine Road exit, then immediately back on to avoid going under the damaged overpass. As 40,000 vehicles use that stretch of Interstate 70 each day. State police are looking for the rig that damaged the bridge. Witnesses say the truck hit the overpass and then sped away.
Monday, October 18, 2010
Council voted down the plan last week and is expected to take a second vote on Tuesday.
Ravenstahl said he and his staff have come up with a plan that would parlay proceeds from a leasing parking facilities to a private operator into a pension fund bailout.
He said the plan would be a viable alternative to the state takeover that would lead to dramatically higher pension payments that the city could make only by raising taxes or cutting services.
His staff has begun preparations for a state takeover of the pension fund.
By state law, the state will take over the fund if the city is unable to raise the level of funding from about 27 percent of the requirement to at least 50 percent by the end of this year.
Ravenstahl said he now intends to devote his attention to other issues. Private industries had bid about $452 million to lease the parking facilities. He said, in the future, turning down his plan will be looked at as "a golden opportunity" that was missed.
The mayor went with a delegation that included Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference and Joe McGrath, CEO of Visit Pittsburgh.
Yablonsky said the trip was a success. The delegation met with companies they were already courting and with new companies. The companies are in the sectors the region is trying to grow: advanced manufacturing, financial services, energy, life sciences, health care and information and communication technology.
Yablonsky credits the G-20 Conference, held in Pittsburgh in September of 2009, for bringing attention to the "transformation" of the region. Ravenstahl said the G-20 summit "put Pittsburgh back into the global game." He said the trip did not cost taxpayers anything. He said he was not sure who paid for the trip.
The next step is for the companies to visit Pittsburgh and see all that the city has to offer.
Gerard says there's no doubt that electing Democrats is in the interest of ordinary working people. He says there was a bill in the Senate to give a tax break to companies that bring jobs back and to remove the tax incentive for moving jobs offshore--legislation he says would be good for the country and create jobs for Americans, yet not a single Republican voted for it. Gerard says Republicans want Obama to fail so they can win the presidency in 2012.
Saying labor has no better friend than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Gerard cited victorious votes in the House that she brought to the table, like a public option in the health care bill, the Employee Free Choice Act to simplify union organizing, funding for jobs, and extension of unemployment benefits.
Gerard says members of the local Chamber of Commerce in Erie support Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper, but the national Chamber of Commerce funds ads against her, saying she cost jobs and bailed out Wall Street, when in fact George W. Bush was in office for the Wall Street bailout and the Wall Street collapse.
Senate Republican leaders have said they’re willing to come back and pass a measure but only if House Democratic leaders agree to a specific set of demands on the tax rate, revenue distribution, drilling safety issues, and other provisions.
Jan Jarrett, the president and CEO of PennFuture, is urging the upper chamber to come back before the election.
"They have the opportunity to come back. There’s no excuse for them not to come back and finish up their business. And come back to work, essentially, and get unfinished business done. All of us who have jobs have to come to work. We have to finish what we started."
She reminds House and Senate leaders they legally pledged to pass a severance tax, with language in this year’s fiscal code.
"And if they don’t, Pennsylvania taxpayers should be as angry as they were over the midnight pay raise in 2005. This is serious business."
Work is continuing behind the scenes. Top Republican and Democratic staffers met for two hours on Friday. They’re scheduled to continue talks today.
The show, which runs through January 9, will include two evenings of film screenings. The first runs from 6pm to 7:30pm October 22 and brings together works that focus on the irrational, ambivalent, and chaotic aspects of everyday experience and pop-culture phenomena. The second runs November 10, 6–7:30 p.m. and will highlight the junction between art and life and investigate the divide between reality and its distortion in myth, desire, and individual perception.
To help visitors through the exhibition, the museum has produced a fully illustrated, free “pocket guide,” containing color reproductions of many of the artworks on view and essays by Byers and other museum employees.
Listen to an interview with Dan Byers here.
Sestak, a retired three-star admiral, estimates he had to discharge about a dozen service members during his career, because of the policy barring gays from openly serving in the military.
He says he’s frustrated by the amount of time it’s taken to overturn the guidelines.
"We were able to pivot and get our troops over to Afghanistan on short notice. We’re able to -- we have lessons learned from the integration of women into combat. Why do we have to wait a year for something that has to do with our integrity? We’re asking people and the institution to live a lie."
The House has voted to end “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” once a Pentagon review is complete, but a Senate vote has been held up.
The military has announced it will follow the federal court order, even though the Obama Administration is appealing the decision, and has asked the judge to stay the ruling.
Repealing “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is the rare issue where Sestak and Republican Pat Toomey see eye-to-eye.
Toomey says he’d “welcome” a policy change, if military leaders gave their approval.
"That’s what this should be all about. Not various people’s preferred social policy. So if our military leadership says we can execute our mission as well or better in the absence of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” then I’m in favor of repealing it."
The Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have both said they’d support a change.