Politics & Government

We cover politics and government with an eye to providing to voters clear, in-depth, nonpartisan information. 

Human trafficking is the second most pervasive crime in the world behind drug trafficking. In an effort to bring the issue to the minds of more Pennsylvanians,  State Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery/Delaware) has launched a statewide billboard ad campaign.

“It is a huge problem, not just in other countries, but here in the United States. A lot of people don’t know that because it’s sort of a crime that’s in the shadows and it’s difficult to prosecute sometimes. So the most important thing we can do is raise awareness of the crime,” he said.

Some 58-thousand state workers have been receiving training on a new telephone system and the head of the Office of Open Records says the employees are receiving wrong information regarding the commonwealth's Right to Know law.  

Office of Open Records Executive Director Terry Mutchler says trainers told state workers that they could avert public records requests by using instant messaging. Mutchler says since she and lawyers and staff in her office are state employees, they underwent the phone training and heard the "misinformation" themselves.

PA Mortgage Assistance Program is Revived

Aug 10, 2012

A successful mortgage assistance program in Pennsylvania that began nearly 30 years ago, but was zeroed out this fiscal year, is being revived. The Homeowners Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (HEMAP) will receive funds from a $25 billion national mortgage settlement with five of the country's largest loan servicers. Ally/GMAC, Bank of America, Citi, JP Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo were found to routinely sign foreclose notices without make sure their documentation was correct.

Downtown Preservation Project Underway

Aug 9, 2012

A ceremonial removal of storefront tiles marked the beginning of restoration work on four different blocks in downtown Pittsburgh. The plan is to integrate old buildings with the construction of new facilities for retail and residential use. Arthur Zeigler, president of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, said the $4 million Downtown Preservation Project will begin in earnest soon and be completed in 22 weeks. "Historic buildings, regenerated, restored, can bring quality retail, good customers coming in and lots and lots of people living here downtown," Zeigler said.

DeWeese Fighting to Remain on November Ballot

Aug 8, 2012

The Pennsylvania Democratic Party is suing to remove former Greene County Representative Bill DeWeese from November’s general election ballot, arguing the convicted felon should be replaced with another Democrat because the candidate would be ineligible to serve if elected.

However, DeWeese’s lawyer said it would be premature to remove the former House Speaker from the election, because he’s pursuing appeals to his five felony convictions for using state workers and resources in a political campaign. State law prohibits convicted felons from holding public office.

15 police departments, including Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and the state police have received requests from the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU) for information regarding how police use automatic license plate readers (ALPR) to track and record the movements of drivers. ACLU affiliates in 34 other states have also requested information as part of a coordinated, nationwide effort.

In the corruption trial of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, the defendant's former judicial staffers testified on Monday that they worked on her political campaigns while on the state's clock.

Two of Melvin's former law clerks testified that they helped Melvin run her unsuccessful campaign for the state Supreme Court in 2003.

Law clerk Molly Creenan and chief law clerk Lisa Sasinoski said they wrote material for speeches and campaign stops. Sasinoski said she also handed out pro-Melvin cards at a Penn Hills polling place on election day in 2003.

Report: Pennsylvania Voting Systems Could Be Improved

Jul 30, 2012

A new report [PDF] delves into the verity and safeguards surrounding the country's electronic voting systems. Three non-partisan organizations — Common Cause, the Verified Voting Foundation, and researchers at Rutgers University — created the study, which measures each state's ability to audit and verify voting records.

The report asked five questions in its assessment of the states:

Cash Benefits Ending For 61,000 Pennsylvanians

Jul 30, 2012

In an attempt to cut state costs, the Department of Public Welfare's (DPW) General Assistance program that provides cash assistance to 61,000 people in the commonwealth will expire August 1st. This will save the commonwealth about $319 million annually and was included in the $27.7 billion budget signed by Governor Tom Corbett June 30.

The DPW receives the largest share of the state budge. A spokeswoman said about 40¢ of every state tax dollar goes to the department.

Will Poll Workers Be Ready To Enforce Voter ID?

Jul 30, 2012

A state employee and a county elections director are at odds over the ease with which the state's new Voter ID law can be enforced at the polls in November. The two testified in Commonwealth Court today at the hearing on a suit looking to block the law.

Department of State employee Shannon Royer said all poll workers will receive information in the mail on the new photo identification requirement at the polls. He said the state expects those workers on the front lines during elections will also receive training from the counties.

Will Poll Workers Be Ready To Enforce Voter ID?

Jul 27, 2012

A state employee and a county elections director are at odds over the ease with which the state's new Voter ID law can be enforced at the polls in November. The two testified in Commonwealth Court today at the hearing on a suit looking to block the law.

Department of State employee Shannon Royer said all poll workers will receive information in the mail on the new photo identification requirement at the polls. He said the state expects those workers on the front lines during elections will also receive training from the counties.

The state auditor general is prescribing specific changes in governance at Penn State including increased mandatory transparency

A-G Jack Wagner says all universities that receive hefty funding from the commonwealth, like Penn State, should be subject to information requests under the state's open records law. He said the school is exempt, at least in part, because of the push made by former
P-S-U president Graham Spanier.

Opponents To Pennsylvania's Voter ID Law Make Their Case In Court

Jul 26, 2012

Plaintiffs in a case to strike down the state's voter ID law say they won't be able to obtain the proper photo identification needed to vote because they couldn't obtain the proper paperwork. Six people testified on the first day of a hearing in Commonwealth Court to ask that the law not be enforced in the November election.

David Gersch, one of the attorneys suing the state, said even when people do have their birth certificate or Social Security card, the documents may be at odds with their current name.

Governor Tom Corbett called Point State Park unique, and said there aren't too many cities with a state park in their heart. After wrapping up a three day kayaking trip on the Allegheny and Conemaugh Rivers, the governor toured the park and under-construction fountain at the point, which is slated to be completed next summer.

Hearing Underway On Challenge To Voter ID Law

Jul 25, 2012

Opening arguments have wrapped up in the hearing over the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's voter ID law.

Legal groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have asked Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson to bar the law's enforcement in the November general election.

When It Comes To Energy, Corbett Is Willing To Spend

Jul 25, 2012

Pennsylvania Gov­er­nor Tom Corbett cer­tainly can't be accused of being a big spender. The 2011 bud­get he signed into law cut more than $1 billion in state spending, reduc­ing fund­ing for nearly every state department.

This year's bud­get, final­ized last month, kept fund­ing rel­a­tively level, but reduced spend­ing for county-level pub­lic health pro­grams, among other items.

There's one excep­tion to this bare-bones phi­los­o­phy, though: the grants and tax breaks the Cor­bett Admin­is­tra­tion has directed to energy companies.

Voter ID Court Hearing Begins Today

Jul 24, 2012

Groups opposed to the state's voter ID law plan to outline their case in Commonwealth Court beginning this morning. They're suing the state to block the implementation of the measure requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls.

Marian Schneider of the Advancement Project, a civil rights and policy center based in Washington, said it violates the state constitution.

State Stipulates No Evidence Of Past Voter Fraud

Jul 23, 2012

A state lawmaker wants to take a two-prong approach to overturning Pennsylvania's voter ID law.

This week the suit challenging the constitutionality of that law goes to Commonwealth Court, but State Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery/Delaware) doesn't want to risk the chance that it will be upheld, so Leach has introduced legislation to repeal the controversial law that opponents say will disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania voters.

College students, the elderly, persons with disabilities, and transgendered people are among the 9% of Pennsylvania registered voters who do not have proper forms of government-issued ID required to vote in November. A public meeting, sponsored by the Pittsburgh Jewish Social Justice System, has been set to address any questions or concerns about Pennsylvania's new voter ID law.

State Stands by Voter ID Law, Despite New Controversy

Jul 19, 2012

There is little concern on behalf of the Corbett administration regarding the state's new discovery that fewer voters have PennDOT-issued IDs than previously suspected.

"No one will be disenfranchised in Pennsylvania. No one," Commonwealth Secretary Carol Aichele said.

Mitt Romney Outlines Five Steps to a Better Economy

Jul 17, 2012

Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney told a large crowd of supporters in Irwin that Barack Obama has failed America and called the president's policies "job crushing." The former Massachusetts governor said the upcoming presidential election is about "the soul of America."

Romney said Mr. Obama has seen a steady unemployment rate and a decrease in median income.

The Democratic Committees of Allegheny and Washington Counties meet Tuesday to select the party's nominee for the November election to succeed John Pippy in the 37th Senatorial District. State Representative Matt Smith (D-Allegheny) has made it publicly known he is interested in joining the Senate race.

Republican leaders in the state House have pledged to try again to privatize liquor stores in the fall, but that's not stopping one GOP lawmaker from trying to squeeze a little wine license reform out of the state.

Fitzgerald Expounds on PAT Cuts, Budget, Shale

Jul 11, 2012

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald gave his quarterly budget address to County Council Tuesday evening, touching on subjects from transit cuts to Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.

Fitzgerald said the county had just $6 million in its fund balance when he took office, but he pledged not to raise taxes. Instead, Fitzgerald said he instituted a hiring freeze. County Council raised the county's property tax millage by 21% in December, just before Fitzgerald took office.

No Special Election For Pippy's Old Seat

Jul 10, 2012

The seat in the Pennsylvania's 37th Senate district will remain vacant for the next six months.

Turzai: Liquor Privatization Not Dead Yet

Jul 10, 2012

Lawmakers in Pennsylvania went home for the summer without voting on a plan pushed by House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) to privatize liquor sales in the state, but he said the idea will be back under consideration in the fall.

Turzai's plan calls for the state to close its more than 600 Wine & Spirits Stores and then issue 1,600 licenses to sell wine and distilled spirits. Beer distributors will be given first crack at purchasing the licenses. The remainder would be sold to the highest bidders.

The One Young World Summit will be held in the United States for the first time this fall and right here in Pittsburgh. The conference provides an opportunity for aspiring leaders to represent their respective businesses and showcase their talent.

Katie McSorley, President of the Mid-Atlantic region for Euro RSCG, one of the largest marketing and public relations firms in the world, said the event is not only a meeting of the best and brightest youth, but a networking opportunity as well.

City Finances Could Be Headed for Trouble

Jul 9, 2012

The city of Pittsburgh ended 2011 with a surplus of $20 million. That's according to the Popular Annual Financial Report (PAFR) released today by City Controller Michael Lamb. That may sound like good news, but Lamb said the surplus was due to one-time revenue sources.

In the face of what they call "unnecessary regulations" from the federal government, two large coal industry organizations have merged to form the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance (PCA).

Former state Senator John Pippy will lead the new lobbying group, which comprises the Pennsylvania Coal Association and Families Organized to Represent the Coal Economy (FORCE).

"We're bigger, we're stronger, and we're going to be louder," said Pippy.

Obama Adds Energy for Pittsburgh Audience

Jul 6, 2012

Several hundred gathered on the Carnegie Mellon Campus Friday under the hot sun to see President Barack Obama wrap up a two-day tour of Ohio and Pennsylvania, but dozens of them swooned even before the president took to the stage. Medical teams were handing out water to the sun-baked crowd, but there was a steady stream of supporters who were hitting the grass and being taken away in ambulances.