Keystone Crossroads

Philly Program Teaches Defendants How To Help Themselves

Oct 5, 2018
Bastiaan Slabbers / Keystone Crossroads

 It was an early autumn afternoon in 1975 -- a moment that Steve Austin wishes he could take back.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

How much does your county spend on public defense?

Min Xian / Keystone Crossroads

Growing up, Michael Fiore didn’t worry about drugs or the violence in Blair County. Back then, he says the area, home to Altoona and Hollidaysburg, was safe.

An-Li Herring / Keystone Crossroads

On a humid summer day, Shawnray Byrd works a new job renovating a home just outside Pittsburgh. During a break, he says he’s grateful to be employed and free.

Emma Lee / WHYY

If you hunt hard enough around Harrisburg, it is possible to find lawmakers who are on board with allocating state money for the public defense of the poor.

Wrongful Murder Conviction Points To Problems With Public Defense In PA

Oct 3, 2018
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Crystal Weimer’s nightmare began in 2004, when she was arrested for a crime she didn’t commit.

“When you go to jail, your whole family goes to jail,” Weimer said. “It’s just like a ripple effect — it’s just not you.”

She was charged with the murder of Curtis Haith, a 21-year-old who dreamed of becoming a chef.  Haith was shot in the face and beaten to death in front of his home in Fayette County, about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh.

Min Xian / Keystone Crossroads

Following the grand jury report on the alleged widespread clergy abuse in Pennsylvania’s Catholic Church, state lawmakers are pushing for reforms. 

Emma Lee / WHYY

Andrew Brooking’s future at Philadelphia’s Blaine Elementary seemed uncertain.

After four years teaching there, he was vying to become an assistant principal at the end of last school year, and figured that would mean an assignment elsewhere in the city.

But a conversation with a parent from the school’s Strawberry Mansion neighborhood — one home to deep poverty and violent crime — helped him understand why he needed to stay.

Greg Roth / Penn State University

Last month, Pennsylvania saw the most recorded rainfall in a July. For many farmers in the state, the intense precipitation is part of a pattern of weather changes they are trying to adapt to.

A new report out of Penn State University says corn production in the Southeastern part of the state could be especially vulnerable in the coming decades.

Housing Boom In State College Spurs Debate Over Changing Character Of The Town

Aug 2, 2018
Keystone Crossroads

Ron Madrid stood in his front yard a few blocks from downtown State College, motioning to the houses and apartments in the neighborhood, comparing the homeowners and the renters.

“When people take care of their property because they own it, that’s much different than if you’re just renting,” Madrid said. “Walk down the street, and you can say: rental, rental, somebody lives there, owner-occupied, rental.”

Keith Srakocic / AP

Mike McGrenehan thought he was headed for a life in the suburbs.

Growing up in Northeast Philadelphia, not far from the city limits, McGrenehan always figured he’d marry, have kids, and ship off to the open spaces of suburbia. The “McMansion push,” he called it.

He moved to Montgomery County when he and his wife first married, but it never quite felt like home.

“When we left, we were out on an island,” he said.

After a few years, they moved back to Northeast Philly, had three kids, but reached another turning point when their oldest turned five.

Gov. Wolf Calls For Drastic School Funding Shake-Up In Surprise Announcement

Jul 2, 2018
Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Governor Tom Wolf called for a major change to the way Pennsylvania funds schools Friday, advocating for the state to distribute its largest pot of school money in a way that would benefit the majority of students in the state, but would likely cause deep cuts in many districts.

During questions at a press conference in Philadelphia, Wolf said the state should push all basic education money through the formula it adopted two years ago.

PA’s Population Increase In 2017 Was The Most Dramatic In 5 Years

Jun 1, 2018
Pennsylvania State Data Center

Pennsylvania’s population is on the rise again, after declining in 2016 — but growth remains concentrated in certain spots, and most communities keep losing residents.

On Primary Day, Both Parties Agree New Congressional Map May Cause Confusion

May 14, 2018
Joseph Kaczmarek

Days before Pennsylvania’s primary election, about 25 Democrats gathered for a meeting a few blocks away from the border of two recently reshaped congressional districts in North Philadelphia.

On a table with campaign literature, flyers that said, “re-elect Congressman Dwight Evans” were neatly tucked away and replaced with others that support Congressman Brendan Boyle.

PA Legislature Has Long History Of Inaction On Redistricting Reform Bills

Mar 29, 2018
Matt Rourke / AP

Now that legal challenges to Pennsylvania’s new court-drawn congressional map have been rejected, state lawmakers have turned their attention to the typical process by which the state reapportions congressional districts every decade.

But some stakeholders are skeptical about whether any current proposals will ever make it to a vote.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

On a Monday morning in February, people packed the Pittsburgh mayor’s conference room to witness the city’s successful transition to financial independence — an event lauded as a turning point for the city’s future.

New Congressional Districts In Philly Suburbs Could Help Democrats Win In DC

Feb 27, 2018
Dan Gleiter / Pennlive.com

Pennsylvania’s new court-ordered congressional map has thrust the commonwealth into the national spotlight, and the readjusted political calculus in the Philadelphia suburbs is a big reason why.

Map from the office of Lt. Gov. Mike Stack

Next week, the state Supreme Court will hear a lawsuit claiming Pennsylvania’s congressional map is an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

Top state Democrats chimed in Wednesday in an attempt to sway the court in favor of the plaintiffs.

In a press conference held in the capitol, Lt. Gov. Mike Stack offered an alternative map he referred to as the “Stack map.”

With The Path To End Property Tax Now Open, New Data Sets Stage For Policy Debate In PA

Dec 22, 2017
Jessica Kourkounis / for Keystone Crossroads

In the past month-and-a-half, Harrisburg’s nonpartisan Independent Fiscal Office has released four research briefs or special reports.

Three of those four have been about property taxes, and they may soon factor into a major policy debate.

Min Xian / Keystone Crossroads

Some of the communities experiencing the most rapid changes in Pennsylvania are those that abut colleges and universities.

State College, for instance, has boomed in recent years largely due to the growing influence of Pennsylvania State University’s Main Campus. In general, this development has been positive for surrounding Center County, where there’s been a 10 percent rise in median household income since 2009.

But this growth hasn’t necessarily been a tide that’s lifted all boats, leaving fewer options for affordable housing in the area.

Compelling Closing Arguments Bring Federal Trial Over PA Gerrymandering To An End

Dec 8, 2017
Keystone Crossroads

The federal trial over Pennsylvania’s congressional district map wrapped up in a Philadelphia courtroom on Thursday with a string of stirring closing arguments before a three-judge panel.

During four days of deliberations, a group of more than 20 Pennsylvania voters challenged the way Republican lawmakers drew the state’s congressional districts in 2011, asserting a gerrymandering scheme that violates the U.S. Constitution.

WITF

In the wake of recent high-profile sexual harassment allegations coming to light, lawmakers in Pennsylvania are proposing to reform how state government handles allegations concerning legislators.

State Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky (D-Delaware) plans to introduce a bill that would ban non-disclosure agreements and prohibit use of taxpayer money for settling claims in sexual harassment or assault cases that involve lawmakers.

PA Hotline Links Those In Need With Help To Confront Opioid Addiction

Nov 28, 2017
Toby Talbot / AP

One of the most frequent complaints that Jennifer Smith, acting secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, hears from family and friends concerned about loved ones’ opioid abuse is that they don’t know how to access treatment.

“I heard over and over and over again … my child needs treatment, but I have no idea how to get him or her there. I don’t know who to call,’” said Smith last month at a hearing on the state of the opioid epidemic in Pennsylvania.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Pennsylvania recently legalized online gambling with a new law that also provides for 10 mini-casinos and standalone gaming terminals throughout the state.

This expansion will take some time to be implemented.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

A widely-shared Politico article used Johnstown, Pa. as a lens to showcase the loyalty of President Trump’s supporters one year after his election. But local residents are balking at the portrait of Johnstown that emerged from the story. 

Two Fast-Tracked Court Cases Could Change The Political Face Of Pennsylvania

Nov 15, 2017
Keystone Crossroads

With drastic changes to Pennsylvania’s political landscape hanging in the balance, two lawsuits challenging the state’s congressional map are moving forward at rapid speed — one in state courts, the other in federal.

Why Pennsylvania Is Home To Some Of The Worst Gerrymanderers

Nov 13, 2017
Katie Meyer

In most states, the legislature is in charge of designing Congressional and state voting districts.

Pennsylvania isn’t unique in that respect.

Following Damaging Reports, PA Congressman Marino Defends His Opioid Law

Nov 10, 2017
Susan Walsh / AP

Last month, The Washington Post and “60 Minutes” ran a damaging story about Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Tom Marino, (PA-10), which accused him of ushering a bill through Congress that tied the Drug Enforcement Agency’s hands in their effort to stop distributors from flooding the black market with opioid painkillers.

Whistleblowers in the DEA say the bill has directly interfered with their attempts to stem the nation’s opioid crisis.

Democrats Dominate Major Mayoral Races In Pennsylvania

Nov 8, 2017
Emily Previti / Keystone Crossroads

Democrats dominated municipal elections in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, securing the mayor’s offices in Pittsburgh, Allentown, Scranton, Lancaster, Erie, State College and Harrisburg.

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski won a fourth term despite being the target of a federal indictment accusing him of pay-to-play politics. Under Pawlowski’s oversight, the state’s 3rd largest city has undergone a significant revitalization, with major downtown development.

Emily Previti / WITF

In 2013, Pennsylvania created the City Revitalization and Improvement Zone (CRIZ) program in hopes of spurring economic growth by allowing a few select communities in the commonwealth to reinvest tax dollars that normally would go to the state or local government.

The program aims to ignite investment in historically hard-to-develop neighborhoods by, for instance, allowing developers to use tax revenue to pay off things like construction debt.

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