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WESA Daily Briefing: June 18, 2020

Erin Keane Scott
90.5 WESA

News on the coronavirus pandemic, protests, 2020 election and more from around Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and southwestern Pennsylvania. 

Find all of the WESA Daily Briefing posts here

Editor's note: This post will be frequently updated with the latest news.


5:54 p.m. - PNC commits more than $1 billion to support economic development for African American communities

In a press release Thursday, the Pittsburgh-based banking and financial services company says the majority of that commitment will go toward community development financing and capital for neighborhood revitalization, consumers and small businesses.

It also includes $50 million in additional charitable support for national and local work to combat systemic racism.

5:10 p.m. - Demonstrators march from the Hill District to Downtown for black trans lives

The message of the protest, organized by the groups Trans YOUniting and 1Hood Media, was clear: black transgender individuals deserve visibility and equal rights. Organizers called for local and state protections for trans individuals, after the Trump administration removed nondiscrimination protections for gender identity in health care.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that LGBT employees were protected from discrimination in the workplace. The justices said the 1964 Civil Rights Act protected LGBT workers from being fired based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

At today’s rally in Pittsburgh, cisgender allies, or individuals whose identity and gender corresponds with their assigned sex at birth, were asked to hold their employers accountable for including transgender people in their places of work.

“It doesn’t matter if you can’t fire people for being trans if you’re not hiring them,” one organizer told the crowd.

Credit Kiley Koscinski / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA

4:36 p.m. - Lieutenant Governor releases recommendations for marijuana-related pardons

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who chairs the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, recommended 26 applicants for release through a statewide program. The program is aimed at providing people with nonviolent marijuana possession or paraphernalia convictions an opportunity to leave jail or prison.

In an emailed statement, Fetterman said the applicants "deserve forgiveness from their past, victimless mistakes." The 26 applications will now be sent to Gov. Tom Wolf, who makes final decisions in such matters.



4:33 p.m. - DA drops charges against 22 protesters in connection with East Liberty protest

None of the protesters charged with failure to disperse and disorderly conduct will be prosecuted, according to a release from Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala. The arrests were made following a peaceful protest-turned violent on Monday, June 1 in East Liberty.

There are conflicting accounts of what prompted Pittsburgh police to fire tear gas and other crowd dispersion tools at a group of protesters lingering after larger crowds had left that evening.

Mayor Bill Peduto has called for an investigation into the incident.

"Until such time as we have evidence that is substantial and relevant, it is not appropriate to move forward with those complaints," the DA’s release read. "It is important to note that none of the cases in which charges have been withdrawn involves any violence or property damage."

Two women, Natalie Lewis, 24, and Abigail Rubio, 24, will still be prosecuted for allegedly throwing water bottles at police from a nearby apartment that same evening.

4:29 p.m. - Point Park University announces in-person instruction for the fall

According to the university it will spread courses out over all available periods. Faculty are asked to plan classes so that fewer students will be required to gather at one time. Carnegie Mellon University will use a hybrid approach with both in-person and remote instruction. The University of Pittsburgh also plans to return in the fall, but has not outlined what in-person learning will look like. 

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA

3:10 p.m. - City to create LGBTQIA+ Commission

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
City Council chambers.

Four years after the creation of the city of Pittsburgh's LGBTQIA+ Advisory Council, Mayor Bill Peduto announced the creation of a permanent commission. The commission will advise city government on policy related to the queer community. The commission will include 11 members with knowledge of housing insecurity, education, workforce development and disability rights. It will also work with law enforcement to train the agencies on best practices for the LGBT community.

2:45 p.m. - Utility regulators keep moratorium on service terminations

Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission is rejecting an attempt to end its three-month-old moratorium preventing utilities from terminating service to non-paying customers while the state fights the spread of the coronavirus. Thursday's 2-2 vote means the motion failed. Commissioner John Coleman sought to allow electric, water, sewer and telephone utilities to restart termination processes in July. Coleman says courts could end Wolf’s emergency disaster order at any time, and electric utilities are warning that customers are piling up large unpaid bills that will require “aggressive” collection efforts beginning in early August. The commission’s order halts terminations, but not collection activities.  

1:15 p.m. – Latest COVID numbers

After a one-day hiatus from new COVID-19 cases, Allegheny County saw an uptick of nine new cases. The current total of cases is now 2,122. The number of deaths remains at 177 and the number of hospitalizations increased by three to 361.

Statewide, the number of cases rose by 418 to 80,236. The number of deaths across Pennsylvania increased by 42 to 6,361.  

11:46 a.m. - Court tosses PA county's ban on probationers using medical marijuana  

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has struck down a county’s policy that forbade people on probation and other forms of supervision from using cannabis if they are registered in Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program. The justices said Thursday that probationers holding a valid medical marijuana card are immune from punishment under the state’s medical marijuana law. Lebanon County’s court system had sought to prohibit medical marijuana use by people on probation and parole. The policy was challenged by three medical marijuana patients. 

10:36 a.m. - Federal agent shot, wounded during raid

A federal agent was shot and wounded while taking part in a raid in a Pittsburgh neighborhood. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives confirmed one of its agents was shot around 6 a.m. and he was treated at the scene by ATF medics. But the agent’s name and further information about his condition were not disclosed. A suspect was taken into custody at the scene. But further details about that person and the charges they may face were not released. Authorities said the wounded agent was taking part in a raid that involved several law enforcement agencies. But further information about the operation were not disclosed.  

9:04 a.m. -   Scott Township commissioner resigns after transphobic comments

A Pennsylvania township commissioner has resigned following transphobic comments about state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine. KDKA-TV reports that Commissioner Paul Abel said he was tired of “listening to a guy dressed up like a woman” on a Zoom meeting last week. Levine is the first transgender person appointed to a Pennsylvania cabinet position. Scott Township announced Abel's resignation on Facebook. The Board of Commissioners apologized in a letter to the community. 

7:24 a.m. - Amtrak cutting service, staff

Amtrak is ending daily service to hundreds of stations including Pittsburgh as a result of the pandemic, saying the cuts will arrive in October.

Amtrak hasn't clarified exactly how much train frequencies will be reduced by the fall, but some stations may not be staffed at all. Customers will be advised to proceed directly to the platform to board their train. Cafe service may be suspended on select routes.

State-supported trains like The Keystone Service, which connects Pittsburgh to Philadelphia through Harrisburg, currently only operate between Philadelphia and Harrisburg. The railroad's national network of 15, long-distance trains will see daily routes cut to a few times per week.

The Capitol Limited which connects Chicago to D.C. through Pittsburgh will operate fewer times per week which could impact cyclists along the Great Allegheny Passage.

Amtrak says it will continue to operate at reduced capacity through next summer. The railroad is also cutting 20 percent of its staff.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.