On today's program: A new agency to support Tree of Life survivors opens its doors; a legal battle ensues (again) over prayer during House sessions; Pennsylvania's ethane is being used overseas; immunization exemptions could change after a measles outbreak; and it's your last chance to register to vote ahead of November's election.
Organization to help Tree of Life healing opens its doors
(00:00 — 12:12)
A new agency to support survivors and others affected by the 2018 mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill has opened in partnership with the Jewish Community Center.
Founding director Maggie Feinstein says 10.27 Healing Partnership will provide both trauma-centered services like counseling and wellness classes while also serving as a safe haven for any Pittsburgher seeking help and healing, especially as the one-year mark nears.
Feinstein says the group was born out of 10 months of meetings between its partnering organizations: Dor Hadash, New Light and Or L'Simcha congregations; the Center for Victims; the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh; Jewish Family & Community Services; the JCC; city of Pittsburgh; FBI; and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
State House will start opening its sessions with prayer again
(13:35 — 17:29)
A middle district judge ruled last year that House leaders couldn’t favor theists over non-theists, and said it didn’t matter whether their prayers were to a higher power. In August, a federal appeals court disagreed, ruling that the House is allowed to limit its invocations to prayer appealing to a higher power, so long as it’s not discriminating between theistic religions.
90.5 WESA's Katie Meyer explains how lawmakers are reacting and whether to expect an appeal from the non-theists.
Ethane from Pennsylvania is fueling overseas plastics production
(17:45 — 24:21)
In addition to bringing up large quantities of oil and gas, the state’s fracking boom is vastly increasing the production of ethane, a key resource for the petrochemicals and plastics industry. Shell is building an ethane cracker near Pittsburgh, and a company from Thailand may build another one in Ohio to turn this ethane into plastic. The Allegheny Front’s Reid Frazier reports the state is producing so much ethane that some of it’s getting shipped overseas.
Frazier recently followed Marcellus shale gas from Western Pennsylvania to Scotland for StateImpact Pennsylvania. This is the first in a series of stories about the path of the gas and the people, businesses and communities it affects. The next story will look at the impact American shale gas is having in Scotland. Read more about the series here.
Competing bills could change immunization exemptions
(24:24 — 34:17)
A measles outbreak this year infected Pennsylvania and 30 other states, including several cases in Allegheny County. The majority of measles cases in the United States occur when travelers contract the disease abroad and bring it home with them, but pockets of unvaccinated Americans can further spread the disease stateside.
A handful of bills for and against vaccinations requirements are circulating in the state legislature. A few could prohibit some exemptions, while others would make getting one easier. Erica DeWald, director of advocacy for Vaccinate Your Family, joins The Confluence to talk about how Pennsylvania's existing exemptions compare to other states and where some of these opposing bills stand.
'Off-year' races for municipal, county and judicial seats are very much on
(34:30 — 40:00)
Voters have until Tuesday to register to vote in this year's elections. Voters will face two ballot questions—one to increase city property taxes to help fund parks and another to amend the state constitution to cement victims' rights.
90.5 WESA's Chris Potter says one matchup to watch is the race for Allegheny County district attorney, in which public defender Lisa Middleman is challenging long-time incumbent Stephen Zappala. Some national publications have taken issue with how Zappala's office has addressed things like low-level drug offenses and insurance fraud, but Potter finds independent candidate Middleman has a tough hill to climb, given how many local voters cast straight-party ballots.
The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.