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State Dems Push For Harassment Investigation Reforms

Matt Rourke
State House and Senate members return to session next week and among the bills up for consideration is the #MeToo General Assembly Act.

On today's program: Two state legislators want to pass a bill to confront sexual harassment in state government; how the flu shot can strengthen herd immunity; a regulations loophole might be to blame for toxic landfill runoff; and the state plans to close the Polk Center for adults with intellectual disabilities. 

Two state lawmakers want to pass their own #MeToo legislation  
(00:00 — 16:40) 

State Rep. Leanne Krueger (D-Delaware) and Sen. Maria Collett (D-Montgomery) say legislation is needed to protect staffers and others from elected leaders in Harrisburg who commit sexual harrasment. The two sponsored a pair of companion bills in the wake of the #MeToo movement nationally, and now say they hope both pick up steam when the state House and Senate return to session next week.

Collett says that government should lead by example when it comes to protecting victims and encouraging them to come forward. 

"If our legislature (is) a place where we need to have the highest standards, and we don't have that kind of reporting structure or mechanism in place, then what are we saying to business across the Commonwealth with regard to how they treat sexual harassment in the workplace?" she says. 

Krueger's bill in the House would ban non-disclosure agreementsthat mask the name of members who harass staffers, and also prohibit General Assembly members from using taxpayer funds to pay secret settlement agreements. The bill was introduced last session, but was never brought to the floor for a vote. 

"Washington got this done over a year ago," Krueger says. "There was no voiced opposition for the bill. Only support from advocates, but in the end it did not get a vote."  

Several lawmakers have been accused of sexual assault or harassment since Krueger's bill was first introduced last session. A Dauphin County grand jury recommended the creation of an independent ethics commission to investigate allegations against members. 

Getting a flu shot could benefit the entire community 
(17:50 — 22:27) 

90.5 WESA's Sarah Boden talks about herd immunity with Dr. Marc Itskowitz, who specializes in internal and preventive medicine at Allegheny Health Network. He says that when many people are immune to a virus through vaccination, its far less likely the virus will spread.

How did fracking waste end up in the Monongahela River? 
(22:30 — 30:13) 

Landfills in many states accept solid waste from the oil and gas industry. When it rains, chemicals, toxic metals and radioactive material enter the landfill's runoff. That water is supposed to be treated before it's sent to a sewage plant. The Allegheny Front's Reid Frazier reports that earlier this year, some of these pollutants started showing up in water released by a sewage treatment plant near Pittsburgh. He found thata loophole in state and federal regulations may be to blame

Some residents and family members aren't ready to see the Polk Center close 
(30:15 — 39:05) 

Pennsylvania plans to close the Polk Center in Venango County, bringing an end to one of the state's few remaining large group homes. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Kate Giammarise reportsthe closure also marks the start of a fight. Giammarise says employees of the facility, family members of residents and local elected officials stand in opposition of disability rights advocates who applaud its demise. 

Department of Human Services officials have pledged not to rush the closure process and say no resident will leave without a fully developed care plan and a place to live. 

90.5 WESA's Julia Zenkevich contributed to this program.

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.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.
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