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Sen. Jay Costa says he sees room for bipartisanship on some issues in the General Assembly

Chris Knight

On today’s episode of The Confluence: State Sen. Jay Costa explains why he takes issue with the Republican party’s election audit and calls for bipartisanship on issues including hate crimes and campaign finance reform; Casa San Jose is planning to move into a new building in Beechview, which executive director Monica Ruiz says will result in more space for community-oriented programming; and a look at the life of Fannie Lou Hamer, an activist whose work is recounted in a new book from University of Pittsburgh Professor Keisha Blain. 

State Senator Jay Costa says legislative priorities include suite of hate crime bills, campaign finance reform and more
(0:00 - 8:05)

The state Senate returned to session Monday with a full schedule, and Republican leaders in the state are pursuing another election audit, and requesting voter information from the Pennsylvania Department of State.

“I think it’s a bad idea, and we’ve been fighting the release of this information for several weeks now,” says Pennsylvania Senate Floor Leader Jay Costa, who represents Allegheny County. “I recognize that Senator [Jake] Corman has indicated that he believes that President Biden won the election and by the way, 25 state senators won in that same election on that same ballot, but at the end of the day, the actions that their taking through the Senate Intergovernement [Intergovernmental] Operations Committee shows something different.”

This request for voter information is currently being litigated.

Costa says the general election was “safe and secure.” He says lawmakers should be focusing on changes to the election process that expedites and increases safety, such as pre-canvassing, security at drop boxes and voter identification.

In this session, Costa says legislation to address increasing hate crimes should be a priority. One such bill would increase the ability of the State Attorney General’s Office to collect and share data on hate crimes.

Charter school reform is also a concern for legislators in Harrisburg. State Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster) also proposed reforms that would alter local school boards’ authorities over charter schools in their area. While both Democrats and Republicans serving Pennsylvania agree that there needs to be charter school reform, they diverge in approach.

Costa says he supports Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposals, which would increase regulations on these entities.

“At the end of the day, the school districts are the one paying the lion's share of charter school costs,” he says, citing what he calls a lack of accountability and transparency.

The Democratic leader in the General Assembly also sees room for bipartisanship on issues such as legislative and campaign finance reform.

Casa San Jose hopes to move into new office space by the end of 2022
(8:08 - 13:38)

The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh’s board voted to enter an option agreement to sell a vacant property in Beechview to Casa San Jose, a non-profit whose goal is to help Latino immigrants thrive in Pittsburgh.

“‘Casa’ means home,” says Executive Director Monica Ruiz. “So for us, we really wanted to find a space where it was a place where people could come and congregate and have programming.”

The new property is just half a mile up from the organization’s current office space.

“We want to be in the area [Beechview] because we want to make sure that folks can get resources and services where they live,” says Ruiz. Beechview is also home to a growing Latino population.

Ruiz says the new building has been vacant for 20 years, so Casa San Jose is renovating the property with the support of American Rescue Plan funds and seeking out other donors to help.

“The goal is to finish and move in by the end of next year,” says Ruiz.

Pittsburgh professor Keisha Blain’s latest book covers the life of unsung activist Fannie Lou Hamer
(13:31 - 22:30)

Well-known names like Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X., and Rosa Parks come up in any recollection of the civil rights movement of the 1960. Other names, however, risk being lost to history.

Keisha Blain, associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh, says she didn’t know the names of some prominent civil rights figures until she was a senior in college.

Blain’s newest book, “Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America,” chronicles the life of one such figure.

“Mainstream historical narratives tend to overlook or at least marginalize the contributions of individuals like Hamer,” says Blain. “Yet, as I point out in this new book, all of these reasons made her so impactful because people could relate to her.”

Hamer grew up in poverty with only a sixth-grade education, Blain explains. Hamer’s career in activism didn’t begin until she was 44 years old, and she began to attend meetings with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Commission or SNCC.

Eventually, Hamer’s activism made her a target. She was repeatedly harassed by police and at one point taken to jail and beaten.

“When you read about her experiences, I think certainly for me, there was a moment where I just had to pause because I thought to myself, how in the world could one person endure so much?” asks Blain. “I think because of those reasons, even when she grew discouraged, even when she encountered resistance, she kept pushing and pushing and pushing because she felt like this was what she was meant to do.”

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.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.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at ltsutsui@wesa.fm.
Rebecca Reese is a production assistant for The Confluence.
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