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State lawmakers miss the deadline for budget, talks still ongoing

Matt Rourke

On today’s episode of The Confluence: We hear the latest about the state budget; a worker and union organizer with Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania shares what they're seeing following the repeal of Roe v. Wade; and a conversation about how school buildings can become more climate-resilient.

Today’s guests include: Stephen Caruso, capitol reporter with Spotlight PA; Jocelyn K., a union representative with Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania; and Vivian Loftness, researcher and professor of architecture at Carnegie Mellon University.

State lawmakers return this week to negotiate the budget after missing June 30 deadline
(0:00 - 7:14)

Having missed the deadline to approve a new budget, the state legislature decided not to meet in full session over the holiday weekend and instead return this week. So far, no concrete agreement has been made. Stephen Caruso, capitol reporter for SpotlightPA, says Republican lawmakers and their staff have been meeting with the governor’s team.

Lawmakers are currently parsing out how much of their multibillion-dollar surplus they plan to spend. Gov. Tom Wolf proposed his plan for the budget in February, but members of the state house and senate did not get the ball rolling until May.

“It is like a college student trying to work on a term paper,” says Caruso. “They might think about it a little bit beforehand and might do a little bit of research, but they're not going to actually sit down and cut the whole deal or write the whole paper until it's probably about two or three days beforehand”

While both Democrats and Republicans agree that some of the surplus should be saved into the rainy day fund, both sides want their priorities funded. Gov. Wolf wants to boost education funding, but GOP lawmakers hope the governor will sign off on looser regulations for charter schools and the natural gas industry.

Western Pennsylvania Planned Parenthood call centers see increased traffic following “Dobbs” decision
(7:19 - 14:23)

Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania is expected to become a hub for abortions for nearby states that have restricted access to abortion, while still serving their Pennsylvania clients.

Jocelyn K., a representative with UE 696 Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania workers, says they’ve seen a dramatic increase in calls with some out-of-state callers looking to reschedule appointments in Pittsburgh and others looking to access contraceptives. They work at the call center and as a healthcare assistant.

Planned Parenthood workers in the region are also in the midst of bargaining a contract, after voting to unionize last May. She says that the union has allowed workers to respond to the sudden increase in demand.

“Right now, the situation would have been far worse without the union,” says Jocelyn. “We've already stepped up and tried to alleviate the current staffing crisis, post [Roe’s overturn] by coordinating coverage, working extra shifts and overtime, and covering multiple positions throughout the workday where there's shortages.”

Jocelyn believes a contract will be reached soon.

How school buildings can be altered to combat rising temperatures
(14:27 - 22:30)

The two final days of PPS’s school year were half days, not because it was the end of term, but because it was too hot. Temperatures that week were expected to go above 90 degrees, and not all school buildings have air conditioning.

Vivian Loftness, an architecture professor and co-director for the Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics at Carnegie Mellon University, says facilities such as air conditioning are often underprioritized by school districts.

Aside from air conditioning, many schools have inefficient windows, which trap heat in classrooms. Even the dark color of some roofs can contribute to higher temperatures.

“The facilities at schools [have often been underfunded], partly because we want to hold on to the caliber of our teachers and the technologies that the students rely on, and the schoolbooks,” says Loftness. “But the buildings are incredibly important to the health and the performance of kids and teachers.”

Loftness says investments should come from the state level to weatherize school buildings. She believes that these efficiency changes will also help school districts lower their energy bills.

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. 

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