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Gifted a $15,000 Europe trip? State lawmakers can accept that under current law

Matt Rourke

On today’s episode of The Confluence: 

Two Pa. lawmakers were gifted $15K to attend Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s European Tour
(0:00 - 8:16)

As Pennsylvania’s legislative session comes to an end, a bill left without action is one to enact a gift ban. This comes two months after the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestragifted two lawmakers a trip abroad to attend performances of the orchestra’s Europe tour.

State Sen. President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R., Centre) and state Rep. Rob Mercuri (R, Allegheny) were gifted upwards of $15,000 to attend the tour. This included their airfare, hotel, meals, and other incidentals.

Under current law, lawmakers can accept any gifts of any value and only have to disclose gifts that exceed $250 or more, according to Angela Couloumbis, an investigative reporter with SpotlightPA.

“You have to rely on the elected official or the public official to put down exactly what was received,” says Couloumbis. “And there's really no way to kind of cross-reference that because of Pennsylvania's weak lobbying disclosure laws to lobbyists when they disclose what they've spent.”

Couloumbis says the proposed bill would have capped the gift limit lawmakers could receive to $250 and expects it to be reintroduced when the session returns in January.

Black veterans hospitalized with COVID-19 were less likely to receive evidence-based treatments when compared to their white peers
(8:30 - 16:51)

Black veterans who were hospitalized for COVID-19 at Veterans Affairs Medical Centers across the country were less likely to receive evidence-based treatments than their white counterparts. However, according to research on this disparity, this group of patients, mostly Black men, did not have higher rates of death or readmission to the hospital.

The study collected data over a two year period and looked at 130 Veterans Affairs Medical Centers and 48,222 patients.

The study found, for example, that Black patients who needed breathing support were 12% less likely to receive systemic steroids, when compared to white patients.

Dr. Florian Mayr, an assistant professor of Critical Care Medicine in Pitt School of Medicine and an ICU physician at the VA Pittsburgh Health Care System, says it’s going to take multiple interventions to address these racial disparities.

“These findings are not unique to COVID, these [disparities] have been across different areas of medicine,” says Mayr. “I think anti-bias training is a key component, particularly when talking about differences in care that happened within the hospital.”

More research is needed to address these disparities among younger people and women.

John Fetterman hopes stance on issues, like abortion, will lead to victory following difficult debate performance
(16:56 - 22:30)

With the election campaign in its final week, 90.5 WESA’s Oliver Morrison sat down with Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman. The interview was one of his first after a difficult debate last week. Fetterman used closed captioning during the video interview.

WESA reached out multiple times to Republican Mehmet Oz's campaign for an interview and didn’t receive a response.

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. 

Corrected: November 2, 2022 at 1:17 PM EDT
The previous audio of this podcast episode stated the amount the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra spent on two lawmakers to be $30,000. The audio has been corrected to reflect that the PSO spent $15,000 on both lawmakers.
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