Politics

90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Councilor Darlene Harris is poised to leave office at the end of the year, but before she does, she will gain the distinction of being the defendant in a key test of the city's campaign-finance rules.

House Panel Says Lobbyist Disclosure Law Should Be Improved

Oct 30, 2019
Matt Rourke / AP

The first report from a new state House investigative committee says Pennsylvania's lobbyist disclosure law should be overhauled so that lobbyists, rather than the entities they're working for, have to report meals, gifts and other spending meant to influence government.

The House Government Oversight Committee report released Wednesday also recommends changes to how lobbyist spending reports are audited.

The bipartisan committee says it's currently difficult to identify and punish lobbyist registration violations.

Matt Rourke / AP

Several state House lawmakers are trying to pass a package of bills designed to make Pennsylvania’s two massive, underfunded state pension systems more transparent, and a little cheaper.

Judge Tosses Pittsburgh Gun Laws Passed After Massacre

Oct 29, 2019
Ariel Worthy / 90.5 WESA

A judge on Tuesday struck down gun restrictions that the Pittsburgh City Council imposed after last year's synagogue massacre, noting that Pennsylvania state law forbids municipalities from regulating firearms.

Matt Rourke / AP

Lax campaign finance rules allow Pennsylvania state lawmakers to shield spending on food, booze and travel from public scrutiny, and officials often report them as simply credit card payments or expense reimbursements, a report published Tuesday concluded.

Is Ohio In Play? GOP Tilt Working Against Democrats

Oct 14, 2019
David Kohl / AP

Chris Gagin says he hasn't changed much politically, even as so much around him has.

The attorney from rural Belmont County, Ohio, became a Republican in 2013 after Democrats embraced environmental policies that he believed were detrimental to the area's coal mining and fracking industries. As an anti-abortion-rights, pro-gun conservative, he felt unwelcome.

Carolyn Kaster / AP

A bill that aims to let more people with disabilities access a program that gives them medical services appears primed to move quickly through the state Senate.

It may be a rare area where Democrats and Republicans can agree on health care.

Lawmakers Return To Governor’s Fall ‘Conversation Openers’

Sep 23, 2019
Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Gov. Tom Wolf busied himself in the quiet Capitol over the summer with plans that didn't involve lawmakers: a way to finance new voting machines, new charter school regulations to write, gun violence prevention programs to create and more.

With lawmakers returning to Harrisburg from a nearly three-month break this past week, Wolf called those moves "conversation openers" to inject momentum into a second-term agenda the Democrat insists can get done this fall in an often-skeptical Republican-controlled Legislature.

Matt Rourke / AP

Activists ​who want to rally in the state Capitol’s rotunda have to follow a new rule starting this week: they can’t have more than 450 people in attendance.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration said the move is partly about keeping the Capitol accessible to people with disabilities. But some of the people the administration says it's helping say they didn't ask for this.

The rotunda is the Capitol’s main thoroughfare—and it’s also the building’s primary site for big protests and rallies, some of which can pack its floor, stairs, and balconies.

Matt Rourke / AP

A new analysis found the number of bills introduced and the number of laws passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature has fallen since peaking in the early 1990s.

The review of four decades of data by The Philadelphia Inquirer and Spotlight PA found that lawmakers are increasingly introducing resolutions that do not substantively change state law.

Matt Rourke / AP

Republicans easily won a special election to retain a seat in the state House of Representatives in a GOP-leaning district in central Pennsylvania.

Republican David Rowe won Tuesday's special election in parts of Union and Snyder counties by a nearly two-to-one margin over Democrat Jennifer Rager-Kay.

The former incumbent, Republican Rep. Fred Keller, was elected to Congress. With Rowe's victory, Republicans will have a 110-93 majority over Democrats in the state House.

PA Dems, Some In GOP Criticize Trump’s ‘Go Back’ Tweets

Jul 16, 2019
Andrew Harnik / AP

Most Democratic House members from Pennsylvania were quick to publicly condemn President Donald Trump’s statements that four progressive Democratic congresswomen should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

Matt Rourke / AP

Lawmakers are on track to give Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf even more money than he asked for to fund voting machine improvements.

However, it will come with conditions.

Many of Pennsylvania's voting machines only record votes electronically. That makes it almost impossible to double-check tallies, and led to the commonwealth settling a lawsuit last year that accused it of being susceptible to election tampering.

There's no evidence tampering happened.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

House Republicans have begun moving the main spending bill for next year’s state budget, and it seems likely the Senate and governor will support it.

The plan passed the chamber’s appropriations committee with minimal debate Monday, setting the stage for what leaders hope will be a smooth final week of negotiations.

The budget is due before the fiscal year ends July 1.

The $33.99 billion general appropriations bill increases basic K-12 education spending by $160 million. Governor Tom Wolf had initially asked for $200 million.

Courtesy of the Friends of Lisa Middleman

Long-time Allegheny County public defender Lisa Middleman said Monday that she plans to run as an independent for district attorney in November.

Amy Sisk / 90.5 WESA

State lawmakers now have the official report on the money Pennsylvania netted this fiscal year.

As expected, there’s a surplus.

But it won’t go nearly as far as some officials have hoped.

Pennsylvania Has A Surplus, And Lots Of Budget Patches, Too

Jun 17, 2019
Matt Rourke / AP

In Pennsylvania, good fiscal times may not necessarily mean good fiscal condition.

The rage in the state Capitol right now is the surplus that state government rolled up in the almost-ended fiscal year, helped by unexpectedly strong corporate and sales tax collections.

That news alone is fueling requests from a legion of lobbyists with pet projects, but the momentary surplus has not necessarily changed views from the outside that Pennsylvania is a state with tall fiscal challenges.

Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

Gov. Tom Wolf is telling demonstrators that he'll fight Republican resistance to a Depression-era program in his budget proposal that provides a $200-a-month cash benefit for the poor who are disabled or otherwise unable to work.

Wolf, a Democrat, spoke with demonstrators from the Poor People's Campaign who showed up at his Mount Wolf home Thursday afternoon.

Demonstrators urged him to veto any spending package from the Republican-controlled Legislature that eliminates it.

Lawmakers Report $83K In Travel On Annual Ethics Disclosures

May 28, 2019
Marc Levy / AP

Pennsylvania state lawmakers' newly filed ethics forms show they accepted more than $83,000 in free trips last year and collected a variety of gifts, booze and free meals.

Matt Rourke / AP

Gov. Tom Wolf is raising the alarm over the impact Chinese tariffs are having on Pennsylvania’s farmers.

President Donald Trump’s tariffs on foreign aluminum and steel may have boosted the domestic steel industry, but China’s retaliatory tariffs on American crops have hurt exports from Pennsylvania farms.

Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

For the second year in a row, House lawmakers have voted for a bill that would punish doctors who perform abortions based on a Down syndrome diagnosis.

Pennsylvania Primary Features A Couple High-Profile Matchups

May 13, 2019
Matt Rourke / AP

Pennsylvania's primary election will decide nominees or officeholders for several high-profile offices, including mayor of the nation's sixth largest city and one of the state's 18 members of the U.S. House.

Pennsylvania's primary election is May 21.

It features primary elections for Philadelphia mayor and two statewide appellate court seats. It also features special elections to fill three open seats in the Legislature and one in Congress.

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PHILADELPHIA MAYOR

PA Lawmaker Vows To 'Do Better' After Abortion Clinic Video

May 8, 2019
Matt Rourke / AP

A Pennsylvania state lawmaker who has drawn criticism for a recording of himself berating a woman who was protesting abortion outside a Philadelphia clinic promised Tuesday to "do better."

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Pennsylvania's governor is commuting life sentences of three inmates, bringing his total to eight, more than any of the state's governors over the past quarter century.

Katie Meyer / 90.5 WESA

When Michael Pollack first began lobbying for state lawmakers to stop accepting gifts, he said he was met with “a lot of hostility.”

“When you go in and you tell a legislator that what they’re doing day in and day out is wrong, that kind of rocks their worldview,” he said. “They wake up in the morning and they look in the mirror and they tell themselves a story to get through the day, and that story does not involve them doing something terribly wrong.”

PA House of Representatives

A Southeastern Pennsylvania lawmaker who opposes the Mariner East 2 pipeline is being criticized by unions that represent pipeline workers, and others, for a tweet one fellow House member called a "poor choice of words."

Matt Rourke / AP

A longstanding effort to change how Pennsylvania picks judges for its three high courts is diverging into two paths: selection based on merit, and election by regional district.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

It's just over three weeks before the May primary, and some candidates for city office are facing off with Pittsburgh's Ethics Hearing Board, though they may not all face the board in person. 

Matt Rourke / AP

By the end of the week, the state House is hoping to pass every proposal included in last year's grand jury report on decades of child abuse within the Roman Catholic church.

Tom MacDonald/WHYY

The state House swore in its first-ever Muslim woman on Monday.

Movita Johnson-Harrell won her Philadelphia seat in a special election earlier this month. A mother and grandmother, she arrived in Harrisburg with 55 guests, more than half of whom she said were fellow Muslims.

But she said her first day in office was marred by an “offensive” invocation before her induction.

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