More Money for Disability Services

Governor Tom Corbett has announced that his 2013-14 state budget proposal will include nearly $20 million to provide services for about 1200 Pennsylvania adults with intellectual disabilities. The governor says the funding will reduce a waiting list for those who suffer from Down syndrome, autism, Fragile X syndrome or other maladies that affect everyday social interactions and practical skills.

The governor made the announcement in Philadelphia along with representatives of the Department of Public Welfare who report that more than 3500 people are currently on an emergency waiting list, identified as needing services within the next 6 months.

The funding level represents an increase over the $17.8 million in the governor’s 2012-13 budget. Governor Corbett delivers his third budget address to a joint session of the state legislature on February 5th.


Next Voter ID Battle Set

Perhaps the biggest political battle of the 2012 election year wasn’t over a statewide office or seat in Congress; it was Voter ID.  Ultimately no Pennsylvania voter was required to show photo identification at the polls last November, but the legal battle is far from over.

A new scheduling order from Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson lays out some key dates for the next phase of this debate.   

Will the temporary, partial injunction be extended through this coming May’s primary election? We should find out in March. 

Will the plaintiffs be successful in their attempts to have the law permanently enjoined?  We should find out in July.

Right to Work Legislation Introduced Again- But is There Momentum in Pennsylvania?

For years, right to work legislation has failed to reach a final vote in Pennsylvania.  But   supporters are trying again this session, bolstered by approval of similar laws in states like Michigan and Wisconsin.

Representative Daryl Metcalfe and other lawmakers rolled out the Pennsylvania Open Workforce Initiative with the backing of a number of right to work advocates.  The Butler County Republican says he encourages anyone who believes in liberty to contact their legislator and demand that they sign on to “this common sense policy that will help create jobs in Pennsylvania and restore a very basic American freedom”.

The measures would give more workers the right to opt out of union membership.

Justin Davis, legislative Director of the National Right to Work Committee, says people should not be forced to join a union. He says good unions don’t need compulsory unionism and bad ones don’t deserve it.  He says it’s time for Pennsylvania to join the ranks of 24 other states where workers enjoy the freedoms and protections a right to work law affords.

Unions call them right to work for less laws.   Wythe Keever, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, Pennsylvania’s largest teacher’s union, disputes claims that such laws benefit workers.  He says in states that have these laws, the average pay for workers is lower, workers are less likely to have employer sponsored health care or any kind of retirement benefits.

Prison Closure Process Criticized

As the Department of Corrections moves forward with plans to close two prisons in western Pennsylvania, what many described as a “hasty” process was put under the microscope at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. 

“We were planning in-house to try to do it in the best manner, but there really isn’t a playbook, and the way that the staff found out – primarily by TV – is just inappropriate,” Corrections Secretary John Wetzel acknowledged to the committee.  “That’s my responsibility.” 

Earlier this month, Wetzel’s department announced that SCI Cresson and SCI Greensburg are scheduled to close by June 30th.  These aging facilities would be replaced by SCI Benner in Centre County. 

But the decision blindsided the 800 employees at those two facilities.  “You’re asking people to move their entire lives, and to make a big change, and you’re giving them – I don’t know – 11-days to make a decision,” lamented Senator Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland), who believes the workers are being treated terribly.   

More than 560-positions will be available at SCI Benner.  Wetzel says the balance of interested employees will be given the opportunity to transfer elsewhere in the state prison system. 

“I suggest that we delay these shutdowns, for at least a year, until we can get everybody in position,” Senator Jim Brewster (D-Westmoreland) said to a rare smattering of applause in the Senate hearing room.   

But delays too would have their own negative consequences, according to Secretary Wetzel, who points out the decisions is scheduled to save the state $23-million dollars a year starting with the new state budget.

Christman Blog: The JoePa Legacy Question

Today marks one year since the death of Joe Paterno. At any other time in his tenure at Penn State, Paterno’s death and the subsequent anniversaries would be cause for overwhelming demonstrations of love, grief and a remembrance of Penn State football glory.

January of 2012, however, was like no other time in the history of Penn State University. Former Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky was in a prison cell awaiting trial on unspeakable crimes; Paterno had been unceremoniously fired two months prior; and school trustees and other officials were scrambling to save any scrap of their former reputations. It was against this backdrop that Joseph Vincent Paterno slipped away in a hospital room on January 22, 2012.

It will be argued for decades whether or not Paterno received a fair shake in the days after Sandusky was charged, and then in the subsequent Freeh Report which named him – along with Graham Spanier, Tim Curley & Gary Schultz – as a prime culprit in an alleged conspiracy to sweep the Sandusky matter under the rug. The three surviving members of that quartet have yet to see their day in court. For Joe Paterno, no such day will come.

The Freeh Report included email chains between Spanier, Curley and Schultz, but no such emails from Paterno were found among the evidence laid out by the former FBI Director and his team. That’s because Joe didn’t use email. He had no smart phone, didn’t text and didn’t utilize social media like Twitter, which he once irreverently referred to as “Tweetlety Doo.” As such, there’s no electronic trail of Paterno’s role – or lack thereof – in the discussions that did take place behind closed doors in the Penn State athletic department from 1998 through 2011. One basic fact is often overlooked though: in this Keystone Cops version of an administration under former President Graham Spanier, Joe Paterno is the one person who did report the Sandusky allegations through the proper university channels.

For Paterno fans, there is that much. To sustain credibility, however, those same fans will have to admit that Joe let many people down when he did not follow up after seeing that no action was taken against Sandusky following his reporting the matter to Tim Curley. Let down most of all, the children who Sandusky continued to exploit and abuse. Even Joe knew that he didn’t do enough, saying he wished he had “done more.” That is why the Paterno legacy will remain tainted and why the first anniversary of his passing is met with a confusing and controversial multi-level of sadness among objective followers.

In the coming year, we’ll see more trials, more testimony and more finger pointing. We’ll hear others tell us what Joe Paterno did or didn’t know, and what he did or didn’t do over the now-scrutinized final decade-and-a-half of his 61-year tenure at Penn State. Paterno himself, though, is not here to confirm or deny anything we’ll hear from the mouths of defendants and attorneys who will be trying any tactic they can muster to keep their clients out of prison. Joe cannot take the stand, and without his direct testimony, his place in history will be forever debated.


(Brad Christman is the News Director of Radio Pennsylvania)


Agencies Working to Keep Vaccine, Flu Meds Available

Influenza hospitalization rates have increased sharply for people age 65 and older this month according to CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden.  He says the elderly tend to be more vulnerable to complications.

The CDC is recommending older Americans and anyone with medical conditions that put them at a higher risk seek anti-viral medications within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. Dr. Frieden says the drugs are effective is helping to avoid serious complications from the flu.

Dr. Frieden says people who have not been vaccinated should still consider a flu shot.  He says there have been spot shortages, but there is still vaccine available. He says the original projection was that 135 million doses would be needed for the season. Not all doses have been used and manufacturers have about 10 million more doses- a total of 145 million- for the season.  People who are having trouble finding a place to get vaccinated can check availability on line.

The rate of treatment with anti-viral medications has been lower than expected.  The Food and Drug Administration is working to make sure medicine is available for all who need it.

Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg says some temporary spot shortages have been reported of the liquid suspension of Tamiflu for children. The administration is taking steps to get more doses of a capsule for adults on the market.  It can also be reformulated for children if needed.  The manufacturer has been cleared to release it in outdated packaging and pharmacists are being notified that some instructions to not up to date.

Corbett to Unveil Transportation Plan Soon

As Governor Tom Corbett preps to unveil his transportation funding plan, House Democrats have already introduced a series of related bills.  They reflect the recommendations of the Governor’s Transportation Funding Advisory Committee, which released its report in August 2011.  Some of the funding streams it outlined as ways to help close the $3.5-billion dollar annual gap include: uncapping the oil company franchise tax and indexing vehicle & driver fees to inflation. 

House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny) tells Radio PA that Pennsylvanians are willing to invest in their transportation infrastructure.  “They’ll pay a little bit more knowing that it is going to improve roads and bridges and transit – make them safer – and put their families and neighbors to work again.”

Dermody says the governor needs to step up and lead on this issue, and lawmakers will get to work from there. 

One lawmaker that’s been working behind the scenes with the Corbett administration for weeks is State Senator John Rafferty (R-Montgomery), chairman of the Transportation Committee.  “The Senate will be very assertive this year in transportation funding,” Rafferty says, noting that he has legislation that’s almost ready to be introduced. 

Meanwhile, Governor Corbett has publicly said he will introduce a transportation funding plan before his February 5th budget address, meaning some much anticipated news will be made within the next two weeks.

State Food Purchase Program Turns 30

Created in 1983, and written into law ten years later, the State Food Purchase Program helps food banks feed the state’s hungriest families.  However, the 30-year anniversary is one that Hunger-Free Pennsylvania Executive Director Sheila Christopher would prefer not to mark.  “We would rather be standing her marking the end of SFPP, a sign that hunger is no longer a problem in Pennsylvania,” she told a crowd of anti-hunger advocates in the state capitol rotunda.  “Sadly that’s not the case.”

Amid the muted celebration, the group honored the four sitting lawmakers who were among the bill’s original co-sponsors 20-years ago: Sam Smith (R-Jefferson), David Argall (R-Schuylkill), Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster) and Tom Caltagirone (D-Berks). 

These cupcakes have since been delivered to state lawmakers and key members of the administration.

These cupcakes have since been delivered to state lawmakers and key members of the administration.

For the scores of younger lawmakers who don’t have such a long history with the SFPP, Christopher and others delivered each of them a cupcake and an information card.  “We certainly would hope they would recognize the importance of this program.  It’s not going away, unfortunately, so let’s get our people fed,” she tells us. 

SFPP funding has been slowly eroding. While demand for the program has increased over the past five years, support has been cut back from $18.75-million to $17.34-million.  Christopher says they’d need $24-million just to keep up with food inflation, let alone the additional requests for assistance.

“Nearly 1.4-million Pennsylvanians are at risk for hunger in one of the most productive agricultural states in the northeast,” state Agriculture Secretary George Greig explained at the commemoration.  While their struggle for funding continues, the participation of a Corbett cabinet member – in addition to bipartisan, bicameral lawmakers – gave the state’s anti-hunger advocates reason for optimism.

RadioPA Roundtable

Radio PA Roundtable 1.18.13

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Brad Christman brings you Governor Tom Corbett’s remarks this week on transportation funding, guns, selling the state’s liquor stores and the new contract for Pennsylvania Lottery Management. U.S. Senator Bob Casey also weighs in on the gun proposals being debated in Washington and nationwide and we review the swearing in ceremonies for Pennsylvania’s row officers.

Radio PA Roundtable is a 30-minute program featuring in-depth reporting on the top news stories of the week.

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:


Visit the Governor’s Residence…Without Leaving Home

The Governor’s residence sits along the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg, but not many Pennsylvanians get the chance to drop in for a visit. That’s why First Lady Susan Corbett is taking part in a virtual tour of the residence.

Mrs. Corbett says the online experience will ensure “that more Pennsylvanians will have an opportunity to see and learn about this important state treasure.” Viewers will learn about featured art and artifacts on display in the public areas of the residence. The tour is available at

There are also a host of in-person open house events at the residence throughout the year.