Harrisburg Sets Spring Rain Record

The soggy spring was one for the record books in the state capital.   It is officially the wettest spring ever for Harrisburg.

Matt Steinbugl, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in State College, says they measured 20.79 inches of rain in March, April and May. Steinbugl says that’s more than 9 inches above average, and beats the previous record by more than two inches.

The old record was 18.18 inches set in 1983.

Steinbugl says the area was in a consistent active weather pattern through most of the spring. Annual rainfall in Harrisburg averages about 41.45 inches, so the city has already seen half of its annual average in the first three months of the year. Meteorological summer began on June 1st.

Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency says Get Ready for Storm Season

Hurricane season planning is not just for people who live on the coast line. The   Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency is reminding state residents they need to have a plan as well.

While the state rarely gets a direct hit from a hurricane, it does see tropical storms and tropical depressions with large amounts of rain, damaging winds and even the possibility of a tornado. These conditions can lead to flooding and power outages.

PEMA Director Glenn Cannon says it’s important to have a plan in place for your family and an emergency kit that could sustain them for at least 72 hours. 

Cannon says that kit should include flashlights and a battery operated radio, extra batteries, a first aid kit and manual, emergency food and water, a manual can opener, essential medications, cash and credit cards, important documents and sturdy shoes.

Cannon says you should also develop a family plan that identifies a place to meet and a way to communicate if you get separated.

Tornado planning should include the identification of a safe shelter. People who have a basement should know the safest place to take cover.  People without a basement should identify an interior room at the lowest level that provides protection. People in mobile homes should know where the nearest sturdy building or storm shelter is located.

Cannon adds many Pennsylvanians vacation at the shore and they should be prepared if they find themselves in the direct path of a hurricane. He says they should monitor weather forecasts, know where the evacuation routes and shelters are located in the town they’re visiting and keep their vehicle fueled and ready.  

You can learn more about hurricane and summer storm preparation at www.readypa.org.

Teen Tanning Bed Legislation

Bill Would Bar Teens from Tanning Beds

Pennsylvania teenagers would essentially be barred from tanning beds, under legislation that’s being debated in the State House Judiciary Committee.  “What the bill would do is prevent any business from allowing persons under the age of 18 from using an indoor tanning bed,” said State Rep. RoseMarie Swanger (R-Lebanon) at a Wednesday news conference.  Swanger cites research published last year in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention: “People who have ever used tanning beds were 74% more likely to develop melanoma than others.”

Earlier Wednesday, the State House Judiciary Committee heard a variety of testimony on Swanger’s bill.  Dr. Gavin Robertson from the Penn State Hershey Medical Center testified that the World Health Organization recommends completely banning tanning beds for kids under the age of 18, and classifying UV as a class one carcinogen.  In her own testimony, Swanger pointed out that she wants to amend the bill to make the penalties civil, not criminal.  “Violators should be fined and at some point lose their license, but I don’t intend for anyone to go to jail for such a violation.” 

Swanger’s bill would not stop teens from tanning, according to Joe Schuster from the Indoor Tanning Association, and industry trade group.  “It’ll send them outdoors into an uncontrolled environment with no supervision, no trained staff, no parental consent required, where they’re more likely to be overexposed or sunburned,” Schuster testified.  He argued that tanning beds are no more or less harmful than the sun. “Are you also prepared to ban these same teens from sun exposure at beaches at the various state parks and thousands of other pools, playgrounds and parks throughout the state of Pennsylvania?”

HB 369 currently awaits action in the Judiciary Committee, but it may get assigned to a different standing committee depending on the changes that Swanger wants to make to its penalties.

Cash

Another Good Revenue Month for PA

May’s tax receipts have been tallied, and the Department of Revenue reports that collections exceeded estimates by nearly $34-million, or 1.9%.  That means Pennsylvania’s revenues are outpacing estimates by a total of $539-million through 11-months of the fiscal year.  “It just points out once again how bad the Republican budget that was passed last month actually is,” says Bill Patton, a spokesman for House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny)A GOP-backed, $27.3-billion dollar budget bill passed the House last month with zero Democratic support.  It would not have used any of the current fiscal year’s excess revenue.  “We should use a good bit of this surplus revenue to restore cuts that were made in the House Republican budget, and we think we can do that in the month of June,” Patton tells us. 

The notion of tapping into that money is a bipartisan one over in the Senate.  “We have proposed using some of the revenue surplus that exists to help soften the impact of cuts in the education area, cuts to hospitals,” says Senate Republican spokesman Erik Arneson.  “This gives us continued reason to think that it can be done in a fiscally responsible way.”  However, Arneson cautions that while the economy appears to be recovering, there are still “some serious soft spots.” 

Looking at how the state’s major revenue sources fared in May:  sales taxes and corporation tax receipts were above estimate.  Personal income tax revenue was below estimate for the month, but still 2.1% above estimate for the fiscal-year-to-date.  In an email to his colleagues, Wednesday, House Democratic Appropriations Chair Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland) pointed out that May is one of the smallest revenue collection months.  He suggests that further surplus could be posted in June, which is a more significant month for state revenues.  Both the House and Senate are in recess until June 6th, but state budget matters will get top billing between then and the June 30th budget deadline.

Sate Capitol View from Commonwealth Ave.

New Debut Date for “Ask the Governor”

Governor Tom Corbett is scheduled to make his debut appearance on “Ask the Governor” on Thursday, June 9th. Gov. Tom CorbettVideo segments of the program will be available on PAMatters.com starting that day and the program is also airing on radio stations statewide through the Radio Pennsylvania Network.

Visit our “Ask the Governor” page to submit a question or comment for Governor Tom Corbett, then check back regularly for program video and announcements of future show dates.

Ask the Governor” is a production of Radio Pennsylvania in association with PAMatters.com.

Senator Pat Toomey Meets with Israeli Prime Minister

    U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a Middle East swing with fellow U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-ID). The conversation focused on several key issues facing Israel and the United States, including the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, the ongoing Middle East peace process and US-Israeli cooperation on military and intelligence matters.

    Calling Israel America’s greatest ally in the Middle East, Senator Toomey pledged to work toward advancing joint national security interests and pursuing a realistic peace agreement that “does not compromise Israel’s security.”

    Tuesday’s meeting took place in Jerusalem.

    Just last week, Toomey criticized President Barack Obama’s speech, in which the President called for a peace deal based on Israel’s pre-1967 borders. Toomey says the proposal “undermines our ally Israel’s negotiating position, demonstrates insensitivity to the security threats Israel faces on a daily basis and ignores the historical context that has shaped the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for more than 60 years.”

Hurricane Season is Here, Are You Prepared?

It’s expected to be an above normal Atlantic Hurricane season according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Today (June 1st) marks the start of the season.

Lead seasonal forecaster Dr. Gerry Bell says they’re expecting 12 to 18 named storms, 6 to 10 of them hurricanes, with 3 to 6 storms expected to reach Category 3 or larger. He says the prediction is based on overall wind and air pressure patterns and warmer sea surface temperatures where storms often develop.

Dr. Bell says whether you live along the coast or inland, now is the time to prepare for Hurricane season. He says hurricanes can track well inland, producing flooding, tornadoes and wind damage.  He says people can be impacted well away from the coast.

Dr. Bell says vacationers who frequent the coast during hurricane season, and boaters who dock their craft along the coast, should take extra steps.  Boat owners should check their insurance policies and make sure they have someone who can get their boat to safe harbor if a storm approaches.

You can learn more about preparedness at ready.gov or www.nhc.noaa.gov.

State Capitol Fountain

PA Lawmakers Seek New Offices

A half-dozen State Reps. won primary elections for various local offices, last month, and will appear on the November ballot.  For instance, Republican Doug Reichley is on the ballot for a judicial post in Lehigh County.  Discussing the large number of lawmakers who may bolt Harrisburg, Reichley says it comes and goes in cycles.  “I think there were just two members in the ’09 elections that ran, so I think it is coincidence this year with the number of members who are running for other elected offices.” 

Reichley has served the residents of Lehigh and Berks Counties since he was first elected to the House in 2002, and admits he would appreciate a chance to serve closer to home.  “The amount of time away from home that is required by the job – both to be in Harrisburg and to be doing events in the district – really does take a toll on your family life,” said Reichley, who has two children at home. 

Also on the November ballot is Democrat Josh Shapiro, who’s campaigning for Montgomery County Commissioner.  He calls the opportunity too much to pass up.  “For me it was about helping people in a more direct way, about having the opportunity to affect more lives than I do now in a positive way,” Shapiro says.  He’s also drawn to the executive role of a county commissioner. 

Six State Reps in all could be voted into new jobs this fall: four Democrats and two Republicans.  Republican Dennis O’Brien and Democrat Kenyatta Johnson are each eying seats on Philadelphia City Council.  O’Brien, of course, served as Speaker of the House from 2007 to 2008.  Special elections would be called next year to fill any vacant seats.

Random Octane Testing of PA Gasoline

Committee Gives Green Light to Octane Testing Bill

Alaska, Nebraska and Pennsylvania are the last three states without required tests for octane levels at their gas pumps.  “Just recently Maryland who passed the legislation did a study, and they found substantial variations in the testing,” says State Senator Stewart Greenleaf, the prime sponsor of SB 341.  Greenleaf’s legislation would require the Department of Agriculture to randomly test for octane levels in gasoline.  It has the support of the Pennsylvania AAA Federation. 

Executive director of the Pennsylvania AAA Federation Ted Leonard points out that a gallon of regular gas averages about $3.80 in Pennsylvania (as of Tuesday afternoon).  “Given that high price of gasoline, consumers should be assured that they’re getting what they’re paying for,” he tells us.  Different engines are built to run on different octane levels, and the problem is that you may be paying for 93-octane, but receiving 87.  While the 87 may cost $3.80, Leonard says premium gasoline is averaging $4.06 in the Keystone State.  While Leonard does not believe discrepancies are widespread, he points out that motorists could take a double hit:  “You’re not getting what you pay for and secondly damaged engines and fuel gauges… can be expensive repairs.”    

The state Department of Agriculture currently tests gas pumps to ensure that you’re getting the gallon you paid for.  We’re not assured of the composition of that gallon of gas.  Sen. Greenleaf says SB 341 with give the Department of Ag the authority to implement and enforce the law.  He believes random testing will control costs while providing piece of mind.  The bill was unanimously voted out of the Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee last week.  Up next is the Senate floor.

Pennsylvania State Police Investigate More Crashes, Fewer Fatalities This Memorial Day Weekend

Pennsylvania State Police handled more crash investigations this Memorial Day Weekend than last but there were fewer fatalities.  13 people were killed in the 808 crashes investigated by State Police over the holiday weekend, compared to 16 deaths in 776 crashes during the 2010 Memorial Day weekend. Five of those killed were not wearing seatbelts one fatal crash was alcohol-related.    Last year, none of the 16 victims wore a seatbelt and two of the fatal crashes were alcohol-related.

While the number of fatalities this year was below the 2010 Memorial Day holiday, it was still higher than the 2009 holiday weekend, when nine people died in crashes investigated by state troopers. In addition, a total of 83 accidents this Memorial Day weekend are believed to be alcohol-related, compared to 70 last Memorial Day weekend.

State Police spokesman Jack Lewis says troopers arrested 357 motorists for driving under the influence; issued 7,934 speeding citations; cited 708 individuals for not wearing seat belts; and issued 115 citations to motorists for not securing children in child safety seats. The special enforcement period did not end with the holiday weekend. State Troopers are still in the midst of a Click it or Ticket campaign. They’ll be paying special attention to see if drivers are following the seatbelt law and children are properly restrained through June 5th.