Tree Killing Pest Found in Two More Pennsylvania Counties

The tree-destroying Emerald Ash Borer has been found in two more Pennsylvania Counties.   Huntingdon and Wyoming Counties have been added to the list where the pest has been found, becoming the 20th and 21st in the state. The Pennsylvania Agriculture Department is asking people not to transport firewood more than 50 miles from where it was purchased to help slow the ash borer’s spread.

 Nichole Bucher, Deputy Press Secretary for the  Department,  says it’s hard for the average person to notice damage caused by the ash borer, that’s why they’re encouraging people to burn any wood where they buy it.  She says the beetle can “hitchhike” on pieces of wood, spreading it to other parts of the state.

 Bucher says survey crews are trying to establish the leading edge of the infestation.  They started in May hanging up bright, purple triangular traps on trees throughout the state.  The ash borer is attracted to the traps. The Department asks that people not disturb those traps.

 Bucher says the beetle is destructive to ash trees. The ash borer basically suffocates the tree, cutting it off from air, water and nutrients.  Within about three years of infestation, the tree will be dead.  Ash trees are used in urban landscapes and are popular wood for baseball bats.

 Bucher says the department has a pest hotline. You can call if you believe you have found an Emerald Ash Borer or discovered damage it may have  caused.  You can also call if you find one of the purple traps dislodged.  The number is 1-866-253-7189.

Red Cross Puts Out Nationwide Call For Blood

The American Red Cross has put out a national call for blood donations. The blood supply has dropped to critically low levels as we get into the heat of the summer months, with many donors traveling or busy and schools out of session.

Mike Baisey, Communications Manager for the Chesapeake and Potomac Blood Services Region, says there’s a need for all blood types, but especially O negative, which can be used for virtually any patient in a trauma situation. He says that blood type is absolutely vital to have on hand in the emergency room.

You can go on line to to find a blood drive nearest you.  By entering your zip code, you can find a list of donation opportunities.  Donors can also call 1-800-Red-Cross for more information on local blood drives. Baisey says they’re adding drives and extending hours, so the list will be updated during the week.  He says they want to provide as much opportunity to donate as they can, providing the community every opportunity to make a donation.

Baisey says they’re asking anyone who may be eligible to please schedule a donation at a donor center or a mobile blood drive in their area, and do it as soon as possible. He says they want to make sure the Red Cross can provide the needed blood supply to all of the local hospitals to make sure they don’t get into a situation where elective surgeries might be in question.

PennDOT Asks Drivers to Take On Line Survey

PennDOT is asking drivers to give it some feedback, asking people to take a few minutes to fill out an on line survey focusing on highway safety issues. It’s an effort to gauge how drivers feel about enforcement, drinking and driving, seat belts, motorcycles, distracted driving and other issues.

Erin Waters, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, says the survey has about 19 questions and can be completed anonymously. She says it should take less than five minutes to complete.  The survey is available until July 30th and can be found at

Waters says the state is required to get feedback by federal safety officials, but PennDOT also wants to learn whether people are wearing their seatbelts, if they think they’ll get caught if they speed and how people feel about safety and educational messages, as well as other factors.

Waters says the input could help PennDOT prioritize enforcement and tweak its educational focus.

More than 3,800 people responded to the survey last year. Waters says people indicated they were wearing their seatbelts and more than 70% of motorcyclists reported wearing helmets and safety gear.

How About Another Round of Liquor Store Privatization Debate?

Debate over state control of wine & spirits stores could be on tap, this fall, at the capitol.  House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) is already seeking co-sponsors, and could unveil his latest bill soon.  Supporters say Pennsylvania shouldn’t be in the booze business in the first place.  In fact, Pennsylvania and Utah are the only two states that maintain complete control over their alcohol and wine systems.  “That points to how antiquated, absurd and un-American this issue really is,” says Jay Ostrich, director of public affairs for the Commonwealth Foundation.

Ostrich says Pennsylvania consumers would be better off.  “They’re seeking better choices and better prices, more economic and personal freedom.  We believe liquor freedom, through privatization, will certainly give them just that,” he tells us. 

But opponents say privatization doesn’t make financial or social sense.  “The current system raises a lot of money for the state.  There’s a lot of very strong evidence that we get more, because of the state’s monopoly of wine & spirits distribution, than states where it’s privatized,” says Stephen Herzenberg, executive director of the Keystone Research Center.  Herzenberg points to research that suggests privatization would lead to more excessive consumption of alcohol.  “The way we do it here helps reduce alcohol abuse and related social problems,” he says. 

Herzenberg also stresses that no reliable estimate exists for the up-front revenue the state would receive if its 644 liquor stores were privatized.         

The bill that Rep. Mike Turzai introduced last year would have created a new tax and fee structure.  It would have started by nixing the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s 30% markup and the 18% Johnstown Flood Tax.  His plan called for a new “gallonage tax” instead.  Full details of this year’s proposal aren’t yet available, but Turzai does have two new developments working in his favor: 1) his caucus is now in the majority, and 2) new Governor Tom Corbett does not believe the state should be in the business of selling liquor and wine. 

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board wouldn’t be completely out of the picture, if wine & spirits stores were privatized.  “We have an obligation to regulate and tax, but we don’t have to own and operate,” Turzai said in an interview with Radio PA this spring.  Meanwhile, the PLCB reported record sales for the fiscal year that ended on June 30th.  Nearly $2-billion dollars in sales brought in nearly $500-million dollars worth of tax revenue and profit transfers for the state.

GOP Chair Confident Heading into 2012

Republicans are targeting Pennsylvania in their quest to retake the White House in 2012.  The Republican National Committee has already bought up commercial time on cable television, in the Keystone State, to criticize President Barack Obama.

Republican Party of Pennsylvania Chairman Rob Gleason thinks President Obama is vulnerable in PA.  “The 2012 election will come down to the President’s clear failure to lead on the economy.  He will lose because Pennsylvanians will hold him accountable at the ballot box,” Gleason told reporters on a recent conference call.

Sen. Bob Casey

US Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) is Seeking a Second Term in 2012

Pointing to last year’s legislative and Congressional races in Pennsylvania, Gleason sees clear Republican momentum.  He thinks it’s enough to not just take back the White House, but Democrat Bob Casey’s US Senate seat too.  While no high-profile Republicans have stepped forward to challenge Casey yet, Chairman Gleason says he is talking to people on a regular basis.  “We have many people considering it, and our polls show that Senator Casey is very vulnerable… He’s voted with the President 97% of the time.  When the President goes down, Bob Casey is going to go down, and we will have a good candidate for the United States Senate,” Gleason says.    

Meanwhile, a June Quinnipiac Poll in Pennsylvania finds that voters believe Casey deserves as second term, by a margin of 47 – 31%.  The election is still 16-months away, and Casey reportedly has $3.1-million dollars in his campaign coffers already.  In a statement, Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn says Casey’s in a good position entering his reelection bid.  But, Gleason believes this is going to be an expensive Senate race – possibly in the $25 – $30-million dollar range.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle Nest Numbers Soar

Bald Eagle Chicks

Bald Eagle Chicks

The number of bald eagle nests in Pennsylvania now tops 200.  The state Game Commission counts 203-nests in 50-counties.  “As recently as 1983 there were only three known nests, and they were all in Crawford County,” Game Commission spokesman Jerry Feaser tells us. 

1983 was the year the Game Commission implemented its bald eagle restoration program.  From that restoration effort, Feaser says, PA went from 3 active nests in 1983 to 100 in 2006.  “Now here we are, just five years later, and we’ve more than doubled the number of active bald eagle nests.”   

Crawford County still tops the list of bald eagle nests.  It and Pike County each have 19 known nests.  Lancaster County follows with 18.  None of those counties should be a surprise, because bald eagles thrive around major waterways.

This is the first year that the Game Commission has published an “Eagle Watching in Pennsylvania” guide, which you can find on their website.  “Pennsylvanians now have a greater opportunity of seeing a bald eagle, today, than any other generation since the Civil War,” Feaser says. 

Meanwhile, nesting bald eagles have temporarily put the brakes on a road construction project in York County.  PennDOT says the work on Route 30 will resume in August, as they do not want to disturb the chicks.  Bald eagles are currently classified as a threatened species in Pennsylvania.  There are 10 known bald eagle nests in York County.

Governor signs Law that Toughens Penalties for Boating Under the Influence

Penalties will be tougher for boating under the influence if a death occurs, under a bill signed into law by Governor Corbett.  House Bill 78 amends the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Code to bring penalties for homicide by watercraft while operating under the influence in line with driving under the influence.

The new law makes the offense a second degree felony and increases the maximum penalty.

Representative Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre) sponsored the bill after a 12-year-old girl was killed on the Susquehanna River in a boating collision two years ago.  The boater convicted in the incident had several prior DUI offenses.  Benninghoff  says  the new law also allows previous DUI convictions to be factored in when someone is charged with boating under the influence.

Benninghoff says the law also provides that  consecutive sentences of three years each be imposed  for each victim killed in a boating collision where the operator was intoxicated.

 He says the goal of the bill is to bring parity in Pennsylvania’s DUI laws.  He says the penalty should not be less severe if you’re not in a motor vehicle. 

Benninghoff says they’re trying to send a strong message that people can face the same price whether it’s on land or sea if they do not drink responsibly. 


Good Samaritan Bill Among New Laws Signed by Governor Corbett

Governor Corbett’s pen was busy this week as he inked nearly four dozen bills in one day. One of those measures is Senate Bill 448, the so-called Good Samaritan law. It would protect people under 21 from underage drinking prosecution if they call 911 to help a friend.

The new law, when it takes effect 60 days after signing, will give some legal immunity to a person who is underage and calls 911 to help a drunk friend facing an emergency.  The caller will have to give their name and stay with the friend until help arrives.

Deb Beck of the Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of PA says it’s a very wise law.  She says people engage in drinking alcohol, particularly  on our college campuses, and others around them know they’re in trouble, but they’re afraid to do anything. Beck  believes the new law will save lives.   

Beck says there have been stories over the years of  young people out cold on a campus somewhere and no one knows quite what to do.  She believes young people want to do the right thing, but she believes we need to do things that will make them immune from prosecution when they do that.  Beck says that’s what the new law will do.

Beck hopes the law will get sent out to all of the college campuses in Pennsylvania, and there will be an education campaign.

The bill was sponsored by Senator John Rafferty (R-Berks). It had bipartisan support, passing unanimously in the house and senate.


Space Shuttle Atlantis Launches Just about on Schedule

The space shuttle Atlantis blasted off just a couple of minutes later than scheduled, finding a window of good weather to head off on its final mission. STS-135 is the last flight of  NASA’s space shuttle program, which began in 1981.

Christopher Ferguson is the commander of the historic mission. The Philadelphia native is a graduate of St. Martha Elementary School, Archbishop Ryan High School and Drexel University.  He joined NASA in 1998 after a career in the Navy.

We spoke to Ferguson in a reporter’s round robin by telephone prior to the mission.  He said every commander feels a little bit of pressure to make sure the mission goes well, and this one is no exception.  He says despite the attention surrounding the mission,  they still have a very tight timeline and a complex mission to pull off.

Ferguson says the fact the shuttle program  is ending in July 2011 is no surprise, we’ve known about this since President Bush laid forth his vision for space exploration after we lost  the shuttle Columbia in 2003.  While Ferguson is sad to see the program go away, he compared it to selling your first car.  He says there’s a little piece of you that doesn’t want to let it go, but  in order to go on to bigger and better things, you have to sell the one you have now.  He says in order to take the next step in the space program, we’re going to have to shut down the shuttle.  

Ferguson hopes the attention being paid to the historic flight will re-energize the public’s enthusiasm for the space program. He says NASA will have a very narrow window where it’s thrust into the limelight. He think’s it’s imperative that the taxpaying public and Congress capitalize on that momentum to make sure our path to low earth orbit is charted very, very clearly.  

He says even as the shuttle program ends, there will still be Americans on the International Space Station.  Ferguson  says the U. S. has contracted with our Russian partners to take Americans to the ISS.

By the way, Ferguson tells us  he’s a huge Phillies, Flyers, Eagles and 76ers fan.   He still has family living in the Philadelphia area.

Ferguson will have three months of post flight activities when the mission is over, and still has not set his future plans now that the shuttle program is ending.

**All photos courtesy of NASA.

New Law Holds Drug Dealers Accountable

One of the 46 new laws that Governor Tom Corbett signed, on Thursday, will reclassify the offense of drug delivery resulting in death.  The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association (PDAA) tells us a 2005 state Supreme Court decision tied prosecutors’ hands by requiring that they prove the drug dealer acted with malice.  “It became almost impossible to prove because it was a two-party transaction and one of the parties was dead, and unable to testify as to what was going on,” says PDAA executive director Richard Long. 

Now, if you sell – or otherwise provide – illegal drugs to a person who dies a result, you would face a first degree felony.  The maximum penalty is 40 years behind bars.  “Obviously we think that is more in line with the gravity of the crime that has been committed,” Long tells us.  The new law takes effect in 60 days. 

Bath Salts

A Statewide Ban on "Bath Salts" was Signed Last Month

Combined with the new ban on bath salts and other synthetic drugs, Corbett’s signature on HB 396 makes it the second of the PDAA’s priorities to be enacted in the past few weeks.  They hope lawmakers will vote to close several Megan’s Law loopholes in the fall.

Among the several dozen other new laws signed this week is SB 101, which will increase the penalties for public officials who violate the open meeting requirements of the Sunshine Act.  SB 260 will bring Pennsylvania in line with Centers for Disease Control recommendations that call for HIV testing to be a part of routine medical care (though you can still opt out). 

Finally, another ‘blue law’ bites the dust.  Thanks to SB 419, you’ll soon be able to buy a motorcycle on Sunday.