Abortion Clinic Bills Stir Controversy

The Pro-Life and Pro-Choice crowds are on opposite sides of new abortion clinic regulations that could soon make their way to Governor Tom Corbett’s desk.  The State House and Senate Pro-Life Caucuses are calling for action on SB 732, which would regulate abortion centers like the state’s ambulatory surgical centers.  “I would think any woman who has a medical procedure performed in one of these clinics would want to be assured that the facility meets state minimum standards,” says State Rep. Jerry Stern (R-Blair), chairman of the House Pro-Life Caucus.

Similar legislation has already passed both Republican-controlled chambers in Harrisburg, and a spokesman for the House Majority Leader says they could take up SB 732 as early as next week.  Officials spent the summer working on amended language they believe can pass both chambers. 

But the prospective passage of this legislation drew hundreds of opponents to the state capitol on Tuesday.  “We are health care consumers, we vote and we have had enough,” exclaimed Brenda Green, executive director of CHOICE, a Philadelphia non-profit. 

One of the lawmakers joining in the rally was State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny), who believes the legislation’s intent is to shut down PA’s abortion clinics through burdensome and costly regulations.  “They’re giving up on the Supreme Court, in overturning Roe v. Wade.  They’re going to overturn Roe v. Wade through these types of laws,” Frankel says. 

“Contrary to what the naysayers and opponents are saying, this is not about stopping abortion, this is about patient safety.  Common sense patient safety,” says State Rep. Matt Baker, who sponsored the House version of the abortion clinic legislation. 

The bills were written in response to the alleged ‘house of horrors’ uncovered at one Philadelphia clinic operated by disgraced Dr. Kermit Gosnell.  The clinic had gone uninspected for years, but a Grand Jury ultimately charged Gosnell with eight counts of murder. 

Rep. Frankel believes mandatory inspections can prevent the atrocities of the Gosnell clinic without restricting women’s access to abortions.

Random Octane Testing of PA Gasoline

Gas Prices Are Falling In Pennsylvania and Around the Country

Gasoline prices are falling nationwide and some analysts think prices could still go lower. You can thank the change in seasons, with the change over to the less expensive fall/winter fuel blend.  But that’s not the only reason prices at the pump dropped again over the weekend in Pennsylvania.

Jenny Robinson of AAA Mid-Atlantic says after Labor Day, summer travel demand dropped. Meanwhile, crude oil fell to under 80 dollars a barrel. Demand is running about 2% behind last year, according to most analysts.  The bleak economic outlook noted by the Federal Reserve and fears around the world for a global economic recession are additional factors in the prices. Gasoline inventories are also up.

Robinson says the Pennsylvania gas average is now at $3.54 a gallon.  It dropped about a nickel last week, then another four cents over the weekend. She says it could continue to improve as we go through the fall, possibly coming down another 10 to 20 cents or more.  While the prices are higher than last year, they’re lower than they were in the spring and summer.

Robinson says we could see prices start to go back up heading into the winter, depending on how supplies change due to the weather and other factors. It’s not clear how long lived the decrease will be.

Robinson says AAA’s Fuel Finder can help you find the lowest prices in your area.

New Report says More than One-Quarter of Bridges In Pennsylvania Are Deficient

A report from the Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group says its analysis shows the state has the highest percentage of deficient bridges in the country. Breaking down county-by county data, PennPIRG says it finds that over 26% of the state’s bridges are rated structurally deficient by government standards.

Program Associate Alana Miller says bridges should be a top priority as Pennsylvania looks for ways to fund transportation projects.

 Miller says some deficient bridges have weight or travel restrictions, leading to more traffic congestion. She says we’ve been putting off maintenance, and highway builders have been lobbying for wider roads or more highways when we need to focus on problems that need to be fixed right now.

Miller says fixing what we have will save money, improve safety and create jobs.  She says it will give us the most out of our transportation dollars.

Miller says Pennsylvania needs to focus on “fix it first”.  She says in 2008, the state needed to spend 7.8 billion dollars to bring all of its bridges into good repair.  She says the state only spent less than half a billion dollars.  She thinks that’s a good example of how Pennsylvania is prioritizing what it’s doing.

Lawmakers Consider Library Code Update

Pennsylvania’s libraries are busier than ever.  “Between 2007 and 2009, library visits increased by 2.5-million,” Deputy Education Secretary for Commonwealth Libraries Clare Zales explained to a Senate panel.  “Nearly 850,000 patrons accessed the Internet, which is an increase of 22%.”

These numbers are the backdrop as state lawmakers consider an overhaul of the state’s 50-year-old library code.  “At the time the library code was a model for other states, however it is now considered antiquated,” says State Senator Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware), the prime sponsor of SB 1225.  Pileggi’s bill is based on a 2010 report from the Joint State Government Commission, which made recommendations for library modernization in Pennsylvania. 

It would set new standards that reflect new technology, create new ways for the state to address libraries that don’t meet minimum levels of local funding and update requirements for staff, collections and buildings.  “One example of this clear need for an update is that current law requires each district library center to have a minimum of 300 16-milimeter films in its collection,” Pileggi explained to the Senate Education Committee.   

Many librarians and advocates are using this opportunity to raise their grave funding concerns.  Dennis Leeper with Pennsylvania Citizens for Better Libraries says most libraries are trying to compete for municipal funding alongside police and fire departments.  “So the libraries often get what’s left over, and in difficult economic times like these there isn’t much left over.  So the libraries are hurting.”

Bloomsburg Flood - Tropical Storm Lee

$47-Million Already Approved for PA Flood Victims


The number of Disaster Recovery Centers has more than doubled since Governor Tom Corbett first made the announcement on Sept. 14th.

Federal and state officials have nearly tripled the number of Disaster Recovery Centers operating in flood ravaged parts of the state.  The number now stands at 18.  FEMA spokesman Eugene Brezany is in the field in central Pennsylvania, and says those DRCs have been busy.  “A lot of people are following up on their application and that’s what we’re there for.” 

Between Tropical Storm Lee and the earlier Hurricane Irene, FEMA has received 29,000 registrations from Pennsylvanians seeking federal assistance.  10,000 Pennsylvania applications have been approved and Brezany says $47-million dollars in aid have been obligated so far.  “It’s moving as fast as it can for somebody.  For everybody, it’s probably not fast enough, but we are certainly moving some funds out the door.” 

No deadline for applications has been established yet, but FEMA won’t be here forever, and Brezany says the sooner flood victims register, the sooner the process can begin. 

The maximum federal grant for disaster assistance is $30,200, but the average runs in the $4,000 to $5,000 dollar range.  “It’s not going to get anybody back to square one, it’s simply designed to get people back on their feet so that they can help themselves,” Brezany explained.  Bills have been introduced in the State Senate, which would pick up where the federal efforts leave off. 

Meanwhile, FEMA officials and Pennsylvania flood victims alike are watching the latest political battle on Capitol Hill.  FEMA’s disaster recovery fund is caught in the middle, and could run dry as early as next week.  It’s not clear what the implications could be for PA flood victims. 

Flood victims are asked to register before they visit a Disaster Recovery Center.  Eligible counties from Tropical Storm Lee include: Adams, Bradford, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Luzerne, Lycoming, Montour, Northumberland, Perry, Schuylkill, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Union, Wyoming and York.  Eligible counties from Hurricane Irene include: Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lehigh, Monroe, Northampton, Philadelphia, Sullivan and Wyoming.

More Outdoor Time Could Help Kids Get a Better Night’s Sleep

A new parent’s guide from the National Wildlife Federation says kids could get a better night’s sleep if they spent more time outdoors.   “Green Time for Sleep Time” calls for rebalancing the amount of time children spend in front of screens such as TVs, computers and gaming systems and the amount of time they spend outdoors.

Kevin Coyle , Vice President for Education and Training at the National Wildlife Federation, says kids spend about 7 to 8 hours on screen time a day compared to about a half hour outside. He adds most of the outdoor time is related to organized sports.

Coyle says they found a lot of scientific evidence that children who spend the most time on electronic media have trouble sleeping because of the way it interacts with their brain. He says the brain waves literally scatter when they play electronic media.  He says when they’re in a more soothing, green setting; their brain waves become more tranquil.

Coyle says exposure to natural light normalizes the body’s internal clock. He says children also get better exercise when they’re outdoors, burning up more energy.  The federation wants parents to think as much as they can about ways for children to get some more outdoor time.

Coyle adds that a ten-year-old needs 11-12 hours of sleep a day. But he says typically that child will get more like 9 hours a day.  He says that means the average American child is an hour to two hours a day sleep deprived.

Coyle says people who remember spending hours a day playing outside in the summer or going outside after school every day- those patterns are gone.  He says the kids are basically inside most of the time.

PUC to Review Handling of Power Outages During Hurricane Irene

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission will take a closer look at how electric utilities handled outages during Hurricane Irene in a special forum next month. At the height of the storm, there were some 768,000 customers without power.  Some were without service for up to ten days. Overall, there were more than 1.3 million customer outages throughout the storm

The PUC will hold a Special Electric Reliability Forum to take a closer look at how the utilities prepared for Irene and handled storm damage. Spokeswomen Jennifer Kocher says some things were handled extremely well by the utilities and there were other things that didn’t go quite so well.  She says the forum is an effort to learn lessons for the next storm.

Kocher says the commission wants to look at how pre-planning went, what communication efforts were made with customers and how the electric utilities worked to restore service to affected customers.

Kocher says most of the utilities have Irene in their top five of outage storms.  She says the commission recognizes it was not the norm, but it’s always an opportunity to learn from what happened, what they can do better and how to move forward from here.

The forum will be held on October 12th from 1:30 pm until 5 pm at the  Commonwealth Keystone Building in Harrisburg. There will be an opportunity for the public to offer comment at the conclusion of the formal remarks.   

Kocher says the commission, at its meeting on Thursday, did make a rule change that will mean utilities will have to regularly provide more information on pre-storm preparation and mutual aid in the future.

Hunger Problem Reaches Epidemic Proportions

Sheila Christopher - Food Banks

Sheila Christopher wore orange to the Legislative Food Drive. Orange is the official color of Hunger Action Month.

The Commonwealth reports a 43.9% increase in the need for food assistance since the economy went south in 2008.  Food banks have been under pressure ever since.  “It has not stopped in three years.  It’s getting worse, as we can see,” says Sheila Christopher, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Regional Food Banks (PARF). 

A new Census report issued just days before the Legislative Food Drive pegs the federal poverty rate at 15.1%.  More Americans are living in poverty than at any other time since the report was first published 52-years ago.  “It’s 2011, it’s not 1950.  We seem to be going backwards,” Christopher said as she called the poverty numbers completely unacceptable. 

A second Census report shows a statewide poverty rate of 13.4%.  “Every day in Pennsylvania, one in five Pennsylvanians is hungry, and this is an unfortunate reality that we can end,” says State Senator Mike Brubaker (R-Lancaster), co-chair of the Legislative Hunger Caucus.  “This is an issue that touches everybody, I don’t care what your registration is,” adds State Rep. John Myers (D-Philadelphia), the other co-chair of the bipartisan, bicameral Hunger Caucus. 

September is Hunger Action Month in Pennsylvania, as proclaimed by Governor Tom Corbett.  While the state and federal governments help to subsidize food banks, Christopher says donors are their core.  “Imagine if everyone in Pennsylvania gave a dollar, that’s 12-million dollars.”

Bill Could Help Hook More PA Anglers

An unprecedented decline in fishing license sales is being tracked nationwide.   Pennsylvania is no exception, as the Fish & Boat Commission reports 1.4-million PA anglers in 1996, compared to just under one million in 2006.  With those numbers in mind, the commission is working to get more Pennsylvanians engaged, and they believe SB 1049 would be a big boost. 

John Arway

Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission executive director John Arway

The legislation would provide the Fish & Boat Commission with more flexibility to make licenses more convenient and less expensive.  “We could look at ideas like a multi-year license, which is one of the prime alternatives that we would look at if this bill passes,” says Fish & Boat Commission executive director John Arway.  “Our potential approach to this would be that there may be some cost savings to the anglers to, if they do it for five years or three years, instead of just one year.” 

Florida, Georgia and Kansas currently offer multi-year licenses, and all indications at this week’s public hearing were that the program has been a success in those states.  Other possibilities, if SB 1049 were to become law, are group licensing and promotional discounts. 

“It’s just part of a process that we’re trying to create to encourage more people to get fishing in Pennsylvania.  We have many other things to do, but this is the first step,” Arway said in an interview with Radio PA.  SB 1049 is expected to come up for consideration in the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee later this fall.  

Photo credits: PA Fish & Boat Commission / fishandboat.com

Weather Wreaks Havoc on Pumpkin Harvest

From the heavy spring rains that delayed planting, to the late summer floods, it was a bad weather year for pumpkins.  “Between the weather conditions and disease potential that we’re getting in the fields, it’s a much smaller crop than in previous years,” says Penn State Extension vegetable specialist Mike Orzolek.  “This might be the smallest crop we’ve had in the last ten years.” 

This year’s wild weather ride started cool and wet, turned hot and dry, then back again.  Orzolek says July’s heat wave thwarted fruit development.  “Ontop of that, the remnants of Irene and Lee just dumped all of that rain on eastern and central PA, and there was a substantial loss of pumpkin acreage, simply because the pumpkins were submerged.”

This pumpkin is about to be roasted, then scooped into the food processor.

Pennsylvania is normally a top state for pumpkin production, no matter how you crunch the numbers, but Orzolek says consumers should be aware of this year’s limited quantities.  “I would go out and see what’s there and purchase it relatively quickly,” he says, adding that there will be few of the orange gourds to choose from by the time Halloween arrives. 

Based on simple supply and demand principles, consumers will want to brace for higher pumpkin prices too.  “We’re not going to see the doubling or tripling of prices, but certainly I would expect you might see a 50% increase in price this year over last year,” Orzolek estimates.