Preliminary Legislative Redistricting Plan Approved Along Party Lines

A preliminary legislative redistricting plan was approved by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission on Monday.  The vote was split along party lines. The approval came after a half hour recess to allow the legislative leaders  time to look over each side’s final proposed maps.

The preliminary plan moves a senate district from the Pittsburgh area, now held by Senator Jim Brewster, a Democrat, to Monroe County. On the house side, it adds seats in Lehigh, Berks, Chester and York Counties while cutting districts in Erie and Philadelphia, and two in Allegheny County.

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) says there are two current Republican seats and two current Democratic seats that would be moved, even though the population gains in the state, in the aggregate, have been significantly in Republican districts.  He says the loss in population has most significantly occurred in the western part of the state.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware) says six senate districts are currently based in Allegheny County.  He says combined, they’re more than 125,000 residents short of the ideal population for six senate districts., Four of them already stretch into other counties. He says the proposal moves the lowest populated district, senate district 45.

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) says it’s not a fair plan, and not reasonable to all citizens and to their members.  He says the Republican map is not sincere; it does not follow the appropriate population numbers, the population change. He says the map also disenfranchises voters across the state and splits strong African American communities in Western Pennsylvania.

House Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny) called it bait and switch. He says the plan is not about fairness for the people of Pennsylvania, it’s about maintaining the Republican majority.

The commission is made up of the four leaders and State Superior Court Judge emeritus Stephen McEwen.  The deciding vote in the 3-2 tally was cast by McEwen. He set a November 18th hearing date to take public input on the preliminary plan.

The plan will sit for a thirty day public comment period. A copy of the proposed new legislative district lines was to be made available at the Commission’s web site,

Senator Costa told Judge McEwen he hopes they’ll be provided the opportunity to continue to negotiate the reapportionment process, to further refine the plan Costa says was adopted along party lines.  McEwen said he would certainly be open to further negotiation and compromise, and would be delighted to hear that negotiations had been somewhat successful.

The changes are based on 2010 census  numbers for Pennsylvania.

Judge Stephen McEwen


Texting While Driving Bill Clears House With Amendments

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives has passed a bill that would ban texting while driving. Senate Bill 314 bans sending, reading or writing texts  for all drivers.    It would make it a primary offense and establishes a fine of 50 dollars.  A primary offense means a police officer could stop a driver if they see them texting behind the wheel while the vehicle is in motion.   A text-based communication is defined in the bill as a text message, instant message, electronic mail or other written communication composed or received on an interactive wireless device.  The bill passed by a vote of 188-7. The house made changes to the senate bill, so it must go back to the state Senate for final consideration. More than 30 other states already have similar bans in effect.

Winter Storm Expected to Bring Measurable Snow to Pennsylvania

A winter storm warning covers the eastern two-thirds of Pennsylvania. The early season coastal snow storm could bring 4 to 8 inches or even more to some areas before ending Saturday night.

Meteorologist Bill Gartner of the National Weather Service in State College says the risk of power outages is increased because the leaves are still on many trees, and the added weight of the snow could cause limbs to break off and fall on power lines. Thousands of power outages were reported by utilities in the affected areas.

After the storm, temperatures will moderate, so it shouldn’t stick around long. But it could be one for the record books. Looking back at early season snows, State College recorded 4.7″   on October 15th, 2009.  You have to go back to 1925 to find the early season snowfall records for south central Pennsylvania.  A storm on October 30th, 1925 brought 5.4” of snow to Chambersburg, 2” to York, and 2.1” to Harrisburg.

PennDOT had already made its winter preparations before the snow was in the forecast.   Spokesman Steve Chizmar says they’ve already plowed once this season, about a week ago in Centre County.  He says they actually start preparing for the next winter as they wrap up the previous one. Last winter, they used about one million tons of salt and they already have over 600 tons stockpiled and more will be delivered through the season.

There will be a new snow removal method in parts of the state.  Chizmar says they’ve tested tow plows in the last two years and they’ll be deploying about 10 of them this year. He says it’s like a giant plow that’s pulled behind a vehicle. He says when the plow is engaged; it swings out and plows snow in the lane next to the truck.  He says they’re basically accomplishing the work of two plows with one.

Chizmar hopes drivers are ready for winter weather.   He says when roads are slippery, people need to slow down, allow more distance between other vehicles and pay attention to the road. Motorists should check their tires for proper inflation and tread, make sure heaters and defrosters and windshield wipers are working properly and all belts, hoses,  the battery and brakes are in good working order.

Chizmar says don’t forget to clear snow and ice from the vehicle before you drive.  It’s not only a safety measure; it’s the law in Pennsylvania. If ice or snow falls from your vehicle and  injures someone, you can be fined.

Motorists can check 511PA for road conditions before they go out on the highways.


RadioPA Roundtable

Radio PA Roundtable 10.28.11

Radio PA Roundtable is a 30-minute program featuring in-depth reporting on the top news stories of the week. Professionally produced and delivered every Friday, Roundtable includes commercial breaks for local sale and quarterly reports for affiliate files.

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:

State Capitol Facing North Office Building

House Votes to Close Gaming Loophole

Unlicensed, unregulated storefronts are starting to pop up in the Keystone State, which skirt gaming laws by offering patrons online “sweepstakes” with the purchase of Internet time or phone cards.  Those cards are then used in machines that offer casino-style gambling.  “The only difference between playing a slot machine and playing one of these Internet video terminals is that instead of pulling a handle or pushing a button, you’re touching the screen,” says State Rep. Curt Schroder (R-Chester) who chairs the House Gaming Oversight Committee. 

Schroder visited one of these establishments while touring western Pennsylvania casinos, and tells Radio PA patrons’ “sweepstakes” points are won or lost, and ultimately redeemed for cash.   He says there are only a handful of these Internet sweepstakes cafes currently operating in the state.  “We wanted to act before they started to proliferate here in Pennsylvania,” Schroder says. 

In addition to being unlicensed and unregulated, Internet sweepstakes cafes may siphon off business from Pennsylvania casinos, thus affecting homeowners’ property tax relief.  Not to be overlooked, Schroder says, are the problems posed for compulsive gamblers who may be on casino or self-exclusion lists.  “Well now you could walk right down to one of these Internet slots cafes and play right there without any restrictions at all.” 

Legislation that makes it a misdemeanor to own or operate one of these establishments appears to be on the fast track.  It was referred to Schroder’s committee on October 14th, advanced to the House floor on the 17th and unanimously approved by the House on the 25th.  It’s now awaiting action in the Senate.

New Law Makes PA Preferred Program Permanent

The PA Preferred branding program seeks to connect Pennsylvania agriculture with Pennsylvania consumers.  “When a consumer hears or sees the PA Preferred logo, they should be thinking about quality, locally grown produce from Pennsylvania,” says State Rep. Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland), the prime sponsor of HB 1424, which has just been signed into law by Governor Tom Corbett.  “This is going to help it grow to the next level so that we can connect more consumers with that quality Pennsylvania produce they’re looking for.” 

The PA Preferred program has been around, administratively, since 2004. The new law will call upon the state Department of Agriculture to acquire, register, license, protect and promote the PA Preferred brand on an ongoing basis.  Bloom tells Radio PA the permanency of the program will attract more businesses to invest in the PA Preferred logo. 

Agriculture, as most know, is the leading industry in Pennsylvania.  “I say that we have the best and we need to promote it, and promote it better,” says Governor Tom Corbett.  Corbett signed the new law in the produce section of the Giant Food Store in Camp Hill, Cumberland County.  “Buying local and eating fresh is good for our families, good for our communities and good for the Pennsylvania economy.”  Officials say one out of every seven jobs in Pennsylvania is related to agriculture.

Gov. Corbett Signs PA Preferred Legislation

State Rep. Stephen Bloom looks on as Gov. Corbett signs the new PA Preferred law.

Capitol View from East Wing

Senate Approves Education Reform Bill

A revamped version of SB 1 attempts to address three of the four tenets of the governor’s education reform agenda.  Throughout hours of Senate debate, Wednesday, there appeared to be broad support for the expansion of Educational Improvement Tax Credits and updates to the state’s charter school law.  However, a school vouchers program proved controversial.  

“Over 90% of the kids are still going to be at the old school,” said Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery).  “They are just going to have less resources to try to eke out an education.”  

The amended voucher program in SB 1 would make the per-student state education subsidy available to low-income students, in the worst-performing 5% of schools, to help them attend the public or private school of their choice.  Students whose families earn up to 130% of the federal poverty guidelines would receive a full voucher, while students whose families earn up to 185% of the federal poverty guidelines would be eligible for three-quarters of the per-student state subsidy.  The impacted schools are located primarily in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Allentown, Pittsburgh and Reading. 

“If this bill was a bill that would require statewide vouchers, I would vote against it,” said Democratic Education Chairman Andy Dinniman (D-Chester).  “But this bill is a very limited bill that is aimed to help students in 143 buildings in this commonwealth, out of thousands of school buildings in this commonwealth.”

 The bill ultimately passed 27 to 22,and now heads to the House.  Governor Tom Corbett has not yet endorsed SB 1, but says he has been working with lawmakers behind the scenes. 


Police on the Look Out for Drunk Drivers as Halloween Approaches

Halloween has become a big party weekend not just for little kids, but also for teens and adults.  State and local police have increased patrols looking for impaired drivers through November 1st.  They’re especially watching for underage drinkers who get behind the wheel.

PennDOT spokeswoman Erin Waters says there were more than 12 hundred crashes last year statewide involving at least one underage drinker.  She says people under 21 do not need to have a blood alcohol level of .08 to be arrested.  If they have a level of .02, because it’s illegal for them to be drinking in the first place, they could face jail time and have their license suspended.

For adults who furnish alcohol to minors, Waters says there are fines of at least $1,000.00 for the first child and $2500.00 for each additional minor.

Last Halloween, Waters says there were more 300 accidents, involving 9 fatalities. Six of those deaths occurred in alcohol-related crashes. Halloween fell on a Sunday last year.

Holidays can be a deadly time on the roads. Waters says Halloween usually falls about in the middle, since it’s not a travel holiday such as Thanksgiving and the Christmas and New Year period.

Tens of Thousands of Pennsylvanians Register with FEMA for Irene and Lee Damage

Tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians in 28 disaster-declared counties have registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the wake of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.   However, time is running short for anyone else to register if they think they may need help recovering from the storms.  The deadline is November 14th and the application for an SBA loan is also due by that date.

FEMA spokeswoman Susan Solomon says you can always turn down the help if you find you don’t need it. The number to call is 1-800-621-3362.

Solomon says there are a lot of people who feel they can take care of themselves and they don’t want to take help away from anyone else.  She says when you register with FEMA, it does not add to or take away from what anyone else might receive in disaster assistance.

Solomon says there are also people who may be waiting for their insurance settlement.  She says they want those people to also register with FEMA. It will allow them to be eligible for certain types of help in case something goes wrong with their insurance settlement.

More than 85 thousand households have registered and FEMA has already approved over 115 million in disaster assistance grants in Pennsylvania.

Gov’s Office Releases Liquor Privatization Study

The long-awaited and near 300-page analysis from the PFM Group concludes that privatization would improve the current liquor sales system and benefit Pennsylvanians financially.  PFM says it’s possible to structure a fiscally neutral system, while delivering an upfront windfall of $1.1-billion to $1.6-billion.  That’s a small number to privatization critics.  “It’s going to cost thousands of jobs in Pennsylvania,” says Bill Patton, spokesman for House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny).  “It does not raise the kind of money that its proponents claim.” 

Money isn’t Governor Tom Corbett’s biggest gripe with Pennsylvania being one of only two states that control all aspects of the wholesale and retail distribution of wine and liquor.  “I don’t care how much it is, we need to get out of the business completely,” Corbett said on Radio PA’s monthly Ask the Governor program.  Corbett also expressed dismay with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s ubiquitous advertising campaigns.  “The LCB controls and regulates alcohol,” Corbett says.  “When we advertise, we’re encouraging people to drink more.  We shouldn’t be doing that.”   

Governor Corbett favors a privatization model that limits the number of retail outlets in PA.  Under that approach, the PFM report suggests some minor price increases based on a fiscally neutral system.  The report goes on to suggest that competition in highly-populated areas would mitigate any prices increases.  “Even if you believe that competition will drive down prices… you’d end up with only 18-counties that are winners versus 49 losers,” says UFCW Local 1776 President Wendell Young.  “In order to match the revenues we already have today, taxes are going to go up and consumers will be forced to pay more.” 

The starting point for liquor privatization talks going forward will be House Republican Leader Mike Turzai’s proposal.  Turzai stresses that PLCB expenses are growing much faster than its revenues.  Turzai says, “It is time to sell Pennsylvania’s state liquor and wine stores.”