Salvation Army Deals with Sluggish Economy, More People in Need

The Salvation Army bell ringers are hard at work as their campaign heads into its final days.   The economy appears to be having an impact on the number of coins and bills stuffed into the slots of the Red Kettles. 

Major William Bode, the Western Pennsylvania Division Commander, says they’re a little behind last year, at a time when the need continues to increase. He says they’re seeing a lot of new people turning to the Salvation Army for help.  However, he remains optimistic they’ll reach their goal.

Major Bode says people do not have to look for a kettle; they now have a social media campaign as well. You can give on line at  You can find a virtual kettle for your local area, or start your own kettle and encourage family and friends to donate. The Salvation Army is on Facebook and Twitter as well with information about giving.

In Western Pennsylvania, you can also text the words “GIVE PGH” to 80888 to make a $10 donation to support the campaign.    You can also mail donations to your local Salvation Army.

***Photo courtesy of The Salvation Army

Tough New Abortion Clinic Regulations Could Soon Become Law

Ever since a Philadelphia grand jury uncovered abhorrent conditions at the Women’s Medical Society clinic in West Philadelphia, state lawmakers have been working on response.  They’ve come up with an amended version of SB 732, a bill that would hold abortion clinics to the same licensing regulations as other surgical health care facilities.  “If they’re going to do a surgical procedure, they should be subjected to the same regulations as the other 212 ambulatory surgical centers,” says State Rep. Matt Baker (R-Bradford), the leading proponent of this language in the House. 

But critics say the regulations that govern ambulatory surgical facilities were intended for clinics that perform high-risk procedures.  “Abortion doesn’t have nearly the complications that other procedures do,” says ACLU of Pennsylvania Legislative Director Andy Hoover. 

The bill’s opponents argue that the would-be regulations are too onerous and costly – likely forcing many women’s health clinics to close their doors for good.  “As is said so often about other issues, we need to enforce the laws we already have,” State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) said in a statement.  Frankel’s amendment, which he says would have addressed the so-called ‘house of horrors’ clinic in Philadelphia, was defeated.  Frankel says the state simply failed to do its job inspecting that clinic. 

SB 732 passed the House, Tuesday, with a vote of 151 – 44.  It is expected to receive a concurrence vote in the Senate on Wednesday, its last scheduled day of session in 2011. 

The House also passed HB 1977, which would prohibit health insurers from covering abortions under forthcoming health insurance exchanges that are being created by the federal health insurance reform law.  It advanced out of the House with a 146 – 45 vote, and currently awaits Senate committee action.

Sandusky Fallout, in their Own Words

Mark Costanzo

Mark Costanzo

By waiving his right to a preliminary hearing, Jerry Sandusky’s child sex abuse charges will advance to a likely trial in 2012.  Senior Deputy Attorney General Mark Costanzo says the Commonwealth was ready to proceed with Tuesday’s hearing:


Sandusky’s attorney Joe Amendola took to the Centre County Courthouse steps, in Bellefonte, to explain the surprise move:  


Joe Amendola

Joe Amendola

Attorney Howard Janet, who represents the accuser known as “victim 6” in the grand jury report, reacts to Tuesday’s events:


Howard Janet

Howard Janet

Attorney Slade McLaughlin, who represents the accuser known as “victim 1,” says the waiver shows weakness in the defense:


Slade McLaughlin

Slade McLaughlin

However Joe Amendola maintains that there have been – and will be – no plea negotiations.  Sandusky will not have to be present for his formal arraignment on January 11th.  In fact, Amendola says they’ve already entered a plea of “not guilty,” and requested a jury trial.

Jerry Sandusky Waives Preliminary Hearing

In a shocking twist, Jerry Sandusky and his attorney decided to waive his preliminary hearing on child sex abuse charges. As such, a hearing that was expected to take an entire day and include testimony from several alleged victims was instead over in minutes.

This was the first indication that the defense was prepared to waive the preliminary hearing, and it comes after great lengths were taken by both court officials and the media. Sandusky was in and out of the courthouse in less than an hour. His attorney accompanied him, but said he would return to answer questions.


Sandusky Hearing About to Begin

    The key players in the Jerry Sandusky case have been arriving at the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte this morning for a preliminary hearing that will determine if there is enough evidence for the case to go to trial. Sandusky arrived just before 8am and did not answer reporters’ questions as he walked into the courthouse with his wife.

    There is heavy security at the courthouse for today’s hearing, where Sandusky will face some of his accusers for the first time since he was arrested last month. Most of the alleged victims are now adults. Sandusky faces more than 50 counts of child sex abuse against 10 teen-aged boys over a 15 year period. He maintains his innocence, but the scandal has rocked Penn State University, where Sandusky served as a defensive football coach under Joe Paterno for three decades.

Preliminary Hearing Day for Jerry Sandusky

    As the sun rose over the small town of Bellefonte this morning, all eyes (and cameras) were focused on the Centre County Courthouse. News helicopters patrolled the pre-dawn skies and the courthouse, decorated for the holidays, was fully lit. This is where Jerry Sandusky will today face some of his accusers for the first time since his arrest on child sex charges last month.

    Hundreds of journalists are present to cover what is normally a mundane court procedure. In many cases, in fact, preliminary hearings are waived altogether. In addition to the national and local press, some members of the public will be present in the courtroom today. More than 1300 people applied for a precious few open seats set aside for the public. Some of those lottery winners were at the courthouse before dawn.

    Sandusky faces more than 50 counts of child sexual abuse against at least 10 teen-aged boys over a decade and a half. The ensuing scandal led to the firing of legendary Head Coach Joe Paterno and Penn State University President Graham Spanier. Sandusky, the former revered Penn State defensive coach, maintains his innocence. The purpose of today’s hearing is for a judge to determine if there is enough evidence for the case against Sandusky to go to trial.


112th Annual Christmas Bird Count Starts This Week

 A citizen science project more than a century old will continue later this week- the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count.

Keith Russell, Science and Outreach Coordinator for Audubon Pennsylvania, says birds are a great indicator of environmental health. He adds the bird count can even highlight some of the impacts of climate change and it helps identify bird species most in need of conservation action.    It also helps spot trends in loss of bird habitat.

Russell says birds do respond to changes in temperature and other environmental changes.  He says as climate change has progressed, they’ve seen some shifts in the distribution of a number of species of birds.  He says some species are wintering farther north than they used to winter.

Russell says the count also gives them a number of data points to use to get a bead on how abundant a particular species is, and where they’re occurring.  He says this allows them to  adopt good management strategies to help a particular bird species.

Bird counts are conducted by established circles and many do require preregistration. You contact your local Audubon chapter, or you can learn more at  The Christmas Bird Count runs from December 14th through January 5th. Many circles in Pennsylvania have counts scheduled this weekend.

The Audubon Society is also using social media.  You can follow them on Twitter at Audubon Society, #xmasbirdcount.

**Photo by Judy Howle, courtesy National Audubon Society

Holidays Can Be a Stressful Time for Kids with ADHD or ADHD-like Behaviors

The holiday season can disrupt a family’s routine and can lead to more ADHD symptoms, according to a parenting group.  It can be challenging for both children and parents because there are many things that upset the family’s schedule and established routines according to Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, co-founder of Good Parent Good Child and Clinical Director of the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology.

Donaldson-Pressman  says anxiety is a key player in ADHD symptoms,  and establishing a routine gives children a sense of safety, security and predictability. She says not every child with symptoms requires medication, but they do need a regular bedtime and a bedtime routine that goes from more active to less active. She says the child also needs to sleep in their own bed all night. 

Medication for ADHD symptoms is recommended for about 1 in 3 children in the United States, but Donaldson-Pressman  says only about 9% have actually been diagnosed. 

For children with ADHD, Donaldson-Pressman says the word to always remember is consistency. She says if parents have a good established routine, perhaps the time of that routine might be changed during the holiday season. But she says the routine itself needs to remain the same.   

Donaldson-Pressman says when taking children with ADHD to family gatherings, it’s important to have certain safety mechanisms such as a favorite DVD, game or book. She says this allows the children to go off and have a little quiet time by themselves and be entertained.

You can learn more at Donaldson-Pressman says it’s full of tips not only from their child psychologists, but also from other parents.

She says the watchword for families is setting up routines that work and keeping them consistent.  She says it isn’t always easy to set up these routines, but it is so worth it in the long run.

Poll Looks at Public Opinion Over Penn State Scandal

A new poll samples public opinion over the firing of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, and other aspects of the child sex abuse scandal surrounding former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.   

Pennsylvania voters narrowly support the decision to fire Paterno by 52 to 43 percent.  But the Quinnipiac University poll found support stronger for the dismissal of University President Graham Spanier, at 74%. 

Assistant poll director Tim Malloy says 65% of those surveyed think football has too much influence at Penn State, but 67% say it would be a bad idea to turn down a bowl bid for this year’s football team. He says on the one hand, they’re saying maybe we want to ratchet down the football program at the school, but in the near term, don’t hurt the players.

Malloy says voters were split over Governor Corbett’s handling of the child sex abuse case, but they give the Governor an overall approval rating of 47 to 34 percent.  He says that rating is actually up slightly since the scandal broke, so Corbett did not get hurt by this. He says Governor Corbett is polling better than some other Republican governors.

While Quinnipiac University usually polls on political issues, Malloy says this was such a big story, it’s a state university, the Governor was aware of it when he was Attorney General and Joe Paterno  is probably the best known figure in the state.  He says people in Pennsylvania wanted to talk about this.

Cash-strapped Cities Take Center Stage

As PA’s list of financially distressed cities continues to grow, some say the system is broken.  “Fiscal distress is inevitable under existing state laws that govern municipalities,” says York Mayor Kim Bracey, while testifying before a joint panel of House and Senate committees.  Bracey was one of a group of mayors that converged on the capitol to urge lawmakers not just to tweak Act 47, but to take the necessary steps to keep cities out of it. 

State Senator Jane Earll (R-Erie) knows that governments of all shapes and sizes are under pressure.  “Really the discussion comes back to, what are the cost drivers forcing municipalities into the distressed status that we see increasing numbers falling into,” says Earll, who chairs the Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee. 

Many officials told the panel that difficult and unpopular decisions need to be made.  Reading Mayor Tom McMahon tells Radio PA that cities need a menu of local options to support municipal services.  “You can cut, cut, cut, and we can reduce our expenses, but at some point we need to diversify our revenue – not increase it necessarily – but diversify.” 

Mayor McMahon is President of the Pennsylvania League of Cities and Municipalities, which points to its 2010 Core Communities in Crisis Report.  That report lists multiple ideas for supporting municipal services, including a county option 1% local sales tax.  “We have not been able to get that for third class cities,” McMahon says, referring sales tax flexibility in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. 

Other unpopular revenue options the report suggests to preserve Pennsylvania’s cities, include: a 10% local tax on the retail sales of alcohol, which could be tied to public safety services, and a “sugared drink” tax, which could be tied to local health programs.  Stakeholders are already lining up in opposition.  For instance, the Pennsylvania Beverage Association says the last thing we need in a down economy is higher taxes on our groceries. 

Beyond revenue, state law governing arbitration proved to be another hot topic at Thursday’s hearing.  The state Supreme Court recently told the city of Scranton that it must pay arbitration awards for police and fire unions, despite its Act 47 status.  Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty called the ruling a slap in the face.