Newt Gingrich Surges to Top in Swing State Poll

There’s a new frontrunner in the race for the GOP presidential nomination, at least in the critical swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida.  A new Quinnipiac Poll shows Gingrich with a double-digit lead in all three states.  “Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is no longer just the flavor of the month since his boomlet has now stretched from November into December and voting begins in Iowa in less than four weeks,” says pollster Peter Brown. 

Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich

While Gingrich rose to political fame as a Georgia Congressman, he is a native of Harrisburg, PA.  Here in the Keystone State, Gingrich leads a head-to-head matchup with Mitt Romney, 50 – 31 percent.  In hypothetical General Election matchups, Romney trails President Obama by three points; Gingrich trails by eight points.  “The fact that both Romney and Gingrich trail the president by three and eight points respectively at this point in the Keystone State could be a good sign for the Republicans given that Obama carried Pennsylvania by double-digits in 2008,” Brown explains. 

Gingrich leads the pack in Pennsylvania with 31% of likely Republican voters’ support, according to today’s Quinnipiac Poll.  In Florida, Gingrich leads with 35% support, and that number tops out at 36% in Ohio.  Since 1960, no one has won the White House without carrying at least two of these three swing states.

Jerry Sandusky Arrested on New Charges

New charges have been filed against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

The latest charges follow grand jury testimony from two additional young men who were allegedly targeted by Sandusky when they were children. The Attorney General’s office says victim 9 first encountered Sandusky while participating in a summer camp organized by The Second Mile around 2004 when he was 11 or 12 years old.  Officials say Victim 10 was referred to The Second Mile in 1997 when he was 10 and met Sandusky at a summer camp.

Sandusky was arrested Wednesday on a dozen new charges, including indecent assault and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. He was taken to Centre County Jail after being unable to immediately post $250 thousand dollars bail. Terms of his bail also include electronic monitoring and house arrest.

In a news release, the Attorney General and State Police Commissioner emphasized that this remains an active and ongoing investigation.

Sandusky had already faced 40 counts of child sexual abuse involving eight boys identified during a lengthy grand jury investigation.  The new charges are based on evidence and testimony that was received after his initial arrest on November 5th.

The alleged incidents in the new charges occurred at a hotel swimming pool in the State College area, at Sandusky’s home, in a swimming pool on the Penn State campus and in a car.

Pennsylvania Remembers Pearl Harbor

Pennsylvanians are pausing to remember Pearl Harbor, 70-years after America came under attack.  “We affirm our commitment to carry forward the lessons of that day to all who follow,” says Navy Rear Admiral (Select) John King , the keynote speaker at the state capitol remembrance program. 

Pearl Harbor -- Richard Schimmel

Richard Schimmel of Allentown shared memories with other Pearl Harbor survivors at Wednesday's capitol ceremony.

It was a time to honor the Pennsylvania survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack; one speaker called them the first of the Greatest Generation.   Many were in attendance at Wednesday’s ceremony, including Richard Schimmel of Allentown.  “It’s my country and I’d gladly die for it,” Schimmel tells Radio PA.  “Every time I talk about it I get choked up.”  Schimmel was just 19 on December 7th, 1941. 

Donald Connor of Allensville, Mifflin County was a 22-year-old private getting ready for breakfast when he heard a bomb drop.  “I looked out and saw the Japanese ball on the airplane,” Connor remembers.  “That told me all that I needed to know.” 

The survivors of that fateful day are America’s living history.  3,500 Americans were killed or wounded during the Pearl Harbor attack.  Every December 7th is marked as Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.

State Senate Votes to Expand DNA Testing

Supporters say requiring DNA samples of individuals arrested for serious crimes would be a big boost for law enforcement.  “This bill updates our law to ensure that Pennsylvania investigators have access to the most efficient scientific tools to fight crime,” says state Senate Republican Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware), the bill’s prime sponsor. 

Specifically, the bill would expand the eligible criminal offenses for which DNA testing is required, and mandate pre-conviction DNA testing for serious offenses.  Those samples would then be available in state and federal law enforcement databases. 

But critics at the ACLU of Pennsylvania call it a case of government getting bigger before our eyes.  “The government is not able to simply take DNA from people whenever it feels like it,” says ACLU of PA Legislative Director Andy Hoover.  “When someone has been arrested they’re still innocent under the law and they have certain rights.”

The bill (SB 775) does include provisions that would destroy the DNA records of those who’ve been exonerated.  It passed the Senate with a 42 – 6 vote, and now awaits action in the state House.   

Holiday Season Officially Arrives at State Capitol

The Governor and Mrs. Corbett honored first responders for their work during this year’s storms and floods as they lit the state capitol Christmas tree Tuesday afternoon.    The 23 foot Concolor tree was donated by Strathmeyer forests in York County. It’s decorated with 800 LED lights and more than 300 handmade ornaments donated by Pennsylvania senior centers.

The theme for this year’s tree lighting was “Hope for the Holidays”.  It honored the three state agencies directly involved in rescues during the severe weather this year; the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, Pennsylvania State Police and the Pennsylvania National Guard.

14 year old Colin Vengen of Pottsville helped light the tree. He was flown to Philadelphia for a liver transplant in a state police helicopter when the organ became available during Tropical Storm Lee.

Governor Corbett thanked first responders for everything they did during a very trying year, starting with severe weather in the spring, followed by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee and the October snowstorm.

The Governor says the tree speaks to our optimism, it speaks to our tradition, it speaks to our faith; that we can put aside our differences, set aside our arguments, forget our politics, remember our humanity and celebrate each other’s company in this season.

The Governor told first responders they proved in deeds and with willing hearts that we’re all in this together.

The tree will be on display in the state Capitol Rotunda until January 7th.

High-Profile Immigration Bill Reaches House Floor

Designed to keep public dollars out of the hands of illegal immigrants, SB 9 would require proof of citizenship before individuals can receive state welfare benefits.  Democrats on the House State Government Committee complained that it was drafted on anecdotes, not facts. 

Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) questioned Chairman Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) on whether there are any cost studies to justify the bill.  “My answer is we are spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on illegal aliens in Pennsylvania, and we should stop spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on illegal aliens,” Metcalfe shot back.  Metcalfe estimates there are 140,000 illegal immigrants currently living in the Keystone State. 

Committee debate got even more heated, Tuesday, when several Democratic members described the bill as “xenophobic.”  Metcalfe cut-off Democratic Chair Babette Josephs mid-sentence: “Representative Josephs, you’re out of order in using that term,” he chided. 

The committee amended and advanced SB 9 via a party line vote, with all Republicans voting for it.  The so-called ‘Proof of Citizenship for Receipt of Public Benefits Act’ passed the Senate (40 – 9) earlier this year, with some Democratic support.  It’s now poised for state House action.

2011 Report Looks at the State of Child Welfare

While there’s been no significant change in the overall number of Pennsylvania children in foster care, more are being placed in family settings and fewer are being placed in group homes, according to the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children State of Child Welfare report.  “Safety has to be first, but permanency needs to be an important goal,” says PPC President & CEO Joan Benso.  “Unfortunately, children who live in congregate care settings – group homes and institutions – tend to have poorer outcomes across the board.” 

While Benso is encouraged by the trend, she says there’s still work to do.  “The national average of children living in congregate care is 15% vs. 22% in Pennsylvania,” she tells Radio PA

Looking ahead to 2012, Benso wants to make older teenagers a priority.  “For teenagers the circumstances are pretty tricky,” Benso explains.  “At 18-years-old, except for some very few circumstances… you have to leave foster care.” 

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children began issuing the State of Child Welfare report in 2009.  Back then, 67.7% of children were placed in family settings.  In 2011, that number was 71.4%.  Results are also broken down by county. 

PennDOT Adds New Security Feature to Driver’s Licenses

It’s going to be harder to “fake” a Pennsylvania driver’s license.   The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has become the first in the nation to adopt a new security feature on the licenses it issues.

The new feature employs a hologram that appears to switch between white and black as the image is moved 90 degrees.  It’s a higher resolution and PennDOT believes it will make it easier for police officers and people in the bar industry and banking to spot a fake driver’s license or ID.

Deputy Secretary Kurt Myers says the quality of fake IDs has grown rapidly. He says PennDOT believes strongly its important to add to the security features of its licenses to stay one step ahead of those who are attempting to commit fraud.

Jan McKnight, of PennDOT’s Safety Administration, says the new licenses are being phased in starting today. That means everyone getting a new photo taken for a license will now get the new security feature. While the new licenses will be issued as old ones are replaced on the normal four year cycle, McKnight says people can complete an application for change, correction or replacement of a noncommercial driver’s license on line  and get one sooner.

PA Clarifies Sales Tax Rules, Eyes Online Retailers

Businesses are pouring over a new Tax Bulletin from the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue, which clarifies existing sales tax nexus law.  The law requires businesses with a physical presence in Pennsylvania to collect and remit sales taxes on items sold online, by phone or by catalog.  “Thousands of retailers and businesses that employ people throughout the state, and collect and remit 6% sales tax – 7% in Allegheny [County] and 8% in Philadelphia – felt that they were being treated unfairly,” explains Revenue Secretary Dan Meuser. 

The bulletin informs remote sellers, which have nexus in Pennsylvania, that they have until February to become licensed to collect sales tax.  Failure to do so could result in audits, liens or other enforcement measures. 

It could have a broad application across online-only retailers that have not been collecting and remitting state sales taxes, according to Dan Hayward with the Pennsylvania Alliance for Main Street Fairness.  The Pennsylvania Retailers’ Association joins Hayward in calling it a great first step toward equity and fairness.  “Pennsylvania’s retailers, and the more than 600,000 jobs they have created, deserve fairness and a level playing field with their Internet competition,” says PRA President & CEO Brian Rider.

Testifying before the House Finance Committee in May, the Department of Revenue estimated that PA is missing out on $350-million dollars a year because online retailers aren’t collecting sales taxes. 

But just because state sales tax isn’t collected on many online purchases, it doesn’t mean taxes aren’t due.  Beginning in January the state will provide a line, on Pennsylvania personal income tax returns, which allows individuals to self-report their use tax.  Use tax rates are identical to the sales tax; they’re due when consumers make taxable purchases for which no sales tax is collected.

Severely Injured Veteran Calls New Home a Blessing

Shot five times while serving in Afghanistan, Army Specialist Rob Kislow eventually lost his right leg, and spent two and a half years in recovery.  This weekend Kislow gets the keys to his new, specially-adapted home in Northampton County.  It was constructed through generous community support and the efforts of a non-profit group called Homes for Our Troops.  “It’s a way to really give a true welcome home to somebody who’s sacrificed quite a bit for our country,” says Homes for Our Troops Founder and President John Gonsalves. 

Living in a home that wasn’t built for a wheelchair Kislow struggled daily with his mobility, but the difficulties didn’t end there.  “My hand was pretty much shot off through the wrist and you can’t use regular doorknobs anymore,” Kislow explains.  “It’s a simple, everyday task that you would never think of in a million years that is nearly impossible for me to do.” 

Kislow’s new home is designed to remove all barriers to his independence.  It has wide doorways, roll-in showers, roll-under cooktops and even specially adapted doorknobs.  “Probably about 50% of all the labor and material for the home were donated locally,” Gonsalves says. 

It’s a way to show an American soldier that we appreciate his sacrifice, and the gratitude goes both ways.  “Not only will this benefit me, but it will benefit my family, so it’s a lot, it really is a lot to be thankful for,” Kislow tells Radio PA.   

He was injured fighting for our freedom, and Homes for Our Troops wants to give SPC Rob Kislow his freedom and independence back.  The entire community of Danielsville, PA will welcome Rob and his family to their new home on Saturday.