Training Tool Does More than Meet Federal Mandate

A federal mandate requires specialized training for lawyers representing abused and neglected children, if the state is to continue to receive $950,000 dollars a year for related services.  The state Supreme Court’s Office of Children and Families in the Courts responded with a first-of-its-kind training DVD.

“Even though it started out to particularly meet a federal mandate, it really turned into a lot more,” says Butler County Judge Kelley Streib, who co-chaired the panel that helped create the new training tool for guardians ad litem.

The video includes all of the relevant laws and procedures, but we asked Judge Streib to explain what really stands out in her mind:JudgeStreib

“No longer is it acceptable to have children languishing for years in the dependency system,” Streib explains.  That’s been a major focus of both the state courts and Department of Public Welfare in recent years.  Since 2006, the number of dependent children in temporary foster care has been reduced by 33%.

New Law Sets Guidelines for Protecting Young Athletes

Governor Tom Corbett traveled to Visitation BVM Elementary in Norristown Wednesday to sign House Bill 1610 into law.  It’s designed to protect young athletes from Sudden Cardiac Arrest.

Darren Sudman lost his 3 month old son Simon to Sudden Cardiac Arrest and set out to find ways to protect other children.  He says the new law will make a difference, by making parents aware of the risks.

The new law mandates that coaches complete a training course once a year. Students who want to take part in athletics will have to take home a list of symptoms and their parents will have to read it and sign it. Children who show symptoms will have to be screened by a medical professional before being allowed to return to sports. Warning signs can include fainting, shortness of breath, chest pains, dizziness and a racing heart rate.

The new law takes effect in 60 days.  It was sponsored by Representative Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery). 

Vereb says the bill is education, it’s awareness, it’s making Sudden Cardiac Arrest a household conversation.

Governor Corbett says the bill includes guidelines to inform students, parents and coaches about the warning signs.  He says the law will mean that once coaches spot those signs, they’ll take the student out of the game.

The Governor was   surrounded by parents who had lost a child to Sudden Cardiac Arrest as he signed HB 1610 into law. He said it’s a law of prevention born of very painful loss and the spirit of generosity from these families who have seen beyond their own sorrow and have found hope for others.

Sudman said the legislation will be the hand print of Simon and Representative Vereb on the hearts of children throughout Pennsylvania.  The Sudman Family, through Simon’s Fund, helps provide free screenings to children in the Greater Philadelphia area.


House Mulls Payday Loan Bill

Pennsylvania’s consumer protection laws effectively bar payday lenders from operating in the state, but they can’t stop unlicensed companies from targeting Pennsylvania consumers with their ads.  By locating out-of-state and doing business online, State Rep. Chris Ross (R-Chester) says these unregulated businesses can trap Pennsylvanians in a cycle of debt with their high charges.

Ross has introduced a bill that would create new short-term lending regulations in hopes of providing Pennsylvanians with a safer, less costly option.  “These are things that we’ve worked at with the Department of Banking and my colleagues in the Senate to try and provide as much protection as possible,” Ross explained to Radio PA.

HB 2191 would cap these short-term loans at 25% of a borrower’s paycheck, and require that an existing loan be paid off before a new one is obtained.  Another provision would enable eligible borrowers to obtain free credit counseling.

But critics believe the proposed cure is actually worse than the problem.  “It bumps the interest rate that you can charge on a small loan from where it is currently, which is around 24%, to 369%,” says Keystone Research Center labor economist Mark Price.  “That is a remarkable increase that will lead to the dramatic expansion of payday lending.”

Price is referring to the loan’s annual percentage rate (APR).  He uses the example of a $300 dollar, two-week loan.  Under the Ross bill, the borrower would be charged roughly $43-dollars.  Crunch the numbers for the course of a year and it brings you to the previously cited APR.

“We have the prospect now of hundreds of these payday lending storefronts opening up all across the commonwealth,” says Price.

Ross says unlicensed payday lenders are currently charging twice the maximum his bill would allow.  HB 2191 has already cleared the House Consumer Affairs Committee with a bipartisan vote of 20 – 4.  It now awaits further action on the House floor.

Capitol, State Capitol, Dome

State Reviews Electronic Benefit Card Transactions, Cuts Off Benefits to Non-residents

The state Department of Public Welfare has completed its initial review of out-of-state transactions for electronic benefit cards.  653 individuals have been cut off from benefits, most because they were no longer living in Pennsylvania. Most were using the food stamp program; some were collecting other types of assistance.

Department of Public Welfare spokeswoman Ann Bale says they looked at people consistently making transactions out-of-state and flagged more than one thousand who were spending consistently in another state over a three month period. They discovered 653 who were no longer eligible for the benefits.

She says when people are spending consistently outside of Pennsylvania, it’s an indication they may no longer be residents of the state.  Once you move out of Pennsylvania, you are no longer eligible for Pennsylvania benefits.

The initial review looked at states that do not border Pennsylvania. Now the department will start taking a closer look at transactions in neighboring states.

Bale says the department is able to look at the type of transactions, and can identify when legitimate activity has been going on.

She says the review sends a message. This is only the beginning of their research into this type of fraud. 

13 Die in Memorial Day Weekend Accidents Investigated by State Police

Thirteen people died in crashes investigated by Pennsylvania State Police  over the four day Memorial Day weekend.   The statistics are about the same as last year; 13 deaths in just over 800 crashes. One thing that is frustrating to police is that 9 of those who died were not wearing seatbelts.

State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan says ” the tragic message from these statistics is very clear: everyone needs to buckle up for every trip on the road.”

Troopers cited more than 11 hundred people for not wearing seatbelts and issued over 100 citations for not securing children in safety seats over the four day weekend. They also issued over 92 hundred speeding citations and arrested 404 people for driving under the influence. 66 of the crashes, including three of the fatalities, were alcohol-related.

A “Click it or Ticket” seatbelt enforcement campaign continues through June 10th.  Pennsylvania has a primary seatbelt law for drivers and passengers under age 18. The law is a secondary offense for older drivers and front seat passengers.

The numbers only include crashes handled by state police and do not include accidents covered by other law enforcement agencies.


Report: More Kids Living with Extended Family

Family structures are shifting.  A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation details the unique challenges of 2.7-million children being raised by relatives other than their parents at some point in their lives.  The number has increased more than 18% in the past decade.

It’s called kinship care, and officials say up to 101,000 Pennsylvania children (about 4%) are impacted.

“Many of these caregivers are older and have less income, and they’re taking on the responsibility in the middle of a crisis,” explains Robert Geen, the foundation’s director of family services and systems policies.

“The children themselves have experienced the trauma of being separated from their parents, so it is a challenging situation.”

That’s not to say kinship care is bad for kids.  Research shows that children do best with relatives when they cannot stay with their parents, but Geen says the best evidence is common sense.  “Ask any parent where they would want their children to live, if they could not take care of them, and they’re going to say a relative or extended family member,” he tells Radio PA.

The new report includes recommendations that take this changing family dynamic into account.  Geen says kinship caregivers should be given the authority to make decisions on behalf of the child, and that government programs designed for the nuclear family should be reevaluated to see if they are meeting the needs of kinship caregivers.

Swimming Season is Here and Drowning is a Leading Cause of Death for Children

According to the CDC, drowning is the second leading cause of death for children 14 and under and the sixth leading cause of unintentional death for all ages.

For children under age 5, swimming pools are the danger zone. For teens and young adults, open water such as lakes, rivers and the ocean present the biggest risk. Statistics show some 80% of drowning victims are male. Pennsylvania is among the top states for drowning deaths, with more than half in open water.

Robert Ogoreuc, an assistant professor at Slippery Rock University and incoming president of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, says young children need to be closely supervised in the water and should be within the touch of an adult. He says parents need to be aware of having barriers to prevent children from getting into the pool unsupervised and they need to have an emergency action plan.

Ogoreuc says there should be a designated water watcher when children are swimming in a backyard pool. That’s an adult who will supervisor to make sure swimmers are safe and engaging in appropriate activities.

Ogoreuc says open water presents a danger because you’re often dealing with peer pressure, alcohol, and not understanding the full ramifications of the dangers of the water. He says people should swim near a life guard. If they’re not a strong swimmer, they need to use a life jacket in open water. He says all swimmers should be aware of their surroundings and know the area where they’re swimming. Rivers and streams could have drops off, a swift current or other potential hazards. Water temperature can also affect swimmers.

At the beach, rip currents are a risk. Ogoreuc says people should understand what a rip current is, what to look for and how to get out of a rip current.

To learn more about swimming safely, go to

RadioPA Roundtable

Radio PA Roundtable 05.25.12

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:


S.E.S.A.M.E. Act Seeks to End Educator Sexual Misconduct

The acronym stands for Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct and Exploitation.  “It’s an absolute real, significant and predominant problem in all of our states,” says S.E.S.A.M.E. board member John Seryak.  A retired teacher from Ohio, Seryak traveled to Harrisburg this week to urge action on SB 1381. 

The group is fighting for new laws across the country, but Pennsylvania is on the frontlines, in part because of the high-profile Jerry Sandusky scandal

The bill would put an end to a practice dubbed ‘passing the trash,’ in which a teacher accused of sexual abuse resigns or retires and is allowed to quietly move on to another district.  Specifically, it would tighten abuse reporting laws, require schools to obtain all prospective employees’ work records and prohibit confidentiality agreements between a school and an alleged abuser. 

“This legislation was crafted to allow school districts to know who they are hiring,” says state Senator Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia), the prime sponsor of Pennsylvania’s S.E.S.A.M.E. Act. 

SB 1381 already received a unanimous vote in the Senate Education Committee.  Now, supporters want to see action by the full Senate before the new school year. 

Seryak says that in more than one-third of sexual misconduct cases teachers do not lose their certification. “I think it raises the bar as far as responsibility goes… for all the people that work for the school district.”

Farmers would Reap Benefits of Vehicle Code Bills

Numerous vehicle code bills, designed to make it easier for farmers to use their equipment on Pennsylvania roads, have cleared the House Agriculture Committee with unanimous votes.  “The discussion on this multitude of transportation subjects has been ongoing for years,” says committee chairman John Maher (R-Allegheny).  “This is an important day of moving forward.” 

Farm equipment considered wide in the past is now standard industry size, according to Pennsylvania Farm Bureau spokesman Mark O’Neill.  “A lot of the vehicle codes that are on the books now are really outdated,” he says.   

One of the major changes would increase daytime width restrictions for farm equipment on Pennsylvania roads from 14.5-feet to 16-feet.  Likewise, the nighttime restriction would increase to 16-feet with the proper safety precautions.  Weight limits and restrictions on miles traveled are also addressed in the legislation.    

O’Neill says all of the would-be changes keep the safety in mind.  “[Farmers] want to be able to use this modern equipment to get into fields, to plant and harvest food, in order to feed people throughout Pennsylvania.” 

Based on this week’s votes it appears lawmakers agree that updates are long overdue.  HB 2371, HB 2372, HB 2373 and HB 2374 now await action on the House floor.