PA Chamber: Poor Legal Climate Affects Job Growth

More than a year after enactment of the Fair Share Act, a new study has renewed the battle over lawsuit reforms in Pennsylvania.  The US Chamber Institute for Legal Reform ranks Pennsylvania’s legal climate 40th among the 50-states; down six spots from the last Lawsuit Climate study.

“We’re looking to grow and make Pennsylvania attractive, and when Pennsylvania has such a bad litigation environment, businesses won’t come here and the jobs will go to other states,” says PA Chamber of Business & Industry VP for Government Affairs Sam Denisco.  “That’s problematic.”

With the Fair Share Act, Denisco says Pennsylvania is just starting to catch up with the rest of the nation.  He says the state needs further reforms in order to lead the pack.

The Fair Share Act was written to ensure that the percentage of damages leveled against a defendant, in civil lawsuits, does not exceed their level of determined responsibility.  It was touted as an economic development tool, but critics say it has not correlated to a single new job.

“They want to cap damages.  They want to have their cake and eat it, but they’re not going to pass it onto the Joe Consumer.  It’s just really to increase profits at the expense of the everyday person,” says Scott Cooper, President of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice.

Cooper tells Radio PA the Lawsuit Climate 2012 study is not worth the paper it’s printed on, saying it’s no surprise that business groups oppose the ability of individuals to sue their members.

However, the PA Chamber will be using the new report to strengthen its call for additional lawsuit reforms.  Denisco wants the General Assembly to pass venue reform, which would place limits on where civil suits can be tried.

Venue reform is another issue the Pennsylvania Association for Justice plans to fight when it re-emerges in the new session.  Cooper points out the existing legislation would only apply to personal injury cases, not business-to-business lawsuits.

No Easy Solution for PA’s Pension Woes

Pension reform appears to be too big of an issue for the limited fall session, but it will be a priority for 2013.  “The pension crisis that we have is the tapeworm to the budget, and it will continue to get worse and worse if we don’t do something about it,” Governor Tom Corbett said on Radio PA’s Ask the Governor program.

State pension obligations increased by a half-billion dollars in the current budget.  “I think it’s another five or six hundred million dollars additional, next year, that we’re going to have to come up with,” Corbett says.  The number is projected to top $4-billion dollars in 2016, and Corbett says it’s all money that cannot go to other areas of the budget.

With the state pension funds on an unsustainable path, the Corbett administration will continue to be in contact with state lawmakers through the fall and into the New Year.  State Senate Republican Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware) calls pension reform one of the top two critical issues to be addressed early on in 2013.  “We will continue to try and work through the fall so that we can finish our work in the first quarter of next year,” he says.

Policymakers are tasked not only with stopping the increase in pension costs, but with paying down $40-billion dollars in existing unfunded liabilities.  There’s no silver bullet, but the Public Employee Retirement Commission is holding a series of hearings this fall to try to come up with a set of recommendations.  The panel met last week, and already has additional hearings set for September 19th, October 3rd and October 16th.

RadioPA Roundtable

Radio PA Roundtable 09.07.12

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Brad Christman and Matt Paul bring you reflections from the Democratic and Republican national conventions via political analyst Terry Madonna from F&M College in Lancaster. Also, Radio PA Sports Director Rick Becker spotlights the story of Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Ryan Clark who will be inactive for this weekend’s opening game in Denver.

Radio PA Roundtable is a 30-minute program featuring in-depth reporting on the top news stories of the week.

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:

Pittsburgh Steelers, Heinz Field

Steelers Safety Raises Awareness of Sickle Cell Disorder

When the Pittsburgh Steelers open the 2012 regular season Sunday night in Denver, one prominent member of the defense will not be on the field.  Starting free safety Ryan Clark has sickle cell disease, and playing in the high altitude of Sports Authority Field at Mile High can be dangerous.

The last time Clark played a game in Denver, in 2007, Clark ended up going to the hospital – losing his spleen, his gallbladder and the rest of the season.  But Clark is trying to turn a disappointing week into something positive through a new initiative called the “Ryan Clark Cure League,” which will raise money for sickle cell research and patient care.

Clark says the public education is not where it needs to be when it comes to sickle cell disease, but he’s working with Dr. Mark Gladwin of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine to change that.  “To be affected with it personally, through my own trials, I think you’ve finally found two people who have enough passion for it to get the word out.”

It’s hard for Clark to explain to people just how much pain he was in back in 2007, because the disease does not present itself visually.  “But your pain really is at a ten,” he says.

About 70,000 Americans have the blood disorder, because they’ve inherited two copies of the sickle cell gene.  It can cause pain, anemia or even death.

West Nile Virus a Nationwide Problem This Year

While Pennsylvania is on a record pace for West Nile Virus positives this year,   it is hardly alone and not even among the states with the highest numbers. The virus has been found in 48 states,  with Hawaii and Alaska as the only exceptions. 44 states have reported human cases. Over 70% of those cases are in six states; Texas, South Dakota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Michigan and Louisiana.

Dr. Lyle Petersen, Director of the CDC’s Division of Vector Borne Infectious Diseases, says the number of human cases rose 25% in the last week, but it appears the epidemic may have peaked in August. He adds a great number of cases may still be reported because it can take 3 to 14 days for symptoms to appear.

Pennsylvania has had 16 human cases reported through September 6th, 11 of them were the more serious neuro-invasive form on the disease.  One of the victims died.  There have been 18 veterinary cases, mostly in horses. 103 dead birds have tested positive, including six Great Horned Owls, two American Kestrels and 11 hawks (Red tail, Cooper’s, Broad-winged and Sharp-shinned). The state has recorded 29 hundred positive mosquitoes.

With the recent heavy rains in some areas, people are advised to eliminate standing water around their homes.  The common house mosquito is one of the carriers of the virus and usually doesn’t stray far from where it breeds.  It can breed in about an inch of water. The rain may have washed away a number of larvae, but it will also create more breeding ground for the mosquitoes to reproduce.

Distracted Driving Debate Gets Jump-Start

Six months into Pennsylvania’s texting-while-driving ban, there’s already a push for the state to do more.  Rep. Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland), a former chairman of the House Transportation Committee, wants to ban drivers from using hand-held cell phones.

Markosek’s new bill would mirror the texting ban in terms of enforcement and penalties.  Hand-held cell phone use behind the wheel would be a primary offense punishable by a $50-dollar fine.  No points would be tacked onto the offender’s license, and the phone could not be confiscated.

“As much as we would like to think that, okay, we’ve got the texting ban passed and we can wash our hands of everything… and everything will be fine,” Markosek says, “we are just deluding ourselves into thinking that.”

Some police officers are backing the more comprehensive cell phone ban language too, because they’re finding it difficult to enforce a texting-only ban.  “How can we say they are pushing letters rather than numbers, and that they weren’t in fact using their cell phone?” asks Allentown Police Captain Daryl Hendricks.

But Pennsylvania’s texting ban was a product of compromises, and the will was not there to include a comprehensive cell phone ban this session.  “We have a lot of unsafe driving habits that not only are due to hand-held cell phones, but they’re due to Big Macs and shakes,” says Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson).  “I don’t know how we empower law enforcement to crack down on all types of unsafe driving.”

For his part, Markosek knows the bill likely won’t see action this session, but he’s hoping to set it up to be a priority when the 2013-2014 session of the General Assembly convenes next year.  “There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be.  It is about the safety of our citizens.”

Ten states already ban hand-held cell phones for all drivers.  32-states ban all cell phones for teen drivers.

BLOG: The National Conventions According to Google

The candidates’ wives are proving to be real assets in the presidential race.  After Ann Romney stole the show last week in Tampa, Michele Obama was the most searched speaker leading up to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.  “We saw her searches skyrocket as she took to the podium, increasing 500% as she started to speak,” Abbi Tatton with the Google Elections Team tells us.

Political cartoonist Jeff Darcy says it better than I ever could.

When I checked in with the Google Elections Team from the Republican National Convention, last week, I learned that the related search terms are sometimes the most telling.  For instance, the top-related search term for GOP VP pick Paul Ryan was briefly “shirtless.”  In light of the famous actor’s eyebrow-raising RNC speech, it would seem that “Clint Eastwood” is one of the top-related search terms for President Barack Obama this week.

The platforms and issues may not be what’s hot online just yet, but give it time.  Tatton says Pew Research has found that one in three of us will be using online video to research the candidates this year.

Google’s most-searched DNC speakers leading up to the convention.