Institute Offers Awards for Work to Promote Love and Forgiveness

The Fetzer Institute was founded to promote the power of love and forgiveness   More than 200 non-governmental organizations worldwide have entered the institute’s competition for two 25 thousand dollar grants to continue their work on projects that do just that.  One grant will be awarded to an organization in the United States and the other will go to an international organization.

There’s  a  smaller award of five thousand dollars which will be given at the same time. The Institute wants people to vote on which of the entries touched them most. Stories of all of the applicants can be found at  The awards will be announced on February 28th.

Thomas Harvey of Notre Dame University’s Mendoza School of Business is an adviser to the institute. He says the entrants do a wide variety of work to further love and forgiveness, including educational experiences, development and outreach across cultures.

There are at least five entrants with ties to the Pittsburgh area; A Mother’s Wish, Southwinds, Haitian Families First, Hekima Place and South Side Anglican Church.

Hekima Place is in Kenya but was founded by a Pittsburgh native and has U.S. contacts in Pittsburgh.

A Mother’s Wish  serves poor communities in the Dominican Republic and is based in Arizona. But it was founded by a woman whose daughter underwent a life-saving liver transplant at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Haitian Families First provides support to needy families in Haiti and was founded by two Pittsburgh sisters.

Southwinds provides residential care for with developmentally disabled adults in southwestern Pennsylvania.

South Side Anglican Church does outreach in a part of Pittsburgh known for late night reveling and violence.  

Grassroots Movement Behind Bills to Expand FMLA

The federal Family Medical Leave Act was enacted 20-years ago this month.  While the anniversary is considered a milestone, and millions have used the FMLA, many believe it’s time for an update. 

The law allows employees to take unpaid leave to care for a child, parent or spouse.  But Anne Marie Pearson of Chester County was thrust in the role of caregiver for her sister, who had nobody else to help her battle late-stage gynecologic cancer.  “Our father is deceased and our mother is elderly with medical conditions of her own,” Pearson explains of the situation in 2008.  “Joanne was not married and she did not have any children, so there really wasn’t anyone to help take care of Joanne, and get her back-and-forth to those chemotherapy appointments, radiation appointments and so many doctor visits.” 

Pearson was immediately turned down through the Family Medical Leave Act because it does not cover siblings, and her attempts to obtain a special exemption went nowhere.  Ultimately she had to quit her job of 16-years; a decision Pearson says she’d make 100-times over. 

Joanne has since passed away, but Anne Marie Pearson has taken up a grassroots movement to expand the FMLA in Pennsylvania for others in similar situations.  “I figured no one law out there can dictate who’s considered family anymore.  There’s death, divorce, separation, single people – they all play a role in everybody’s family unit.” 

While the FMLA is a federal law, the best chance for action is the state-level, and Pearson’s local legislators have taken up the cause.  State Rep. Dan Truitt (R-Chester) and State Senator Andy Dinniman (D-Chester) have introduced companion bills in Harrisburg, which would – under special circumstances – provide up to six weeks of unpaid leave for an employee to care for a sibling, grandparent or grandchild. 

Such individuals would only be eligible if the person being cared for has no living spouse, child (over 17-years-old) or parent (under 65-years-old).  The bills would mirror the federal law, which means that small businesses would be exempt. 

Truitt’s bill has been assigned to the Aging & Older Adult Services Committee.  Dinniman’s co-sponsorship memo is currently being circulated.

Radio PA Roundtable 02.15.13

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Matt Paul catches us up on the Attorney General’s disapproval of the controversial lottery management contract. He’ll also chat one-on-one with State Rep. Scott Conklin (D-Centre) about all of the latest developments in the Penn State scandal. Plus a Pennsylvania Bishop discusses Pope Benedict XVI’s big announcement.

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:


Reactions to Lottery Decision Pouring in

The contract to privatize Pennsylvania Lottery Management has failed Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s “form and legality” test.  Reactions abound from stakeholders and elected officials, and their statements are providing a few hints as to what’s next.  Check them out for yourself:

Governor Tom Corbett:

“I’m deeply disappointed. I don’t agree with the attorney general’s analysis and decision, and we will review our legal options.

My job is to protect Pennsylvania’s seniors, and we will continue to do that.

We have a growing population where one in four Pennsylvanians will be over the age of 65 by 2017. My goal is to ensure that funding for senior programs keeps pace with that growth.”

(note that in his public comments in Pittsburgh, Governor Corbett said that one in four Pennsylvanians will be over the age of 60 in the next 17-years)

Camelot Global Services:

“We are disappointed with Attorney General Kane’s decision to reject the private management contract. We guarantee our proposal will produce unprecedented profits for senior programs and we have backed our investment in Pennsylvania with $200 million – transferring all risk from state taxpayers. Camelot has indicated it would headquarter in Pennsylvania, pay all taxes required of any commonwealth business, and keep all lottery jobs in the state. We have also publicly stated we would not oppose union organization by our employees. We have no further comment at this time.”

Speaker of the House Sam Smith / House Republican Leader Mike Turzai:  

“The administration’s interest was always about growing Lottery proceeds to increase funding for programs, thus helping the state serve its expanding senior population. We also realize many may feel this action by the attorney general ‘saves the Lottery.’ However, given that the Lottery has contracted out significant portions of its current operations, and has done so for many years, we hope the attorney general’s decision does not set the current operations back.   

“The legislature passed the lottery law in 1991, giving broad powers to the Secretary of Revenue to manage the operations. Right or wrong, it’s the legislative branch of government that should decide if the governor has too much say.  Consequently, we expect that the legislature will be reviewing the attorney general’s determination with great interest.”

House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody:

“The effort to outsource management of the Pennsylvania Lottery to a foreign corporation was done largely out of public view and it was wrong. In confirming the legislature’s authority in this matter, the attorney general made the right decision and followed the law.

“Because of her decision, lottery proceeds will continue to benefit older Pennsylvanians rather than being sliced up to benefit corporate shareholders.

“The governor is wrong when he claims the rejection of this improper contract will cost seniors money. I will push during the upcoming budget process to provide even more money than the governor proposed for senior programs and it can be done with the lottery’s current revenue.”

Treasurer Rob McCord:

“I commend the Attorney General for her independent review and subsequent rejection of the administration’s attempt to expand gambling through the state contracting process.

“The administration was repeatedly warned, as early as last year, that the proposed contract would permit new forms of gambling not currently authorized by the Legislature and not regulated by the Gaming Control Board

“Expanding the Lottery is a policy decision that should include the General Assembly, not be done through a closed-door contracting process.  Beyond the legal issues, this proposal also raised serious questions about how best to serve seniors efficiently with the programs that the Lottery pays for.”

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale:

“While I have not opposed all privatization, in the case of the Pennsylvania Lottery, Attorney General Kane and her team of lawyers made the right decision after identifying the legal flaws in the contract that would have led to an unprecedented expansion of gambling without legislative and public input.

“I am concerned that the benefits from the private management agreement would not meet or exceed what the current, very well run Lottery could produce in the same time frame. That concern, and the decision to expand gaming, need to be addressed with input from the public and Pennsylvania General Assembly before we go any further.

“I suspect today’s decision will not be the end of this story, but I hope Gov. Corbett will carefully weigh the cost to taxpayers before he decides to pursue this matter further. My office will continue to monitor the situation and be prepared to conduct and fair and independent audit should the contract eventually be implemented.”


Attorney General Rejects Lottery Contract

Like thousands of state contracts every year, the Professional Management Agreement with Camelot Global Services is subject to review for “form and legality.”  But Attorney General Kathleen Kane says it failed that test.  She says it’s in violation of both the law and the state constitution. 

Kane addressed the media for about five minutes this afternoon.  Listen to her entire statement by clicking below:  KaneLottery

Governor Tom Corbett entered into the contract in hopes of generating billions of additional dollars, over the next 20-years, for state programs that benefit senior citizens. 

A recent Franklin & Marshall College Poll found that 64% of Pennsylvanians oppose the move.

New Poll Shows Support for LGBT Rights in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania legislature’s growing LGBT Equality Caucus has unveiled a new poll as members call for legislation to protect members of the community.   The membership in the caucus has doubled and is bicameral and bipartisan.

Representative Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) says the growth of the caucus represents  the changing will and mood of the people of Pennsylvania when it comes to simple fairness for LGBT people.

The poll conducted for Equality Pennsylvania finds 62% of the state’s residents believes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens should be entitled to the same civil rights and protections as other minority groups.  69% agree that LGBT workers should be protected from being fired. 73% agree that it should be illegal to refuse service to someone based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. The poll was conducted by CivicScience of Pittsburgh.

State Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) says Pennsylvania does not have laws to offer those protections.  He says we don’t even have anti-discrimination legislation that has been passed.  He says the hate crimes bill was struck down on technical grounds and not replaced.

Bills being reintroduced in this session would ban discrimination in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations.

Representative Brian Sims (D-Phila), the first openly gay person elected to the legislature, says he’s seeing signs that more colleagues in the state Capitol are finally beginning to recognize that common sense protections are long overdue.

Representative Mark Painter (D-Mont), whose wife is a Methodist pastor, says he believes firmly that discrimination, bullying and hatred are not Christian values.

Senate Votes to End Philadelphia Traffic Court

With unanimous votes late Wednesday morning the Pennsylvania Senate signaled its intention to put the brakes on Philadelphia Traffic Court.  The chamber has advanced a pair of bills.  One would gradually transition the responsibilities of the Philadelphia Traffic Court to Philadelphia Municipal Court; the other would erase the traffic court from the state constitution completely. 

“One of the key distinctions between the municipal court judges and the traffic court judges, of course, is that the municipal court judges must be licensed attorneys in the commonwealth,” explains Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware), the prime sponsor of both measures.  “The traffic court judges need not be.” 

In recent weeks the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has released a scathing report on Philly’s traffic court, citing a culture of dysfunction and favoritism.  That document was soon followed by the indictment of a dozen people – including nine judges – who were caught up in an alleged traffic court “ticket fixing” scheme. 

Pileggi says Philadelphia has the only traffic court in the state, and it’s not worth saving.  The city’s Senate delegation supports Pileggi’s bills, but Senator Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) believes this should be the first step of a sustained effort to clean up the judicial branch of state government. 

“If people think that Philadelphia Traffic Court is the only place that somebody may walk in… and a magistrate may give some kind of favoritism, based upon your affiliation, then there are actually green men on Mars,” Williams says. “We’re the first guys willing to pony up and say we’re willing to fix ours.”    

Up next for the bills is the state House.

State Senator Proposes Legalizing Marijuana

A state senator is trying again to get Pennsylvania to legalize marijuana.   Saying there’s no real evidence that it’s a gateway drug, Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) says its cruel and irrational to continue the prohibition of marijuana.

Senator Leach says there’s no lethal dose of marijuana, unlike alcohol and keeping its use criminal is destroying people’s lives. He says for the last 75 years, we’ve been treating people who smoke a plant as criminals.

He says we’re spending about 350 million dollars a year in Pennsylvania arresting, jailing, prosecuting and monitoring approximately 25 thousand people for marijuana offenses.  In addition to saving money by legalizing marijuana, Senator Leach says the state could be bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars in tax money and ancillary industries that could be created by legalization.

His bill would treat marijuana similar to alcohol, limiting its use only to those over 21.

Senator Leach thinks in the long term, it’s inevitable that marijuana will   become legal, due to economic factors and demographics that are changing public opinion.

Dr. David Nathan, psychiatrist and a clinical associate professor at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, says he’s compelled by conscience to speak in favor of legalization. He says in his role as a psychiatrist, he’s seen lives ruined by drugs like pain killers and alcohol. He says he’s also borne witness to the devastation brought upon cannabis users, almost never by abuse of the drug, but by a justice system that uses a sledge hammer to kill a weed.

Neill Franlin, Executive Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, says neighborhood gangs survive off the proceeds of marijuana sales because of prohibition.  He says it has not worked to reduce violence in our neighborhoods.

But the effort will face a tough road.  A recent Franklin and Marshall College Poll asked voters if they favor legalizing marijuana and 55% said “no”. There is support for medical marijuana, with 82% strongly or somewhat favorable.

However, Governor Corbett cited problems in California with the legalization of medical marijuana when he spoke about the issue recently on Radio PA’s “Ask the Governor” and called it a gateway drug.

city, downtown, buildings

State House Votes for “Green Buildings”

New state construction projects would have to meet high-performance energy standards under legislation that’s just passed the House with a 163 – 32-vote.  Supporters call it a win for both the environment and the taxpayer.

PennFuture policy director Steve Stroman says “green buildings” typically use 20 – 40% less energy.  “A green building may cost 2% more up-front, but over the life of the building cost the taxpayer 20 – 30% less money, so they’re great investments.”   

The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Kate Harper (R-Montgomery), says the payback for a “green building” typically appears after four to seven years.  But if the state is building long-term, she says it needs to be thinking long-term.  

“We never build a building that we don’t intend to have around for 30, 50 or even 150-years,” Rep. Harper tells Radio PA.  “So to bake these energy efficiency standards into the building in the beginning makes sense economically.” 

HB 34 would require the Department of General Services to develop energy-efficient standards, which will be used when building or renovating a state-owned or leased facility.  Both the House and Senate passed similar bills last session, but the differences were never reconciled.  HB 34 now awaits consideration by the state Senate.