“Ask the Governor” Comments Spark Firestorm

While discussing the state’s 7.9% unemployment rate on Radio PA’s “Ask the Governor” program, Governor Tom Corbett expressed concern that many employers can’t find qualified employees who can pass a drug test.  The comments went viral in a matter of hours, with the Pennsylvania Democratic Party asserting that it’s just the latest example of Corbett blaming Pennsylvanians for the state of the economy. 

Out-of-touch and insulting were just two of the words Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord used to describe the comments in a statement released on Tuesday.  “I talk with hundreds of business owners and business leaders every year and this has not been brought up to me,” McCord later told Radio PA of the drug test issue.  “So I’m not sure that that’s a real issue, and it sounds like it’s a blame-the-victim distraction game.” 

But Labor & Industry Secretary Julia Hearthway says employers across the state are sharing drug test concerns with her too.  “It’s very difficult to quantify, but it’s certainly an issue that identifies one employment barrier that exists out there,” she explains. 

For safety and insurance reasons zero-tolerance drug policies are often imposed in various industries, including manufacturing.  “This issue is very real.  The governor is absolutely right, and if anything I hope that this is a teachable moment for the public,” says Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association executive director David N. Taylor, “because I don’t think a lot of people – especially younger people – realize that by being recreational drug users they, in many instances, are rendering themselves unemployable.”

Taylor says there are 6,000 – 7,000 good manufacturing jobs for which employers can’t find qualified employees.  While there are numerous factors driving that figure, he contends that failure to pass a drug test is absolutely one of them.

Testifiers Urge Panel to Consider Social Harms of Privatization

A litany of testifiers foreshadowed the potential unintended consequences of liquor privatization during the first of three hearings to be held before the Senate Law & Justice Committee.  “We cannot look at expansion without first exploring how increased alcohol use may affect citizens of our state,” committee Chairman Charles McIlhinney (R-Bucks) explained at the onset. 

While McIlhinney says he wants to ensure ‘smart privatization,’ most testifiers on Tuesday seemed to think the smart move would be to retain state control of retail liquor and wine sales.  “What is the problem we’re trying to solve here?” asked Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of PA president Deb Beck.  “We’re lowest on deaths and number two on revenue produced.  What’s the problem?”  Beck’s written testimony included a long list of sources for the numbers she pointed out to the committee. 

But by the start of the 9:30am capitol hearing many in the room had already received an open letter from the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association that questioned the slanted lineup of testifiers, and pointed to other statistics that show Pennsylvania performing worse than privatized states. 

When questioned by one committee member, Fraternal Order of Police Pennsylvania State Lodge president Les Neri noted that everyone can find a study that justifies their position, but he can speak from experience.  “I’m telling you as a street cop, the guy who’s done the job for 38-years, that the increase in licenses and outlets for alcohol will increase crime.  I just can’t tell you by what statistic.” Neri explained. 

While the FOP opposes the liquor privatization bill that passed the House (HB 790), others on the law enforcement panel did not take a position; they merely pointed to the need for additional resources for manpower and investigations should lawmakers vote to privatize. 

The hearing concluded with a handful of middle and high school students from the Council Rock Coalition for Healthy Youth, who asked the panel to prevent privatization in order to protect Pennsylvania’s future.

Despite the onslaught of criticism his privatization plan received, Governor Tom Corbett released a statement thanking the committee for the hearing and asserting that public safety must be the number one focus of state government.  “The Senate took a first step in bringing Pennsylvania consumers choice and convenience,” Corbett said in the statement.  While the House amended his original plan, Corbett’s been taking a lead role in this year’s privatization debate

A second hearing is planned for May 14th and Sen. McIlhinney says a third will be scheduled for early June.  He says all sides of the issue will be heard.

Prom, Graduation Season a Dangerous Time of Year for Teen Drivers

It’s prom and graduation season, marking the beginning of a dangerous time of year for teen drivers.   A new study raises more concerns in regard to underage drinking and substance abuse.

One in four teens admits to driving under the influence of alcohol, marijuana or other drugs and many believe it does not impact their safety according to Liberty Mutual and Students Against Destruction Decisions (SADD). While prom and graduation are listed as times this is more likely to happen, Fourth of July and summer driving in general are ranked as higher risk times by those teens surveyed.

Stephen Wallace is a senior advisor for SADD and an associate research professor at Susquehanna University, where he is the director of the Center for Adolescent Research and Education. He says the new study shows some disturbing trends.

Wallace  says with more than 13 million licensed teen drivers in the United States and almost one-quarter admitting to driving under the influence, it means as many as three million impaired teenagers may be taking to the road.

Wallace says there’s a need to refocus attention on the issue of impaired driving among teens. He says while more effort has been focused on prom and graduation, we can’t ignore the risks that exist once school lets out for summer and teens may have less supervision.

SADD is urging parents to have conversations with their teens about the dangers not only of drinking and driving, but underage drinking. Wallace says you can find resources at Libertymutual.com/teendriving.

Governor Tom Corbett

Poll: Leading Democrats would Top Gov. Corbett Today

Quinnipiac University pollsters are already looking ahead to Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race and hypothetical matchups in November 2014.  Today’s poll is the latest in a string of surveys that suggest a tough road to reelection for Republican Governor Tom Corbett. 

Three of the leading Democrats, who may challenge Corbett next year, are winning hypothetical head-to-head matchups by at least nine points. 

But Election Day is still 18-months away and just last month Governor Corbett suggested that poll numbers don’t matter much because they don’t take the big picture into account.