Radio PA Roundtable – May 31, 2013

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Brad Christman brings you a U.S. Senate vote on a farm bill amendment on crop insurance subsidies backed by Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey. Also, state House Republicans have their own budget plan in Harrisburg and is there a volunteer firefighting crisis in PA?

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:


“Orange” Alert!

State officials have issued the first “Orange Air Quality Action Day” of 2013. That issuance is tied to ground-level ozone, a by-product of heat and air contaminants that can cause breathing difficulties for certain segments of the population including the elderly, infants and those with breathing-related maladies such as asthma or bronchitis.

The PA Department of Environmental Protection and its regional air quality partnerships issued the alert for the Lehigh Valley, Liberty-Clairton, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Susquehanna Valley areas.

The Lehigh Valley region is Berks, Lehigh and Northampton counties. The Susquehanna Valley region is Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon and York counties. The Philadelphia region is Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties. The Pittsburgh region is Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties. The Liberty-Clairton region is the municipalities of Clairton, Glassport, Liberty, Lincoln and Port Vue, all in southeastern Allegheny County.

Residents are encouraged to help prevent high levels of ozone by voluntarily limiting certain activities during the peak heat hours of the day. In addition, carpooling or utilizing mass transit can cut down on the type of pollution that can cause ground-level ozone.


State House Republicans Introduce Budget Bill

State house Republican leaders have rolled out their budget plan, calling for less spending than the Governor requested.  The house budget would spend about 100 million dollars less than the proposal presented by Governor Tom Corbett in February. The total amount is still about   600 million dollars more in spending than this fiscal year.

Appropriations Committee Chair Bill Adolph (R-Delaware) says the 28.3 billion dollar general fund plan represents the priorities of the house, but is by no means a final budget. With just over a month before the start of the new fiscal year, he says it’s their intention to have a budget in place on time.

The plan calls for a 100 million dollar increase for basic education, which includes 10 billion dollars for total pre-K education.  Representative Adolph called it the highest amount of state funding ever.

The plan also includes greater support for certain health programs, county conservation districts and the state open records office.

It does not include savings from a proposed pension reform plan. Representative Adolph says it would cover pension obligations without making reforms, using balances in the school employee’s retirement appropriations for the last two fiscal years.

It also does not include any proceeds from proposed liquor store privatization or the proposed transportation funding plan. It also does not include any funds related to an expansion of Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act. Governor Corbett has been concerned about the costs of such an expansion and unwilling to make a final decision yet, pending more information from the federal government.

House Democrats called the budget plan  an improvement over the Governor’s plan, but expressed concern over human service and special education funding levels.

13 Killed in Crashed Investigated by Pennsylvania State Police Over Holiday Weekend

State police investigated fewer crashes than last year, but the same amount of fatalities this Memorial Day weekend.

Thirteen people were killed in crashes handled by state police over the four day holiday weekend. Troopers were called out to 760 crashes this year compared to 817 the previous Memorial Day weekend.

85 of the crashes this year were alcohol-related, including five involving fatalities. Troopers cited 438 people for driving under the influence.

Nearly 13 hundred people got tickets for not wearing seat belts and another 146 were cited for not securing children in safety seats. Troopers wrote over 97 hundred speeding tickets  during the holiday weekend.

The numbers do not include crashes handled by local police departments over the holiday weekend.

Initiative Gives Health Care Dose of Transparency

By giving patients access to their doctors’ notes, the OpenNotes initiative seeks to improve health and health care.  Danville-based Geisinger Medical Center was one of three health systems to participate in a national study, and officials there were so pleased with the results they’ve already expanded the program.

“Patients really seem to love this and physicians – for the most part – really don’t seem to mind all that much,” explains Dr. Jonathan Darer, Geisinger’s Chief Innovation Officer. 

82% of the patients participating in the trial actually opened their notes, and 77 – 87% of them reported that access to their doctors’ notes made them feel more in control of their health care. 

“Here we have an innovation where all we did is share information and patients feel like they’re getting better care,” Dr. Darer tells Radio PA.  “How cool is that?”

In light of the study’s findings, Geisinger has expanded the OpenNotes program to more than 500-doctors and roughly 130,000 patients. 

Darer envisions the day when the initiative will be ubiquitous, not only at Geisinger, but throughout the health care industry.  Adaption will be even faster, Darer says, if future studies can confirm that this sort of information sharing improves clinical outcomes in addition to getting patients more involved in their care.

RadioPA Roundtable

Radio PA Roundtable 05.24.13

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Matt Paul discusses new legislation that would create letter grades (A – F) for all of the state’s public schools, and examines a new law designed to expand community health clinics in the state.  Also, have you ever wanted to actually see your doctor’s notes?  Many Geisinger patients are alreading doing it.

Please have a happy & safe Memorial Day weekend, and remember to take some time to consider the true meaning of the holiday.

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:


AAA Projects a Slight Decline in Memorial Day Travel

There won’t be as many Americans hitting the road this Memorial Day weekend according to AAA projections, but there will still be a lot of travelers.

Just under 35 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home over the holiday weekend according to AAA, down about one percent from 2012.  Nearly 90% will travel by vehicle.  Air travel is expected to decrease. Median spending will also be down as travelers look for ways to save.  The Memorial Day travel period runs from May 23-27.

Jenny Robinson of AAA Mid Atlantic says that while gas prices may be lower in most places than they were last Memorial Day weekend, there are economic factors affecting travel. She says the labor force participation rate fell to a 30 year low in March. She says pent up demand also pushed up travel in recent years and much of that demand may have been met.

Visiting friends and family and dining out are the top activities for the holiday weekend. People also plan to go shopping, visit the beach or go touring and sightseeing over the long holiday weekend.

PA School Districts

Should Pennsylvania Schools Get Report Cards Too?

Schools have always issued report cards grading our students, but new legislation would require the state to issue report cards grading our schools too.  Under HB 1300, schools and school districts would receive a letter grade – A through F – every year.

“Coupled with providing options in education, providing this data to parents just really empowers them to get involved and make those decisions about their child’s education,” explains Ashley DeMauro, state director of StudentsFirst. “So I think as long as we’re empowering parents, obviously, it will have a positive impact.”

All public schools would be subject to the proposed new grading system, including charters and cyber charter schools. 

DeMauro says the letter grades would be based on multiple data measures, including students’ test scores and schools’ progress in closing achievement gaps.  The state already generates the data, but DeMauro recognizes that it’s often difficult to analyze.  She believes a school report card would paint a clear picture for parents, students and taxpayers. 

A spokesman for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) says the group has not conducted a thorough analysis of HB 1300, but suggests it would be unnecessary based on work the state is already doing to implement the PA School Performance Profile website.  DeMauro, however, says the bill was actually crafted to enhance the forthcoming SPP. 

In an email, the state Department of Education press secretary tells Radio PA the governor has been a supporter of making sure that parents understand the quality of the schools their children attend.  “The Governor would like to have a system that is easily understandable to all Pennsylvania families.  The administration will review this proposal,” the statement concludes.  

This is not a new issue, conceptually, but it is the first time such legislation has been introduced in Pennsylvania’s General Assembly.  The bill was just introduced this month and has been referred to the House Education Committee.

Voters Oust Harrisburg Mayor

Following a first term marked largely by controversies, missteps and flubs, voters in Harrisburg have turned thumbs down to a second term for Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson.

Local businessman Eric Papenfuse won the nod in a four-way race for the Democratic nomination Tuesday. City Controller Dan Miller showed up in second place with incumbent Thompson finishing third. After being charged with vandalizing Papenfuse campaign signs a day before the election, candidate Lewis Butts finished a distant 4th, with fewer than 100 votes.

Papenfuse will face Independent Nevin Mindlin this November.

Harrisburg has been dealing with the fallout of a financial meltdown that triggered a state takeover and has now resulted in charges of fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The city’s crippling debt is connected to a disastrous incinerator project started under former Mayor Stephen reed, Thompson’s immediate predecessor. The SEC charges also deal with financial disclosures made during the Reed era.


Bald Eagle Fatally Shot in Western PA

ATV riders contacted the state Game Commission when they found an injured bald eagle in a rural part of northern Cambria County on May 10th.  Wildlife conservation officers arrived on scene to find an injured mature bird with blood coming from its mouth.  The eagle died on the way to the state veterinary laboratory in State College. 

“The lab confirmed that it suffered at least gunshot wound,” explains Tom Fazi, Southwest Region information and education supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.  “It’s a rural area, but maybe somebody saw something or heard something, and we’re looking for any leads… to find out who may have done this.” 

The Game Commission’s Tip Hotline is 1-888-PGC-8001.  You can also call the Southwest Region office directly at 724-238-9523.  A cash reward may be offered for information leading to an arrest, and tipsters may remain anonymous.  It is believed the bird was found on or around the day of the shooting. 

Pennsylvania’s bald eagle population is growing, but they are still classified as a threatened species.  Bald eagles are also protected under state and federal law

(photo courtesy of Hal Korber, Pennsylvania Game Commission)