10 years later, Pa.’s open records law has improved access, but some say the law has its flaws

Jan Murphy | Friday, March 8, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

Whether they realize it or not, Pennsylvanians have experienced a new age of transparency and openness of their government over the past decade.

Under the overhauled state’s Right to Know Law that took effect on Jan. 1, 2009, access to millions of documents have been granted that shed light on activities of local and state government that previously were shielded from public view.

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Flat Medicaid rates concern Pennsylvania nursing homes

Nicole C. Brambila | Thursday, March 7, 2019, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

A group that represents about 500 nursing home operators across Pennsylvania expressed concerns about Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget for next fiscal year, saying flat funding threatens the state’s rapidly aging population.

The Medicaid reimbursement rate for Pennsylvania nursing home residents has increased less than $9 a day since July 1, 2010, according to the Pennsylvania Health Care Association. Wolf’s proposed budget does not include a rate increase.

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State bans dispensaries from joining Pennsylvania Cannabis Festival

Wednesday, March 6, 2019, The Associated Press

SCRANTON — The Pennsylvania Department of Health has banned dispensaries from participating in one of the state’s largest cannabis festivals.

A spokesperson for the department tells The Philadelphia Inquirer they issued the ban last week because the Pennsylvania Cannabis Festival in Scranton is not a “medically focused event.”

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As 2020 nears, pressure grows to replace voting machines

Christina A. Cassidy | Tuesday, March 5, 2019, The Associated Press

ATLANTA — Time and money are running short for states to replace aging or inadequate voting machines before the 2020 presidential primaries, according to a report released Tuesday.

State and local election officials in 31 states say they want to replace their voting equipment before the elections, but the vast majority said they don’t have enough money to do so, according to The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU’s School of Law.

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Ripple effects of raising Pa.’s minimum teacher salary concern House GOP lawmakers

Jan Murphy | Monday, March 4, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

The ripple effects of Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposal to raise the state’s minimum public school teacher salary by 143 percent to $45,000 a year could be what costs it the support of some House Republicans.

At Monday’s House budget hearing with state Education Secretary Pedro Rivera, GOP members voiced several concerns about the impact it could have on such things as teacher contracts, salaries of more experienced teachers, and school property tax rates.

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Gov. Tom Wolf wants to offer first-of-its-kind college tuition benefit to Pa. National Guard member families

Jan Murphy | Wednesday, February 27, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

Gov. Tom Wolf wants to break new ground with a new incentive program to entice members of the Pennsylvania National Guard to re-enlist for six years by offering them a tuition assistance plan for their spouses or children.

The Pennsylvania National Guard Military Family Education Program, or Pennsylvania GI Bill of Rights as Wolf refers to it, would provide up to 10 semesters of tuition-free education for the service member’s spouse or family to attend most of Pennsylvania’s higher education institutions.

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Scam calls expected to spike in PA as tax season approaches

Jacob Tierney | Tuesday, February 26, 2019, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

If you dread answering your phone because of the onslaught of robotic spammers and scammers, you’re not alone. And it could get worse very soon.

An analysis of U.S. Federal Trade Commission statistics by AllAreaCodes.com found unwanted calls tend to spike in March and April, as scammers impersonating the IRS attempt to bilk money out of taxpayers.

In 2018, Pennsylvanians filed almost 240,000 complaints with the FTC for telemarketers and scammers calling people on the Do Not Call Registry.

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Pennsylvania GOP lawmaker opens door to minimum wage deal

Marc Levy | Monday, February 25, 2019, The Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A top Republican lawmaker is opening the door to raising Pennsylvania’s minimum wage, but he’s also insisting that Democrats lower their sights.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said Monday that Gov. Tom Wolf’s latest proposal isn’t reasonable and not worth discussing.

Corman wouldn’t define what he views as a reasonable increase. But he suggests there’s enough Senate Republican support for a more modest increase to bring a bill to the floor.

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Your View: Why Pennsylvania should join neighboring states and raise the minimum wage

David Fillman | Thursday, February 21, 2019, The Morning Call

As lawmakers begin to debate Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2019-20 budget proposal, I would urge them to consider the headlines from some of our neighboring states regarding one of the governor’s top priorities — raising our state’s shameful $7.25 an hour minimum wage:

$15 minimum wage is now coming to New Jersey

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Pennsylvania among top third of states in taxpayer accuracy

Jeff Himler | Wednesday, February 20, 2019, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

A little under 6 percent of Pennsylvania taxpayers are spot-on when it comes to figuring their federal income tax. That is, when they file their returns with the IRS, they’re neither due a refund nor required to submit a payment.

That’s not a very big percentage, but it’s enough to place Pennsylvania among the top third of states when ranked according to the accuracy of its taxpayers — in a study released this month by SmartAsset, a company that provides online advice on personal finances.

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$100,000 Club: More than 9,000 state workers earn six figures

Jan Murphy | Tuesday, February 19, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

More than 9,000 people in Pennsylvania state government earned $100,000 or more in 2018, according to PennLive.

There are now 9,071 state workers in the $100,000 club, an increase of 781 from last year. It’s the highest number since PennLive and The Patriot-News first began tracking the six-figure earners in state government in 1997.

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Six new stores landing at Pittsburgh International Airport

Mark Belko | Monday, February 18, 2019, Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Six new specialty stores -— selling everything from candies to socks — are touching down at Pittsburgh International Airport over the next month or so.

Fraport Pittsburgh, operator of the airport’s Airmall, announced the additions to the boarding terminal Monday.

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‘Roadmap’ puts DEP squarely behind greater use of electric vehicles

Stephen Huba | Thursday, February 14, 2019, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

It may not be the Green New Deal, but a new report by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection tries to nudge the state toward greater use of electric vehicles.

The Pennsylvania Electric Vehicle Roadmap, developed over two years by the Drive Electric Pennsylvania Coalition, attempts to lay out strategies for overcoming barriers to electric vehicle use by motorists and municipalities.

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Gov. Wolf again proposes for local communities to pay for state police coverage

Megan Tomasic | Wednesday, February 13, 2019, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Hempfield could pay almost $7 million for state police coverage under Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal — yet another attempt to collect from municipalities that rely on troopers rather than their own police department.

Hempfield is one of nearly 2,500 municipalities across Pennsylvania without a local police department.

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Pennsylvania university system pledges to transform amid struggles

Tuesday, February 12, 2019, The Associated Press

HARRISBURG — Leaders of Pennsylvania’s state-owned university system are promising a transformation amid declining enrollments, rising costs and lackluster state support.

Tuesday’s hearing before the House Appropriations Committee comes after enrollment at the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education fell below 100,000 for the first time since 2001.

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Legalize it? Marijuana talk has been going on for decades. It’s what they’re saying and who’s listening that’s changed

Charles Thompson | Monday, February 11, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

Pennsylvania has come a long way in the last 15 years.

With bipartisan support, policy-makers have legalized casino gambling; pushed beer and wine into grocery stores; allowed the sales of certain forms of marijuana for medicinal use, and given the green light for sports betting.

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Tax on violent video games to pay for school safety? That’s one lawmaker’s suggestion

Jan Murphy | Friday, February 8, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

A state lawmaker wants to make gamers pay more to feed their appetite for video games that involve blood, gore, death and destruction.

Under the legislation offered by Rep. Christopher Quinn, R-Delaware County, the cost of video games rated as suitable for mature or adult audiences sold in Pennsylvania would be subject to a new 10 percent tax. The revenue raised from this tax on “M” or “AO” rated video games would go toward supporting school safety measures.

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Pittsburgh water agency to spend $50M to replace lead pipes

Michael Rubinkham | Thursday, February 7, 2019, The Associated Press

Pittsburgh’s beleaguered water authority will spend $50 million to replace lead service lines, give filters to low-income residents and take other steps to address the city’s lead crisis under a settlement approved Thursday by state utility regulators.

It comes a week after the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office filed criminal charges against the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, alleging it mishandled a lead pipe replacement program in 2016 and 2017 and put more than 150 households at elevated risk of lead poisoning. The authority, which had previously admitted civil liability in the case and was fined $2.4 million by state environmental regulators, is fighting the charges.

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Pa. lawmaker seeks co-sponsors for ‘any willing insurer’ legislation to push Highmark, UPMC together

Steve Twedt | Wednesday, February 6, 2019, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, is seeking co-sponsors on legislation which “would require UPMC and Highmark to either contract with each other for services or enter mandatory arbitration,” according to a release circulated Wednesday.

While not even in bill form yet, the move is another sign of growing interest from Harrisburg as the Pittsburgh region moves into the final months of a five-year agreement that has allowed some Highmark Medicare Advantage members and others continued in-network access to UPMC hospitals.

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Tom Wolf the pragmatist: Governor kicks off second term with a budget that forsakes bold policy strokes for doing things better

Charles Thompson | Tuesday, February 5,2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

You know your governor has gone all-in on political pragmatism when one of the talking points in his budget proposal is insisting that children attend first grade.

Look it up. Gov. Tom Wolf called Tuesday for lowering the age of compulsory school attendance in Pennsylvania to six.

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