Regulators give phone companies new tools to fight robocalls

Tali Arbel | June 6, 2019, The Philadelphia Tribune

NEW YORK — Federal regulators voted Thursday to give phone companies the right to block unwanted calls without getting customers’ permission first.

The Federal Communications Commission’s move could make call-blocking widespread and help consumers dodge annoying robocalls, which have exploded into a problem that pesters Americans on the level of billions of calls a month.

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Gov. Tom Wolf, GOP leaders butt heads over how to pay for addressing Pa.’s infrastructure needs

Jan Murphy | Wednesday, June 5, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

When it comes to investing in infrastructure improvements in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf and lawmakers from both parties agree there are some critical needs across the commonwealth that are crying for attention.

Flood control is needed in some communities. Blighted areas need addressed in others. Broadband access is needed in rural areas as well, among other projects that the governor has drawn attention to during a nearly five-month tour of the commonwealth.

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Pa. considers bill to get children to start their school years earlier and stay longer

Sasha Hupka | Tuesday, June 4, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

In Pennsylvania, some children enter kindergarten at 5-years-old. Some start school at 6 or 7. And some wait until age 8 to begin their education.

Currently, Pennsylvania does not require children to attend school before age 8, and students can drop out at age 17 without parental consent. But the state’s compulsory school attendance age may soon be changing to get children in school earlier and keep them there longer.

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Pennsylvania casinos ask court to stop or limit iLottery games

Charles Thompson | Monday, June 3, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

A group of Pennsylvania casinos have asked Commonwealth Court to either stop or significantly curtail the Pennsylvania Lottery’s iLottery games before commercial casino-based internet gambling gets launched next month across the state.

The casinos have requested an injunction that would require the Lottery to stop offering games they feel too closely mimic the poker, slots and other games they were granted the exclusive franchise for in the state’s 2017 gambling expansion law.

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Pennsylvania ranked among 10 worst states for job seekers

Deb Erdley | Thursday, May 30, 2019, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Pittsburgh may well be among the nation’s top cities for new college grads.

A study last month by personal finance tech site SmartAsset put the city among the top 10 in the nation for grads looking to market their new degrees.

But another study released Thursday — by WalletHub, a personal credit tech site — suggests Pittsburgh’s good standing has yet to reach much beyond the city limits.

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Recreational marijuana laws put on hold by NJ and NY. What’s that mean for Pennsylvania?

Jan Murphy | Wednesday, May 29, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

Pennsylvania’s neighbors to the north and east were seemingly hot on the trail of legalizing marijuana and it didn’t go unnoticed by Gov. Tom Wolf.

The strong interest in legalizing recreational cannabis coming out of New York and New Jersey was cited as a reason why Wolf sent Lt. Gov. John Fetterman on a statewide listening tour to hear what Pennsylvanians thought of the idea.

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Who’s making money as Pa. counties upgrade voting machines?

Emily Previti and Ed Mahon | Tuesday, May 28, 2019, PA Post

UPPER MERION TWP. – As Jeff Frank strode out of his polling place on a recent Tuesday morning, poll watchers thanked him for voting.

“Have a great day – enjoy the complaints as they come out the door,” Frank responded.

Municipal elections tend to be relatively quiet – even in Montgomery County, which consistently turns out a higher number of voters than any other county in the state but more-populous Philadelphia and Allegheny counties.

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Pa. lawmakers report $83K in travel on annual ethics disclosures

Monday, May 27, 2019, Associated Press

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania state lawmakers’ newly filed ethics forms show they accepted more than $83,000 in free trips last year and collected a variety of gifts, booze and free meals.

That’s just the value that lawmakers reported, and they are not required to disclose everything they accept in a state that does not limit gifts to public officials.

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Voluntary retirement plan could help cash-strapped Pa. state university system

Susan Snyder | Thursday, May 23, 2019, Philadelphia Inquirer

Pennsylvania’s state university system and its faculty union have agreed on a voluntary retirement program that could help the cash-strapped system as it faces its ninth straight year of projected enrollment decline.

Nearly one-fifth of the union’s 5,150 full-time faculty members would be eligible under the plan, which allows faculty to retire in phases over a three-year period. Their workload and pay would be gradually reduced, while they maintain full benefits. Those who qualify generally must be at least 60 and have worked at least 15 years in the system.

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Funding shortage for state agency could affect thousands of Pennsylvanians with disabilities

Bill Schackner | Wednesday, May 22, 2019, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Some 1,200 Pennsylvanians with disabilities may have to be put on a waiting list every month instead of getting help immediately to hold down a job and live independently.

That’s because the state no longer has enough funds to cover all those who are eligible, officials and advocates say.

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A nationwide tax on soda? Economists say it would be good for the country, and here’s their ‘optimal’ rate.

Laura McCrystal | Monday, May 20, 2019, The Philadelphia Inquirer

A federal tax on soda could benefit the public good, according to an economic analysis being released Monday.

“What we’re trying to do is evaluate whether soda taxes are good or bad overall for society,” said Dimitry Taubinsky, an assistant professor of economics at the University of California-Berkeley, and one of the authors of the paper.

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Pa. primary elections 2019: A voter’s guide for Allegheny County and beyond

Julian Routh | Thursday, May 16, 2019, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

For voters in Western Pennsylvania, the municipal primary elections on May 21 are a chance to have a say in the day-to-day governing of city and county governments and school boards and in who becomes judges.

Even though there’ll be a general election in November, many of the candidates that voters choose in the primary will be on a fast track to power, with no official challengers declared on the other side. Pittsburgh City Council seats? The Democrats who win their primaries next week will almost certainly be sworn in next January. Allegheny County District Attorney? Same thing.

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Welcome to the ‘Centre District’ — or the former Civic Arena site

Mark Belko | Wednesday, May 15, 2019, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The former Civic Arena redevelopment in the lower Hill District has a new name. But not all Hill residents are happy about it.

In unveiling their new vision for the 28-acre site at a community meeting Wednesday evening, the Pittsburgh Penguins also coined a name for the $750 million development — the Centre District.

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Bill would set a minimum marrying age in Pennsylvania. And no, we don’t already have one.

Jan Murphy | Tuesday, May 14, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

How old do you have to be to get married in Pennsylvania? Twenty-one? Sixteen? Fourteen?

Actually there is no minimum age. But legislation that won unanimous approval by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday seeks to change that by setting 18 as the minimum age to marry in the commonwealth.

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UPMC-Highmark split to take center stage in state Supreme Court showdown

Natasha Lindstrom | Monday, May 13, 2019, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro balked at claims that his legal fight against UPMC is a ploy for political clout under the guise of acting in the public interest.

“This has nothing to do with my career, and everything to do with the good people of Western Pennsylvania who deserve to have access to health care at these health care institutions, which are nonprofits,” Shapiro said. “I’ve made it very clear that UPMC is not following the law.”

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Information denied: State’s open-records law needs a big update

The Editorial Board | May 9, 2019, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pennsylvanians are guaranteed the “right to know” — unless they happen to want to know something from an unscrupulous someone.

That point was made when it was disclosed that the Philadelphia mayor deleted text messages — potential public records — for six months after a newspaper sought copies of the texts. And the state office that oversees the right-to-know law determined there was nothing to be done about the disappearing act.

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Audit says there was no bidding process in most large Allegheny County contracts

Christopher Huffaker | May 8, 2019, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The majority of Allegheny County’s large purchases are not publicly bid, according to an audit released Wednesday by the County Controller’s office.

From January 2017 to June 2018, 145 contracts for purchases over $30,000 were made by “piggybacking” onto existing government contracts. The county Purchasing Division conducted 126 bid processes in the same period.

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Hybrid pension plan options popular with Pa.’s new state government employees

Jan Murphy | Tuesday, May 7, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

Nearly 2,500 state government employees hired in the first three months of this year were among the first in the commonwealth workforce to get a taste of pension choice.

Turns out, the overwhelming majority – more than 1,900 – preferred one of the two hybrid options that preserved some semblance of the century-old traditional pension plan combined with a 401(k)-style plan, according to a PennLive analysis. PennLive obtained records of state government employees’ pension choices from the State Employees’ Retirement System through a Right-to-Know request.

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Pa. lawmakers cling to pensions after pushing new state workers to adopt 401(k)-style plans

Jan Murphy | Monday, May 6, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

Pa. lawmakers cling to pensions after pushing new state workers to adopt 401(k)-style plans

For years, Pennsylvania lawmakers wanted state government and school employees’ pension plans to look more like the 401(k)-style plans in the private sector.

But it’s pretty clear most didn’t want that kind of retirement plan for themselves.

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Auditor General urges state to invest in cybersecurity for school districts

Paul Guggenheimer | Thursday, May 2, 2019, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale on Thursday urged legislators to invest in helping school districts strengthen cybersecurity as part of the next state budget.

DePasquale said that despite a 2017 survey by his office showing a majority of Pennsylvania school districts were concerned about the increased risk of cyber attacks, no action has been taken at the state level.

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