House passes ban on hand-held cellphone use while driving, but provision limits police

Ford Turner | Thursday, January 16, 2020, The Morning Call

HARRISBURG — A ban on using a hand-held cellphone while driving in Pennsylvania was approved by the state House of Representatives on Wednesday, but some lawmakers called it a step backward because of a provision that prohibits police from stopping motorists simply because they spot cellphone use.

The bill to put the ban in place was approved by a vote of 120 to 74, and now will go to the Senate for consideration.

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Pa. churches, nonprofits can get grants to improve security

Stephen Huba | Wednesday, January 15, 2020, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Religious organizations such as churches and synagogues looking to improve security can now get help from the state.

Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday announced that $5 million in security grants is being made available to religious organizations and other nonprofits that serve communities deemed vulnerable to hate crimes.

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Pa. House set to vote on a bill to discourage drivers from talking on handheld phones

Jan Murphy | Tuesday, January 14, 2020, Harrisburg Patriot News

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives could vote as early as Wednesday on a bill that seeks to begin to crackdown on drivers who talk on a hand-held while operating a vehicle.

But it’s not an outright ban on adult drivers as other northeastern states, including New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware, have adopted – or as Rep. Rosemary Brown, the bill’s sponsor, wanted.

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DEP orders Range Resources to fix leaking Marcellus well ‘once and for all’

Laura Legere | Monday, January 13, 2020, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau

The state Department of Environmental Protection ordered Range Resources on Monday to fix “once and for all” a Marcellus Shale well in Central Pennsylvania that has been leaking gas into groundwater for eight years.

Regulators and the Texas-based company have disagreed for most of a decade about how to correct the pernicious leak in Moreland Township, Lycoming County, with regulators once threatening — and later dropping — a $9 million fine.

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Republicans ‘got greedy’ in drawing Pennsylvania congressional maps, new documents say

Claudia Vargas | Thursday, January 9, 2020, The Philadelphia Inquirer

A trove of documents recently released by the daughter of a deceased GOP strategist includes some clues about what Republicans were thinking almost a decade ago when they redrew Pennsylvania’s congressional maps in a way that was later ruled unconstitutional.

The documents, compiled at least partly amid the decennial redistricting that took place in 2011, include a warning that the party “got greedy” in an attempt to create districts favorable to GOP candidates 10 years earlier.

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Online education in Pennsylvania could get more competitive thanks to state community colleges

Susan Snyder | Wednesday, January 8, 2020, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Graduates of Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges can go on to earn their bachelor’s degrees online from a New Hampshire university at a rate that makes it less costly than nearly every other in-state public option, under an agreement signed Wednesday.

The agreement with Southern New Hampshire University was arranged through the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges, a nonprofit umbrella association, and marks the first transfer agreement between all 14 colleges and a four-year university.

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Speaker sets March votes to fill 3 vacant state House seats

Tuesday, January 7, 2020, The Associated Press

HARRISBURG — Voters in three Pennsylvania House districts will choose new state representatives during special elections scheduled for March, the state House speaker announced Tuesday.

A top aide to Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said the March 17 date was chosen to fill seats that became vacant because the incumbents were elected in November to other offices.

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State won’t overhaul Medicaid transportation program following study

Kate Giammarise | Monday, January 6, 2020, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

State officials will not award a statewide brokerage contract and will continue to study how to best administer an assistance program that aids low-income Pennsylvanians who need non-emergency medical transportation, at least in the short-term.

What would have been a potentially sweeping change was halted last year after state legislators, advocates, and local county officials raised concerns and said the issue needed further study before a contract was awarded.

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20 (plus one) for 2020: Pennsylvanians worth watching in the year ahead

Charles Thompson | Thursday, January 2, 2020, Harrisburg Patriot News

Welcome to the Roaring ’20s, PennLive readers.

We once again spent a good part of our Christmas break gazing in to our crystal ball to come up with a forward-looking list of Pennsylvanians we think you’ll be interested in keeping an eye on as 2020 unfolds.

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New laws for a new year: Sunday hunting, voting by mail, tobacco 21, a state amphibian and more

Jan Murphy | Wednesday, January 1, 2020, Harrisburg Patriot News

With 2020′s arrival, there are some new laws now on the books that may change the the way some people can go about the business of living, working, and playing in Pennsylvania.

From how they can vote to when they can hunt deer to how snow days may no longer equate to play days, Gov. Tom Wolf put his signature on more than 100 bills that reached his desk over the course of last year. Here are 15 new laws we chose to highlight.

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New overtime rules should help 60,000 workers in Pennsylvania

Tuesday, January 31, 2019, The Associated Press

More than 60,000 Pennsylvania residents are expected to see a pay increase in 2020 as a new federal overtime rule goes into effect.

The rule taking effect Wednesday guarantees time-and-a-half pay to nearly all hourly employees who work more than 40 hours a week and salaried workers making less than about $35,500 per year.

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Pa. push for higher minimum wage getting maximum attention, little movement

Jan Murphy | Friday, December 20, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

Lawmakers who have been pushing for an increase in the state’s minimum wage left Harrisburg this week disappointed that their hard push to assist the lowest paid workers will now have to continue into the new year.

The House left town without acting on a Senate-passed bill that would have increased the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2022, which would have been the first increase in the minimum wage since 2009 when the federal government set it at its current rate of $7.25.

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Canceled meetings and finger-pointing plague top Pa. economic development agency

Charlotte Keith | Thursday, December 19, 2019, Spotlight PA (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and PennLive/The Patriot-News.

In a half hour meeting, the Commonwealth Financing Authority — Pennsylvania’s mammoth economic development engine — can approve millions of dollars for projects ranging from local sewer systems and parking lots to dairy farms and downtown facelifts.

But recently, long delays between meetings have held up funding for projects. And the resulting finger-pointing over who is to blame provides a glimpse into the politics surrounding the hundreds of millions of dollars the authority doles out each year.

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House votes to amend constitution to pick judges by district

Thursday, December 18, 2019, The Associated Press

HARRISBURG — Majority Republicans in the state House on Wednesday took the first step to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution so that appeals court judges would be elected by district rather than statewide.

The House voted 102-95 for the proposal that would have lawmakers draw the district lines for Supreme, Superior and Commonwealth courts.

In order to be enacted, the bill must still pass the Senate, then be approved by both chambers in the 2021-22 legislative session, before going to voters for final approval as a referendum.

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Study: Proposed Pittsburgh-Cleveland-Chicago hyperloop would be highly profitable

Tuesday, December 17, 2019, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Development of a proposed hyperloop transportation system linking Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Chicago would not only be a boon to communities along the travel corridors but also would be a strong business investment.

That’s the conclusion of a 157-page feasibility study released Monday in Cleveland by the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies Inc., a California-based company developing the technology to move passengers and freight at more than 500 mph through low-pressure tubes. Consultant Transportation Economics and Management Systems performed the $1.3 million study of the proposed Great Lakes Hyperloop System.

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Before scrapping Pa.’s annual auto emissions inspections, lawmakers call for a study first

Jan Murphy | Monday, December 16, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

State lawmakers remain interested in enabling most Pennsylvanians to avoid spending about $40 annually on auto emission inspections, but they are tapping the brakes a bit.

The reason? Lawmakers want to be sure they don’t risk millions in federal aid.

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Pa. state universities’ faculty get 12% raises over next 3 years in new contract

Jan Murphy | Wednesday, December 11, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

Faculty at Pennsylvania’s 14 state universities are accepting a pay freeze this year with a guarantee of receiving pay increases of at least 12% over the next three years under the terms of a four-year contract that the State System of Higher Education’s governing board approved on Wednesday.

The contract, which covers about 5,000 instructors and professors, won overwhelming support of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties during its ratification vote last month.

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Feds’ rules threaten Pennsylvanians’ food stamps, state claims

Tuesday, December 10, 2019, Associated Press

HARRISBURG — Hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians stand to lose food stamps or see their benefits reduced under three sets of changes to the program being advanced by the Trump administration, state officials said Tuesday.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration opposes all three changes, saying that the federal government is simply taking away benefits without helping people improve their circumstances.

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PA Society: ‘It’s an annual tradition and a must-attend event’ for politicians and power brokers

Jan Murphy | Friday, December 6, 2019, Harrisburg Patriot News

It’s that time of year again when Pennsylvanians by the thousands flock to New York City for a whirlwind weekend of parties, dinners, and other festivities filled with chatter about all things politics at Pennsylvania Society weekend.

This annual event has roots going back more than a century to Pennsylvania’s industrial era. It has grown into a tradition that movers and shakers in the state’s political circles – and those looking to become one – mark on the calendar as soon as a new year rolls around.

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Apple buys first batch of aluminum using Alcoa’s breakthrough, pollution-free technology

Thursday, December, 5, 2019, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Alcoa Corp. said Thursday that it has produced the first commercial batch of aluminum using a breakthrough smelting process that emits pure oxygen, eliminating direct greenhouse gas emissions.

The metal — produced at Alcoa’s technical center in Westmoreland County through a joint venture with aluminum maker Rio Tinto — will be shipped and sold to Apple this month for use in its products. The joint venture, based in Montreal, is named Elysis.

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