New Plan Offers College Aid in Exchange for Pennsylvania Residency

Scott Martin

As the public awaits more details of Gov. Josh Shapiro’s higher education reform plans, Republican legislators offer some ideas of their own.

During a Wednesday press conference, a gaggle of House and Senate leaders pushed for the creation of a grant program that offers scholarships to students who commit to stay in Pennsylvania. They also want to launch a similar deal for out-of-state students to get in-state tuition if they put down roots in the commonwealth.

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Pennsylvania Road Closure Costing Residents Thousands in Tolls

Road Closed

The reopening of a three-mile section of Route 611 through the Delaware Water Gap – shut down since December 2022 due to rockslides – has been complicated by a combination of nature and red tape.

In the meantime, area residents pay tolls multiple times a day along a detour that crosses into New Jersey and business owners struggle to keep their doors open.

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Feds Give Pennsylvania $244 Million for Mine Land Problems

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland

Pennsylvania’s orphan oil and gas well problem has gotten much attention in recent months.

So too has the commonwealth’s legacy of hazardous mine lands. Now, the federal government is sending hundreds of millions of dollars to deal with them.

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Legal Documents Say Pennsylvania Union Funneled $1.8 Million into Lost Trust Fund

Correctional Officer

New legal documents filed recently in an ongoing union corruption case in Pennsylvania say officials funneled $1.8 million into a trust fund that’s yet to be recovered and then destroyed evidence of its existence.

The lawsuit, filed in 2020 by The Fairness Center on behalf of three workers at a state prison in Huntingdon, accused the treasurer of the local chapter of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association of misappropriating $20,000 between 2009 and 2018.

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Forward Party Eyeing Official Recognition in Pennsylvania

Forward Party

A polarized America, increasingly dissatisfied with the current political duopoly and lack of choices, might open doors wide enough for third parties and independents to wield greater influence in elections.

Stepping into that space and gaining momentum is the Forward Party.

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Plan Set to Free Voter ID Bill in Pennsylvania

Voting Booths

A new plan set in motion on Monday could shake loose a constitutional amendment to enact universal photograph identification to vote.

House Republican leadership said letting the bill languish in committee ignores the popularity of the policy among voters, especially those anxious about election security.

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Feds Send $90 Million for Largest Pennsylvania Solar Project Yet

Solar Panels

The federal government is goosing Pennsylvania’s solar energy footprint, sending $90 million to create the largest solar project in the state on reclaimed mine land.

The project, in Clearfield County, will be almost twice as big as the large solar project in operation, estimated to produce more than 400 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 70,000 homes.

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Federal Solar Subsidies Race on in Pennsylvania

Solar Panel Installation

As Republicans and Democrats stay split over Pennsylvania’s energy future, solar advocates want to pocket federal subsidies before they’re gone.

At a House Environmental Resources and Energy hearing on Monday, some legislators worried about the loss of farmland, as well as solar energy growth happening only due to hefty government incentives.

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Conservative Publication Launches $1 Million Lawsuit Against Celebrity Pennsylvania Climate Scientist

Michael Mann

The National Review is suing Penn State climate celebrity scientist Michael Mann for $1 million. “We cannot recover the time and effort that Mann has wasted, but we can recover more than a million of the dollars that we have lost defending our unalienable right to free speech,” the Review’s editors wrote Wednesday.

Mann won a defamation suit against two conservative writers who had criticized his “hockey stick” graph, which other climate scientists have questioned. Mann and his colleagues say the research demonstrates a sharp rise in unprecedented temperatures in the past few decades.

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Report: 34 Percent of Pennsylvania Public Workers Pay Union Dues

AFSCME PA

Though not all data is publicly available, Pennsylvania is one of the most union-dense states in America for government workers.

A recent analysis by the Commonwealth Foundation found that Pennsylvania has 34% of its public workers paying union dues. Of all the public workers represented by a union, 74% of them pay union dues.

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Pennsylvania’s Health Care Access ‘Still in the Dark Ages’

Doctor Patient

For an aging state that’s seen depopulation in the majority of its counties, Pennsylvania’s health care system struggles to meet the needs of its residents.

“Access to care is a crisis here in the commonwealth,” said Rep. Bridget Kosierowski, D-Scranton during a joint meeting of the Health and Professional Licensure Committees on Thursday. “We have lots of need and not enough providers.”

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PennDOT Supports Licenses for Undocumented Immigrants

Mike Carroll

The Shapiro administration said Monday it supports giving non-citizens driver’s licenses, following a trend across the Mid-Atlantic that posits the policy change as a safety measure.

“There are reports of over a dozen states that already allow non-citizens, including illegal immigrants, to obtain driver’s licenses,” Rep. Mike Cabell, R-Dallas, said. “Meanwhile, federal DHS policy stipulates that states could offer those with TPS (Temporary Protected Status) a Real ID.”

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Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Hiring Dozens of Workers for Orphan Well Plugging Project

Jessica Shirley

Pennsylvania will receive hundreds of millions of dollars to plug defunct oil and gas wells that may pose health and environmental threats.

And now, the state’s existing program is getting more scrutiny for how it prioritizes projects and uses that money.

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Hunters Up, Harvest Down for Pennsylvania Black Bears

Black Bears

The black bear harvest declined to a 10-year low, according to state data, despite a dramatic spike in interest among hunters during that same time.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission announced that 2,920 bears were killed in the 2023 seasons, an 8% drop from the 3,171 bears taken in 2022. The recent high came in 2019 when 4,650 bears were killed by hunters, but most of the last decade has seen 3,100-3,700 bears taken every year.

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Pennsylvania Opioid Crisis ‘Not a Situation That Can Be Solved by the Police’

Joshua Lamancusa

Treating drug addiction is two-fold: one part is law enforcement reducing the supply and another is getting addicts the help they need to recover.

Such is what legislators heard during a House Republican Policy Committee on Thursday as Pennsylvania continues to deal with an opioid crisis that outpaces the rest of the country.

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Trump Campaign Has Outraised Biden Campaign in Pennsylvania

Donald Trump Joe Biden Pennsylvania Fundraising

Donald Trump (R) has raised the most money from Pennsylvania state of all presidential candidates, with $2.14 million raised since the start of the campaign cycle. Trump raised $502,595 in the fourth quarter of 2023. Joe Biden (D) has raised the next most from Pennsylvania, with $1.5 million since the start of the campaign and $943,704 in the fourth quarter.

Twenty-three notable presidential candidates, including those who have dropped out of the race, raised a total of $6 million from Pennsylvania donors between Jan. 1, 2023, and Dec. 31, 2023. Thirty-five notable candidates raised $47.6 million in Pennsylvania during the 2020 election cycle, while 25 raised $25 million during the 2016 election cycle.

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Pennsylvania Sends $6 Million for Homeless Services, Emergency Housing

Homeless Person

About two dozen grants totaling $6.3 million will go to 25 counties in Pennsylvania to combat homelessness.

The Emergency Solutions Grants, issued by the Department of Community and Economic Development, can be used for prevention, emergency rehousing, street outreach, emergency shelter, and related uses.

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Pennsylvania Tax Credits Worth $400 Million Projected for Next Fiscal Year

PA Capitol

The use of tax credits and state subsidies has grown significantly in recent years, and the trend is expected to intensify in the near future.

A report from the Independent Fiscal Office noted that Pennsylvania awarded $857 million in tax credits in fiscal year 2022-23, and the IFO projects that $1.23 billion will be given away in 2023-24.

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Pennsylvania Democrat Warns of Losing Latino Voters to GOP

Nicarol Soto

A Democrat in the battleground state of Pennsylvania voiced concerns over her party increasingly losing Latino voters to the GOP ahead of the November election, Politico reported Friday.

Democrat Nicarol Soto of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, who ran an unsuccessful city council campaign in 2023, told the outlet that she’s seen signs of the voting bloc moving toward the Republican Party within her own family. Soto, who immigrated to Pennsylvania from the Dominican Republic, believes the shift is largely due to the community’s views on the economy and abortion, according to Politico.

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Pennsylvania Energy Policies Exacerbating Reliability, Blackout Concerns

Gene Yaw

Pennsylvania’s energy future isn’t only a question of renewables versus fossil fuels — it’s a question of whether the state can reliably provide enough energy to meet growing demand.

One problem is that power plants retiring is happening quicker than new, cleaner ones get built. The shuttering has been driven by state and federal rules to mitigate pollution, but getting projects approved and built takes years and years.

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Red Tape Closes Pennsylvania Power Plants Before Replacements Ready

Power Plant

Despite the key positions states like Ohio and Pennsylvania hold to solve future energy problems, shifting the power grid from coal and natural gas to wind and solar isn’t as easy as flipping a switch.

A cadre of Pennsylvania legislators trekked to Columbus for a joint meeting of three House and Senate committees from the two states to be advised by energy officials on PJM, the regional power grid to which both belong.

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High Court Brushes Up Against Constitutional Abortion Access

PA Supreme Court Justices

A recent state Supreme Court ruling side-stepped the question of constitutional abortion access in Pennsylvania, reviving discussion over a would-be ballot referendum mired in legislative gridlock.

Five justices said Monday the Commonwealth Court erred when it dismissed a 2019 case brought by seven abortion providers challenging Medicaid coverage restrictions first established in 1982 and upheld in 1985.

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Pennsylvania Wants to Bet Big on Outdoor Recreation

Nathan Reigner

Pennsylvania’s economic future, state officials think, means growing the outdoor recreation economy.

Such was the discussion during the Department of Conservation and Natural Resource’s advisory council meeting on Wednesday. The newly launched Office of Outdoor Recreation touted the industry’s impact, calling it responsible for $17 billion annually and 164,000 jobs.

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Pennsylvania Bill Proposes Mental Health Days for Students

Sad Student

A proposal that recently cleared the House Education Committee would consider mental health days as excused absences for students.

The bill was one of three approved Thursday after lawmakers fielded testimony about the public education system’s struggle to offer comprehensive mental health support to students.

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UPenn Sees Increase in Chinese Donations After Biden’s Think Tank Documents Scandal

U Penn Campus

The University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) saw the amount of donations from China more than triple in its most recent reporting period, shortly after the university faced a scandal regarding Joe Biden’s storage of classified documents in his think tank’s offices at the university.

As reported by Fox News, the surge in foreign donations was revealed in documents obtained by Americans for Public Trust (APT). With donations from individuals and entities directly tied to the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the university saw roughly $25 million in such donations during the 2022-2023 academic year. By contrast, the academic year of 2021-2022 saw just $8.6 million from China.

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Forward Party in Pennsylvania Targets More Local Victories

Andrew Yang

A growing dissatisfaction with America’s two-party system might make voters more open to supporting an alternative candidate this year – something the Forward Party is banking on. 

Forward’s current goals are to get candidates on the ballot in swing states like Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, and achieve official party status – both statewide and nationally.

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Pennsylvania Funds $40 Million to Replace Diesel Trucks with EVs

The diesel-to-electric vehicle conversion continues as Pennsylvania coughs up the funds for localities and trucking companies to make an upgrade.

The Department of Environmental Protection announced on Wednesday $40 million in grants to 16 applicants to replace aging diesel vehicles with EVs.

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National Park Service Backtracks on Removing Beloved Pennsylvania Statue After Widespread Ridicule

William Penn

The National Park Service reversed its decision to remove a famous statue from Welcome Park in Philadelphia, according to a Monday statement from the agency.

A statue of William Penn, who founded the then-colony of Pennsylvania in 1681 and played a significant role in American politics, will not be removed from Welcome Park after deliberation from the National Park Service, accordingto The Associated Press. The agency first planned to remove the statue as part of “rehabilitation” efforts for the park, but backpedaled on that commitment after public backlash.

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Park Service to Remove William Penn Statue in Philadelphia, in Inclusivity Push

The National Parks Service says it is rehabilitating Philadelphia’s Welcome Park to ensure it is “more welcoming, accurate, and inclusive” for visitors, and part of that plan includes removing a statue of the city’s founder, William Penn.

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Pennsylvania Representative’s Candidacy Subject of 14th Amendment Lawsuit

Scott Perry

A new lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania asks the state court to scrub Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Perry from the upcoming primary ballot.

Gene Stilp, a Harrisburg-based activist, filed the legal challenge in Commonwealth Court on Tuesday, claiming Perry – who represents the 10th Congressional District in south-central Pennsylvania – violated the Constitution’s 14th Amendment for his support of 2020 election fraud “conspiracy theories.”

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Pennsylvania Rural EMS Agencies Fight the Drug Scourge as They Lose Workers

EMT

Rural EMS agencies respond to, and train for, more drug-related calls. But they can’t always get people the help they need.

In northwest Pennsylvania, Elk County EMS has had training sessions to learn more about drug use as a disease and how to use overdose-reversal drug naloxone (also known as Narcan).

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Year in Review: Pennsylvania Energy Policy

Fracking Drilling

Pennsylvania has had a significant year for energy development, with hundreds of millions of federal dollars coming into the commonwealth.

Though the status of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the first mandatory market-based program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the United States, remains mired in a legal fight, hydrogen hubs and natural gas have kept legislators and the public busy.

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Worker Discrimination Lawsuit Against Union Argued in Pennsylvania Court

AFSCME Members

The Commonwealth Court recently heard arguments in a case regarding a state worker and the public sector union she says discriminated against her during an employer dispute.

The lawsuit, filed in May 2021 by the Fairness Center, alleges Council 13 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, violated its duty of fair representation when it negotiated an unfavorable settlement without the consent of the worker it involved, Penny Gustafson.

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Inside the Federal Probe of Pitt’s Fetal Organ Harvesting Program

University of Pittsburgh

A federal probe may reveal violations of law in the University of Pittsburgh’s testing of body parts from aborted babies, according to a pro-life organization monitoring the school’s program.

The U.S. government began investigating the University of Pittsburgh’s protocols in its program to harvest fetal organs, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal. 

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Pennsylvania Transgender Activist Touted by State Democrats Charged with Rape of a Minor

Kendall Stephens

LGBTQ activist Kendall Stephens, who identifies as a transgender woman and has worked with members of Pennsylvania’s Democratic Party, was charged with the rape of a minor, according to court documents filed Monday in the Philadelphia Municipal Court.

Stephens, 37, was arrested by the Philadelphia Police Department and appeared before a judge on Monday, according to the documents. The department charged Stephens with one count of rape forcible compulsion, unlawful sexual contact with a minor and indecent assault of a person under 13, among other charges.

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Republican State Lawmakers Block University of Pennsylvania Funding over Antisemitism Response

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted down legislation Wednesday providing over $33 million in state funding for the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) veterinary school due to concerns about antisemitism on campus, according to The Associated Press.

Former UPenn President Liz Magill stepped down alongside Scott Bok, the chairman of UPenn’s Board of Trustees, on Dec. 9 after the university faced heavy criticism for UPenn’s handling of antisemitism on campus and Magill’s testimony to Congress earlier this month. The state’s House of Representatives passed the funding measure in the first two votes but failed to clear the necessary two-thirds majority required by the state’s Constitution, according to the AP.

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Despite Concerns, $290 Electric Vehicle Fee Proposal Advances in Pennsylvania

Although a bill that creates an electric vehicle fee in Pennsylvania cleared a House committee on Monday, it’s unlikely to pass in its current form.

Senate Bill 656, sponsored by Sen. Greg Rothman, R-New Bloomfield, would replace the alternative fuel tax with a $290 EV fee paid at the time of vehicle registration. Owners would also have the option of enrolling in a monthly payment plan. 

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University of Pennsylvania Loses $100 Million Donation After Donor Disapproves of School’s Handling of Anti-Semitism on Campus

The University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) has lost a potential gift worth nearly $100 million after the donor behind it voiced his disapproval of the college’s response to a rise in anti-Semitic protests and incidents on campus.

As reported by Axios, alumnus Ross Stevens, the founder and CEO of Stone Ridge Asset Management, said that his primary reason for withdrawing the donation was the poor testimony by UPenn president Liz Magill before Congress on Tuesday. He had first announced the gift in December of 2017, which was intended to establish a center for innovation in finance at the university.

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Concerns Grow over Perceived Viability of Hydrogen Hubs in Pennsylvania

Doubt swirled among a panel of Pennsylvania lawmakers this week about the practicality using hydrogen hubs to lower greenhouse emissions, and federal subsidies earmarked to build them.

The Senate Democratic Policy Committee met Monday to promote a fossil-fuel-free future, harnessing hydrogen for industries where electrification can’t cut it.

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Pennsylvania Forest Land Expanded to Include Miller Mountain

Pennsylvania has grown its state forest land again with the addition of 2,500 acres to Pinchot State Forest in Wyoming County.

The property, called Miller Mountain, is the first forest land in the county follows last year’s creation of Vosburg Neck State Park, the county’s first state park.

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Pennsylvania Licensed 312 Recovery Houses, Far Short of Its Goal

The Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs in Pennsylvania is celebrating a boost in its licensed recovery houses, but the success falls far short of the former administration’s expectations.

After attending a recovery-focused yoga class in Harrisburg hosted by addiction treatment provider Gaudenzia, DDAP Secretary Latika Davis-Jones announced that 312 recovery houses have been licensed by the commonwealth.

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Pennsylvania Appeals Carbon ‘Tax’ Decision

The Shapiro administration will appeal a Pennsylvania court’s decision to strike down a proposed carbon “tax” as unconstitutional in a bid to “protect” the authority of future governors.

The news comes just one day after Gov. Josh Shapiro teased the appeal during a press club luncheon in Harrisburg. He said it was important to “listen” to all sides involved, most of whom agree that “cap and trade” is a good idea to reduce harmful emissions.

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Pennsylvania Property Owners May Soon Pay Blight Fines

Owners of vacant and blighted properties in Pennsylvania may soon have to pay annual fees that get more expensive with each passing year.

Where those fines will get levied, though, would depend on what local governments decide to do.

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Pennsylvania Basic Ed Funding Hearings Wrap with Charter Schools

Student Homework

Pennsylvania’s Basic Education Funding Commission hearings ended in Harrisburg this week, where charter schools took center stage.

After months of painstaking reflection on the inadequacies of the state’s funding, charter school administrators were asked to defend against commentary from others within the educational community who believe that their schools are a drain on district budgets.

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Pennsylvania State House OKs Jobless Benefits for Striking Workers

UAW Workers on Strike

House lawmakers in Pennsylvania voted Wednesday to extend jobless benefits to workers on strike.

House Bill 1481, which passed the lower chamber 106-97, would make workers unemployed due to a labor dispute eligible for compensation, alongside others who haven’t voluntarily quit their jobs.

“Making the decision to strike is not easy by any means,” said Rep. Jason Dawkins, D-Philadelphia. “It’s a decision that often results in loss of pay, which is money our workers need to provide food and housing for their families.”

Dawkins, who chairs the House Labor and Industry Committee, joined other state representatives and union officials from United Steelworkers, SEIU and Sheetmetal Workers on Wednesday afternoon to promote the legislation.

“This legislation is of utmost importance to our workers and would protect their right to bargain for better pay and working conditions without the loss of income,” he said.

The controversial legislation, however, is likely dead on arrival in the Senate. Critics say the proposal would steal money from taxpayers to support union strikes.

“Taxpayers and job creators should not bear the burden of funding strikes,” Nathan Benefield, senior vice president of the Commonwealth Foundation. “Raising taxes to incentivize walkouts and picket lines is a slap in the face to hardworking Pennsylvanians. We’ve seen firsthand how strikes hurt workers, taxpayers, and consumers alike, and this bill would only worsen matters.”

The foundation, which advocates for fiscally conservative policies, said the state should focus on preventing union leaders from using “strong-arm tactics, lies and threats” to force strikes.

The Center Square reached out to Senate leadership for comment but did not receive an immediate response.

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