Why The Latest Liquor Privatization Bill Might Actually Pass

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Yes, we’ve heard a million times before that the Pennsylvania Legislature is mulling a liquor privatization bill. A million times before, it’s gone nowhere. So why highlight the latest bill from Sen. Scott Wagner, a York County Republican?

Answer: Precisely because it’s originating in the Senate, where previous House attempts at privatization have long gone to die. Read more »

Court: Wolf Wrong to Fire Open Records Chief

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Gov. Tom Wolf isn’t having much luck on the personnel front this week.

Two days after the Pennsylvania Senate rejected his nomination to lead the State Police, a Commonwealth Court panel on Wednesday ruled Wolf was wrong to fire the state’s new open records chief right after he took office earlier this year. The court ordered Erik Arneson, who had been appointed to the post by then-Gov. Tom Corbett shortly before Corbett left office, be reinstated to the job, complete with back pay for time missed during the legal battle.

“We find clear legislative intent that the Executive Director of OOR, an independent body, is insulated from the Governor’s power to remove appointees at will,” the court said in its ruling. (See full ruling below.) Read more »

The Brief: State Moves Closer to Taking Over Philly Schools — Again

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1. A state Senate committee approved a bill that would put low-performing Pennsylvania schools into a state-run system.

The gist: The Inquirer’s Chris Palmer reports that the Senate Education Committee moved the legislation, which would give the lowest-performing five percent of schools statewide two to three years to improve, and compel those that don’t to convert to charter schools or contract with outside education providers.

If enacted, Palmer reports, about 100 Philadelphia public schools could be impacted. They’d join a state takeover district, or “achievement district,” which would be overseen by a statewide board. Read more »

The Brief: Shane Montgomery’s Mom Presses for More Surveillance Cameras in Philly

Shane Montgomery

Shane Montgomery

1. The mother of Shane Montgomery testified in favor of a bill that would beef up the number of surveillance cameras in the city.

The gist: Last year, 21-year-old college student Shane Montgomery apparently drowned in the Schuylkill River after drinking at Kildaire’s Irish Pub in Manayunk. Kildaire’s did not have a working outdoor camera, and Montgomery’s body wasn’t discovered until weeks after his death. In the wake of the tragedy, Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr. introduced a bill in February to require all city establishments that serve alcohol to install a surveillance camera outside. NewsWorks reports that Montgomery’s mother, Karen, told Council on Monday, “I have no delusions that any camera would have saved my Shane. However, I am convinced without a doubt that had video shown his direction upon leaving his last stop, the suffering endured during searches without direction would have been lessened.” Read more »

Gov. Tom Wolf Recalls State Police Nominee Marcus Brown

Marcus Brown (left); Tom Wolf (right, photo by Jeff Fusco).

Marcus Brown (left); Tom Wolf (right, photo by Jeff Fusco).

Gov. Tom Wolf today recalled the nomination of Marcus Brown to lead the Pennsylvania State Police, but said Brown would stay in the post as acting commissioner — signaling, perhaps, that he’d wait and try to have Brown confirmed to the post at a later date.

“I continue to have full faith in Col. Brown’s ability to lead the State Police, and he will remain as acting commissioner,” Wolf said in a press release. Read more »

Should Every Pop-Up Beer Garden Be Required By Law to Get Community Input?

Flyer on left courtesy of Jordan Harris’s office. Flyer on right via Facebook.

Two very different flyers advertised state Rep. Jordan Harris’ meeting Thursday night on pop-up beer gardens.

Philadelphia’s pop-up beer gardens, fun and lighthearted as they may seem to some, have been quite controversial.

When a few sprouted up last year, state lawmakers expressed “grave concern” about them. Now, a beer garden in the city’s Point Breeze neighborhood has drawn intense criticism from residents.

Democratic state Rep. Jordan Harris hosted a meeting Thursday night to address the community’s apprehensions. An anonymous flyer lambasting Point Breeze’s pop-up was distributed before the event. It read: “This will bring in New Comers who will be drinking from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. They will be walking all around our neighborhoods drunk, like they own the neighborhood.” So yeah, that was the tone (of some) going into the event.

We decided to catch up with Harris after the meeting. In a brief Q&A, he said that he doesn’t fault Point Breeze Pop-Up creator John Longacre for the hubbub, that pop-up beer gardens should be required by law to obtain community input before opening, and more. (For a full recap of the night, you can read BillyPenn’s article here.)
Read more »

This Bill Would Transform Civil Asset Forfeiture in Pa.

Pennsylvania senators Mike Folmer and Anthony Williams have a crazy idea: They think a person should be convicted of a crime before the government is allowed to take their property for good.

Though this scenario may sound like something out of a libertarian’s fever dream, law enforcement authorities in Pennsylvania are currently allowed to seize and keep cars, cash and even real estate from residents if they simply believe their assets are connected to a crime — no conviction necessary. In fact, a person doesn’t even need to be charged with a crime to have their property taken from them.

The process is known as “civil-asset forfeiture,” and the American Civil Liberties Union says officials throughout the state have used it to seize more than $100 million worth of property in the last decade.

Folmer and Williams are introducing a bill today that would change the rules of the game. Under the proposal, authorities could still seize property before winning a conviction if they show probable cause that it is tied to a crime, according to a copy of the legislation provided by the ACLU (below). However, the bill would require a person to be convicted of a crime before law enforcement officials could permanently keep their property.  Read more »

As Harrisburg Readies for Budget Brawl, Philly Sends Its C-Team

The opening moves are now being made in what will likely be a fierce, months-long battle between newly-elected Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican leaders in the State Capitol.

The stakes are immense. Wolf’s audacious freshman year budget seeks nothing less than a fundamental restructuring of the state tax system and $1 billion in new education spending. It’s an agenda that — win or lose — will have enormous consequences for the state in general, and for Philadelphia in particular. Should Wolf’s vision, or a significant chunk of it, win out, Philadelphia will get a big, badly-needed cash infusion for city schools and a new tax structure that would make it far more competitive with the suburbs and big cities elsewhere.

It sure would help Wolf, and by extension, Philadelphia, if the city’s delegation in Harrisburg featured an array of powerful pols working in unison to help the new governor’s boundary-pushing budget get passed.

But that’s not the delegation Philadelphia has. Not by a long shot. Read more »

Pa. State Police Warn of “Mass Exodus”

122 cadets graduated into the Pennsylvania State Police in May.

122 cadets graduated into the Pennsylvania State Police in May.

Pennsylvania State Police could lose up to 1,000 older troopers if the legislature pushes through changes to the state pension system, an official said Thursday.

“It’s not a threat; it’s a reality,” Joseph Kovel, president of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, told a state House committee on Tuesday. “… A mass exodus of our most experienced and senior troopers will have a long-term and immediately devastating impact on our ability to sustain even the most rudimentary public safety services.”

TribLive explains what’s at stake: Read more »

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