This week brought worry over the federal government’s plan to list the northern long-eared bat as endangered and a look at how much cleaning up a coal pile fire in Western Pennsylvania will cost taxpayers.
And even though state lawmakers won’t return from their summer break until next week, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, has already made it clear he wants liquor privatization to happen in the fall session.
LOOKING BACK: With state lawmakers set to return next week, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, renewed his call for liquor privatization.
Here’s a quick look back at the week’s coverage:
Turzai: Corbett should put on ‘full-court press’ for liquor privatization
Turzai wants Gov. Tom Corbett to ratchet up the rhetoric and push the state Senate to act on liquor privatization.
The House majority leader said this week he wants Corbett to take a bus trip around the state to push for an overhaul to the state’s archaic liquor laws and hold a media event urging senators to move a privatization plan that cleared the House 18 months ago.
“If he wants to show that he has made real reform and has made tangible change, we think he ought to be front and center on liquor privatization,’ Turzai said of Corbett.
Time could be running out. All legislation that hasn’t reached Corbett desk will die at the end of the session on Nov. 30. And there’s a good chance that Corbett might not win re-election. His opponent, York County businessman Tom Wolf, opposes liquor privatization.
Corbett used his February budget address to call for 2014 to be the “last call” for state-controlled alcohol, and Jay Pagni, his press secretary, said the governor has “repeatedly” spoken publicly about his support of liquor privatization.
“There are concerns that reside in the Senate, but the governor has worked with leadership in the Senate to address those concerns and will continue to do so,” Pagni said, adding that Corbett “will continue to show public support – very public support – for liquor privatization.”
Airport coal fire illustrates costly cleanup across mine country
Pennsylvania will spend $1.5 million to finally quench a coal pile fire at the Pittsburgh International Airport that’s been intermittently burning for at least a decade.
The smoldering and smoking mess at the airport has been on the state Department of Environmental Protection’s radar for nearly a decade, ever since it caused a brush fire, DEP spokesman John Poister said. The coal pile is the remains of a mining operation that predates the airport and was abandoned in 1939.
“Smoke from the fire has the potential to threaten visibility for air traffic,” and the “fire also poses a risk to a nearby airport radar facility and to a major underground gas pipeline,” the DEP said in a statement.
Pennsylvania has more than $1 billion worth of priority legacy mine-related projects across the state, and it has already received $1 billion in funds from the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund since 1980.
Leaders have little enthusiasm for lame-duck session
With much to do and little time left in this legislative session, Republican leaders in the state House and Senate haven’t ruled out a lame-duck session – but they don’t seem too keen on the idea, either.
For now, Turzai still hopes to move legislation during the session days scheduled before the November election. Considering a lame-duck session “takes you off your game plan,” he said.
“It hasn’t even been entertained.”
Democratic leadership in both chambers already have made clear they don’t want to see any votes after the election, when lawmakers and the governor would no longer be accountable to voters.
Parents sue state over Philadelphia schools
A group of parents whose children attend Philadelphia public schools are asking state courts to step in after the secretary of education ignored complaints about the district.
A lawsuit filed in Commonwealth Court on Tuesday claims the parents have submitted more than 800 complaints to the Department of Education since September 2013 documenting “dire school conditions.” Because the Philadelphia School District is under the control of state government, the department and Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq have an obligation to investigate these formal complaints, but have failed to do so, the parents allege.
According to the lawsuit, the parents’ concerns are related to “staff layoffs and reductions of supplies,” along with “curriculum deficiencies” like the lack of physical education classes and foreign language classes.
Tim Eller, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said Dumaresq has reviewed and managed each complaint as it has come across her desk.
“It is outrageous that anyone would question the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s commitment to the educational success, health and safety of all Pennsylvania students,” Eller told PA Independent. “Entities can allege what they want, but the facts in this case are different.”
With bat on brink, some also worry Pennsylvania economy
The northern long-eared bat is in trouble, it’s numbers decimated by the deadly white-nose syndrome, and environmental advocates believe the best tool to save it is the federal Endangered Species Act.
But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal to list the bat as endangered has churned up controversy, not because some lawmakers and industry leaders don’t want to save the bat but because they’re afraid of economic damage that could accompany the listing. The bat is found is 38 states and Washington, D.C.
Paul Lyskava, executive director of the Pennsylvania Forest Products Association, said an endangered listing would likely bring “extensive restrictions” on forestry activities across a wide swath of Pennsylvania. That would spell trouble for the state that leads the nation in the production of hardwood lumber, he said.
“Logging would essentially become a part-time activity across much of the state,” Lyskava said Monday, testifying during a field hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee in the state Capitol.
The proposed listing has also drawn questions from the energy and agricultural industries.