HARRISBURG (AP) – A lawyer hired by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to review illicit emails and other email communication between justices and the state attorney general’s office says he found no improper discussion of cases. The report by Robert Byer was released today, two months after the Pittsburgh lawyer was hired amid an unfolding email scandal. Seamus McCaffery resigned his high court seat in October following his suspension by fellow justices and the disclosure that he had sent numerous emails to an agent in the attorney general’s office. Chief Justice Ronald Castille had warned that some court cases could be affected by inappropriate communication between judges and members of the attorney general’s office. But Byer says he found no new improprieties after reviewing emails supplied by the attorney general’s office.
HARRISBURG – Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, the national group fighting drunk driving and underage drinking, named Lancaster and Dauphin County Rep. Dave Hickernell Legislator of the Year for legislation he wrote requiring Responsible Alcohol Management Training for any seller or server of alcohol in the Commonwealth. Seven years ago, two young girls from Lancaster County were coming home from a high school football game when their car was struck by a drunk driver. Subsequent investigation revealed that the impaired driver had been served several drinks at a local establishment despite visible signs she had already had too much to drink. When Susan, the mother of one of the girls, met with Hickernell, she said that if the server had been trained to recognize and deal with intoxicated individuals, maybe her daughter would still be alive. Hickernell’s legislation, House Bill 1769, was approved by the House with overwhelming bipartisan support, but the Senate did not act on the measure prior to the expiration of the 2013-14 legislative session. He plans to reintroduce this bill early in the 2014-15 session and try once again to get this measure passed.
HARRISBURG – Sen. Rob Teplitz of Dauphin County wants to remind anglers that they can “Catch the Value” of reduced fishing license fees this month. In an effort to highlight the affordability of the sport and to persuade those anglers who have given up fishing to return, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has reduced the price of three-year licenses by $3 and five-year fishing licenses by $5 for the month of December as part of its “Catch the Value” initiative. The licenses return to full price in January. The Fish and Boat Commission also sells fishing license vouchers, which are similar to gift certificates. For more information or to purchase a fishing license or voucher, visit their website at www.pa.wildlifelicense.com.
HARRISBURG (AP) – Pennsylvania’s jobless rate fell by three-tenths of a percentage point in November for the second straight month, even as payrolls remained static. The state Department of Labor and Industry said that the seasonally adjusted rate in November was 5.1%, Pennsylvania’s post-recession low. That’s down from 5.4% in October and 5.7% in September. The U.S. rate is currently 5.8%. The department estimates the number of people working or looking for work rose by 5,000. Employment rose by 27,000, remaining above 6 million, while unemployment fell by 22,000 to 323,000.
HARRISBURG – PA Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released a special report on property tax exemptions that might be costing local municipalities, counties, and school districts billions of dollars a year. The report found over $1.5 billion in property tax revenue is potentially lost in a 10-county sample examined for the report. Data was included for Dauphin, Lehigh, and eight other counties. The report reflects potential property tax liability in the county, municipality, and school district where each property is located. “We are at a major crossroads in the decades-long debate over how to define and review the property tax exempt status of nonprofit organizations in Pennsylvania,” DePasquale said, noting that legislation is moving forward that could put a constitutional amendment on the ballot as early as May for voters to decide how charitable entities can gain tax exempt status. He added the report should stimulate interest in the issue that could be put to a public vote shortly after lawmakers return to Harrisburg next year. You can read the report by CLICKING HERE.
HARRISBURG – A Republican Montgomery County lawmaker is introducing legislation to place a severance tax on natural gas drilling with revenues directed to public school employee pension costs. The Public School Employees’ Retirement System currently has an unfunded liability that exceeds $32 billion. Rep. Kate Harper says her proposal strikes the appropriate balance between keeping the job-creating industry competitive and capitalizing on the opportunity to protect taxpayers from skyrocketing pension costs. The tax would be in addition to impact fees assessed on drilling. Those fees are used to address infrastructure and other impacts in communities where drilling takes place, and to contribute to several statewide environmental programs. So far, the impact fee has generated over $630 million. The proposal would assess a tax of 3.5%. It’s estimated the tax would generate over $400 million a year. Harper plans to formally introduce her measure in early January.
YORK (AP) – A York police officer was placed on paid administrative leave after an early morning shooting left a person hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries. The investigation into the shooting on the 300 block of West Gay Avenue that occurred around 2 a.m. was turned over to State Police. York Police say it’s part of normal protocol following an officer-involved shooting. Troopers at the scene appeared to focus on a damaged silver sedan. A woman who lives nearby tells the York Daily Record she heard a car crash and saw officers running down the street. She says she then heard three gunshots. No other injuries were reported.
HONEY BROOK (AP) – A Chester County couple charged in the torture death of the woman’s 3-year-old son will head to trial after waiving their preliminary hearings. Jillian Tait and Gary Fellenbaum III are accused of shopping, napping, and eating pizza as the boy lay dying in their mobile home. Police say Scott McMillan was hung upside and beaten before his Nov. 4 death. They say his 6-year-old brother was also abused. Officials say the 33-year-old Fellenbaum and 31-year-old Tait met at Wal-Mart and moved in together in October. They say Fellenbaum’s estranged wife and infant daughter also lived there. Amber Fellenbaum waived a hearing on a charge she failed to report the abuse.
COATESVILLE (AP) – Police are investigating a single-car rollover crash in Chester County. Modena Road in Coatesville was shut down in both directions between Union Street and Overhill Road following a crash today at 5 a.m. The victim’s name was not released.
HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission wants travelers to know that it is ready to handle the heavy traffic and any adverse weather conditions that may occur during the Christmas/New Year’s holiday. Over 4 million vehicles are expected to travel the Turnpike from Christmas Eve through Jan. 1, 2015. To keep the highway safe during the holiday, all construction and maintenance work will be suspended to allow full use of the roadway; all lanes will be available beginning at noon today until 6 a.m. on Jan. 2, 2015. Turnpike maintenance crews will be staffed to confront any wintry weather that may occur. State Police will also be patrolling the Turnpike ready to render aid, and will be on the lookout for drunk drivers, speeders, and aggressive motorists. Drivers can download the turnpike smartphone app called TripTalk, available for Droid and iPhone users. TripTalk provides audio alerts about road conditions and any closures on the turnpike. Travelers can also get real-time roadway information by calling 1-866-976-TRIP or by checking www.paturnpike.com.