States Pick up Slack with Federal Enviro Cuts

by Remo Diventura

The Trump Administration’s budget cuts include reducing federal environmental protections by millions of dollars. As a result, state governments are filling the gaps, with 23 states (including PA) proposing a combined total of 112 new policies to limit exposure to toxic chemicals. This isn’t about emissions or pollution specifically, but about what one is calling “common sense chemical reform”. This includes banning some pesticides, paint removers, fire-retardants, plastic additives, and water regulations. The belief behind this is to help not only the environment by removing harmful chemicals, but with public health. Many of these regulations are aimed at fixing the overburdened healthcare system. In Pennsylvania specifically, two bills have been proposed. One bans the use of a certain chemical (bisphenol-A) in food and beverage containers. The other requires the Environmental Quality Board to adopt a limit on perfluorinated chemicals in drinking water.

What these regulations will do to either public health or the environment is not really known. But the fact this is panning out in the current presidential administration is interesting to see, especially with many of these states also vowing to continue with the Paris Agreement regardless.

http://www.ehn.org/states-toxic-chemicals-legislation-epa-2534500012.html

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State Legislators and Sexual Harassment

by J. Wesley Leckrone

Jen Fifield of Stateline has done extensive research on sexual harassment in state legislatures and measures to stop it. In an article today she states

[w]hile anti-harassment training has long been standard in corporate America, that’s not the case in politics. In a sector that mostly polices itself, the lack of regular discussion about what constitutes inappropriate behavior is likely to have contributed to the long-standing misogynist culture that has allowed harassment to fester, according to many female state lawmakers, as well as psychologists who study how to best prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

Fifield’s reporting shows that female legislators “say training alone will not stop harassment”. According to Ohio State Senator Charleta Tavares

[t]he Legislature also needs to create better procedures for reporting harassment to make it clear that women will not face retaliation or threats when they come forward, she said. ‘They are afraid of being blackballed.’

Fifield also provides a Twitter string of recent allegations of sexual harassment in state legislatures. You can find it here.

DGA Chair Confident Dems Will Win Governors Seats in 2018

by J. Wesley Leckrone

There are 36 gubernatorial elections in the United States in 2018. Currently there are only 15 Democratic governors. However, given the political environment Democrats believe they can make gains next year since Republicans will be defending 26 seats in the executive mansion.

The new chair of the Democratic Governors Association, Washington governor Jay Inslee, talked about his strategy for victory with Washington Post reporter James Hohmann. Here are some highlights from the interview:

“We need to talk about jobs,” Inslee said…. “People will figure out for themselves that they have to stand up to Donald Trump. They’re doing that without us saying a word. That’s not our communications strategy. We want to communicate about jobs and the economy. The other thing just happens organically.”

According to Hohmann the DGA will focus on a “’double-P’ strategy: The personality of the president will create the climate for a change election, and then Democrats will focus on prosecuting the case that GOP policies are hurting middle-class families.”

Inslee believes the focus should be on the second “p” since the president’s actions speak for themselves.

“No Democrat running for governor anywhere has to say, ‘Did you notice that Donald Trump has caused nothing but division, hatred and chaos?’ You don’t have to say that because he’s showing it himself. Our people are going to lead with an economic message … and we’re not going to be distracted by his divisiveness. … It’s not ideological. It’s just a rejection of chaos.”

He strongly believes gubernatorial elections will be nationalized in 2018.  Inslee argued that:

“These are referendums on the president, and you cannot escape that….You cannot minimize it. You cannot put on a different hat or a happy face. You are just tied to that smell. And that’s what they’re stuck with. There’s no soap that can erase it. … The guy [voters] wanted to drain the swamp fed the alligators instead.”

Click here for the rest of the article.

GOP Challenges to PA Gov Wolf’s Reelection Now at Four

Mike Turzai, the Speaker of Pennsylvania’s House, is the fourth candidate to announce a run for the GOP gubernatorial nomination next spring. He joins Scott Wagner, Paul Mango and Laura Ellsworth in the race for the opportunity to unseat Democratic Governor Tom Wolf in November 2018.

Haunted Houses & Renters Rights

by Philip Erdman

Michele Callan and her fiancé, Josue Chinchilla are a New Jersey couple that are suing their landlord for their $2,250 deposit on a Toms River home that they claim is haunted. They have claimed that they are the victims of various forms of paranormal activity, including menacing voices, flickering lights, moving bedsheets, and clothing flying from their closet. Chinchilla even went as far as telling ABC News that he did not believe in this type of stuff, but was forced to once he felt an invisible hand on his shoulder and had to go to the hospital briefly because of the paranormal experience.

The couple and her two children claim that they fled the Lowell Avenue rental and have been living in a single room at a motel in Point Pleasant Beach and they refuse to move back as their lives are in mortal danger if they return. The couple’s landlord, Richard Lopez, does not believe the story. He is countersuing the couple and believes they are creating a hoax to get out of paying $1,500 a month and to break the year lease they have signed. The landlord’s lawyer believes that because Michele is a single mom, she must be over her head and unable to afford the monthly payments.

Callan countered the lawyer’s claims by explaining that Chinchilla and her children fled only one week after moving in and that they already paid the entire first month, so if anything, they are losing money right now.

The article goes on to reveal exactly why tenants need the protection of landlord disclosure of potentially haunted residences before they sign their lease: “In any case, if Lopez had consciously rented the couple a home with any shady or ghost-ridden history, he wouldn’t have had to reveal it. Most states in the United States do not have formal renter/seller disclosure laws regarding a home’s non-material facts (i.e. outside structural concerns, leaks in the foundation or walls, etc.) and do not require Realtors to tell prospective buyers about a home’s grisly past or purported hauntings, though that’s strongly recommended.

There was such disclosure in the case of the Lutz family, who moved into the now world famous Amityville Horror house in New York and were supposedly haunted by the demonic images and supernatural activity of the home’s murdered tenants.

But there was apparently no warning for the Callas-Chinchilla household: they reportedly were so spooked that they even hired paranormal investigators, who set up five cameras, electronic voice phenomena recorders and electromagnetic field meters in the rental. The Asbury Park Press reported that the presence of paranormal activity appeared in the videos, including bowling pins falling over in the recreation room while the infrared cameras were recording.”

The ABC News interview and following notes clearly show why there is a problem when a landlord knows that they are renting out an apartment or house, knowing that it is haunted and they refrain from telling the potential buyers even after they sign their lease. This creates situations like the one in the article above. Had the landlord disclosed the residence’s haunted past then the renters would never have signed the lease and would not be stuck with a $1,500 a month bill for a place that they do not even live anymore. The rent, plus the security deposit comes out to about a $20,000 loss for the renters by the end of a year, that is almost just as bad as purchasing a home only to find out it is haunted or has a haunted history and then losing money on the sale of the home because all the locals know its history and will not pay your asking price.

Because renting an apartment or house that is haunted produces the same if not worse consequences then the purchase of a haunted house (you can at-least rent out the house and recoup some of your loss) and people who are living in apartments may not have the financial means to seek out another apartment, which would result in the burden of paying two leases each month, there should be laws in place to protect them.

Link to story: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/04/family-flees-haunted-house-sues-landlord/

 

Governor Ridge Bet Himself in Temple-Penn State 2001 NCAA Sweet 16 Matchup

Its traditional for governors to make bets when teams from their states meet in sports championships. Former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge had a number of occasions to make these wagers (see 1997 NHL Stanley Cup Finals and Super Bowl XXX). However, Governor Ridge faced a dilemma when Temple played Penn State in the 2001 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. As the two teams faced off in the “Sweet 16” Ridge “raised the stakes by announcing his decision to make a bet with himself.”

A March 22, 2001 press release from Ridge describes the stakes:

“When a great Pennsylvania team is putting it all on the line, it’s the Governor’s job to step up and take a little risk himself — to stand tall and make a friendly wager in support of your team,” Gov. Ridge said. “And I’m not going to shirk that responsibility, just because Penn State [sic] and Temple are playing each other. So I’m making a bet with myself. If Temple wins, I give myself a gallon of Penn State’s famous Creamery ice cream. If Penn State wins, I’m getting myself a big ol’ Philly cheesesteak.”

The bet was especially interesting since he stated that the old cheesesteak bet was too boring during the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals between the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings.

Federal Dollars & State Budgets – New Pew Study

Pew States is out with a new study analyzing fiscal federalism trends in the United States. Based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Annual Survey of State Government Finances they found that 30.0% of state budgets funds come from the federal government. The study states:

As the nation emerged from the Great Recession, federal dollars made up a bigger proportion of states’ revenue from fiscal year 2009 to 2012 than at any other time in the past 50 years. After peaking at 35.5 percent in fiscal 2010, however, the share fell back within its historical range in fiscal 2013, dropping to 30.0 percent.

Even at 30.0 percent, the federal share of 50-state revenue was above its 10-year prerecession average of 28.5 percent. Federal dollars remained the second-largest source of states’ money, accounting for approximately $513.5 billion of the $1.7 trillion collected by state governments in fiscal 2013.

Pennsylvania ranked 29th with 30.4% of its budget coming from the federal government. Historically Pennsylvania’s share of federal dollars as a percentage of its revenues has been slightly below average.

Pew - PA vs All States Federal Funding

Click here for the report.