Friday, July 29, 2016

Judge: Kane can't bring up porn at criminal trial

Craig McCoy, Philadelphia Inquirer

Friday, July 29, 2016

After months of complaints from Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane that her criminal case stemmed from her war on pornography, a judge on Thursday said the porn drama could play no role in her looming trial. Montgomery County Court Judge Wendy Demchick-Alloy forbade Kane from bringing it up when she defends herself against charges of perjury, official oppression, and other crimes. Kane's lawyers initially argued that the entire case against her should be dismissed, contending it was payback for her crusade about the swapping of pornographic and otherwise offensive emails by officials using government computers. In June, Demchick-Alloy rejected that argument after prosecutors derided Kane's pitch as a red herring unrelated to the real issues in the case. On Thursday, Demchick-Alloy rejected Kane's fallback position. In a complex argument, Kane had asked more narrowly to tell the jury about the porn to rebut the idea that she illegally leaked confidential information to attack a critic, former state prosecutor Frank Fina. Her lawyers wanted to argue that if she had wanted to harm Fina, she could have done so by tying him to the troubling emails. The judge closed the door on that line of argument, too. Kane is to go on trial Aug. 8. Prosecutors say she unlawfully leaked documents and then lied about her actions under oath. Kane has admitted approving the release of material involving Fina, but she did it in a lawful way and told the truth about it later. A key witness against her is expected to be political consultant Josh Morrow, who passed along agency documents involving Fina to a reporter for the Daily News. While Kane told a grand jury she provided Morrow with little information about the leak, Morrow testified otherwise, supporting a perjury charge against her. [MORE]

New front added in teachers' court battle against union over charitable donations

Jan Murphy, Harrisburg Patriot News

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A new wrinkle has been added to the ongoing legal fight waged by two teachers, along with a retired educator, against the Pennsylvania State Education Association over which charities should receive their union dues that they pay as religious objectors. The statewide teachers union last month adopted a new procedure for going to binding arbitration, with no right to appeal, to settle disputes like this. The procedure took effect immediately and applies to pending disputes. Teachers Chris Meier of Lancaster County and retired teacher Jane Ladley of Chester County, who hold religious objector status with the union, are suing PSEA in Lancaster County Court over the union's refusal to direct their dues to the charities they chose. Teacher Linda Misja of Armstrong County has a similar case pending in federal court. Holding religious objector status means the union recognizes that an individual objects to the union on religious grounds. That status allows them to pay a fair share fee-equivalent to the union to direct to mutually agreed-upon charity. Problem is, the charities these three teachers chose met with opposition from the union for such as reasons as they are seen as too political or support an interest antagonistic to the union. A PSEA spokesman described this ongoing dispute with Meier, Misja and Ladley as rather unique among its membership Out of the 180,000 people that PSEA represents, spokesman Wythe Keever said only 285 have religious objector status. Out of that smaller universe of people, only the three that are involved in these court battles have been unable to identify a charity on a list of about 170 organizations that the union has considered acceptable in the past. Keever said the decision to go to binding arbitration to resolve these disputes is intended as a way to resolve the matter involving these three educators. [MORE]

McGinty speech at Democratic National Convention panned as 'plastic'

Tom Fontaine, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Pennsylvania's Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate received blistering reviews on social media Thursday for a speech at the Democratic National Convention attacking election opponent Pat Toomey, whom she described this week during a union event by using a salty expletive. “Katie McGinty, running for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, just gave the Saturday Night Live spoof version of a plastic political stump speech,” Dan Roberts, the Washington bureau chief for London's The Guardian, wrote on Twitter in one of many negative reviews, many of them from credentialed press at the convention. McGinty spokesman Sean Coit defended the speech. “We've gotten plenty of good reaction, and we're excited about the opportunity for Katie to talk to the whole state and the whole nation,” he said. McGinty and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf each spoke to the convention — Wolf during prime time — and each endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Wolf, a businessman before he became the state's commander-in-chief, was better received. He criticized Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's business practices. “(Trump) stiffed hundreds of small businesses, from plumbers to painters, ruining their companies as he sought to enrich himself,” Wolf told the crowd in Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center, noting that his former York County-based cabinet company always paid the vendors with whom it contracted. Wolf said he gave his female employees paid leave when they had children but said Trump has described pregnant workers as an “inconvenience.” Wolf touted his former company's profit-sharing plan, noting employees received $5,000 on average in 2013. “Donald Trump? He runs businesses so that they only help — you guessed it — Donald Trump,” Wolf said, adding that Trump has filed for corporate bankruptcy six times. [MORE]

Oil, gas permitting process to be eased

The Associated Press

Thursday, July 28, 2016

BILLINGS, Mont. — U.S. officials announced plans Thursday to speed up permitting for oil and gas drilling on federal and Indian lands to reduce delays, as applications were projected to be down 40 percent versus their historical average amid an ongoing price slump. Low energy prices already have curtailed domestic energy exploration, driving down revenue. That's put a crimp in budgets for the major energy producing states, including Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado, Alaska, North Dakota and Montana, which receive a substantial share of revenue from oil and gas activity on U.S. lands. In an attempt to streamline drilling approvals and reduce costs for companies, U.S. Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze said all drilling applications would have to be filed online under the new proposal. The move follows years of criticism from the energy sector over the Obama administration's handling of drilling applications. Companies say lengthy delays have driven up costs. Online-only permitting would allow 90 percent of drilling applications to be completed within 115 days, bureau spokeswoman Beverly Winston said. The average time in 2015 was 220 days. “The new system is a big improvement over the current, hard copy-based application system,” Kornze said in a statement. Industry representatives welcomed the attempt to make permitting more efficient and said they have worked with Kornze's agency to fix glitches that emerged in the automated system in the past few months. But Kathleen Sgamma of the Western Energy Alliance voiced doubt about the potential time savings. She said the long time to process permits is driven in part by environmental studies and other requirements not counted in the administration's 220-day processing average. As an example, she said a drilling application could be filed in January, but surveys of whatever plants are present at the site might have to be done during the summer when the plants are blooming. [MORE]


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