Monday, June 30, 2014

KP STATEMENT: Response to Hobby Lobby Supreme Court Case


 HARRISBURG, PA – Keystone Progress Executive Director Michael Morrill made the following statement in response to today's Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. decision:

"The Supreme Court’s unfortunate decision today in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (et al) opens the floodgates to religious critiques, despite the majority's claim that the decision does not apply to religious objections to blood transfusions.  We agree with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissent that say this is a 'decision of startling breadth.' 

"We believe that
 we will see religious liberty claims by for-profit businesses asking for exemptions from a host of federal statutes immediately, since this this is the first time for-profit corporations have won a court-authorized exemption from a neutral law.  This has dangerous implications for the ACA and creates new opportunities for religious business owners may be circumvent the law.  

"It is outrageous for a business to claim, as they have in this case, that birth control coverage amounts to sinful complicity with their employees’ purportedly sinful conduct, meaning business owners’ ability to withhold to their own religious tenets is encumbered substantially if they must maintain even indirect connection to their employees’ independent decisions. In the end, the way this case was argued by Hobby Lobby and other plaintiffs, we will see a dramatic shift in how the government can limit religiously-prompted conduct in a business setting.  This is a dangerous precedent in a country where we have both freedom of religion, but also freedom from religion."  

KP Statement on Harris v. Quinn

Brenda Barron, Organizing Director of Keystone Progress, issued the following statement on today’s Supreme Court Decision in Harris v. Quinn.
 
“This ruling is an attack on economic security of women and families across the country and Pennsylvania.  By limiting the ability of low-income workers to organize, the Supreme Court has effectively cut the ability of home care workers to earn a livable income.  The fact remains that homecare workers want to build their union, lift wages for caregivers, and ensure quality care for people with disabilities and seniors -- today's ruling makes that much more difficult.
 
"Here are some facts about homecare workers:
 
•           Over 90 percent of homecare workers and childcare workers are women.
•           More than half are people of color.
•           More than 20 percent of workers in these occupations live below 100% of the Federal Poverty Level, and half live below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level.
•           The median age of these workers is 45.
•           Only 14 percent have employer-sponsored health insurance, and only 8 percent have any employer-provided retirement benefits.
 
 
“Attacks on public sector unions are not just attacks on workers, they are also attacks on the essential public services these workers provide.  The Supreme Court decision in Harris will significantly harm the recipients of those services, including many vital programs serving low income women such WIC, SNAP and HeadStart.” 

Read the Harris decision here

Here's the link to the Harris SCOTUS decision: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/11-681_j426.pdf

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Keystone Progress Response to McCullen v. Coakley Supreme Court Case Regarding Buffer Zones

HARRISBURG, PA – Keystone Progress Executive Director Michael Morrill made the following statement in response to today's McCullen v. Coakley decision:

"Clinic violence is real. Abortion providers and their patients regularly experience threats, intimidation and violence.  Since 1977, the National Abortion Federation has documented 8 murders, 17 attempted murders, 42 bombings, 181 arsons, 399 invasions, 100 acid attacks, and 663 bioterrorism threats targeting abortion providers and their facilities.

"The unfortunate decision today by the Supreme Court in McCullen v. Coakley will put women, men and families in potentially dangerous situations all across the country.

"Abortion providers and their patients deserve access to reproductive health care facilities free from threats, intimidation, and violence. Buffer zones help ensure that women and their providers can enter reproductive health care facilities safely, without fear of threats, intimidation, or violence.

"Laws securing women’s safe entrance into reproductive health care facilities are part of a long tradition of government action aimed at safeguarding the exercise of fundamental rights – like voting, going to school, and attending religious services – from interference by third parties.  The Supreme Court decision today is an unfortunate politicization of what should be a no-brainer — a safety issue and nothing more." 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Complaint filed against Sheldon Adelson for large PAC donation to Gov. Tom Corbett

HARRISBURG, PA -- Today, Keystone Progress board advisor Nathan Sooy filed a complaint with the Bureau of Investigations and Enforcement of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board over an illegal donation made to Governor Tom Corbett's PAC by right wing financier and casino owner Sheldon Adelson.

The illegal donation of $987,844 from December 31, 2013 should carry with it a fine of over $1.3 million according to 4 P.S. § 1513, the Political Influence Ban. 
“The RGA and Adelson both say the donation was made mistakenly, but the intent is irrelevant” said Sooy.  “The Republican Governors Association Pennsylvania PAC received the money directly from Adelson.  That is money that went directly and illegally to Corbett and the Pennsylvania Republican Party.”

The RGA Pennsylvania PAC claims it returned the donation, but questions remain as to what communication has occurred between Mr. Adelson and Governor Corbett’s re-election campaign.  There is also some doubt about when the RGA returned the money to Adelson.

Mr. Sooy has not yet received a response from the PA Gaming Control Board.  His full complaint follows.
-END-

Keystone Progress is Pennsylvania’s largest online progressive organization, with over 400,000 subscribers.  KP uses the internet and new media to organize online at the state and local level; and utilizes cutting-edge earned media strategies to promote a progressive agenda and counter right-wing misinformation. 

Paul Mauro, Director
Bureau of Investigations and Enforcement
Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board
PO Box 69060
Harrisburg, PA 17106-9060

Dear Mr.Mauro:
I am writing to complain of a violation of 4 P.S. § 1513, the Political Influence ban, by licensed principal Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas, Nevada.  According to campaign finance reports, Mr. Adelson made a contribution of $987,844 to the RGA (Republican Governors Association) Pennsylvania PAC on December 31, 2013. 

Because Mr. Adelson is a licensed principal and chief owner of Sands Bethworks Gaming, LLC (the Sands Bethlehem Casino), he was absolutely prohibited from making a contribution to any “candidate for nomination or election to any public office in this Commonwealth, or to any political party committee or other political committee in this Commonwealth or to any group, committee or association organized in support of a candidate, political party committee or other political committee in this Commonwealth.”  (4 P.S. § 1513(a)).

This plainly is such a contribution, and Mr. Adelson’s being listed as its contributor manifests his intent to have made it. It does not matter whether Adelson knew that his RGA Pennsylvania PAC contribution would be shifted directly to Gov. Corbett’s coffers ($1,610,000.00, on April 30, 2014) [1] or the Republican Party of Pennsylvania ($2,500.00, 1/13/14; $5,000.00, 2/11; $2,500, 3/6/14; and $390,000.00, 4/30/14); his making the contribution to any political committee in the Commonwealth violated the law.



Under the statute, the penalty to be assessed against Adelson is clear, and significant:
 “The first violation of this section by a licensed gaming entity or any person that holds a controlling interest in such gaming entity, or a subsidiary company thereof, or any officer, director or management-level employee of such licensee shall be punishable by a fine equal to an amount not less than the average single day's gross terminal revenue and gross table game revenue of the licensed gaming entity.” (§ 1513(c)(1)). Moreover, “In no event shall the fine imposed under this section be an amount less than $100,000 for each violation. In addition to any fine or sanction that may be imposed by the board under this subsection, any individual who makes a contribution in violation of this section commits a misdemeanor of the third degree.”  (§ 1513(c)(3)). 

There is no exception for money which is subsequently moved out of the Pennsylvania committee, as Mr. Adelson’s allegedly was; there is nothing in the law which even considers mitigating factors. If the contribution was made, the penalty must be assessed. Based on the most current figures on the PGCB website, this would appear to be a fine of $1,344,442.09.[2]

In 2010, the General Assembly made plain the importance of these provisions, because of the state’s “compelling interest in protecting the integrity of both the electoral process and the legislative process by preventing corruption and the appearance of corruption which may arise through permitting campaign contributions by the gaming industry,” maintaining that “completely banning campaign contributions by certain individuals and entities subject to this act is necessary to prevent corruption, or the appearance of corruption, that may arise when politics and gaming are intermingled.” 4 P.S. § 1102.

Mr. Adelson’s contribution was massive, and strikes at the heart of why the Political Influence restrictions exist.  I urge the Board to act promptly.

Sincerely,
Nathan Sooy
Dillsburg, PA



[1]               There are conflicting news reports as to what happened here. According to a June 11, 2014 article in the Allentown Morning Call, Mr. Adelson’s spokesperson insists that "We made it crystal clear from the beginning that any contributions that we made could not be allocated to Pennsylvania," yet the RGA asserts that “Adelson did not direct that his donation go to Corbett or give any other instructions on use of his money.” Seehttp://www.mcall.com/news/nationworld/pennsylvania/mc-pa-adelson-corbett-campaign-20140611,0,167625.story.
[2] Based on May 2014 figures of $26,648,810.85 in gross terminal revenue and  $15,028,894 in table games revenue. http://gamingcontrolboard.pa.gov/?p=232

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Report: Pennsylvania Ranks 27th Among Safest States In Which to Live

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

HARRISBURG, Pa. – A new report ranks Pennsylvania 27th in terms of safest states in which to live. 

The survey from WalletHub looks at emergency preparedness, home and community stability and traffic safety.

The report also examines financial security, which WalletHub CEO Odysseas Papadimitriou says has become increasingly important in recent years.

He stresses in times of trouble, having a rainy-day fund is more important than paying down debt.

"If you do not have any savings, then you are just one emergency away from starting to default, getting late fees, interest rates skyrocketing, and getting into a vicious cycle of financial destruction," he points out.

The report ranks Pennsylvania sixth for financial security, which also encompasses savings accounts, health-insurance coverage and money spent versus money earned.

In the overall list of safest states, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Minnesota took the top three spots. Nevada finished last.

According to the report, emergency preparedness is a trouble spot for Pennsylvania.

It ranks 44th among states.

Papadimitriou says building safety is an important part of emergency preparedness, and he says state leaders can look into how buildings are built in terms of the amount of concrete used and how elevated they are.

He also says it's important that homes and buildings be adjusted for weather conditions.

"It's interesting,” he says. “In some places you see, on a regular basis, a tornado passing through and just leveling homes in that area – and it's not something that happens once every seven to 10 years. It's almost on an annual basis."

He adds that the findings can help both businesses and families as they consider their priorities when relocating.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Gov. Tom Corbett is one of the 5 worst governors for putting the interests of rich corporations and CEOs above the needs of public school students and working families.

PA Gov. Tom Corbett is one of the 5 worst governors for putting the interests of rich corporations and CEOs above the needs of public school students and working families.
SHARE to make sure your networks know! Then check out our petition asking lawmakers to demand that Wall Street and the wealthiest pay their fair share: edvotes.org/fairshare

Post by Speak Up For Education and Kids.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

PA's Path to Meeting EPA Power Plant Pollution Rules

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Pennsylvania and other states will play major roles in implementing a proposed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency that would require power plants to cut carbon dioxide emissions 30 percent below their 2005 levels by 2030.

The new proposal gives states flexibility to decide how to meet their carbon-reduction goals.

The EPA action can help the nation stave off conditions that climate scientists predict could be life-threatening within a century if nothing is done, said Ed Perry, outreach coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation's Climate Change Campaign in Pennsylvania.

"They're expecting 50 percent of our species on Earth to go extinct," he said. "We're going to have more extreme weather. Pennsylvania is predicted to have the entire summer over 90 degrees, with 26 of those days over 100."

Industry groups say implementing the rule as written would mean substantially higher utility bills for consumers and massive job losses nationwide. Perry noted that the fossil fuel industry routinely claims that new pollution limits will shut it down, and said those power plants that have invested in pollution controls now are in the best position to embrace the changes if the rule is adopted. The EPA will take public comments on it for the next four months.

In Perry's view, now is no time to risk the future well-being of the planet in the name of profit.

"These carbon rules are the first step in getting us off of these fossil fuels that are putting our planet on the path to destruction," he said.

In the past century, he said, Earth's temperature has risen only 1.5 degrees on average, and yet the effects brought on by climate change already have been substantial. He's hoping the EPA proposal will prompt new investment in renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal.

Details of the EPA proposal are online at epa.gov.

Monday, June 2, 2014

New EPA Rules Would Reduce Air Pollution from Oil Refineries

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

 HARRISBURG, Pa. - Pennsylvanians and others across the nation could breathe a little easier if new Environmental Protection Agency standards are put in place that would require oil companies to clean up toxic pollution released into the air from their refineries.

Some of their pollutants - particularly benzene - are believed to cause cancer.

Emma Cheuse, a senior associate attorney for Earthjustice, said this is a step in the right direction.

"The first step to being able to protect our communities' health," she said, "is to at least know what's going into the air from all different kinds of sources that can leak and put pollution out at oil refineries."

The EPA is asking for public comment this summer, with final rules expected to be in place next spring. The proposed rules would require companies to monitor toxic air pollution on-site as it is emitted. Cheuse said she thinks it's especially important for protecting children's health.

"As Americans, none of us wants our kids to have to face extra cancer risk just because we happen to live near an industrial plant," she said, "and EPA is taking a really important, common-sense step."

The proposal calls for improved monitoring and combustion efficiency requirements when waste gas is burned. It says flaring is a key source of air pollution in the refining process.

The proposals are online at epa.gov. Pennsylvania refinery data is at eia.gov.