Friday, February 20, 2015

Republican Inaction as Judicial Emergencies Jump

This post originally appeared on the People for the American Way blog.

Written by Paul Gordon of People for the American Way

Yesterday we blogged about how the Senate Judiciary Committee and Chairman Chuck Grassley ought to move judicial nominations next week when they return from recess. We noted that the number of vacancies has increased from 38 at the end of last year's lame duck session to 46 today, with fourteen of those officially designated as judicial emergencies.
Well, we've had developments since yesterday's post. First, next week's committee schedule is up, and no hearings have been announced for judicial nominees.
And secondly, the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts this morning designated an additional five vacancies as judicial emergencies, so the total has jumped from 14 to 19.
These new emergencies include one in the Northern District of Texas, which has been vacant since July of 2013 and which had been announced in advance in April of that year. Yet it was not until last July that Sens. Cornyn and Cruz announced a process to identify Northern District recommendations to the White House. Perhaps if they had not waited more than a year after being notified of this vacancy, it would be filled today. Instead, there is no nominee yet, and a vacancy that should not still exist is instead a judicial emergency.
Texas now has seven judicial emergencies, more than a third of the national total. Two of them have nominees who should have advanced to the Senate floor last week, but were delayed when Republicans decided to delay the scheduled committee vote on four fully vetted district court nominees by two weeks simply because they could.
Another of the newly designated emergencies is in the Third Circuit. The good news is that district court judge L. Felipe Restrepo was nominated to fill this seat way back in November, and that he has the enthusiastic support of his home state senators, Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey. The bad news is that Chairman Grassley continues not to schedule a hearing for this highly qualified nominee (or any other). With this vacancy now a judicial emergency and a second vacancy on the circuit opening in July, the decision to slow-walk this nomination is even more harmful.
So as of today, the number of judicial emergencies has jumped from 12 at the beginning of the year to 19 today. Senate Republicans can and should do much more to get that number moving back down.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Gas Pipeline Hits Resistance

MAP: Dominion and its partners are surveying route for the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline and many landowners object. It's one of three proposed pipelines intended to carry gas from Marcellus and Utica fields. Map courtesy of Appalachian Mountain Advocates.
MAP: Dominion and its partners are surveying route for the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline and many landowners object. It's one of three proposed pipelines intended to carry gas from Marcellus and Utica fields. Map courtesy of Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service (PA)

Dominion Energy and partners are running into intense resistance in their efforts to survey for a huge pipeline intended to carry Marcellus and Utica natural gas. 

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline has provoked intense opposition from landowners. Pen Goodall's sheep farm is straddling the Virginia, West Virginia border. He's being sued for refusing to allow Dominion surveyors onto his land but says he'd rather go to jail than let them survey.

"I'm going to stand my ground because it will just totally destroy everything I have ever done," says Goodall. "My farm has around 32 springs on it, and creeks and once it's gone, it's gone."

The $5 billion, 550-mile pipeline would carry 1.5 billion cubic feet of gas a day from northern West Virginia with connections to Ohio and Pennsylvania. It would reach as far as North Carolina. Dominion says it would lower natural-gas prices, which should create 2,000 jobs.

Rick Webb, coordinator of the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition, says the preferred route would pass though some environmentally sensitive areas. He says it would send the pipeline through land that's very rugged, tough and problematic to build in. 

But he says the company seems to care little what landowners and environmental groups say, although they may run into legal issues they can't ignore.

"I don't think public opinion is the problem," says Webb. "It's the legal issues. Some of these landscapes have protections. Dominion is going to have problems. It's not going to be able to circumvent dealing with these issues."

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

PA Treads Water on Serving School Breakfasts

 
Dan Heyman, Public News Service (PA)

PHOTO: As a hunger-fighting strategy, the number of children getting breakfast in school is rising, but the figures in Pennsylvania are rising very slowly, according to a new national report. Photo courtesy Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger.
PHOTO: As a hunger-fighting strategy, the number of children getting breakfast in school is rising, but the figures in Pennsylvania are rising very slowly, according to a new national report. Photo courtesy Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger.
HARRISBURG, Pa. - The number of kids getting breakfast at school has been rising nationally, but Pennsylvania has seen only a slight improvement.

A new report from the Food Research and Action Center shows a small increase in the number of children in need who have breakfast at school - less than a percentage point, compared with an increase of almost 3 percent nationally.

Kathy Fisher, policy manager for the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, said the state needs to do better.

"Of every 100 kids who get lunch, Pennsylvania reaches about 45 with breakfast," she said, "and that's where we're not reaching enough of those kids, with breakfast at school."

Statistics show that kids who eat breakfast in school have better attendance, better test scores and fewer discipline problems. As one school official put it, students can't be hungry to learn if they're just plain hungry.

According to the Food Research and Action Center, 320,000 more children nationwide ate a healthy breakfast at school last year than the year before. Today, said FRAC president Jim Weill, more than 11 million low-income kids eat breakfast at school.

"That's just hugely important," he said, "not just so kids are less hungry, but hugely important for their health, for their behavior in school, and for their ability to learn."

Many schools have increased breakfast participation by changing how the meal is served - letting the kids eat in class, or grabbing their breakfast and taking it with them. Fisher said these techniques work - and don't turn the meal into a disruption. Quite the opposite, she said.

"Schools making breakfast part of the day, while they're taking roll or doing other work," she said. "It doesn't necessarily have to be an interruption to instruction. And it also, we've also heard from many teachers, helps build community."

The first week in March is National School Breakfast Week.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Pennsylvania Teachers Hope Gov. Wolf Delivers on Education Funding

February 3, 2015 - Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service (PA)

PHOTO: The Pennsylvania State Education Association says it's looking to new Governor Tom Wolf and the state Legislature for ideas to raise and allocate more money for education. Photo courtesy of PSEA.
PHOTO: The Pennsylvania State Education Association says it's looking to new Governor Tom Wolf and the state Legislature for ideas to raise and allocate more money for education. Photo courtesy of PSEA.
HARRISBURG, Pa. - One of the key planks of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's successful gubernatorial campaign was restoring funding cuts made to education. Now that he's in office, Pennsylvania teachers hope he'll be able to deliver.

Mike Crossey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, says education pre-K through grade 12 saw a billion dollars in cuts under former Gov. Tom Corbett, whom Wolf defeated by a wide margin. Crossey says educators, and parents, are expecting better.

"Anywhere in the state of Pennsylvania, the mandate is to restore the cuts to education," says Crossey. "We need to give the schools the resources they need so every child in Pennsylvania can get a world-class education."

He says $400 million could be generated if the Legislature repeals the so-called "Delaware loophole" that allows businesses that incorporate in Delaware but operate in Pennsylvania to avoid the corporate net income tax. Repeal attempts have been tried unsuccessfully in other years.

Crossey says teachers are concerned school funding could become a "tug of war" issue between a Democratic governor and a Republican legislature, but he thinks compromises can be reached.

"The voters voted for divided government, which allows for debate and dialogue," he says. "The voters did not vote for deadlock or gridlock in the state of Pennsylvania."

Another potential pot of education money could come from taxing natural gas development. A 3.2 percent tax has been proposed by a bipartisan handful of state lawmakers. Crossey points out Pennsylvania currently levies no extraction tax on the gas industry.

"If we would tax that at the same rate as West Virginia, that alone would bring in close to a billion dollars," says Crossey. "I think what we ought to be doing is looking at that one tax alone to restore education cuts."

Gov. Wolf proposed a five percent tax on gas developers during his campaign, and has mentioned it as a funding source for education. He has said it would also focus on improving safety in the gas industry.