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Report: Construction Contractors Cheating Workers, Taxpayers

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By: Andrea Sears

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Unscrupulous contractors in southeast Pennsylvania routinely are violating labor laws and victimizing customers, including state and local government, according to a new report.

The report from the Keystone Research Center found many contractors in the regional Philadelphia construction industry are in a race to the bottom.

Stephen Herzenberg, author of the report, calls that “destructive competition” – cutting costs by misclassifying workers as independent contractors, cheating them out of overtime pay, investing little in worker skills and in some cases operating unsafely.

“When construction contractors and subcontractors compete by violating the law, wage theft, threatening workers’ health and safety, in the end nobody else wins,” he states.

The report says imposing stiffer penalties for labor law violations and directing more resources to enforcement agencies would help safeguard workers, law abiding contractors and taxpayers.

Herzenburg points out that effective enforcement can pay for itself by directing revenue from fines and penalties to enforcement agencies, and it can change the current landscape of the construction industry.

“It creates a situation where, instead of people violating the law becoming the rule, you get back to what you’re supposed to have, which is most companies complying with the law,” he explains.

The report cites a study that found the Philadelphia residential construction industry operates “informally” with no pretense of adhering to state or federal labor laws.

Herzenberg notes that the skilled construction trades are among the last pathways available for blue collar workers to move into the middle class, and reining in construction companies that break the law benefits everyone.

“In the end, that’s not only good for our middle class, it’s actually a better way to run your economy,” he stresses. “You end up with a more productive economy as a whole as well as a more productive construction industry.”

Career and Technical Education Needs More State Funding

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By: Andrea Sears

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Pennsylvania’s career and technical education centers, or CTCs, need additional funding in the next state budget, according to a new report.

There are 74 CTCs in the state, preparing some 55,000 high school students to enter a variety of fields as soon as they graduate. Last year, the state boosted funding for the centers by $10 million, the first increase in nearly a decade.

Kari King, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children – the group that released the report – says raising the state subsidy was a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done.

“That is really about 8 percent of overall funding, and 2 percent of funding is from the federal government,” says King. “So, 90 percent of the cost to send students to CTCs falls directly on school districts.”

The report calls on state policymakers to include an additional $10 million investment in CTCs as part of the 2019-to-2020 state budget.

King points out that the demand for graduates with backgrounds in career and technical education is growing.

“It prepares students for a range of in-demand jobs that can offer pathways to careers, like new media or health care or construction, in the manufacturing sector or even in law,” says King.

Despite the demand, there are currently 13 school districts in the state that don’t offer career and technical education options.

King adds that basic education funding needs to increase by some $400 million in the coming state budget. So, increasing funding for CTCs also gives school districts more flexibility.

“It’s really relieving the burden on the back end for the school districts,” says King. “So, it frees up some money on the basic education side that they can put elsewhere in their budgets.”

Gov. Tom Wolf is scheduled to deliver his annual budget address on February 5.

Chesapeake Bay More Polluted for First Time in Decade

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By: Laura Rosbrow-Telem

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Chesapeake Bay became more polluted last year for the first time in a decade according to a new report from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation – and a majority of the pollution came from Pennsylvania.

The foundation’s “State of the Bay Report” said extreme weather from climate change – including record rainfall in the summer – caused large amounts of dirty water to flow into the bay. In particular, increased pollution from farms and city streets drained into rivers and streams, especially the Susquehanna River.

According to Harry Campbell, Pennsylvania executive director for the foundation, more than half the state of Pennsylvania is part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

“It’s all about Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams and the lands that drain into them,” Campbell said. “And if we were to sustainably and successfully address this issue, we have to start at that source.”

Campbell recommends cost-effective, green solutions such as planting more trees along city streets, rivers and streams. This would help absorb nitrogen and other pollutants from the air and runoff from the land. According to the state Department of Environmental Protection, Pennsylvania has 19,000 miles of polluted rivers and streams.

Campbell also advocated helping farmers so that less debris and pollutants from agricultural areas enter bodies of water. He said helping farmers adapt will likely cost the state resources beyond what is available in the farm bill.

“There is a need for additional logistical, technical and financial assistance to help get the plans that are necessary to keep soils and nutrients on the land instead of in the water,” he said.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William Baker applauded the Keystone State’s efforts to improve the watershed.

“The Commonwealth is actually developing a good science-based plan as to how to move forward,” Baker said. “But there is simply no evidence that they have the political will to fund it.”

Baker had some pointed words for the president.

“The Trump administration’s anti-environmental policies must be stopped,” he said.

He urged the public to oppose the administration’s denial of climate change and efforts to roll back environmental protections.

The foundation’s State of the Bay Report is available at cbf.org.

Educators Urge Wolf to Up Funding for Special Education

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By: Andrea Sears

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Education advocates want Gov. Tom Wolf to include increased funding in the next state budget for some of the state’s most marginalized students.

A letter to the governor from the Education Law Center asks him to propose an increase of at least $400 million for basic education funding and $100 million for special education.

Federal law requires states to provide a free, appropriate public education for all students with disabilities, in the least restrictive environment.

According to Reynelle Brown Staley, the center’s policy director, from 2008 to 2016, special education costs in Pennsylvania increased by more than $1.5 billion, while state support for those costs increased by only $72 million, forcing local districts to make up the difference.

“Local districts have varying ability to come up with the money, so we’re asking the state to meet their legal obligation to ensure that students with disabilities have access to the educational services that they need,” she states.

Staley points out that inadequate state funding has led to Pennsylvania having the largest funding gap between rich and poor school districts of any state in the nation.

Staley notes that the additional funds need to be distributed through the state’s fair funding formula, which takes varying levels of need into account.

“Students who have significant disabilities require additional levels of state support,” she stresses. “So, putting money through the formula will direct funds to the districts that have students with the greatest educational needs.”

Staley adds that charter schools also should get tiered funding based on the severity of the disabilities of the students they serve.

She says an indicator of how well a school funding system works is how well it serves students who are the most marginalized.

“When we have that, we’ll know that we’re making efforts to ensure that all students across Pennsylvania have access to a quality public education,” she states.

Wolf is scheduled to deliver his annual budget address on Feb. 5.

Miss Pennsylvania Kicks Off Farm Show Storytime, Sharing Stories with Visitors Young and Old

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Harrisburg, PA – Miss Pennsylvania 2018, Kayla Repasky of Gettysburg, Adams County, kicked off Children’s Story Time during opening day at the 103rd Pennsylvania Farm Show. Storytime offers an opportunity to share agriculture-themed childrens’ stories in recognition of this year’s Farm Show theme, “Inspiring Pennsylvania’s Story.”

“Agriculture is so important because it is our number one industry in Pennsylvania,” Repasky said. “It is so cool that we are able to start off the year by celebrating agriculture and what is so important to Pennsylvania.”

Repasky read her own children’s book, “Buddy and the Bully”. Throughout the week, special guests, including the Pennsylvania Dairy Princesses will read agriculture-themed stories on the Main Hall Stage, near the carousel.

Schedule

Sunday Jan. 6, 2019 – 11 AM (PA Dairy Princess’)

Sunday Jan. 6, 2019 – 4 PM

Monday Jan. 7, 2019 – 4 PM (Dauphin County Library System)

Tuesday Jan. 8, 2019 – 4 PM (Dauphin County Library System)

Wednesday Jan. 9, 2019 – 4 PM (Dauphin County Library System)

Thursday Jan. 10, 2019 – 6 PM (Dauphin County Library System)

Friday Jan. 11, 2019 – 4 PM (Dauphin County Library System)

Saturday Jan. 12, 2019 – 11 AM

Saturday Jan. 12, 2019 – 4 PM

The Pennsylvania Farm Show draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to our capital city every year for a mid-winter celebration of Pennsylvania agriculture. It is the largest indoor agricultural exposition in the nation, featuring nearly 12,000 competitive exhibits, including more than 5,200 animal competitions, plus 300 commercial exhibits and hundreds of educational, entertaining events. Visitors get a peek into the industry that employs nearly half a million people and contributes $135.7 billion to Pennsylvania’s economy every year.

The 2019 show runs January 5-12 from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, except Sunday, January 6, when it runs 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturday, January 12, when it opens at 8 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m. Admission is free, and parking is $15.

For more information about the 2019 Pennsylvania Farm Show, visit farmshow.pa.gov

Your Guide to the 2019 Pennsylvania Farm Show

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Governor Wolf to Help Unveil 2019 Farm Show Butter Sculpture
Tomorrow, Governor Wolf will join Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding and dairy industry leaders to unveil the 2019 Farm Show Butter Sculpture at the 103rd Pennsylvania Farm Show at 11 a.m.

Agriculture Department to Showcase Pennsylvania Technology Innovation Start-ups During 2019 Farm Show
During the 2019 Farm Show, Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding today announced the department will showcase six Pennsylvania-based companies that offer technology innovations to advance the agriculture industry. Featured technologies will include crop-monitoring drones; implantable health trackers for livestock; sensory robotics for greenhouse production; potting soil made from recyclable materials; facility and animal monitoring systems; and systems to treat pollution, manage nutrients, and produce sustainable fertilizer. More…

Other info
The official Farm Show website is your best source of info. The annual visitor’s guide includes a schedule of the PA Preferred® Culinary Connection on the back page, with chefs from around the state, as well as others doing demos (also attached). Your friends and colleagues can subscribe to this newsletter here.

You might also check our Farm Show social media accounts:

A number of associations include info about their members’ involvement in Farm Show on their websites and social media. The PA Winery Association’s Farm Show pages are just one example – they have featured wineries daily.

Visit PA also has a Farm Show page, as does PA Trips By Train, and the Hershey-Harrisburg Visitor’s Bureau has a dedicated page. There are lots of resources out there.

And in case you missed them, a few previously-issued releases:

PA Department of Agriculture Reveals 2019 Farm Show Theme: Inspiring Pennsylvania’s Story
The 103rd Pennsylvania Farm Show will honor agriculture’s rich heritage and promising future with this year’s theme, Inspiring Pennsylvania’s Story. The theme, which will be represented throughout of the weeklong event, will include related events like a daily story time for children, interviews with real Pennsylvanians working in agriculture, and opportunities for attendees to engage and tell their own stories. More…

Farm Show Announces Winners of ‘Oh, Say, Can You Sing?’
Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding today announced the winners of “Oh, Say, Can You Sing?”, a star-spangled sing-off on Facebook that puts talented Pennsylvanians center stage during the 103rd Pennsylvania Farm Show. Each morning of the Farm Show will feature a talented Pennsylvanian singing the national anthem live, chosen by the Farm Show’s Facebook fans. More…

Department of Agriculture, GIANT Announce Multi-Year Farm Show Sponsorship Agreement
Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding joined Nicholas Bertram, president of GIANT Food Stores to announce that the Department of Agriculture and GIANT have entered into a multi-year sponsorship agreement at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Expo Center. More…

See you at the PA Farm Show!

The Pennsylvania Farm Show is the nation’s largest indoor agricultural event, featuring 12,000 competitive exhibits, more than 5,200 of which are animal competitions, plus 300 commercial exhibitors. The show runs January 5 – 12, 2019. Admission is free and parking is $15 in Farm Show lots. The Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center is easily accessible from Interstates 81 and 83.

PA 41 SHUTDOWN IN CHESTER COUNTY DUE TO HEAD ON CRASH

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COCHRANVILLE, PA ( WLRI )  Keystone Valley Fire Department along with Cochranville Fire Company and Christiana Fire Company are responding to a head on accident along HONEYCROFT BLVD  in the area of Gap-Newport Pike. Further information will be provided as it becomes available. Crews advise motorist that the road will be closed for hours this evening.

 

Education Advocates: Ending School Discipline Guidance Won’t Improve Safety

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By: Andrea Sears

PHILADELPHIA – Education advocates are condemning a Federal Commission on School Safety report that recommends ending Obama-era policies against discriminatory discipline practices in schools.

Studies have shown that black and brown students are punished more frequently and more harshly than are their white peers for similar or lesser infractions.

According to Raynelle Brown Staley, policy director at the Education Law Center, ending the policies won’t change the law – discrimination based on race, disability or identity will still be illegal – but if the change goes into effect, it will have an impact.

“We think it’s going to invite discrimination to occur,” she said, “because the Department of Education has shown their unwillingness to protect the civil rights of students across our country.”

The anti-discrimination policies only served as guidance, but their critics have claimed they have hampered teachers’ ability to discipline students and compromised school safety.

The recommendation to rescind the discipline policies is, in part, a reaction to mass school shootings such as the one in Parkland, Fla. However, Staley said, efforts to end racial disparities in educational discipline are a totally separate issue.

“There’s no correlation between the implementation of restorative justice and other strategies as alternatives to school discipline and the mass shootings that prompted the School Safety Commission report,” she said.

She noted that Pennsylvania school districts that have implemented policies to limit suspensions and expulsions have seen school climates improve.

Staley said Pennsylvania’s Department of Education has stated that it maintains a commitment to examining issues of discrimination, in suspension and other forms of school discipline.

“So, we feel confident that the Pennsylvania Department of Education will continue to uphold the civil rights of students across the state,” she said.

Staley added that the School Safety Commission report also recommends that school districts consider arming school personnel, a policy many believe would severely compromise school safety.

The School Safety Commission report is online at ed.gov.

Criminal Justice Reform a Major Issue for People with Disabilities

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By: Andrea Sears

HARRISBURG, PA. – The criminal justice reform bill making its way through Congress will help thousands of people with disabilities re-enter their communities.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 32 percent of people in federal prisons and 40 percent of all people in jail in the United States have at least one disability.

The First Step Act passed by the Senate on Tuesday would expand job training and early release programs, and reduce minimum mandatory sentences for nonviolent offenders incarcerated in federal prisons.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of the group RespectAbility, says those reforms will help thousands of people with disabilities successfully leave incarceration.

“It means they’ll be able to go back into the community and hopefully get a job, have their talents used in the community and to have a better future,” she states.

Leadership in the House says it will pass the bill this week and President Donald Trump has said he will sign it into law.

Although the First Step Act only would apply to the 180,000 people in federal prisons, Mizrahi points out that the overwhelming support the bill has received from both sides of the aisle in Washington could help spur criminal justice reforms at all levels of government.

“While this one bill is certainly no panacea for all the different issues, it gives us a platform where people at the state, local or federal level can problem solve together in a bipartisan manner,” she states.

There are more than 2 million people in prisons and jails in the United States, including more than 750,000 with disabilities.

Mizrahi notes that further reforms are needed to reduce the number of people being incarcerated.

She says underfunded schools, predominantly attended by children of color, often lack the resources to diagnose and teach those with learning disorders or other disabilities.

“Then they get really behind in their work, and then they’re so far behind that they drop out or they’re expelled,”
she points out. “This is what leads people into the school-to-prison pipeline in the first place.”

Only 61 percent of youths with disabilities graduate from high school, compared with 81 percent of those without disabilities.

Proposed SNAP Rules: An “End Run around Congress?”

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By: Andrea Sears

HARRISBURG, Pa. – After failing to get deep cuts to nutrition assistance through Congress, President Donald Trump wants to get them by changing the rules.

Trump had backed a Republican plan that critics warned would have ended SNAP or food-stamp benefits for two million Americans and school meal access for 265,000 children.

Congress rejected those changes when it passed the Farm Bill last week. So on Thursday, Trump proposed new rules restricting states’ ability to provide SNAP benefits to childless adults living in high-unemployment areas who are struggling to find work.

Rebecca Vallas, vice-president of the poverty team at the Center for American Progress, says the rules would force hundreds of thousands of unemployed SNAP participants to lose the help they need to put food on the table.

“Ultimately, he failed to gut food stamps in the Farm Bill and so now, he’s sidestepping Congress and trying unilaterally to slash food assistance by fiat,” says Vallas. “And he’s doing that just days before Christmas.”

The administration points out that unemployment is at record low levels and says the new rules would save $15 billion over ten years.

Vallas insists a better approach would be to raise the federal minimum wage, set at $7.25 an hour for the past ten years. She says raising it to just $12 an hour would make a huge difference.

“That would save $53 billion in nutrition assistance over the coming decade, and it would do so by ensuring that workers earn enough to afford food,” says Vallas.

The administration’s own numbers show that under the proposed rule change, more than 750,000 unemployed people would lose SNAP benefits.

Vallas adds research has shown that taking food away from workers who can’t meet strict work-reporting requirements is counterproductive.

“When workers have access to basics like food and housing and health care, they’re better able to work and they have higher earnings,” says Vallas.

Once the rules are published in the Federal Register, there will be a 60 day period for public comment before they could be put into effect.