Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale says the state Turnpike system is now almost $12-billion in debt and is on the brink of financial collapse. At issue is a 2007 state law, known as Act 44, which requires the Turnpike to transfer $450 million a year to PennDOT to fund mass transit across the state. In order to meet the payments, the Turnpike has had to borrow billions of dollars. The Turnpike was supposed to get some help in making the payments with the tolling of Interstate 80, but that was blocked by the Obama Administration. DePasquale says ever-increasing tolls aren’t putting a dent in the Turnpike’s debt, and it's actually making the money problems worse by forcing less people to use the Turnpike. His suggestions include drastically reducing toll subsidies for mass transit or legalizing recreation marijuana which he estimates would raise $600 million a year. More details on the Auditor General’s report about the Turnpike are available here.
A former employee of the Columbia-Montour Council of the Boy Scouts of America has pleaded guilty to stealing more than $5,000 from the nonprofit organization. 62-year-old Joyce Fisher of Catawissa who did accounting work for the local Boy Scouts admitted to using the council’s credit cards to pay her personal bills and buy things for herself. She also stole hundreds of dollars in petty cash from the organization. The thefts occurred to between September 2017 and April 2018 and were discovered following an audit.
Governor Wolf has renewed his disaster declaration regarding opioid addiction. In the 15 months since the governor used a state declaration usually reserved for natural disasters, he has renewed it five times. The governor’s office says the crisis is far from over, but there has been some promising news. Center Disease Control and Prevention figures show fewer people may have died of drug overdose deaths in 2017 and 2018 as compared to previous years. Emergency personnel have also used the anti-overdose drug naloxone more than 18-thousand times. The declaration has also loosened some regulations to allow state agencies to assist those with opioid addiction more quickly.
Legislation is being reintroduced in the state House and Senate that is aimed at protecting unborn children diagnosed with Down Syndrome from being aborted. The bill would protect unborn children diagnosed with Down Syndrome from abortion as children are protected from abortion based on sex-selection. Supporters of the legislation say people with Down Syndrome have contributed much to society and there's no justifiable reason for aborting an unborn child diagnosed with Down Syndrome. Similar legislation failed to pass during the last legislative session. Governor Wolf has said that it if the bill makes it to his desk, he’ll veto it. Organizations like Planned Parenthood have also derided the legislation as a way to chip away at abortion rights.
A $2.2 million gift will help provide teenagers in the foster care system with the opportunity to explore educational experiences at Bloomsburg University. The gift comes from the estate of Easton native Mitzi Marie Bryfogle. Her Will directed that portion of her estate go to help a public university. Her son Eric Bryfogle, executor of the estate, felt the Anchor Program at Bloomsburg University was the most deserving initiative. The Anchor Program gives teenagers from 15-to-18 years old in the foster care system, a chance to explore their academic interests and talents through a multi-year summer college experience and year-round mentorship opportunities. Since the program began in the summer of 2017, nearly 80 teens from more than 10 counties— including Columbia, Luzerne, Northumberland and Schuylkill counties—have taken part in the program.
Pennsylvania State Police have developed a new policy for dealing with someone who may be in this country illegally. The policy, known as AR7-14, does not allow state troopers to arrest someone solely on the basis of immigration status. Troopers are directed to contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement if a foreign national is suspected to being in the country illegally. State Police developed the policy with the help of federal officials, county district attorneys, the ACLU and other interested organizations.
Governor Tom Wolf's PA Farm Bill proposal was the focus of a joint hearing before the state House and Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committees. The PA Farm Bill proposal, which calls for investing $24 million in agriculture in PA, received a mostly positive response from lawmakers. But some concerns were also raised. Among them, whether $500,000 proposed for enhancing research on specialty crops is enough and if a $1.6 million initiative to grow the state's organic industry would pit farmers against farmers.
A Bloomsburg University student was scooped up in a drug bust early Wednesday morning at a residence on Glenn Avenue in town. As the result of an ongoing investigation, Bloomsburg Police served a search warrant on the residence and seized about 7 lbs of marijuana, marijuana wax, liquid THC for use in vape pens, and approximately $3,300 in cash, as well as drug paraphernalia. Police say Christopher Feliciano was taken into custody and charged with possession with intent to deliver.
A Berwick man is the winner of that record Cash 5 jackpot earlier this month. Officials from the Pennsylvania Lottery and Sheetz presented a big commemorative check Tuesday to Luther Coleman Jr., who won the nearly $2.5 million jackpot in the March 8th Pennsylvania Lottery Cash 5 drawing. The jackpot is the largest in the nearly 27-year history of Cash 5. The winning ticket was purchased at Sheetz on W. Front St. in Berwick where the 63-year-old Coleman is a frequent customer. Coleman says the windfall will help him and his wife move closer to their daughter in western Pennsylvania. Coleman says he used a couple different Pennsylvania Lottery machines to verify his ticket was the winner before he started to believe it was true. Coleman has worked for more than 31 years in mechanical maintenance at the nuclear power plant near Berwick.
Police arrested two people in a drug bust at a Columbia County motel Tuesday. South Centre Township Police say Matthew Enck and Samantha Bankes, both of Berwick, had 600 bags of fentanyl, 10.2 grams of crystal meth, cash, a rifle, and assorted drug paraphernalia in their room at the Super 8 Motel in Mifflinville. South Centre Township police where assisted by the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, Briar Creek Township Police and Columbia County Adult Probation.
The Department of Corrections says all state prisons in Pennsylvania will be tobacco-free by July 1st. The Department of Corrections says banning the use of tobacco products in state prisons will not only make them healthier places, but also safer by eliminating black market tobacco sales. As part of the plan inmate commissaries will stop the sale of tobacco products on June 1st, although electronic cigarettes will continue to be sold and allowed to be used by inmates and staff in certain areas. Inmates will also be offered smoking cessation programs.
A resolution which seeks to increase access to drug treatment and recovery has been advanced by the House Human Services Committee. State Representative Jim Gregory says the resolution he's introduced would have the Joint State Government Commission review unused state-owned properties and buildings for possible use as drug treatment and recovery facilities, noting that would remove a barrier to treatment and provide hope to people with drug addictions. Committee Chair Gene DiGirolamo says its often difficult to find empty treatment beds on weekends in PA. Under the resolution the Joint State Government Commission would have one year to issue a report on its findings.
A Columbia County man accused of pistol-whipping the owner of a coin shop and stealing about $75,000 in cash, gold bars, and jewelry was sentenced to prison. Forty-year-old David Bobe from Berwick was sentenced Monday to 10 to 20 years in prison. He pleaded no contest in February to the violent robbery at Sterner's Coin Shop in Shamokin Dam which happened back in 2017. The Snyder County district attorney says the sentence will run consecutively to a 6 to 15 year sentence Bobe received for a different robbery in Columbia County. The DA says Bobe was on parole for that crime when he robbed the coin shop in Shamokin Dam. A second man, 39-year-old Michael Rodenizer from Beaver Springs, already pleaded guilty to the coin shop robbery. He is set to be sentenced later this month.
A Columbia County man was killed when a large oak tree fell on top of him Monday. Police say 70-year-old Donald Jeffrey was cutting down a tree along his driveway at 622 Pine Swamp Road in Cleveland Township, Columbia County when it fell on top of him. Jeffrey’s wife discovered him trapped under the tree. Columbia County Coroner Jeremy Reese pronounced Jeffrey dead just before 1 o’clock Monday afternoon.
A bill approved by the state House Transportation Committee would bolster efforts to convince more Pennsylvanians to become organ donors. The bill would increase from 1 to 3 dollars the amount Pennsylvanians can donate the Organ Donation Trust Fund when renewing a vehicle registration. Bill sponsor state Rep. Joe Petrarca says because it's now possible to renew a registration for two years, his bill would allow those who use that option to contribute up to 6 dollars to the organ fund.
The PA Dept. of Environmental Protection is in the middle of a five year effort to assess the effects of Lyme Disease and other tick-borne illnesses in the Commonwealth. The surveillance effort began in July of last year, with the goal of tracking the activity level of ticks at all stages of life. The effort, was one of several recommendations from the state's Lyme Disease Task Force. Pennsylvania continues to lead the nation in Lyme Disease cases according to the CDC, with over 9,200 confirmed in 2017.
Some closure for the family of a man originally from Columbia County who was murdered by his roommate in Florida back in 2017. Nicholas Corvino was originally from Berwick. The 30-year-old Corvino was found shot to death inside his apartment in Kissimmee, Florida back in October of 2017. Corvino's roommate, Scott Waddell, was later charged with the murder. Waddell pleaded no contest in November and was sentenced on Friday to 30 years in prison.
About 500 members of the Pennsylvania National Guard are preparing for a year long deployment to Poland to take part in North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) exercises. Gov. Tom Wolf and Adjutant General Tony Carrelli took part in send-off ceremonies Saturday in Milton for the members assigned to 3rd Squadron, 27th Armored Cavalry Regiment. The squadron is headquartered in Danville. The unit heads for Texas for a final training exercise and will then deploy to Poland to lead a multinational task force composed of soldiers from the United States, United Kingdom, Croatia and Romania. Members have been preparing for the mission for more than a year.
The Bloomsburg Police Department is investigating a hit and run from over the weekend. The hit and run happened between approx. 6 o’clock Friday night and 7 o’clock Saturday morning in front of 373 East 3rd Street near the intersection with Penn Street. Police say they are looking for a red vehicle with broken taillight(s) which hit a blue Ford Explorer. The Explorer sustained damage to it's front bumper as a result of the collision. The red vehicle left vehicle parts at the scene before fleeing. Anyone who may have witnessed the collision is asked to contact Patrolman Joshua Dombrosky at 570-784-4155 ext. 114.
March marks the start of spring wildfire season in Pennsylvania. With no leaves on the trees, dried out debris in wooded areas and sometimes gusty winds, conditions are ripe this time of year for wildfires in Pennsylvania. As a result the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources urges PA residents to be careful since about 90 percent of the state's wildfires are caused by people. Careless burning is the top cause followed by fires which are intentionally set.
Both of Pennsylvania's US Senators were among the no votes on President Donald Trump's emergency declaration. Pat Toomey and Bob Casey were among the 59 senators who voted to reject the President's emergency declaration which he wanted to use to secure funding for a wall on the US/Mexican border. Toomey said he supports building the wall, just not this way. Sen. Casey earlier denounced the president for what he called an “egregious use of a national emergency.”
About 5,200 people donated more than $1.5 million dollars to approximately 270 nonprofit organizations in the 7th Annual Raise the Region. The 30-hour online giving campaign was held Wednesday evening and all-day Thursday. The First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania and Blaise Alexander Dealerships are the primary organizations behind Raise the Region, which is a major fundraising event for hundreds of nonprofits in Columbia, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder, Union and Lycoming counties.
Bishop Ronald Gainer of the Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg wrapped up a series of listening sessions concerning child sexual abuse inside the Catholic Church with a session last night in Berwick at the Immaculate Conception Parish. Diocese spokesman Mike Barley spoke to our news partner Newswatch 16. He says the diocese is grateful for all the participation and strong turnout at the listening sessions. People attending the session last night in Berwick said it showed the diocese is willing to learn from past mistakes.
After just 14 months on the job, Dr. Jason Bendle is no longer superintendent in the Danville Area School District. The school board Wednesday night voted to immediately end their contract with Bendle. The board vice president read from a prepared statement that said Dr. Bendle and school board had “mutually agreed to end their contractual relationship.” The board expects to hire an interim superintendent until a permanent replacement can be found. The school board has agreed to allow Bendle to continue to receive his salary and health benefits for the next year or until he finds another job—whichever comes first. Bendle was superintendent in St. Clair School District in Schuylkill County prior to coming to Danville.
A bill aimed at encouraging foster care and adoption has been approved by the state House Finance Committee. The bill would establish a $1,000 adoption tax credit and a $500 foster care tax credit for families which provide stable homes for children in the care of the Department of Human Services. While cost concerns have been raised, state Representative Tarah Toohil says the investment in a child's stability will result in savings later when the child is not touched by opioids or homelessness and becomes a productive citizen.
While Pennsylvania has been a leader in the development and testing of self-driving vehicles, a new Triple-A survey finds many people have fears about riding in these vehicles. Triple-A's annual automated vehicle survey found 71 percent of people are afraid to ride in fully self-driving vehicles. However, Triple-A Mid-Atlantic spokesperson Kathleen Zinszer says new technology starting to be used in vehicles today may help make people feel more comfortable about self-driving vehicles. Zinszer says a number of highly-publicized incidents involving self-driving vehicles have raised people's concerns about them.
The 7th annual Raise the Region is underway. It’s a 30-hour online giving campaign that provides an opportunity for people who care about their community to come together and raise as much money as possible for hundreds of local nonprofits in Columbia, Montour, Northumberland, Lycoming, Snyder and Union counties. One of the local nonprofits taking part is Agape here in Bloomsburg. Board member John Thomas says Raise the Region is important event that helps Agape fulfill its mission. Raise the Region began at 6 o’clock last night and continues through 11:59 tonight. The First Community Foundation of Williamsport and Blaise Alexander Family Dealerships are the primary organizations behind Raise the Region. You can make donations to your favorite local charities by logging on to www.raisetheregion.org.
Representatives from local FFA chapters and the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau dropped off $21,000 dollars worth of food, supplies and cash at the Ronald McDonald House on the campus of Geisinger Medical Center in Danville this week. Donations came from 12 counties in north central Pennsylvania including Columbia, Montour, and Northumberland counties. A spokesperson from the Ronald McDonald House says the effort has raised nearly $380,000 in cash, food, and paper products over the past 21 years.
People who come to the rescue of a child in a hot car would be protected under a bill approved by the state House Judiciary Committee. The bill would provide civil immunity for someone forced to damage a vehicle in order to rescue a child who appears to be in distress. The bill's sponsor says she remembers a TV news story of a child rescued from a hot car, but the first thing the car's owner noticed was the damaged windshield. A bill signed into law last year provides similar protection for pets rescued from hot cars.
If you’re into gambling you’ll soon have many more ways and places to do it here in Pennsylvania. The state House Gaming Oversight Committee received a status report from Kevin O'Toole, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. A 2018 law allows the state to provide additional gambling options to go along with casinos and the Pennsylvania Lottery. They include fantasy sports, video gaming terminals Category 4 or satellite casinos, and spots wagering. Each is currently in various stages of development.