HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania's Republican lawmakers continue to try to iron out differences over fellow Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's three major legislative priorities as the days tick down to their summer break.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi said Tuesday that time remains in the next six days to secure agreements on bills to boost transportation funding, allow private retailers to sell wine and liquor and overhaul the state's big public pension plans.
Meanwhile, school employees protesting layoffs canvassed lawmakers and held a boisterous rally at the state Capitol to appeal for more state aid. Corbett and top Republican lawmakers are saying little about what kind of additional help they'll offer as they consider cutting business taxes by an estimated $360 million next year.
The new fiscal year begins Monday. -- (AP)
A lien was placed on the home of Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter last month because of an unpaid gas bill, but the issue has been resolved, officials said.
Nutter received a notice May 3 that showed he had a past-due balance of $507.76 with Philadelphia Gas Works, a city-owned utility, regarding service at his home in Wynnefield. Two weeks later, according to court records, the city placed a lien on the home, but it has since been satisfied.
"The bill is paid," Nutter told the media. "Nothing happened." The second-term Democrat, who earns $174,400, declined to elaborate.
His spokesman, Mark McDonald, said Nutter's PGW account is now "current" and that his failure to pay previously was "a private matter." ''The mayor tries to stay current on his bills like everyone else," McDonald said.
Nutter has made a priority of cracking down on tax delinquents in the city, emphasizing collection efforts from tax deadbeats of all income brackets. Critics said his failure to pay on time sets a bad example.
"If you're going to demand that other people pay their taxes and bills on time, you have to make sure you have your own paid," City Controller Alan Butkovitz said. "He has to lead by example."
Zack Stalberg, president of the good-government group Committee of Seventy, lauded PGW for holding Nutter to task.
"It sends a bad message," Stalberg said. "There's a big issue in the city when it comes to money owed. People want to know that the mayor, the leader himself, is current and not delinquent."
Nutter and the city have also been exploring the idea of selling off PGW in recent years as a way to generate revenue. Last year, a consulting company said selling the utility could yield a profit of $146 million to $496 million. -- (AP)
NEW YORK — Soledad O'Brien is joining fellow "Today" show alum Bryant Gumbel at HBO's "Real Sports."
HBO said Wednesday that O'Brien will be a reporter on the monthly magazine show, which is anchored by Gumbel. Her first story, due this month, is about war veterans who use martial arts to help cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"It's exactly what I've been doing for a long time — telling stories about human beings and their struggles," O'Brien said.
She most recently was a morning-show host on CNN, but the news network has given the program an overhaul that will debut next week. O'Brien was replaced by the anchor team of Kate Balduan and Chris Cuomo.
O'Brien's experience with sports has been limited, although she did play rugby while studying at Harvard. She will be a visiting fellow at Harvard's Graduate School of Education during the next school year.
The deal with HBO also gives the network the first look at projects done by O'Brien's production company, Starfish Media Group. She's making a business out of creating and selling documentaries to networks and has a separate deal with CNN to continue the "Black in America" series that she has been doing for the past couple of years. -- (AP)
A 10-year-old girl whose efforts to qualify for an organ donation drew public debate over how donated lungs are allocated was getting a transplant Wednesday, her family said.
Sarah Murnaghan, who suffers from severe cystic fibrosis, was receiving the transplant Wednesday at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, a family spokeswoman said.
Her health was deteriorating when a federal judge intervened on June 5, giving her a chance at the much larger list of organs from adult donors.
The case could bring change for other children, as another cystic fibrosis patient at the same hospital has also gone to court to be added to the adult donor list. The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network says 31 children under age 11 are on the waiting list for a lung transplant.
Murnaghan's mother, Janet, said in a Facebook post that the family was "overwhelmed with emotions" and thanked all her supporters.
"Today is the start of Sarah's new beginning and new life!" she wrote.
Last week, federal Judge Michael Baylson in Philadelphia ruled that Murnaghan of Newtown Square, Pa., and 11-year-old Javier Acosta of New York City should be eligible for adult lungs.
Their families challenged existing transplant policy that made children under 12 wait for pediatric lungs to become available or be offered lungs donated by adults after adolescents and adults on the waiting list had been considered. They said pediatric lungs are rarely donated.
It was not immediately clear where Murnaghan's donation came from. A message was left for a hospital representative.
Janet Murnaghan said the donor's family "has experienced a tremendous loss, may God grant them a peace that surpasses understanding."
Critics warn there could be a downside to having judges intervene in the organ transplant system's established procedures. Lung transplants are difficult procedures and some say child patients tend to have more trouble with them than adults.
The national organization that manages organ transplants this week resisted making emergency rule changes for children under 12 who are waiting on lungs but created a special appeal and review system to hear such cases. -- (AP)
Buoyed by the discovery of a woman buried in rubble nearly 13 hours later, rescue workers on Thursday were digging through the debris from a building collapse that killed six people a day earlier, even though they believed no one else was trapped.
Crews still need to search about 20 percent of the site of the collapse, including the back of a thrift store onto which the vacant four-story building under demolition collapsed, an effort that was expected to last through the afternoon, authorities said.
At least 14 people were injured in Wednesday's collapse, including the 61-year-old woman who was pulled from the debris nearly 13 hours later and hospitalized in critical condition.
"That's why we stay the course," City Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said. "This person being pulled out alive is what this rescue operation is all about."
The sense of urgency had subsided after workers combed through bricks and rubble using buckets and their bare hands well into the night. A crane arrived at the site Thursday morning to be used later in the search.
It was unclear what role the demolition work might have played in the collapse, but the accident raised questions about how closely the highly visible spot on Market Street, one of Philadelphia's signature boulevards, was being monitored, particularly amid word of the demolition contractor's many legal and financial troubles. Officials from the U.S. Department of Labor and Occupational Safety and Health Administration were at the scene.
For weeks, people working nearby had watched with growing concern as a crew took down the vacant four-story building next to a Salvation Army thrift store at the edge of downtown.
A roofer atop another building didn't think the operation looked safe. A pair of window washers across the street spotted an unbraced, 30-foot section of wall and predicted among themselves the whole building would simply fall down.
On Wednesday, that's what happened. The unstable shell of a building collapsed into a massive heap of bricks and splintered wood, taking part of the thrift store with it.
"Our thoughts and our prayers go out to those who lost their lives, and their families," Mayor Michael Nutter said at a late-night news conference at which he announced the death toll. "At the same time, we pray that those who survive will recover not only physically, but certainly mentally from the trauma of being in a building and it suddenly collapses."
Witnesses said they heard a loud rumbling sound immediately before the collapse.
"I was standing there looking out my window, watching the men at work on the building, and the next thing I know I heard something go kaboom," said Veronica Haynes, who was on the fifth floor of an apartment building across the street. "Then you saw the whole side of the wall fall down ... onto the other building."
Several other witnesses said they had questioned how the demolition workers were tackling the job.
Roofer Patrick Glynn said he had been watching workers take down the building over the past few weeks, and he said he suspected a collapse was inevitable because of the way they were going about it.
"For weeks they've been standing on the edge, knocking bricks off," he said. "You could just see it was ready to go at any time. I knew it was going to happen."
Steve Cramer, who has been working as a window washer across the street, said the demolition crew left 30 feet of a dividing wall up with no braces and it compromised the integrity of the building
"We've been calling it for the past week — it's going to fall, it's going to fall," his co-worker Dan Gillis said.
Officials said the demolition contractor was Griffin Campbell Construction in Philadelphia. Messages left for Campbell were not returned.
Records show that Campbell was charged in 2005 with dealing crack cocaine near a playground. The charges were dismissed after prosecutors misplaced evidence.
He pleaded guilty in an insurance fraud case in 2009, and was acquitted of aggravated assault and related offenses in 2007.
Campbell has also filed for bankruptcy protection twice since 2010. The first bankruptcy was dismissed because he didn't follow through on a repayment plan approved by the court. A second bankruptcy petition was filed in March.
There were no existing violations on the collapsed building, and Campbell had proper permits for the work being done, according to Carlton Williams, of the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections.
The city issued a demolition permit for the four-story structure on Feb. 1. Records show the property owner as STB Investments Corp., a company linked to prominent businessman and developer Richard Basciano, who has been best known as the owner of porn theaters in New York City and Philadelphia.
Messages left at the company's New York offices were not immediately returned.
The accident happened on the western edge of downtown, between the city's business district and its main train terminal, 30th Street Station. The block had long been a seedy link between gleaming skyscrapers and the busy area around the station.
The collapse involved an empty building that once housed a first-floor sandwich shop and apartments above. The thrift shop was on one side. The other side was an adult bookstore and theater that had been taken down within the last few months.
A demolition expert wondered what precautions were taken to protect the Salvation Army store, especially since it remained open. Stephen Estrin, a Florida contractor who has testified as an expert at several trials involving building collapses, also questioned whether the demolition was being done by hand or with machinery. A piece of equipment with a claw device was seen amid the debris Wednesday.
"This is an inner-city demolition of a masonry building, which would normally be done manually because of the inherent risk — predictable if certain things are not done very slowly and very carefully — of a collapse," Estrin said. "One of the problems with claw work is it sets up a vibration in the walls."
Records show the collapsed building was sold to STB in 1994 for $385,894. Plans tentatively called for the block to be redeveloped into retail stores and apartments. -- (AP)