Senator Fontana greets attendees at the first Skills for Success: The Fontana Series workshop on March 19th at the Carnegie Library branch in Beechview. Skills For Success: The Fontana Series offers job seekers the chance to improve their resumes, cover letters and interviewing skills. To register for one of the six remaining sessions, please visit www.carnegielibrary.org or call 412-281-7141, ext. 2012.
Liquor Store Modernization
Over the past year, there have been talks about privatizing Pennsylvania’s liquor store system. However, a consensus has not been reached. In the mean time, state officials have been exploring other options on how to improve the current system.
In February, the Pennsylvania Senate held budget hearings and met with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (LCB) Chief Executive Officer Joe Conti. Mr. Conti suggested that some modernization policies should be enacted including greater flexibility in pricing, longer store hours, and changes to hiring and inventory practices. Overall, modernizing the system will help make liquor stores more efficient, consumer-friendly, profitable and competitive.
In an attempt to start addressing some of the state store issues, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed Senate Bill 790 (SB 790) on March 13th. This legislation would allow for direct wine shipments to customers in our state. I voted in favor of this bill and it passed by a 23-2 vote.
This legislation would permit a direct shipper, who has obtained a license from the LCB, to send up to 18 liters per month of wine to residents of Pennsylvania. Purchases can be made over the internet, telephone, or by mail. The boxes would have to be marked as containing alcohol and require an adult’s signature and proper identification before a shipment is delivered. A licensing fee of $100 per facility will help offset any costs the LCB may incur in administering this program. Furthermore, a winery would have to pay all taxes that would be due as if the sale was made at a Wine and Spirits store located in our state. It is believed that the LCB will likely see an increase in profits from the licensing fee as well as in sales and tax revenue by allowing customers more product choices.
Pennsylvania currently forbids direct-shipment of wine to consumers except in very limited circumstances. Our state law does allows larger wineries with direct shipping licenses – producing more than 200,000 gallons a year – the ability to sell product online to customers, but the wine must be shipped to a state store of their choice where the customer may then pick it up. This can only take place if the state liquor store does not carry that specific product.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2005 proclaimed that states allowing in-state wineries to direct-ship their product must also allow out-of-state ones to do so. However, Pennsylvania’s laws remain complicated when it comes to direct shipment of alcoholic beverages. For many years, legislation has been introduced to resolve this issue; however, a passage was delayed because of obstacles of how to regulate this industry.
If passed by the General Assembly, the law will go into effect 60 days after the Governor has signed the bill.
I believe that this is first step for our state to make the purchase of wine more convenient for consumers as well as hopefully paving the way for added convenience in the purchase of other alcoholic drinks like beer. At the same time, I feel that the General Assembly needs to look at ways to modernize the current system and address some of the issues. To go forward, I support Senate Bill 1257 (SB 1257) in its current form which would grant the LCB more flexibility so that they can improve the operating efficiency and profitability of the agency while at the same time maintaining controls over things like underage drinking and purchasing of alcohol as well as protecting existing jobs.
LIHEAP Applications Being Accepted through March 31
The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW) is accepting applications for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) through March 31st. Pennsylvania received an additional $52.3 million from the federal government bringing the state’s total to $209.5 million for the current LIHEAP season which began on November 1st. The program helps low-income families pay their heating bills. You can apply and check the status of your application on the state’s COMPASS website. You can also pick up an application at one of my district offices or download one yourself from DPW’s LIHEAP website. Completed paper applications should be returned to the Allegheny County Assistance Office.
Funding for LIHEAP is provided by the federal government and eligibility is based on Federal Poverty Income Guidelines. The income limits this season are as follows:
After your application is reviewed, you will receive a notice explaining your eligibility and the amount of assistance you will receive. Payments are generally sent directly to a utility company or fuel dealer and are credited to your account. Crisis grants are also available to those who have an emergency situation and are in jeopardy of losing their heat. Crisis assistance is available 24 hours a day by calling the Allegheny County Department of Human Services at 1-800-851-3838. For additional home heating assistance, you may also want to contact your utility company.
PAT Schedule Changes
The Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT) has adjusted schedules for many bus and T routes effective Sunday, March 25th. PAT routinely adjusts schedules four times per year. To view schedule changes, please visit PAT's website and click on the appropriate bus or T route. If the route you are searching for does not appear on the list, the schedule for that route will not change in March.
Teen Safe Driving Challenge
The Pennsylvania Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians and the Pennsylvania DUI Association have partnered to create a new website to educate teens and their parents about the new teen driving laws that took effect late last year. Visitors to this website, www.padistracteddriving.org can compete to win cash awards by developing an original 30-second video public service announcement to educate teens and parents on the importance of the new teen driving law. The website also contains resources that promote safe driving, documents that compare the new teen driving laws to the old ones, and a frequently asked questions document about the new laws.
Act 81 amended the Vehicle Code by adding 15 hours of supervised, behind-the-wheel training for permit holders under the age of 18. Junior drivers will now need to complete 10 hours of training at night and five hours during inclement weather, bringing the total hours of training to 65 hours, up from 50 hours. Individuals holding learning permits who have not yet passed their driving test will be required to meet the new training standards. Act 81 also prohibits junior drivers from driving with more than one passenger under the age of 18 who is not a member of the driver’s immediate family, unless the junior driver is accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. After six months, a junior driver is prohibited from driving with more than three passengers under the age of 18 who are not immediate family members unless the junior driver is accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. The new law also requires junior drivers and their passengers to wear a seat belt and makes not wearing a seat belt a primary offense, meaning law enforcement can stop and cite junior drivers solely for that violation.
The statewide contest will award nine $100 regional awards with the regional winners earning a chance to win the $1,000 grand prize. The deadline for submission of a Public Service Announcement is April 27th. For more information on the contest please visit www.padistracteddriving.org.
PA Gaming Control Board Grant
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) is accepting applications for the Local Law Enforcement Grant program. This program sets aside $2 million annually from revenue generated from the play of slot machines and is available to local police departments, county or city district attorneys, and under certain conditions the Pennsylvania State Police. Grant money can be used for the identification, prevention, deterrence, enforcement, investigation or prosecution of activities involving any form of unlawful gaming in the Commonwealth. The maximum grant amount is $250,000 per year. For more information on the program and to obtain an application, please visit the PGCB website. The Board will accept applications until all funds have been committed.
Life’s Work of Western PA Job Skills Program
Life's Work of Western PA is looking for any individual motivated to improve his or her life by learning new skills or refreshing previously learned skills in order to succeed in today’s technology-driven workforce. They are offering a comprehensive, eight-week training and job placement experience program at their Uptown headquarters. A new class began on March 19th and runs through May 11th but spots are still available and candidates will be accepted through March 23rd. These classes run Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Each participant will master the essential computer skills of Microsoft Office, learn proper use of the phone and responsibilities of a customer service representative, and receive assistance with resumes and mock interviews. Life's Work employment counselors will also provide job placement services for each individual completing the class. For more information or to register, please contact Mindy Hockensmith at 412-471-2600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pittsburgh Public Market Open House
If you are interested in starting or expanding a food or retail business, the Pittsburgh Public Market is hosting a Prospective Merchant Open House on March 28th from 5 – 7 p.m. Pittsburgh Public Market, located at Smallman and 17th Streets in the Strip District, is a year-round marketplace for local vendors that promotes new business growth and allows for expansion of local businesses while featuring the best of what the region has to offer. Whether you have a business plan in hand or just want to visit the Market for ideas, the open house is an opportunity to learn more about Pittsburgh Public Market. For more information or to RSVP please call 412-281-4505 or email email@example.com.
Fundraiser for Emerald View Park
The Shiloh Grill on Mt. Washington is hosting a fundraising dinner on March 28th for the construction of the new trail system in Emerald View Park. The dinner begins at 7 p.m. To purchase tickets please contact the Shiloh Grill at 412-431-4000. The Emerald View Park trail construction is a project of the Mt. Washington Community Development Corporation (MWCDC). The Shiloh Grill is donating all proceeds from the event towards the construction of the new trail system.
Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership Launches New Website
The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership recently launched a new website, fresh with a new look and enhanced functionality geared towards residents, workers and visitors to downtown Pittsburgh. Featuring a user-friendly interface and real-time social media updates among other enhancements, the website continues to provide updated information for individuals interested in current events, living downtown, shopping, dining, and more. PDP was formed by downtown businesses, professionals, civic organizations, foundations, and residents to develop and implement innovative programs and initiatives to enhance the downtown neighborhood. The new website can be viewed at www.downtownpittsburgh.com.
Did You Know…
Did you know from January 2006 through December 2011 over $4.8 billion has been invested in downtown Pittsburgh?
Hollywood Theater Celebrates Mister Rogers
On March 23rd, the Hollywood Theater in Dormont is hosting a special screening of the documentary “Speedy Delivery” in celebration of Mister Rogers’ birthday and the legacy he has left behind. The event will begin at 7 p.m. and Mr. McFeely, played by David Newell, will be on hand to answer questions and sign autographs. “Speedy Delivery” is a captivating and inspiring story of passion, responsibility, loss and hope. Tickets can be purchased in advance by visiting www.showclix.com/event/221758. Hollywood Theater will also be accepting sweaters that will be donated to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament made its first appearance at the CONSOL Energy Center last week. Eight teams from around the country competed in second and third round games on March 15th and March 17th. The second two-game session on March 15th featuring West Virginia University, Gonzaga University, Ohio State University, and Loyola University (Maryland) attracted 19,413 fans, the largest crowd ever to watch college basketball in the city of Pittsburgh.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana