Subscribe to this e-update.
Senator Wayne D. Fontana

 

Allegheny County Crime Lab Funding

HearingLast week, I participated in a joint Senate and House Democratic Policy Committee hearing on the Allegheny County Crime Lab and the need for a state subsidy once again.  While budget negotiations were underway in June, I advocated that funding be designated for this program, but unfortunately the current administration declined the request.  Now elected officials are forced to seek an alternative solution to try and prevent an avoidable problem.

Allegheny County is very fortunate to have a crime lab located in our region.  Although the vast majority of cases that come to the lab originate from within the county, the lab provides services to over 1.2 million Pennsylvanians including assisting with state and federal cases.  The crime lab provides a multitude of services, including forensic services and DNA testing, firearms and tool marks, latent prints, toxicology, drug chemistry and crime scene analysis.  The lab also has access to several state and nationwide databases.

Furthermore, the close relationship between the police, district attorney’s office and the crime lab permits Allegheny County to do things that cannot be done in any other jurisdiction in the country.  For this reason, the Allegheny County Crime Lab has received numerous awards and recognitions over the years, including awards from the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Laboratory Accreditation Board and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

I can continue on about how beneficial it is for our region to have this crime lab located here, however the hearing’s main purpose was to highlight how state funding cuts in recent years have threatened the lab’s operation.  In the early 2000’s, Pennsylvania allocated $7.5 million annually for the region’s crime lab.  However, the subsidy started to decrease by 2007 and was completely eliminated in 2011.  At that point, Allegheny County became fully responsible for the cost.  Due to the recent economic climate and not enough money to meet other essential program demands, the county does not have the financial resources to continue to be the sole funding source for the lab.

The future of the county’s crime lab hinges on whether the state approves funding by year’s end when council must pass a budget.  Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald testified at the hearing asking the state to provide $10 million in funding from the current state budget for these services.  Currently, it cost the county $4.65 million to run the crime lab and another $9.11 million to operate the County Police investigative units.  If no state subsidy is received, there are several options that could take place:  the county could close the crime lab, transfer operations to the state police or find other sources of income such as fees from municipalities that use the lab.

Allegheny County and Philadelphia operate the only two crime labs in the state independent from the Pennsylvania State Police.  State police operate six crime labs.  The closest to Pittsburgh is in Greensburg which many have suggested that the simple answer would be to shift the responsibility to that state police lab.  However, because of the significant backlogs at the state police crime labs, this particular lab would become even more overwhelmed with work which could perhaps spur additional delays in evidence analysis and hamper investigative work statewide.

Furthermore, closure of the Allegheny County crime lab could essentially affect the prosecution of pending court cases and create public safety concerns.  For example, the District Attorney’s Office waits four to seven months for results from some drug tests from state police crime labs whereas toxicology results from the Allegheny County crime lab takes about four to six weeks.  Accused criminals could be released from jail and cases could be dismissed if delayed trials go past state-set deadlines.

Regional officials argue that tax dollars support the state police crime labs.  However, in Allegheny County, residents here are also subsidizing the Allegheny County crime lab.  So in essence, this region is paying double by providing funding for our own crime lab while at the same time also supporting the state police crime labs.  Plus, having a crime lab located here, saves the state significant money not having to transport materials to and from state police labs.

The Allegheny County crime lab has played an important role in analyzing evidence and prosecuting crimes.  As the demand for services have increased over the years, the funding has continually decreased for this valuable asset and we have reached a point where the county can no longer maintain financial responsibility.  It is absolutely necessary that the Commonwealth and this administration step up and restore funding so that the Allegheny County crime lab can continue to operate without any interruption or disruptions to their services in our region.

Did You Know…

Did you know that in 2013 alone, the Allegheny County crime lab received over 19,000 evidence submissions from law enforcement agencies and conducted over 100,000 tests?

Weinstein

On August 16th officials in Kennedy Township announced they were naming the township's municipal building after Mel Weinstein, who has served the township since 1973 in the capacity of Commissioner, Tax Collector and is the current Treasurer. Senator Fontana offered his congratulations at the ceremony and is pictured here with County Executive Rich Fitzgerald; Mel's wife, Jackie Weinstein; Mel Weinstein; and Mel's son, Allegheny County Treasurer John Weinstein.

Remembering Mayor Masloff

The City of Pittsburgh lost one of its most enthusiastic champions on Sunday with the passing of former Mayor Sophie Masloff at the age of 96. Sophie had a long and distinguished career of public service having been elected four times to City Council and once as Mayor. I extend my deepest sympathies to Sophie’s family and friends and to the many people she touched throughout her life of public service.

 

Flu/Pneumonia Shots & Senior Clinic – September 30th

FluI am hosting my annual Flu/Pneumonia Shot & Senior Clinic on Tuesday, September 30th from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. in Quinn Hall at the Church of the Resurrection in Brookline. American HealthCare Group will be providing the free vaccinations to any senior with the Medicare Part B health insurance card. Make sure to bring your card with you.

There will also be several organizations from around the region in attendance providing seniors with important information on available services and resources including AARP, Carnegie Library, and the Pennsylvania Office of the Consumer Advocate to name a few. I will continue to update you with additional information on the Flu/Pneumonia Shot & Senior Clinic moving forward, but please save the date – Tuesday, September 30th!

Preventing Identity Theft & Fraud

I am pleased to be attending an event being hosted by Representative Dan Miller on the subject of identity theft on August 29th in Dormont.  I encourage anyone with questions or concerns on this topic to attend and listen to a presentation offered by the Office of the Attorney General on how to protect yourself from identity theft and fraud and how to best keep your personal information safe.  This presentation will begin at 10:15 a.m. at the Hillsdale Community Resource Center, located at 1444 Hillsdale Avenue in Dormont.  For more information, please contact Rep. Miller’s office at 412-343-3870.

CHIP Covering Replacement Eyeglasses

CHIPParents with children covered under the Pennsylvania Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) should be aware the program now covers replacement eyeglasses for children in all plans.  The Insurance Department issued a policy clarification that affirms CHIP will cover eyeglasses, up to two prescriptions a year, allowing replacement of eyeglasses that are lost or broken beyond repair.

529 College Savings

529The Pennsylvania Treasury Department wants to make families aware that opening and contributing to a Pennsylvania 529 Guaranteed Savings Plan (GSP) account by August 31st will allow them to take advantage of last school year’s lower prices.  Credit rates will increase on September 1st to correspond with tuition increases set by colleges and universities.  In order to take advantage of lower credit rates, contributions to a PA 529 GSP sent by mail must be postmarked by August 31st and online contributions must be made by 11:59 p.m. on August 31st at www.PA529.com.

The PA 529 GSP is designed to help savings grow to meet the future cost of education. The plan lets an account owner save for tomorrow’s college expenses at today’s plan rates, without worrying about the ups and downs of the stock market.  To learn more about the PA 529 GSP or to open an account, please visit www.PA529.com or call 1-800-440-4000.

To encourage more families to save for college in a tax-advantaged way, the PA 529 GSP is also offering free enrollment for all new accounts opened before September 30th, a $50 savings. Simply enter the code “SAVE2DAY” when prompted.  Additionally, families who register at www.PA529.com will have a chance to win $529 towards their college savings account.

Pennsylvania also offers a second 529 plan, the PA 529 Investment Plan (IP), which features low fees and more than a dozen conservative and aggressive investment options from The Vanguard Group.  There is no enrollment fee for the PA 529 IP.  Contributions to PA 529 plans are deductable from Pennsylvania income taxes, grow tax free, and when used for qualified educational expenses, are federal and state tax exempt.

Senior Community Center Grant Program

AgingLast week, the Pennsylvania Department of Aging announced that grants are available through the Department’s Senior Community Center grant program.  The program provides funding to modernize senior community centers that help increase current participation and help the centers prepare to serve the younger, elderly population.

More information on the program can be found by clicking here and applications are due no later than September 8th at 5 p.m.  Grants up to $150,000 will be considered.  Additional questions and information on the program can be directed to Suzanne Bellotti, the Department’s Senior Center Program Coordinator at 717-783-1550 or RA-paseniorcenters@pa.gov.

Champions of Older Workers

Pamphlet Pamphlet The Pennsylvania Department of Aging and the Hall of Fame of Champions of Older Workers Committee are seeking nominations for the 2015 Hall of Fame Champions Award.  Nominees that are considered for the award are employers who provide programs that support workers aged 55 and older.  Anyone interested in nominating an employer to receive the Champions of Older Workers Award can download a nomination form at www.aging.state.pa.us

Reasons employers are nominated can include but are not limited to:  retention and recruitment of older workers; part-time roles; phased retirement plans; flexible work arrangements; innovative re-training; promotional opportunities; benefits offered; mentoring programs; and pre-retirement financial planning.

Nomination forms must be returned to the Pennsylvania Department of Aging no later than December 5th either via mail or email to:

                        Rocco Claroni
                        PA Department of Aging
                        555 Walnut Street, 5th Floor
                        Harrisburg, PA  17101-1919
                        rclaroni@pa.gov

HeidelbergHeidelberg Oktoberfest

The Borough of Heidelberg is hosting their 4th Annual Oktoberfest celebration to honor the town’s German heritage on Saturday, September 27th.  The event is held at Heidelberg Park from 1 – 8 p.m.  Festivities during the day include a raffle, live music and dancing, German and American foods, beers and crafters, children’s activities and a Zambelli fireworks show.  More information on specific activities and musical performances can be found by visiting www.HeidelbergBorough.com.

OASIS Tutors

OasisOASIS Pittsburgh will be hosting free training sessions for adults aged 50 and over who are interested in serving as tutors for students enrolled in Pittsburgh Public Schools.  These training sessions will be held on August 20th and August 27th from 10:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. at Macy’s Department Store in downtown Pittsburgh.  All materials, books, and supplies will be provided by OASIS.

OASIS is a non-profit organization, founded in 1982, that is active in 40 cities across the country in promoting successful aging by providing opportunities for adults aged 50 and over to pursue vibrant, healthy, productive and meaningful lives.  Their Intergenerational Tutoring Program trains older adults on tutoring children and provides older adults the chance to help students learn.  The program is operated in partnership with the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council.

For more information on how to become an OASIS tutor, please call John D. Spehar, Pittsburgh OASIS Tutoring Coordinator at 412-232-2021 or email him at jdspehar@oasisnet.org.

Fontana Fact

Last week was National Health Center Week all across America, an opportunity to celebrate America’s Health Centers and their long success in providing access to affordable, high quality, cost effective health care to medically vulnerable and underserved people throughout the United States.  America’s Health Care Centers deliver high quality primary care to over 22 million people.  Patients at Health Care Centers have lower rates of emergency room visits (18 percent) and lower rates of multi-day hospital admissions (64 percent) than non-Health Center patients.

Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana

  Brookline District
932 Brookline Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Phone: 412-344-2551
Fax: 412-344-3400
Harrisburg
543 Main Capitol
Box 203042
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Phone: 717-787-5300
Fax: 717-772-5484
Kennedy Township
Kenmawr Plz.
524 Pine Hollow Rd
Kennedy Twp, PA 15136
Phone: 412-331-1208
Fax: 412-331-2079
Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
Phone: 412-343-2080
Fax: 412-343-2418
CHIP 529 grants Heidelberg Oasis