Thursday, December 24, 2009

Today's News-Christmas Eve 2009

Key dispute over Pa. casino bill said to be solved

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Top Pennsylvania legislators apparently have resolved a key disagreement holding up casino gambling expansion. Two people briefed on a telephone conversation Wednesday among legislative leaders say the group agreed on a provision that would allow new applicants for Pennsylvania's last remaining resort casino license. The agreement also would possibly create another license in 2017. The legislation would also legalize table games at slot-machine casinos in an effort to raise revenue for the cash-strapped state.
Otherwise, Gov. Ed Rendell is warning that he will lay off state employees beginning Jan. 11.
The bill still must pass the Legislature. But House Gaming Oversight Committee Chairman Dante Santoni says the deal is designed to get the bill passed before layoffs happen.


Lawyer: Grand jury investigating Pa. senator

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A Pennsylvania state senator has hired a high-profile criminal defense lawyer who says detectives have searched her office and seized computers. Defense lawyer Jerry McDevitt told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Wednesday night that Allegheny County detectives searched Sen. Jane Clare Orie's office Friday as part of a grand jury investigation. McDevitt says detectives with a warrant seized computers assigned to office staff, several laptops and the office computer server. He says Orie's own computer was left behind. McDevitt says the investigation apparently began a day before the November election. He says an intern at the Republican senator's district office complained to the district attorney's office that political calls were being made there on behalf of state Supreme Court nominee Joan Orie Melvin, the senator's sister. Orie Melvin was elected to the state's highest court.


Rendell to pursue shale tax, school funding hike

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Gov. Ed Rendell will press for another increase in public school funding and a tax on natural gas production when he presents his last state budget in February.
But the Democrat wouldn't say Wednesday whether he will use his final year in office to try to head off a fiscal "tsunami" that he warns is headed toward Pennsylvania after his term ends.
After he leaves office, he estimates the state will need to close a revenue gap of $4.5 billion to $5.5 billion, or more than 15 percent of this year's approved budget. That's to replace the temporary federal stimulus dollars distributed to help states through the recession and to meet an anticipated increase in public employee pension obligations.


Pa. judges pick new county commissioner

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (AP) — Judges in a northeastern Pennsylvania county have chosen a successor to a county commissioner who resigned last week and agreed to plead guilty to accepting a bribe. Luzerne County judges decided Wednesday to name Thomas Cooney as the successor to Greg Skrepenak. Cooney, of Jenkins Township, got four votes. Three other hopefuls got one vote each. Sixty-eight people applied to serve out his term and the judges narrowed the list down to 14 finalists earlier Wednesday. Judges interviewed those finalists, then deliberated in private before voting. His lawyer has said Skrepenak accepts responsibility for his actions but declined further comment.


Pa. judge sues county over budget cuts

SUNBURY, Pa. (AP) — A Pennsylvania judge is suing over a decision to cut about $600,000 from his budget. Northumberland County President Judge Robert Sacavage is suing the county. He says the budget cut will force him to cut at least six jobs and will prevent him from running the courts properly, endangering public safety. Commissioners Vinny Clausi and Kurt Masser say they're prepared to defend their position in court. Chairman Frank Sawicki says he wants to reach a settlement. Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts spokesman Art Heinz says the development isn't surprising considering the current economic situation.


NE Pa. apartment building near historic inn burns

BLOOMSBURG, Pa. (AP) — An apartment building next to a historic northeastern Pennsylvania inn caught fire, but residents were able to get out safely. Fire officials in Bloomsburg told the Press Enterprise of Bloomsburg that the building caught fire just before 8 p.m. Wednesday night. Fire officials told the newspaper people inside were able to get out on their own, but a cat was rescued by a firefighter. Fire Chief Hugh Gross said he was not immediately available to give more information when reached by The Associated Press. Initial reports said the building that caught fire was the Irondale Inn, a historic bed and breakfast that bills itself as having served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. But the fire was actually at an apartment building next to the inn.


Mass. court affirms conviction of evangelical

BOSTON (AP) — A Massachusetts court has upheld the disorderly conduct conviction of a Philadelphia-based evangelist who refused to obey repeated police orders to stop using a megaphone during Salem's large annual Halloween celebration. Repent America director Michael Marcavage had appealed an order to pay a $200 fine and $50 to the Victim-Witness Fund in connection with the 2007 incident. He claimed that police ordered him to stop using the megaphone because of the content of his speech, not any public safety concerns. The 30-year-old Marcavage argued that his state and federal constitutional protections were violated.
But the Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, ruling on Wednesday that Marcavage failed to prove that the actions of police were connected with the content of his speech.


1 charge dropped in Pa. dead-toddler case

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Prosecutors have dropped an aggravated assault charge against a Pittsburgh man accused of injuring his girlfriend's 2-year-old triplets, one of whom died.
Allegheny County district attorney's office spokesman Mike Manko says 20-year-old Anthony George is still charged with endangering the welfare of a child. But the aggravated assault charge was dropped Wednesday for lack of evidence. George was baby-sitting his girlfriend's triplets at their home Nov. 29 when they suffered the injuries. George told police that the girls were injured in a "domino effect" when all three toddlers fell down the stairs. Doctors say Kaiyah Beck, who died at a hospital, suffered a head injury that isn't consistent with a fall down the stairs.


Pa. shuts 2nd Capitol complex eatery, 5 snack bars

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania officials are temporarily closing a second cafeteria and five snack bars in the state government complex in Harrisburg in a precautionary move prompted by the discovery of rodent droppings in the Capitol's main cafeteria. Department of General Services spokesman Ed Myslewicz said Wednesday the cafeteria in the Keystone office building next to the Capitol and snack bars operated by the Bureau of Blind and Visual Services in five other buildings will remain closed until at least Jan. 5. Myslewicz says the additional closures were not prompted by the discovery of any problems like the excessive rodent droppings found scattered throughout the Capitol cafeteria's equipment and cabinets. Philadelphia-based Aramark Corp. runs the Capitol cafeteria and is working with state workers to clean it up.

WASHINGTON (AP) — As expected, the Senate has passed President Barack Obama's landmark health care overhaul by a vote of 60-39. The bill extends medical insurance to 30 million Americans. It requires nearly everyone to buy insurance and prohibits insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — It's a stormy day in the nation's midsection. The worst of the storm is heading northeast across the region, bringing heavy snow, sleet and rain to a large swath of the Plains and the Midwest. A foot or two of snow is possible in some areas by Christmas Day.

NEW YORK (AP) — Stock futures are pointing to a modestly higher opening today. New reports on unemployment and durable goods orders are expected to show the economy is continuing its recovery. Overseas markets also are higher. The U.S. market will close early for the Christmas holiday.

WYTHEVILLE, Va. (AP) — Residents of the small Virginia town of Wytheville will try to get back in the holiday spirit after a hostage standoff gripped the town all day yesterday. A disabled man held three people inside the post office for more than eight hours. He surrendered to police after freeing the hostages unharmed.

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A 9-year-old boy is back with his natural father today. Sean Goldman was brought into the U.S. consulate in Rio de Janeiro today by several of his Brazilian relatives after Brazil's chief justice upheld a lower court's ruling that ordered Sean returned to his father, David Goldman of Tinton Falls, New Jersey. The decision ended a five-year custody battle.


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