Health - February 22, 2013

Budget hearings underway

Budget hearings are in full swing in Harrisburg as the House and Senate Appropriations committees meet with the various state agencies and their secretaries.  Hot topics included pension reform, privatization of liquor stores and the state lottery, and Medicaid expansion.

Budget Secretary Charles Zogby faced over two hours of questions from the Senate Appropriations committee.  Zogby’s comments included notes on the cost to expand Medicaid and the acknowledgement that there are not many places left in the budget to allow for increasing pension costs.

Newly elected Auditor General Eugene DePasquale and Attorney General Kathleen Kane both faced their first hearings this week.  DePasquale appeared before the House Appropriations committee and noted that his office conducts more audits than any other state in US and that the majority of his budget goes towards personnel.  He has begun to cut down on waste in his department but did ask for additional funding.  DePasquale relayed to the legislators that the Auditor General’s office is severely outdated in terms of technology; having used dial-up internet until last fall.  He proposed $1.5 million in additional funding for technology upgrades but said that figure may change after a full assessment is complete in four weeks.  He also asked for additional money to cover the growing costs of employee pensions and health benefits.  DePasquale stressed the importance of upgrading technology to ultimately ensure the efficiency of the department.

Attorney General Kane sat before the Senate Appropriations committee this week for her first budget hearing.  Expected to be a hot topic was Kane’s recent rejection of the lottery privatization contract.  Senator Tomlinson, R-Bucks, relayed that he agreed with the rejection of the contract, while others asked her to further explain the decision.  Sen. Hughes, D-Philadelphia, noted that Kane was “a breath of fresh air” regarding her position on gun violence.  Kane pushed for a 7.8 percent increase in budget funding for her office.  She noted that without the additional money, it would be more difficult for her office to continue to combat child predators and drug cartels.  Positions have already been cut from the Child Predator Unit, the Drug Strike Force, and the Gun Violence Task Force.


Justice Joan Orie Melvin found guilty

Yesterday the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas found Justice Joan Orie Melvin and her sister and former administrative aide, Janine Orie, guilty.  Both faced corruption charges for misusing state employees to help run two of Judge Orie’s previous campaigns.  Jurors were hung of the count of official oppression against justice; which Judge Orie had been charged with after being accused of firing her chief law clerk for failing to do political work.  Defense witnesses had testified that the clerk in question had left voluntarily.  No sentencing date has been set.  Justice Orie is currently suspended without pay from her position with the state Supreme Court; she may be removed from that position or impeached in the very near future.  Former state Senator Jane Orie, another sister, is currently serving out a prison sentence for similar charges.