Renewed calls for anti-discrimination law during LGBTQ Pride Month / How to beat the heat and stay safe during the heat wave

There have been many celebrations during LGBTQ Pride Month in June, but it also is a time to highlight issues or challenges facing the LGBTQ community.

Earlier this month, Governor Tom Wolf signed an executive order to add sexual orientation and gender identity or expression as protected classes for state workers under the commonwealth’s sexual harassment policies.

The governor also called on the legislature to approve the Fairness Act that would add sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression to the provisions of state law that prohibit housing, employment, education, and public accommodations discrimination. That bill hasn’t made it through the Republican-controlled State Government committee for years.

On Wednesday’s Smart Talk, we’ll discuss these and other issues with Rafael Alvarez Febo, Executive Director of Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs and Preston Heldibridle, Executive Director of the PA Youth Congress.

How to beat the heat and stay safe during the heat wave

Central Pennsylvania is in the middle of a heat wave where temperatures have been in the mid-90s and the heat index has risen to 100 degrees or above.

Not only is it uncomfortable outside, but it can be dangerous for humans, as well as pets.

Three of the biggest dangers are Heat Cramps, Heat Exhaustion, and Heat Stroke. Older people could be especially vulnerable if they are in a space that isn’t air conditioned. Babies and pets should never be in a vehicle with windows up. The American Red Cross is offering tips to stay safe during this heat wave and the others that are sure to follow this summer. Remember, it’s only June.

Laura Burke, Executive Director of the Central Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Red Cross appears on Wednesday’s Smart Talk with safety and beating the heat tips.

Florida building collapse leaves many asking questions about structure durability and safety

One of the reason the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium complex in Surfside, Florida, shocked so many people is how uncommon it is for a building to fall down in the United States without the presence of a natural disaster or criminal intent, like a terrorist attack. The tragedy, in which at least 11 people died and another 150 remain unaccounted for, has transfixed the nation’s attention.

Local building codes and numerous safety inspections in the U.S. are meant to ensure structures are durable and safe.

Tuesday’s Smart Talk won’t speculate on what caused the Surfside collapse, but we will speak with a structural engineer about why structures may fail.

Appearing on the program is David J. Odeh, Principal at Odeh Engineering in Providence, Rhode Island, and a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Department of Labor and Industry rolls out new unemployment compensation system

Hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians lost their jobs when the coronavirus pandemic hit the state in March 2020. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, like their counterparts in other states, was overwhelmed with unemployment compensation claims — the only source of income for many individuals and families.

It did not go well for many who waited for long periods of time to get their claims processed and had trouble contacting the department. Part of the reason was the department’s computer system was antiquated by today’s standards.

Earlier this month, the department implemented a new unemployment compensation system.

Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry Acting Secretary Jennifer Berrier joins us on Smart Talk more details.

Murders are way up across the country

Listen to Smart Talk every weekday at 9am and 7pm on WITF 89.5 & 93.3. You can also stream WITF radio live on our website or ask your smart speaker to “Play WITF Radio.”

First it was mass shootings. Now it’s a significant increase in the number of murders across the country.

President Joe Biden released a five-point plan last week to combat violence – specifically gun violence. It includes money for the hiring of more police officers just a year after racial injustice protestors often called for spending less on police departments or even defunding the police.

What’s driving the surge in homicides that are up since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic? Gun sales are way up but experts say that’s not the only factor. More people losing their incomes and being cooped up may be contributors as well.

On Monday’s Smart Talk, we’re joined by two nationally known experts to discuss the rising murder rate. Appearing on the program are Dr. Cassandra Crifasi, Deputy Director, Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Jeff Asher, data analyst and co-founder of AH Datalytic.

Vulnerable Pennsylvanians still in need as pandemic winds down

The coronavirus pandemic disrupted millions of lives in so many ways: our health, jobs, education, social lives and more. For those who were struggling before the pandemic, the last 15 months have often made their situations even more difficult.

Nonprofit organizations on the front lines were impacted as well.

On Friday’s Smart Talk, we discuss how the pandemic affected Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable, what they still need, and how community members can help.

Appearing on the program are Kristen Rotz, President of the United Way of Pennsylvania, David John, Vice President of Government Affairs at Pennsylvania State Alliance of YMCAs, and Anne Gingerich, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations (PANO).

“Youz or yinz?” Pennsylvania dialects fascinate

Those who watched the recent HBO series Mare of Easttown were struck by how seamlessly British actor Kate Winslet adopted a Delaware County or Philadelphia regional dialect.

At least in the Philadelphia area, it started a conversation about dialects and regionalisms. It’s a topic that fascinates many who don’t even know they talk differently from other people around the country.

Joining us on Friday’s Smart Talk is Dr. Betsy Sneller, assistant professor of linguistics at Michigan State University.

How to protect yourself from ticks – UFO theories now mainstream

Ticks are a common threat during the warmer months in Pennsylvania, and their presence is more than just a nuisance. Black legged ticks, also called deer ticks, are the most common carrier of Lyme disease and anaplasmosis.

Ticks typically thrive in tall grass, brush and wooded areas, and they have been found in every county in the commonwealth. Domestic animals like dogs and cats can be bitten by ticks and serve as vectors, bringing the pests into contact with people when the animals come inside or are petted.

It is important to check for ticks on anyone and on animals whenever you’ve spent time outdoors. To remove a tick, use a tick removal tool or tweezers to pinch the tick near its head and pull the tick straight away from your skin.

Appearing on Smart Talk Thursday to discuss safety considerations are Michael Skvarla, Ph.D., assistant research professor of arthropod identification in the Department of Entomology at Penn State University, and Lea Lind, Pennsylvania Department of Health epidemiology research assistant.

How much does the government know about UFOs?

The federal government could release a report on what is known about unidentified aerial phenomena, or UFOs, by the end of this month. The report is expected to detail investigative findings over the years after UFOs were sighted – often by Navy or Air Force pilots.

The report is not expected to conclude the UFOs were operated by aliens, but also may not explain what the aircraft are.

The National UFO Reporting Center, which is not government-affiliated, received some 7,200 reports of sightings in 2020.

Joining us on Thursday’s Smart Talk to discuss what to expect from the report and their experiences are Stan Gordon, UFO phenomena researcher, UFO Anomalies Zone, and Anthony Pugliese, investigator with Paranormal Search of Pennsylvania.

Franklin & Marshall statewide poll points to dissatisfaction with current election laws – Sunrise Movement youth organization marching to stop climate change

Results from the June 2021 Franklin & Marshall College Poll show that many Pennsylvanians are feeling positively about the state of the pandemic. Fewer than 10 percent of survey respondents believe COVID-19 is currently the state’s most important problem, compared to more than 30 percent in March.

The survey also asked about vaccination. Seventy-nine percent of respondents overall said they had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Among those surveyed, Democrats were significantly more likely to be vaccinated (94%) than Republicans (61%).

While the June poll shows Pennsylvanians are less concerned about the pandemic, they are more concerned about voting and election laws. Nearly 60 percent of registered voters believe the state’s election laws should be revised. That belief varies by party affiliation, with more Republicans (75%) saying the laws should be changed than independents (52%) or Democrats (46%).

Concerns about election laws and the economy likely earned Gov. Tom Wolf lower job approval ratings. About two out of five registered voters say he is doing an “excellent” or “good” job today, compared to more than half of registered voters surveyed in July 2020.

Smart Talk Wednesday will analyze the complete poll results with Berwood Yost, Director of the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin and Marshall College.

Charter school accountability plan – Charter school advocates urge caution

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced a charter school accountability plan earlier this month that “realigns what taxpayers are paying with what it costs to provide a charter option for students.”

The proposals promise an estimated $395 million a year in savings and stops “draining funds from traditional public schools at a time they can least afford it.”

In Pennsylvania, public charter schools don’t charge tuition. The charters receive the majority of funding from their students’ resident school districts, which is based on a statutory funding formula set by the state. The “Charter School Accountability Plan would change the funding formula, in addition to creating performance standards and ethical admin requirements.

Charter school administrators say, not so fast. That a post-pandemic education landscape is not the time to change funding for charter schools. They charge the administration’s ‘cost savings’ plan for school districts is nothing more than an “attack on families who have exercised their right to choose a public charter school option for their children.

Appearing on Smart Talk Tuesday to present both sides of this divisive issue are Pennsylvania acting Secretary of Education Noe Ortega, Democratic state Rep. Joe Ciresi of Montgomery County, Democratic state Senator Lindsey Williams serving Allegheny County, and Sherri Smith, Ed.D., Deputy Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education. Joining the conversation later are Lenny McAllister, Chief Executive Officer, PA Coalition of Public Charter Schools and Vas Scoumis, CEO of Manchester Academic Charter School on the North Side of Pittsburgh.

Report details an expansion of criminal punishments over the past decade

Before our collective attention was highjacked by the coronavirus, legislators around the state and country were focused on criminal justice reform.

There was a great deal of energy behind the momentum, which seems to have taken a back seat to other pressing issues.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a report this month that focuses attention back on the issue with data that suggests Pennsylvania state legislators continue to pass bills that expand the commonwealth’s criminal justice system with an over reliance on punishment. In 2010, the criminal code contained 636 offenses and today that number has more than doubled.

Joining Smart Talk Monday to share details of the More Law, Less Justice report is Elizabeth Randol, Legislative Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania.

How changing statutes are applied at sentencing

The Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing review and revise sentencing guidelines in response to legislative actions and court decisions.

After so many legislative changes over the years, their current guidelines are considerably different than the first set adopted in 1982.

The Commission met this month to review sentencing guidelines and appearing on Smart Talk Monday to talk about that process is Mark H. Bergstrom, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing and an Associate Teaching Professor in Criminology at Penn State. Also on the program is Wesley Oliver, J.D., Director of the criminal justice program, and Professor of law at Duquesne University School of Law to offer perspective on how statutes are ultimately applied.


Colleges and universities experience decline in student enrollments – Circle of Truth exhibition connects 49 artists over nine years

Enrollment in area colleges and universities began declining gradually over the past few years, but the pandemic has exacerbated the problem significantly.

Data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows that student enrollments are down more than 600,000 from a year ago; the greatest decline in more than a decade.

What is behind the drop and will schools ever be able to make up the student loss? Appearing on Smart Talk Friday to discuss their efforts to reverse the enrollment trend are Stephanie Jirard, J.D., Assistant Provost for Graduate Studies, Shippensburg University, Rob Springall, Assistant Vice President for Undergraduate Education and Executive Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Penn State University, and Daniel Green, D.M.A., Vice President Enrollment Management, York College of Pennsylvania.

‘Circle of Truth’ connects 49 artists work in one project

We all see the world differently. Artists in particular bring their unique vision to every piece they create.

A current exhibition in the main gallery of the Susquehanna Art Museum, titled “Circle of Truth: 49 Paintings Ending with Ed Ruscha,” is a representation of just how differently everyone observes our world.

Launched in 2009 by curators Laura Hipke and Shane Guffogg the exhibition was completed in 2016 and is on display though September 19.

Artist Shane Guffogg appears on Smart Talk Friday, along with Alice Anne Schwab, Executive Director of the Susquehanna Art Museum to provide details about the exhibition’s unique creative process.

Billions of dollars for transportation diverted away from construction projects

Pennsylvania pays the second highest gas tax in the nation at more than 58 cents per gallon. The money generated by the tax is earmarked for the state’s highway fund to pay for transportation infrastructure construction and repair.

But since the early 2000s, billions of dollars from the fund have been used to pay for State Police operations away from their intended purpose.

Transportation advocates offer a plan that would use the funding for transportation projects only, freeing money to fill significant PennDOT construction budget shortfalls.

Robert Latham, Executive Vice President of the Associated Pennsylvania Constructors joins Smart Talk Thursday with the organization’s plan.

Central Pa. Pekingese wins top prize at Westminster Dog Show

A local pedigreed pooch brought home top honors from Sunday’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
Wasabi is a Pekingese whose handler and owner David Fitzpatrick hails from East Berlin, Pennsylvania. Fitzpatrick appears on Smart Talk Thursday to talk about the achievement.
A Pekingese walks with its handler in the Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, Sunday, June 13, 2021, in Tarrytown, N.Y. The dog won the blue ribbon in Best in Show.

How fear, isolation, and worry impact mental health

Some have called the COVID-19 pandemic an equalizer – a shared experience – in that every single one of us has been impacted.

We have all experienced in some way – fear, isolation and worry. What remains to be seen is how these feelings will impact mental health.

Keira McGuire, WITF health reporter and multimedia producer, appears on Smart Talk Thursday to offer details about Transforming Health: Mental Health after a Pandemic, a WITF-TV original production airing tonight.