Week in review: Motorists lose privacy rights, charter school law changes eyed

By PA Independent Staff

The race for the Democratic nomination to face Republican Gov. Tom Corbett hit its final week, with York County businessman Tom Wolf holding a big lead in the polls.

Outside of that race, though, a new report recommended a tune-up for the state’s charter school law, legislators renewed the call for a new agency to fight public corruption and motorists received troubling news about when police can search their cars in the Keystone State.

Here’s a look back at our coverage this week:

Cops can now search your car without a warrant

The state Supreme Court ruled last week that police are allowed to search vehicles without a warrant.

The split decision from the Supreme Court allows police to conduct searches of cars based only on probable cause — that is, as long as the officers conducting the search have a reason to believe there are illegal goods or evidence of a crime hidden inside the vehicle.

Writing for the majority in the 4-2 ruling, Justice Seamus McCaffery said requiring police to have probable cause for a search is “a strong and sufficient safeguard against illegal searches,” and brings state law in line with federal law allowing warrantless searches of vehicles.

LOOKING BACK: The Pennsylvania State Supreme Court struck a blow to privacy rights for motorists in the Keystone State.

Some states have constitutional language requiring a warrant before a vehicle can be searched, but Pennsylvania’s does not. In the ruling, McCaffery said that has caused a wide range of confusing and contradictory rulings from state courts that have examined the issue.

AG, lawmakers propose similar updates to PA charter school rules

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has released a special report on charter schools that calls for improved oversight, transparency, accountability and a streamlined payment system.

Several of the recommendations are already being considered in Harrisburg.

With 84,000 Pennsylvania children in charter schools and a law regulating them that’s nearly 20 years old, the Office of the Auditor General called his report “Time for a Tune-Up.”

“Charter schools are here to stay,” it says. “Many outstanding charter schools in the state are doing amazing things for children and offering new ways to educate. Clearly, thousands of parents welcome having a choice when it comes to public schools.”

Union leaders under fire for unregistered lobbying

Wendell Young IV spent plenty of time last year trying to convince lawmakers that privatizing Pennsylvania’s liquor stores wasn’t the correct move, yet the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776 wasn’t registered as a lobbyist with the Department of State.

That fact caught the attention of the Commonwealth Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Harrisburg, after the right-leaning Media Trackers website reported on the issue earlier this week. It pounced on Young and other labor leaders who aren’t registered.

Young has argued he doesn’t have to register because lobbying is not his full-time job. And a look at the state shows the issue might not be cut and dry even though Pennsylvania law defines lobbying as “an effort to influence legislative action or administrative action” and requires that lobbyists, lobbying firms or principals register with the state.

Lawmakers renew call for public integrity commission

Two state senators this week revived a call to create an independent agency to root out corruption in Pennsylvania after another round of embarrassing ethical lapses stained the state’s reputation this year.

State Sens. John Yudichak, D-Luzerne, and Ted Erickson, R-Delaware, plan to re-introduce legislation to establish a public integrity commission to uncover and investigate public corruption in state and local government.

“It is the hope that this new, empowered agency would take Pennsylvania out from under the dark cloud of suspicion hovering over many of our governmental institutions and into the light of good, ethical government practices,” the senators wrote in a memo seeking support for the legislation. “Self-policing has not worked.”

With high stakes testing, Philly cheating scandal is just one of many

As the stakes get higher for testing performance with federal and state mandates, a systemic culture of cheating is growing, both in Pennsylvania and across the nation.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane filed criminal charges against four teachers and the principal of Cayuga Elementary School in Philadelphia last week for forcing children and other educators to cheat on state standardized tests.

It’s hardly an isolated incident. Between 2010 and 2012, 33 states confirmed at least one instance of cheating.

“It’s a much more widespread problem than Atlanta or Philadelphia,” said Kara Kerwin, president of the Center for Education Reform in Washington, D.C.

PA charter schools may see drop in funding with new special education formula

A proposed new formula for special education funding in Pennsylvania will better tailor resources to fit diverse levels of student need, lawmakers say. But some schools might end up losing money in the process.

For charter schools operating on thin margins, cuts of thousands of dollars per student could imperil the schools’ entire financial standing.

The proposals before the General Assembly are House Bill 2138 and Senate Bill 1316. They were developed out of the findings of a commission created by Act 3 of 2013. Both proposals put in place a three-tiered system of funding based on the cost and incidence of disability.

Lights, camera, tax breaks

Pennsylvania lawmakers will soon be racing to fill a budget deficit that could top $1 billion in the next fiscal year, but there’s still a glimmer of hope the financial news won’t be all bad, at least if you’re a Hollywood filmmaker that likes to shoot movies in the Keystone State.

Legislation to allow the state to dole out about $22.5 million in unused tax breaks for filmmakers cleared the state House last week, passing 180-21 despite the looming financial quandary.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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